Playing games

One of the frequently given pieces of the advice given to men struggling romantically is to be themselves. On the face of it this seems like excellent advice, people generally want to be accepted for who they are, and don’t want to lie to others. As Shakespeare said through Polonius’ lips in Hamlet, “to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” But wait a minute, Shakespeare was being ironic. Polonius’ preceding advice, to his son Laertes travelling to Paris, is to definitely not be true to himself, since Polonius is telling him to be reserved and laconic while Laertes is a pompous loudmouthed braggart. Here’s a big meaty slice of Early Modern English if you’re interested:

Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There- my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are most select and generous, chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all- to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee!

The same irony is going to be painfully obvious to anyone who is struggling romantically, if they are being themselves and getting nowhere. So does this mean men should lie, not be true to themselves and thus false to others?

I thought I had an epiphany for a little while. I was going to compare dating to the kind of play that occurs in BDSM. Surely if you can have rape play or torture play or castration play, you can have dating play. It seems utterly trivial in comparison. People could just have a “dating kink” that they act out with like-minded kinksters. Except, except, except… dating isn’t play. It’s a game. It’s The Game. Play is co-operative and expressive, while a game is competitive, driven by the outcome. The kind of play that occurs in BDSM occurs after a partner has been chosen, while dating is the selective process by which partners are chosen.

However I’m not going to give up on a good idea just because it happens to be wrong. Maybe it should become right instead. I said in my previous post that the subject of a social theory can respond to that theory, so people should be able to respond to this. The ones that read it at least. The problem with dating from a typical male point of view, such as The Game, is that it is single-mindedly, overwhelmingly, hyperventilatingly focused on sex. Dating then becomes a process of sexual selection of males, and social Darwinist explanations of behaviour reduce both men and women into simple antagonistic constructs. Now I’m a devout atheist and an ardent evolutionist, but social Darwinism rarely ends well. While sexual selection may be a reasonable model of human reproductive behaviour, the goals of men in having romantic relationships with women go beyond sex.

When people say ” go beyond sex”, normally they mean that men want sex, of course, but also like hanging out, going to movies or square dancing with their partner. Their sexual partner. But I wonder if those non-sexual activities can be seen as goals in themselves. Getting back to the idea of play, I wonder whether men can see going to a movie with a girl in a romantic context as an end itself, without seeing it as just another stepping stone towards Ultimate Vaginal Conquest XXXVII. Now BDSM is of course negotiated and consented to, so should there be a similar mechanism for dating to be negotiated? Could how far the date goes be agreed to before the date begins, but not only that, what each person wants from the date? I think it’s possible, but I guess a lot of people will think it takes the romance out of dating. Which is a similar argument that can be made towards BDSM, it seems a bit contrived to agree to be tied up and tortured, or consent to being raped. Yet many people get what they want from such contrived agreements, and I don’t see why they couldn’t from dating agreements.


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