Dating is a precarious game, with ever-winding roads and deepening mysteries beyond one’s own ability to perceive them.
And yet for many, rather than this game proving to be one in which there are clear winners, there is only confusion and manipulation. Last semester I wrote how the so-called rules of dating were stacked against those who would actually dare to have an active interest in swaying the outcome toward a relationship. But sometimes, even without considering these rules themselves holding one back, circumstances and poor communication create even deeper problems for those who actually do know what they want.
And that’s where I’ll start: knowing what one wants. Seems to be a simple enough concept as it is. To paraphrase a bit of social choice theory, rational people are considered to have clear and transitive preferences over outcomes. Essentially this means if I like choice A more than choice B, and I like choice B more than choice C, then in order to be considered rational by that definition, I ought to like choice A more than choice C. Indifference between outcomes is also allowed in this definition as well.
If only the real world were as simple as the theoretical. Rather than clearly staking out one’s position, people hide it (both consciously and unconsciously), strategically influencing a situation toward their benefit.
Translated out of political science nerd jargon, this concept is simple: people are dishonest and deceitful, and they use others whether they know it or not. Both men and women are guilty of this from time to time, and the problem truly lies in a fundamental inability (or a lack of desire) to communicate.
Few people ever just want to come clean with what’s actually going on in their heads in regard to most games, but this doesn’t work when trying to form a relationship, or if there is a pretext of this as a possibility in regard to dating. The worst example of this comes when one individual is forced to choose between one of two others, commonly referred to by storytellers as the love triangle.
It usually starts innocently enough: two people seem attracted to one another, and they hit it off. Maybe they go on a date or two, or maybe they just tend to see each other at a party or a bar. Things are going great for both people, and all seems well.
But then one of them turns around and does the exact same thing with another person: find someone else whom they are attracted to and hit it off. Possibly a date or two later, suddenly there’s a problem: little Miss or Mister “wants-it-both-ways” suddenly can’t have it both ways. Rather than dating becoming a game with two players where both win, it has now become a three-player game, one player losing.
So how do we get around this dilemma? We certainly can’t stop people from feeling the way they do about people: restricting one’s ability to have emotions is not only impossible, but conflicts with the ideal situation entirely on a fundamental level.
People need to be clear not only about their intentions and feelings, but they also need to learn to be more conscious over the outcomes of their choices. Yes, you are leading someone on if you think that you can go on a date with one person while seeing another on the side. Maybe it’s the person on the side that’s being led on, maybe it’s the person on the date, but someone is getting screwed, and not in the good way.
Common sense would seem to indicate that people ought to prefer a good dating experience possibly leading to a relationship with one other person over the drama and nonsense that inevitably arises in any involving two, and yet people continue to choose the path of most resistance, rather than least.
I’m not saying that once you start dating someone you shouldn’t keep your eyes open. I am saying that people should finish what they’ve started. At the very least, people should be clear with everyone involved as to what his or her thoughts are as well. It is a simple lack of empathy toward the experience of others that causes misery and distress for those who get the short end of the stick in this three-way of deception. Otherwise, you simply aren’t rational.
I guess that’s pretty normal. But that doesn’t make it right.
Zach Stern (email@example.com) is a senior majoring in political science.