How To Win At Dating

Crazy, Stupid, Love
Crazy, Stupid, Love

I spend far too much of my life thinking about Sex and the City. I don’t know why. I don’t intend to think about Sex and the City. I don’t say to myself, “My, there are a lot of things going on in the world. I should absolutely be thinking about this one program that went off the air almost a decade ago. Take that, Chechnya.” I’m trying to read the new Gillian Flynn or Salman Rushdie novel on the train, and I wonder to myself, “I wonder what Carrie Bradshaw would think about Joseph Anton. Could they be friends? Is he a Team Big or a Team Aidan?”

In a meta-world, I often wonder about Carrie Bradshaw wondering about things. Thich Nhat Hanh once called our inability to focus in our daily life our “Old Monkey Mind,” always trying to grab onto new things. I call it my “Old Carrie Mind.”

I usually don’t agree with Carrie, and I often find myself sorting out why I think she’s wrong about almost everything. This is a woman who can’t balance a budget and almost makes her friend pawn her engagement ring to foot her bills, and I’m taking life advice from her? Clearly I have more problems than Carrie does. (I live with me every day. This is not in question.)

And this week, I found myself wondering about a particular thought bubble of hers that I immediately wanted to snatch and pop, like at the end of a child’s birthday party. In Season Two, Miranda takes Carrie and Samantha to a Yankees game, which Carrie instantly makes into a dating metaphor, as is her way. The idea of “dating as a game” gives structure to the episode, tying it together in the neat thematic arc that SATC viewers are accustomed to, like the memorable “He’s Just Not That Into You” episode. In this case, Carrie gives us two memorable quips on the dating game:

1. “As Miranda went on and on about the new Yankees’ stats, I couldn’t help wondering about my own. 10 years playing in New York. Countless dates. Five real relationships. One serious. All ending in breakups. If I were a ballplayer, I’d be batting…whatever really bad is.”

2. “Do you know what the odds of catching a fly ball are? I didn’t. I couldn’t help wondering if they were any higher than finding a relationship that would last.”

We see a lot of this sense of romantic fatalism from Carrie throughout the show, where being in a relationship means that you’re doing something right (aka scoring) and being single is akin to striking out. I don’t know what the system is in this metaphor (What counts for first base? Is “I Don’t Know” still on third?), but it sounds like the only way I get on base is if I trick some dude into thinking I’m cool enough to date and have sex with sometimes, which counts for a relationship in my universe. It’s about hiding how weird and fucked up I am until he sees me hobbling out of the bathroom with my pants around my ankles looking for my phone, because I’m bored on the toilet and want to text my grandma. It’s hoping he’s cool with it when he sees me eating food out of the trash.

For Carrie, the act of being in a relationship is intrinsically tied to the value system of her world, as you don’t get to score if you aren’t with partner. In baseball, the only way to up your batting average is to get on base in the first place, without being walked or struck by the pitcher, and for her average to improve, she’d have to be not single. Thus, to extend the metaphor, first base would have to be official, second base counts as serious commitment, third base is engaged and home equals marriage. In this life model, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Larry King would be the winningest people in the world, which is the only scenario in which Larry King is still winning at anything. Fact: I had to check and make sure he is not dead to make this joke. Answer: Not dead, just creepy and irrelevant.

I have problems with this, because I feel like other things should be awarded points in the dating game. What about your first kiss, your thousandth kiss or the last person you’ll ever kiss — or, even better, things that have nothing to do with a commitment timeline at all? Where are the points for meeting someone new who changes your perspective on life or the guy who breaks your heart but makes you a strong person? Can’t I have points for continuing to simply trust people and let them in after repeated bad relationships? What about learning from my mistakes and doing better next time? That’s gotta be somebody’s base.

I also want to be able to up my average in other ways that might have nothing to do with dating, like my own romantic and personal fulfillment. What about the period where I don’t date and refocus my priorities on my friends and family, getting love and affirmation from the support of my community? Self-care needs to be all the bases. And where’s the love for masturbation? I have to go to bed with myself multiple times a week, and that commitment needs to be rewarded. On Monday, I went to work and bullshitted a lecture on French post-war cinema (circa Godard and Truffaut) and still found time to have sex with myself, three times. Where’s my trophy for that, Carrie?

Of course, all of this is pointless. There’s no way to win at dating or to score, and we can’t attach objective or value to something as intricate as love. We need to value the whole of our relationships, both romantic and otherwise. The other day the manfriend I’m seeing told me he hasn’t felt this way about someone in a while. How do I score that? I don’t. Human connection is inherently fleeting and subjective and resists our ability to place it on a scale or ranking system. When your partner opens up to you for the first time or your date looks at you like there’s no one else in the room, you can’t put a value on that. It’s priceless.

In another life, I wanted to do my graduate school thesis on those books about how to pick up women, because I find them a mixture of horrifying, endlessly fascinating and unexpectedly tender, as people try to make sense of years of rejection and improve themselves. Usually they do so in damaging ways, internalizing lessons of misogyny and systems of oppression to gain power over women, but occasionally you find one that isn’t terrible. Even the end lesson of Neil Strauss’ rightfully lambasted The Game is sort of nice — that you can trick someone into hooking up with you, but you have to be real to get them to stay.

However, one of those books gave me the simplest advice I’ve ever heard on dating. The author worked with men to improve their skills in conversing with women, and one workshop had them go out onto the street and ask out every woman they see. (It’s problematic because women have to deal with street harassment enough without literally encouraging it, but go with it for the time being.) Because many of these guys have no conversational skills whatsoever, the success rate is not high. It’s really low, and they get rejected at alarming rates. But the most successful guys are the ones who talk to the most women, who learn to put themselves out there. Even if you never up your average and continue to bat like a pitcher, you’ll still get on base more often.

I have problems with the baseball metaphor in general, but I find the idea instructive. In life, it’s not about winning or even how you play the game. Dating is like SAY Sports, which were the only sports I was allowed to play as an awkward, uncoordinated child. One season of basketball I didn’t score a single point all season, and I mostly existed to pass the ball to people who did score. Welcome to my dating life. But despite my lack of prowess, my family showed up every week to cheer me on, just to see me continually fail at physical activity. It didn’t matter that I never scored. It mattered that I showed up to play. TC mark

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