The Juicy Bits

Love, lust, and the luster of life.

Love Is Not a Game

What if there were no rules except being yourself?

Whoever came up with the idea that love is a game destroyed its soul. I can't think of anything less likely to produce a good love-life than the belief that your partner is an "opponent" to be defeated. It might have been fun to watch Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie try to outwit each other in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. But unless you're willing to keep a set of military-grade knives in a hidden compartment behind your stove, I don't recommend this strategy.

The idea that romance is a game - one where the player who best keeps his or her cool "wins" - is perpetuated by a self-help industry that makes billions from telling women that to be loved, they need to change the way they look, act, and feel. This industry preys on women's insecurities about being desirable by implying that they're not good enough as they are. And it tells women that when romance doesn't work out, it's because they did something wrong. Did they come on too strong? Did they reveal too much of themselves? Did they seem too needy or desperate? Did they step on the fragile male ego? Did they return his call too quickly? Did they ask him if they could leave their toothbrush in his bathroom? Or - gasp! - did they let him find out that they know how to parallel park, do their taxes, and use the power drill in their basement?

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When it comes to modern romance, there is no end to the rules that women are supposed to follow. They are asked to approach their love lives with the strategic acumen of a five-star general. Worst of all, they are trained to think of men as an alien life-form that needs to be duped into loving them. Not only does this feed men's fears about being manipulated (who can blame them?), but it misunderstands something absolutely fundamental about love, namely that it's not meant to be controlled. Indeed, the more we try to stage-manage love, the less of its wonder we're able to experience. The more we strategize, the less we are able to appreciate the uniqueness of our partner, for strategies by necessity rely on typecasting rather than on what is singular (and thus unpredictable) about each individual.  

Love couldn't care less about your poker face. It goes after what is incomparable and irreplaceable about you. It wants to penetrate the deepest recesses of your being. It wants to know what makes you tick and why. It wants to find your top-secret underground facilities. It even wants to x-ray the baggage you lug around so as to better understand what weighs you down. And it asks you to risk your heart in ways that are always a little dangerous. If you're not willing to do so, it moves onto someone bolder.

If you never let yourself fall freely, you won't get anywhere near authentic love. The more you bury your singular spirit under some self-help game, the more difficult you make it for love to find you. And, if a woman needs to play games to hold a man's interest, chances are he's not the right man for her. The trouble with the games of romance is that eventually the mask will have to come off. Eventually you'll have to reveal who you actually are, and then what? The rules of love may allow you to hoodwink your partner for a while, but ultimately they'll lead you to a dead end. And why would you want to hoodwink your partner in the first place? Isn't the point of love to be loved for who you are? Isn't love the one place where you're supposed to be ok "as you come"?

Mari Ruti, Ph.D., is a professor of Critical Theory at the University of Toronto. She is the author of The Case for Falling in Love and The Summons of Love.

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