Minus the City – Playing Games

While Christina Applegate danced to “Escape” in her sparkly pink bra in The Sweetest Thing, I pondered the surprisingly thought-provoking point she’d made earlier in the movie.

In the beginning of the movie, her character Jane is crying, while reading the supposed ten commandments of dating, confessing that she has committed number nine: Thou shalt not make thyself too available. “But I’m not going to play games with him,” she sobbed. Here, Applegate shuts the dating bible and declares that every person plays games, and rightly so: they are a form of self-defense and they ensure that we are not eternally screwed over by the opposite sex.

She’s right; we’re all guilty. Even I will admit to “accidentally” dialing some guy’s number, or feigning only mild excitement when he accidentally dials mine. I’ll tell him about my provocative night on the town and describe the clubs in detail, not forgetting, of course, to add the part about how many gorgeous men were there and how I giggled and tossed my hair while they surrounded me (shirtless? no, too much) with conversation and cosmopolitan. It is not my concern that I spent the evening in the basement of a sushi bar with my closest friends. Had the three men in the place not been over fifty, and if by sushi bar I meant club, my story is what would have actually happened.

So if we all play games as a natural form of self-defense, why can’t we just admit it? Perhaps it’s akin to farting in public: we’ve all done it, we’ll probably do it again, but few of us will ever fess up to the stink. And similar to the need to perform bodily functions, we also have the humanistic urge to protect ourselves and our vital organs: for example, the heart.

Still, some of you swear that you have never engaged in game play and, if you rely on your conscious behavior, I’m sure that you are right. But I have trouble believing that your innate desire to self-protect does not affect your unconscious mind, and thereby, your behavior. No one chooses to be vulnerable. So can we be held accountable for playing games, for refusing to text until he does, if we don’t even know we’re doing it?

According to Freud, defense mechanisms are a function primarily of one’s unconscious mind. His daughter, Anna Freud, went further to say that defense mechanisms are triggered not only by direct tension, but also “by a signal occurring in the ego of an anticipated instinctual tension.” Because relationships can be devastatingly unpredictable, it makes sense then that we protect ourselves from anticipated tension: heartbreak.

Unfortunately, this is not a license to act aloof or flirt with his friend or make up stories more interesting than your own. Some of our inborn defense mechanisms, if improperly used, can lead to the suppression of true beliefs or feelings and will ultimately lead one down a path of psychosis or [insert some other personality breakdown here].

Recognize the dating games and choose them wisely. No one welcomes heartache, but you can’t have a relationship without risking it, either.