We’re at the beach one weekend, towels arrayed on the sand beside a group of hippie types. They’re sitting in a circle doing yoga poses and they’ve got three or four hula hoops lying around.

My friend Jay* is pretty keen to try out some hula hooping. Is it difficult to do? he wonders. Jay is a pretty friendly guy so we’re baffled when he adamantly refuses to ask the hippies if he can borrow one of their hoops. So Annika* walks over instead and easily gets permission to bring one back for us to play with.

Photo credit: Kaylee Garrett.

Half an hour later, we’re chilling at our campsite and Jay easily strikes up a conversation with two random girls.

What’s the deal, Jay? Annika, Curly* and I can’t match up the two scenarios.

Jay’s response: Oh but there was a goanna.

It might have been this self-same goanna.

His argument was that the appearance of a goanna on the scene provided an “in” to open up a conversation with these strangers. Our counter argument was that the hula hoop served precisely the same function in the first situation and yet he didn’t seize that opportunity.

It took a while to get there, but eventually we figured out that Jay’s reluctance to approach the girls about the hula hoop was due to a fear that they might think he was trying to hit on them. He didn’t want to be that lame or creepy guy.

I guess that sort of a request is a tactic often deployed by both men and women to get talking with someone they find attractive. I mean I was once approached on the streets of Melbourne by a guy asking for directions to the main street, but actually he was a local and just wanted a pretext for chatting me up. (FYI a little flattered, but mostly weirded out was my response).

I think striking up a conversation about the hula hoops would’ve been perfectly innocent, but Jay’s overall hesitation does resonate with me.

Here’s a confession: I can’t make eye contact with good-looking strangers. Once we’re in a conversation I’m totally fine, but once I’ve assessed that you’re a hottie I will try pretty hard not to look at you at all.

It seems sort of counter intuitive but it boils down to this: I can’t bear to be a groupie. I can’t bear that you might assume I’m interested. I don’t want to be like all the other girls gathering round to chat you up.

Just because you’re handsome doesn’t mean I want you, okay?

The whole discussion reminded me that dating and attraction is such a game – and a messy one at that. Valentine’s Day and what you (ie. generally the gentleman) do or don’t do is just an annual component of this game.

Photo credit: Huy Phan.

You’re managing pride, trying not to be too desperate or needy but you just end up overthinking everything. I can see that blue double tick so WHY HAVEN’T THEY REPLIED? Is he going to send roses? Why isn’t it the full dozen?

You’re managing your own image, trying to look sharp and dazzle with your winning personality and sparkling wit. Is this dress too fancy, too revealing, and am I wearing too much make-up or not enough? Have I made enough references to intellectual things … or have I made too many?

You’re managing power and control, trying to win the other person over. How much does he want me? Is he seeing other people? Gah, I bet he’s seeing other people! 

You’re managing expectations, trying to set the right pace – to not go too fast or too slow. Do I message them now or wait three days? It’s been four dates, so it’s too soon for him to be my boyfriend which makes him what exactly?

It’s funny how being in a healthy relationship is pretty much the opposite of that.

You swallow your pride, lower your guard and reveal that you’re weak and vulnerable – a regular human being.

You let yourself be seen as you really are – unflattering clothes, bad skin days and zero make-up.

You surrender your power and control, swap them out for submission and learning to please the other person.

You stop worrying about whether you’re going too fast or too slow because all that matters is that you’re walking together.

Photo credit: Annie Spratt.

And somewhere along the line the game becomes less of Monopoly, more of Pandemic – less competitive and more collaborative.

*Jay is a fake name, so you can call him Colin if you like. Or Adam. Or Jimmy. Annika and Curly are also fake names – pretty awesome ones, though.

Header image credit: Conor Samuel.

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