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The Dating Game: Three lessons I have learnt while playing

photo of Josh Van Sant
by Josh Van Sant match.com blogger
The Dating Game: Three lessons I have learnt while playing

“The Dating Game” as it is often referred is an intricate play of tactical maneuvers, distinct rules, and pre-determined positions between two foreign teams who are brought together to achieve mutual victory. The problem though is that nobody knows the rules, the positions are ever changing and the maneuvers that are learnt in training normally don’t work on the field. What’s even more complicating is that after kick-off the game rarely goes to plan as off-sides are called, red cards are given, fouls are made and penalties awarded. More often than not, someone is bound to get hurt or sent-off and ultimately one or both teams leaves the pitch feeling like a loser. In the end, when we date as if it were a game, nobody wins.

While I don’t claim to be a love professional or a coach, I have certainly been on my fair share of dates and I feel that I have learnt a few lessons along the way.

Like many other guys there was a point in my life when I didn’t want to play the game anymore. Wait three days before you message him. Don’t write back straight away. Play it cool. Be mean, keep them keen. Don’t act too gay. Sleep with him regardless. I followed all the rules and believed that with practice would come perfection but I never seemed to score a goal. Then came a series of terrible dates. There was the guy who spoke only about his ex-boyfriend for the duration of dinner, the personal trainer who refused to eat anything that wasn’t green and the gorgeous Italian boy whose English skills were much better online. After a season of disappointing results I was ready to call a time-out or retire early.

I decided to take stock of the situation, to look back over all my dating experiences to see if there was a common problem that could explain my past failures. To my surprise, after deep analysis, I realised that I was in fact the problem. There were three mistakes that I continuously made which could explain why dating was so daunting. These mistakes turned into three lessons that have changed my entire perspective on dating.

Firstly, I realised that I was placing too much pressure on the outcome of the date, willing for it to be a ‘happily ever after’ love story before the referee’s whistle had even been blown. While I have always considered myself to be an independent person, in retrospect, I went through a stage where I was eager to be in a relationship. I empathised with Charlotte from Sex and the City who in one episode desperately exclaimed, “I’ve been dating since I was 15. I’m exhausted. Where is he?” I shared her pain and translated it into a period of binge-dating where every failed attempt at love seemed to be one step further away from Mr. Right. One should never approach dating or love from a place of such desperation. That was my first mistake.

My second mistake was framing dates as if they were job interviews. Will he like this outfit? What questions will he ask? What questions should I ask? What if he doesn’t like me? I hope I give a good impression. Should I be myself? Should I be who I think he’s looking for? This mentality created unnecessary anxiety.

Instead of seeing a date as an interview, where probing questions are exchanged and potential candidates cross-examined, dates should be seen as exciting opportunities to meet new people. In order to do this successfully the most important thing is to be yourself. In the past I had tried to be the guy that I thought the other person desired in order to “get the job”. I would downplay my fabulous fashion sense, talk-up my sporting prowess or exaggerate my interest in certain types of music. As part of my self-reflection I noticed that this form of self-editing was evident to varying degrees throughout most of my dating history. That was my second lesson. If a relationship is formed on the basis of either one of you not being your true selves then you will have no choice but to keep up the charade until the truth eventually comes out (and it always comes out). One day he will realise that you are actually hopeless at rugby, wear skinny jeans that are cropped at the bottom and that you would much rather listen to Cheryl Cole than AC/DC.

Lastly, I noticed that I had a habit of deleting failed dates from my phonebook and from my life. While I had shared a meal or an afternoon or an experience with this person, when it didn’t work out I chose to forget about them completely. But what about those guys with whom I had had fun, shared common interests, laughed and joked around? Should I never see them again just because there was no sexual chemistry? What a wasted opportunity. As adults we are rarely given the occasion to make new friends. Each failed date was actually an opportunity to make a new friend or at least a new contact. Who knows what other types of non-sexual relationships I may have formed with these men? Perhaps somewhere down the line a failed date may have even turned into a successful matchmaker for as the saying goes “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

If dating is indeed a game then perhaps we should come up with a new strategy for the way we play. Instead of worrying about the outcome, we should enjoy the exercise for what it is, a meeting of two new people. Instead of interviewing for a position in the team of two, we should relax, let down our guard and be ourselves. And instead of being hard on ourselves when nobody scores or the result isn’t as we had gambled, we must still shake our teammate’s hand, wish him good luck and look forward to the next match.

Josh van Sant is the creator of The Modern Gay Guide to Life, the internet’s first premium gay lifestyle blog.

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