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It was the first time I realized playing hard to get existed outside of Katherine Heigl romcoms and the pages of Gossip Girl. Summer vacation had dawned in the tenth grade and I elected to spend mine on a student exchange in small-town Australia. My host was Mackenzie, one year my junior but leaps and bounds more experienced in everything that made up our late night conversations. Coming from a tiny, private, all-female school, I found this girl astounding; she seemed so effortless, but all at once had command of her closely-knit group of friends and boys as far as two towns over. To me, still a never-been-kissed kind of innocent, she was the messiah of all things love, sex, and bearing two X chromosomes.
Despite how I idolized her, I was puzzled by how easily she would disregard the leagues of notifications that just magically appeared every time she picked up her phone. How could she turn away from the shiny appeal of all that male attention? It wasn’t until I got my own glimpse into "the chase" that she steered me right. “You seem too interested. I mean, don’t get me wrong, but it looks desperate,” she told me, sprawled across her purple bedspread, her face gawking at the ingénue I became before her. And in a way, she was right.
At first, it infuriated me. What was the point of it all if we are meant to toss aside the genuine sides of ourselves? It seemed deceptive, altogether the kind of nonsense that should be dismissed as phony, in true Holden Caufield fashion. In the end, though, I didn’t get the boy. What I did get was hurt and the temporary label of "desperate" that I, very thankfully, could rip off as soon as I boarded the plane. And all I did to earn it was be honest.
Mackenzie scolded me for it, fitting into her role of my teacher quite nicely, doling out one absolute, universal lesson: always wait for him to text you and never be the one making the move. (“If a guy is really interested, he will make it happen, for sure.”) In retrospect, it’s foolish to always expect the guy to be that forward, or even that courageous, frankly. Nonetheless, these so-called "games" are an essential and unavoidable part of modern dating. Radio silence and leaving texts unanswered has become a norm in our romantic interactions, tactics as much a part of burgeoning relationships as attraction or character.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
In the mess of "games" we play as single people, we are meant to find what we want by pretending not to look, approaching those we are interested in by feigning no interest at all. This now-acceptable pretense in relationships has swept away the many of us that become too easily attached to be fake about our interest or ignore messages. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we are left behind; we can still have the love we want and we don’t even have to wait for it. The first kiss with my now-boyfriend was a sweet and glorious peck that only happened because I looked over at him and asked, “Are you just here to watch my Netflix or are you going to kiss me?” At the very least, a little directness guaranteed this non-player a happy ending.