Men and Mind Games: In Their Own Words
‘WHY does he send me such mixed signals?!’
‘What on earth did he mean by that look?!’
‘Why hasn’t he texted me back?!’
Sound familiar, ladies? But, of course! Since the beginning of time, men and women have experienced attraction to one another, have ‘hooked up’ then settled down and have lived – if the fairytales and Hollywood blockbusters are to be believed – happily ever after.
In more recent years, however – particularly in the wake of such technological advancements as mobile phones and Facebook – the act of partnering up has become undeniably more complicated. Where before securing a date was almost as straightforward a case as ‘ask and you shall (or, if unlucky, shall not) receive’, it is now cause for an abundance of sleepless nights, restless pacing and a detailed analysis of his every word with your long-suffering group of girlfriends. Consider, for example, the relatively modern turn of phrase, ‘dating game’, testament to just how de-simplified things have become. As with any game, there are rules (‘Don’t you dare even consider texting your love interest until at least three days have lapsed since exchanging numbers.’), there are winners (the unscathed man, if I were to buy into the traditional view of failed relationships) and, inevitably, losers – often the tearful woman, a role which most of us can unfortunately admit to having played at least once in our lives.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, love is a game and, such is the extent to which we are playing it, that whole books – yes, really – have been written with the sole purpose of instructing us. Just days ago, I stumbled upon a lengthy online video by one of the U.S.’s most celebrated dating experts, Michael Fiore. For a cool $197, women were afforded the opportunity to enrol in a course which would guarantee they captured the heart of a wonderful man who truly deserved them. Indeed, one would be forgiven for considering a basic psychology degree to be a pre-requisite for just about any romantic encounter…
Since having entered university three years ago, the vast majority of the friends I have made have been guys from all walks of life. Refreshingly blunt, and – from what I have experienced – much less easily offended than their female counterparts, these gamers, musicians, budding poets and political activists, amongst others, have endeared themselves to me and, in doing so, offered an invaluable insight into the realm of intrigue that is the male mind. Considering this advantage – and the fact that men have long since been accused of playing ‘mind games’ (hey, women do it, too!) – I set out to discover why, perhaps with the primary aim of offering clarity (or at least some degree thereof) to fellow females everywhere.
1. “Because it’s fun, babe!”: As though removing a band aid, I shall begin with the answer that women, despite so often perpetuating it, do not necessarily want to hear. A proportion of guys are *insert curse word here*. A proportion of guys really are out to cause you grief and really don’t understand just what the big deal is in leading you along, only to drop you later. One man – whose acquaintance I met in a busy pub – told me, without very much hesitation and in complete sobriety – that mind games were just ‘a bit of fun’.
21 year old William, meanwhile, admittedly that he liked the flirt with quiet girls “Just to see how far out of her shell (he) could bring them. If they get hurt, well, then that’s their own fault, really. I mean, you can flirt with somebody without necessarily wanting to hook up.”
Think that’s bad? I suppose I’d better stop short of telling you the story of his workmate…who flirted with his girlfriend’s friends… ‘to make her try harder’…
2. Fear: ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Inspiring…right? With no disrespect intended to Franklin D. Roosevelt – the former U.S president to whom these words were accredited – such a statement reeks of blissful ignorance, at least when considered from the point of view of romantic encounters. The prospect of making oneself vulnerable to another person can, for some, be more terrifying than such recognized phobias as, say, heights or spiders. Furthermore, if you had bought into one of the more infuriating societal beliefs – that is, that men are just callous, and perpetually blameful in matters of heartbreak – then perhaps it may be time for you to reconsider, given what men themselves have had to say:
“Generally, we’re afraid we’ll get hurt,” revealed 21-year-old Liam*, who echoed a surprisingly large number of those asked. “We’re worse for that than women because we also know that it’s harder for us to find a woman than it is for a woman to get a man.”
So he’s suddenly playing it cool, despite friends’ previous affirmations that he was, quote, so into you. The cute compliments – the ones that had you grinning uncontrollably – have recently stopped coming and, where previously you were excited at the prospect of being his girlfriend, you now find yourself questioning whether or not that’s ever going to happen. Stop for a moment and consider the following: might his hot-cold approach be a defence mechanism, a means by which he can protect himself from heartbreak and its fallout? The ‘love as though you will never be hurt’ philosophy is all well and good on paper but to put it into practice might not be so easy.
3. Insecurity: Women are not the only ones to battle with insecurities. As portrayals of the male body become increasingly unrealistic/unattainable – on billboards, in magazines and of course on screen – an ever-growing number of ordinary guys experience varying levels of dissatisfaction with their own image and are often subject to an intense pressure to be more ‘buff’ (indeed, one need only look to the recently coined term ‘manorexia’ to support such a statement). In order to be reassured of their self worth, thus, a startling proportion of men will turn to women, with the potential for devastating consequences. Whether or not he is interested in pursuing a relationship with her, the insecure mind-gamer will lead her along, distance himself, come back, afford her some further affection, then stop short and so on and so forth. In an effort to explain this behaviour, allow me to reference 25 year old Tom*:
“If I can manage to upset her – whoever the ‘her’ of the moment might be – then it means a lot, ridiculous as it sounds. I’ve struggled for years with low self esteem – with the way I look, my personality, my abilities and that.” He admitted. “So, for a girl to shed tears on my account reaffirms that I’m worth something, at least to somebody… I don’t need to be told that it’s morally wrong,” He added. “It’s warped and unfair, but it works, at least in the short term.”
4. “Treat them mean, keep them keen…right?”: Curiosity may have killed the proverbial cat (poor cat…), but misinformation has undoubtedly led to the premature death of countless potentially great relationships. How so, you ask?
“A lot of men today believe that women want a ‘bad boy’,” explained Matthew*(22) “Or have come to believe that girls are strangely attracted to men who mess with their heads. Whether or not this is the case, I can’t say, but a lot of guys will act this way believing that the nice guy will get friendzoned and lose out on the girl.”
Consider, for a moment, the venomous relationship between the principal characters in such popular chick flicks as the The Proposal, The Ugly Truth or Leap Year. What about those in What Happens in Vegas, She’s the Man or My Fake Fiancé? Whilst their cutting remarks and subsequent romances might ensure sufficient entertainment, so too it has misinformed a proportion of us with regards what the other half reacts to in the all-important early days of a budding relationship. What Hollywood produces is not entirely unrealistic. However, neither does it reflect reality to the extent that we should take inspiration from its storylines. Both men and women, however, are guilty of doing so, nonetheless, so if he’s suddenly blowing hot and cold then he may simply be following the philosophy that to treat you mean will keep you interested (in this instance, go right ahead and set him straight. You deserve better.).
5. Creating intrigue: For quite some time now, women have been bombarded, by dating ‘experts’ with the idea that mystery is the key to capturing the mind and heart of their chosen partner. The belief that men are natural explorers – who will seek to know more given the less they’re told – has given rise to women who appear disinterested when, in actual fact, the contrary is true. Considering what men had to say when questioned about their position as ‘mind-trick masters’, we are not alone.
“Just as many of you don’t want to sleep with us on the first date, not all of us want to lay bare our entire selves so soon after having met you.” Paul* (24) refuted “In some instances, it’s on account of a private personality. At other times, we’re seeking to abide by the principle that ‘mysterious is sexy’, hence keeping it pretty basic during the early days – no, seriously, please don’t expect me to tell you all of our family anecdotes over casual drinks.”
“If he’s not quite as into you as he seemed then he hasn’t necessarily lost interest,” added nineteen year old Emmett. “Rather, by putting distance between you, he may simply be attempting to draw you in. Yes, it may sound ‘unmanly’ but we want you to think about us, to wonder.”
6. “I’m keeping all of my options open”: A further proportion of men, when asked the reason behind their on-off approach to dating, pointed to other women by means of explanation. Thought you were the sole potential love interest on the agenda? Think again.
“You’re not the only girl on the scene,” said Benjamin, whose admission echoed that of others I questioned. “I’m texting a handful of other girls at the same time, but it’s not a case of me being a ‘slut’. Yes, I like you – I wouldn’t be texting you if I didn’t – but I’ve also got a thing for some other girls and want to get to know you all better before committing too seriously to anyone.”
7. ‘What mind games?!’ For those you whose faith in men has been diminished by this article, allow me to finish on a rather more uplifting note, in revealing that a proportion of the men to whom I spoke during the course of my research were genuinely anguished at the thought of being tarred with the same brush as, say, those whom I refer to as ‘the egotisticals’ – those who mess with a girl’s mind because…well, just because they can.
Just take it from self-described nice guy, Charlie (23): “I know of numerous guys who have been accused of ‘giving off signals’ without having any clue that they’re doing it – myself included, unfortunately. In my case, I was simply being friendly to the girl concerned, chatting to her on Facebook, texting, whatever. However, both she and her friends misinterpreted that as me being interested in pursuing something. Girls can often mistake a guy who is being friendly for a potential romantic partner” he concluded. “In which case they start to imagine other signals…”
“We are not all ‘douchebags’!” added 21-year-old Jay. “Life’s just too short, so if I like a girl then I’ll just come out and say it, no messing around. If I don’t text you back or fail to make plans with you for a while, then you can rest assured it’s ‘cos I’m genuinely busy. Stop over-thinking things!”
*Note: The names of those whose statements have been included herein have been changed to protect their identity. Many thanks to all those men – friends and strangers, alike – who contributed!
Photos c/o schweet.com, funnyjunk.com, autocompletely.com, weheartit.com