I love my male friends. They are my insight into man-speak, what I call “man-glish,” and provide important insights as I navigate through the rocky, unfamiliar landscape of dating. I have heeded their advice too, because as a woman I have always sucked at following “The Rules” outlined in the bestselling book written by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. In this book, Fein and Schneider detail rules women should follow to successfully get men into relationship, rules which mostly involving some version of playing hard to get. For example, according to Fein and Schneider I should never talk to a man first, call him first and rarely return his calls. They warn it could be dangerous if I open up too fast, and one of my favorite rules to break, go beyond casual kissing on the first date. Yikes! If I were to have learned and then mastered these rules in some sort of mythical dating school, I would have either failed, or consistently found myself in the offices of Ms. Fein and Schneider, sent to the principal for a variety of horrific dating rule violations.
Bill, one of my best “man-glish” teachers advises me regularly, insisting men need to feel they are powerful. In control. They love the chase. And so when I receive a text message from Artist Guy at 9pm one night, I panic.
“Hey, just home from work.” Artist Guy writes. “I could go to the gym. Or not.”
I am frozen. Paralyzed. Shit.
Do I respond? Do I wait 10 minutes, then respond? Is two minutes too quickly? Do I respond tomorrow? Do I respond two days from now? And, when I respond to Artist Guy, what the hell do I write? WHAT are the rules?
After all, it is 9pm. Is this text message a booty call? I did not sleep with him on our first date. Or, perhaps he simply wants to chat it up via text message?
I text Bill immediately, telling him the details of Artist Guy’s text, tip tapping on my iphone as quickly as I can, relieved that in asking Bill for advise I am stalling, buying a decent amount of time in the “playing hard to get department.
“Artist guy texted me. I write to Bill. Should I text back? Or, should I wait?
Bill responds quickly, which is one of the things I love most about Bill.
“Show him you are busy. Girl, show Artist Guy you have a life!”
Show him I have a life? I do have a life. I am a single mother to three daughters. I have two jobs, a book I am trying to write, friendships I value and maintain with love and care, volunteer work I do regularly, and it all involve zillions of responsibilities. I, for Godsakes, am planning a Bat Mitzvah. And so I wonder, how could the timeliness in which I respond to a text, or whether or not I pick up the phone demonstrate to Artist Guy, or any man whom I meet, that I am busy? What happens, for example, if someone calls and it is one of the rare moments I am not helping my children with homework, spending time with friends, teaching a class, preparing for work, or attempting to write? Should I let it go to voicemail just so Artist Guy will perceive me as busy. What, God forbid, if I actually want to talk to Artist Guy?
Back in the 80’s when I was dating my ex-husband, I was immediately thrown by his declaration on our second date that he wanted to have a “serious” relationship with me. As I sat across the table from him, just 20 years old at a college town restaurant in Tempe, Arizona, I chose to accept his request to be “serious.” After all, what a catch to find the one 23 year old male capable of making such a request? He was tall, had a job and I was still a college student. I dove into that “serious” relationship without following any rules. I was available when he called. I slept with him straight away. I never kept him waiting, and dates were never brief. And while I may have sucked at “the rules,” I was quite simply following his lead. Our second date included meeting his mother, he consistently skipped plans with friends to have dinners with me, and for months my ex-husband went to work at noon, a habit which my roommate, who was also his employee, did not appreciate. And so it continued, both of us relentless rule breakers. We met in June and in September I decided not to return to New Orleans where I was a sophomore in college, moved to Arizona and then proceeded to feverishly break rules with abandon. When he was offered a job in Chicago one year later, I told him I wouldn’t move there with him unless we were engaged. He had never even asked me to move. He had never mentioned marriage. And although I sucked at following “the rules,” I was engaged and married two years after we met, at the young age of 22.
Thus, as a divorcee my “man-glish” training has been crucial. I’ve witnessed my twenty something friends live by “the rules,” without much consideration. Never hesitating, they are instinctual rule followers. While drinking her morning coffee. Lisa smiles as she sees an incomng text from Buck, a potential suitor. Lisa carefully finishes her sip, reads the text and then confidently puts her phone down stating, “Buck texted. I will text him back later, during lunch.”
And so I wonder, perhaps “the rules” do not apply to grown ups with jobs, children and responsibilities? I, for example, could not text Buck back during lunch, because this is when I will choke down my sandwich, make dentist appointments, call the caterer and quickly shoot off an email with the to-do list for the handy man. After lunch I will barely have time to pee. So in an effort to do as Bill says, show the Buck’s of the world that I am busy, that I have a life, am I supposed to skip one of my responsibilities, one of the actual things that truly makes my life busy, so that I could, in fact, text Buck during lunch? Will this then adequately demonstrate to Buck and the rest of his gender that I am busy, simply because I didn’t text him back when he wrote in the morning –which was the time when I had a few spare moments to TEXT BACK BUCK?!
A few weeks ago I met Rock Star online, a 38 year old professional with exceptional good looks. And while I was cautiously optimistic that Rock Star did, in fact, look like his photos, I was interested. Apparently though, there are also online dating rules. And, of course, I suck at these too. According to Topdatingtips.com, online dating rules require that I don’t initiate conversations via email. That, in fact, I am not to initiate contact or pursue, and that I am supposed to “allow men to come to me.” Strike one. I emailed Rock Star first. Within minutes, Rock Star wrote back, asking for my phone number. According to the dating tips experts, I’m “never supposed to provide a true phone number,” however, I did. Strike two. And then, I struck out. “Always respond to emails at least three days after receipt,” the website recommends. Ha. I suck. I wrote back instantly and provided Rock Star my very, very true phone number! Within thirty seconds my phone was ringing, an unknown number flashing on the screen. Curiously I looked towards my phone, pausing briefly as I watched it flash on my nightstand. But as a relentless rule breaker, I answered immediately, the enthusiasm in my voice revealing my interest in Rock Star, my good intention leaking unabashedly through the phone lines. Rock Star and I spoke on the phone for hours that night, although now I had allegedly outed myself as available, and according to our friends at “Top Dating Tips,” desperate.
Damnit. Damnit. Damnit. Once again, a rule breaker. However, what Bill and those experts at Topdatingtips.com don’t know is that this just happened to be one rare night in which, although technically available, I was quite busy. Busy living my life. My kids were at their dad’s house, and I had just emerged from a ridiculously long, water-wasting hot shower after a 6:30pm yoga class. When I returned home I had joyfully indulged in my favorite single woman, post yoga dinner — cereal. I had then climbed into bed, grabbed my laptop and signed on to the dating website simply to check in. Thus, while I was technically available, did Rock Star really think me desperate because I had simply engaged in something close to a real-time conversation with him in my attempt to return his emails quickly. In fact, if I were to have spotted Rock Star across the bar or at Starbucks we would have had an actual conversation, without the required three day delay. And in fact, had he asked for my number I would have most definitely given it to him.
For two weeks Rock Star and I tried to meet. I, however, was busy. Truly busy. Between spending time with my kids, dinners with friends, and work I had to keep saying no when Rock Star asked me out. In fact, he had to ask me out three times before I was available. I was not playing hard to get. It’s just….well…. I am hard to get, because I, in fact, have a full, rich life. And, when we did meet, it had been a spontaneous decision to meet him late night after I had dinner with very close friends, three days prior to our scheduled date. Before dinner we had texted each other, agreeing to meet if we finished our previous commitments before it became too late. Driving home at 11:00 he texted, telling me he was finishing up with a client dinner and would call as soon as he was able. Hmmmm, I thought to myself, knowing the rule nazis would not approve if we were to meet closer to midnight. Arriving home, filled with resolve to follow the damn rules, I went upstairs and quickly took my makeup off. I had saved myself, I thought. I could not meet him without makeup and the cute outfit I had just taken off, favoring loose fitting sweats and an oversized grey t-shirt. I had not even shaved my legs. Clearly, I had saved myself. Jumping into bed I grabbed the remote, plugged in my phone and settled into the pillows confident when he called I would, once again, tell him we would meet in a few days as planned. Moments later the phone rang, and within minutes I heard myself agreeing to meet him, trusting my intuition that Rock Star was sincere, his velvet southern voice serenading me with reassurance.
“We need to meet,” he said. “We’ve been talking for weeks, babe. I feel like you are my long distance girlfriend. It feels like I haven’t seen you in weeks,” his voice sang.
Hanging up I felt relief, not shame as I expected. I was going to hideously violate every rule ever written. And, I was looking forward to finally meeting him after looking at his pictures for weeks. I had Googled him. Myspaced him. Facebooked him. I had checked and rechecked and it was time to discover if he was as kind in person as he had been via telephone and text, and it would be truly impressive if he were still attracted to me without makeup or date clothes. Ten minutes later, dressed in purple yoga pants, a blue v-neck t-shirt and my black school-girl glasses I went downstairs to answer the door.
Opening the door my heart lunged, and I smiled, looking into his eyes smiling back at mine. Dressed in a high fashion black leather jacket and skinny jeans, Rock Star looked exactly as he had in his pictures. He was tall, a hint of scruff, and the small lines crinkled near the corners of his eyes as he smiled at me. Within seconds, he was inside the doorway, pulling me into his arms tightly, whispering in my ear.
“It feels so good to see you,” he said. “To be with you. “
We continue to hold each other, both not wanting to let go except briefly to look into each others eyes, drinking in the fact that our expectations have been met, even surpassed.
“We met online,” I say, shocked that it could be true. That all my rule breaking hadn’t resulted in a lifetime of man purgatory.
Rock Star pulled me closer then, lifting my chin into a perfectly choreographed kiss. We went to my living room, and sitting next to him on the couch I comfortably crossed my long legs over his. We talked, hugged each other tightly, laughed, and made out like teenagers til 4am, recklessly breaking rule after rule with carefree abandon. I even let Rock Star sleep in my bed that night, delighting in the caresses of this man, a man who felt he had discovered a jewel. A man who thought that I was brilliant for taking this risk with him, that I was his treasure.
Since that first date three days ago, I admit that I have, on several occasions wanted to text Rock Star, or call him to tell him I am looking forward to our next date. I have, however, waited to be “chased,” allowing him to call first because he is a man who doesn’t play games, and I know he will call. Rock Star isn’t breaking rules by showing his interest in spending time with me, revealing his excitement to see me soon, sharing his struggles with the reality of surviving in tough economic times, or just to tell me he thinks I’m amazing. He is a man who, like me, sucks at “the rules” or more likely, isn’t playing games anymore either.
So to some, like Ms Fein and Schneider, as well as the experts at TopDatinTips.com, I still suck at playing by “the rules,” at playing games with men. But, the truth is I don’t suck. I’m just living my life, and have ultimately decided that in my quest to be vulnerable, I am done playing games. Maybe games, in fact, are just for kids, 20 somethings who don’t need to read “the rules,” because playing by rules is just what they do instinctually. Most likely, however, it’s time for me to leave the sandbox and the games that are played there in pursuit of a man who has also chosen to walk away, leaving his shovel, ball, and bucket in the sand next to mine.
Marni Battista is a 42 year old divorced mother of three daughters ages 13, 10 and 6 who lives and dates in Los Angeles, California. With a Masters in Elementary Education, this former nursery school teacher is re-inventing herself as a professional writer and pursuing a career as a Certified Life Coach.