Do you know that feeling of being in a foreign country where every person around you is speaking a different language, and the world just sounds like a series of noises that you will never understand? That feeling of standing in an advanced math class and seeing asymptotes and non-existing limits, knowing that even if it was explained to you for hours you would never really grasp their concepts? That helpless sense of confusion is what I experience every time I step into a bar or mixer. For me, the language I don’t understand isn’t multivariable calculus, Chinese, Italian or Physics — it’s the dating game.
Ever since I was a pre-teen, I have noticed that flirting and boys don’t come naturally to me. I have never understood the complexity of the minute interactions between sexes. It is as if I am always hearing a different language, rather than what was supposed to come innately to me through evolution. This miseducation may stem from the fact that I had a horrible awkward phase until I was 16 and then ran into the arms of a serious boyfriend. I never took the time to understand the “dating” game and was then thrust into the aggressive hookup culture of college. It would be like not sending a cadet to training camp, and then leaving him in the middle of the battlefield.
From the ages between 12 and 16, boys didn’t really look at me. I was tall and gawky, with braces that appeared to be jumping out at you like an IMAX movie, a nose I had not grown into and an utter lack of confidence. I looked like the girl in the early 2000s movie before she had her first makeover. While my friends were having their first kisses and getting texts from creepy boys asking for nudes, I was wing woman-ing and watching every John Hughes movie under the sun. The character Jake Ryan from 16 Candles was and still is the dream.
The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school the awkward phase storm clouds lifted. I was no longer in the “growing into myself” phase. The braces were off and it went noticed. The moment I sat down in my AP European History class, a senior with piercing blue eyes and bushy eyebrows sat down next to me and spent months “courting” me. Each day he would walk with me from class, and over months started buying my favorite gum and slyly asking for my number until we went on our first date. For the next two years, he was my world. While other girls were mastering flirting and fooling around with guys, I was in a serious relationship and the only thing on my mind was killing the ACT and spending time with him.
When I entered college no longer dating my boyfriend, I realized I never had the opportunity to learn how to play the game. While other girls would confidently go up to guys in the middle of a crowded, dark frat party, flirt quickly and then make out on the dance floor, I would look in awe. Amazed that this came so naturally to them, while in my mind it seemed utterly impossible. For me, the basic elements of college hookup culture seemed like a literal board game… and I was the only person who never received the rule book. I never understood the lack of wooing. There was no trying to impress or even make the person you like like you, it was just walking up to them and grinding while listening to UCLA for the 30th time of the night. It seemed more like something to check off the checklist of the night rather than the search to actually connect with someone. I saw how people were viewed as prizes to say you won, rather than as emotional connections.
Each time I walk into a frat party in my slutty going out top, I feel like I am just rolling the dice while every other person at the party has already passed GO and collected their 200 dollars. While I dance with my friends and do my signature move that I call the “smiley face” in an attempt to make them laugh, it appears that most of the other girls are just looking for someone to go home with that night. I am the bystander in the game, a self-imposed seat on the bench. I thought I would be able to avoid it altogether and find a “nice” boy among the horny ones with condoms in their back pocket, but I was wrong. I realize now that I must at least open the rule book, or I will never get back into the game.
As college progresses, I am becoming more confident and daring. I got off the bench and am getting close to GO by participating in make outs on the dance floor, but refuse to go any further. I can’t let go of my fear of being used and I have never been able to turn any of these into repeat interactions or go further. I would be naked in my bed and something in my mind would stop me from going further.
Even as I became an active member of the game, I will probably never understand how you’re supposed to know when to play hard to get, when to be open and what to say. When a guy asks me to go home with him, I will still answer “not my thing.” Now, I realize that I have the choice of whether or not to play the game, and just because I am immersed in it doesn’t mean I have to participate. It is just not who I am. I am not a casual person; I need feelings and “courting.” My goal has switched from mastering the game to finding the easiest way to avoid it.
My refusal to play the game really stems from my belief that the game should not exist. I do not understand the indirectness of the dating game. Why do we play with each other’s heads if the goal is to get close to that person? Why do we push people away by playing hard to get, or refuse to say how we really feel? So, if you’re like me — a girl who hates the game — this is a letter to you, letting you know that others like you exist. Best of luck not playing.
Girl With No Game is a student at Cornell University. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. The Sexless Sex Column runs during alternate Sex on Thursdays this semester.