Powerplays in Relationships and Dating – Written by a Dude
By Benji Matthew
I’ve heard it said “the person who cares less has the most power” in relationships. I think there’s some truth to that. All relationships (not just romantic) have a power dynamic. It’s not necessarily PC to admit it, but human nature isn’t very PC. Our social wiring is basically that of neanderthals who had little regard for correctness as we know it.
Girls play hard to get. Boys treat em mean and keep em keen. Yes, these are teenage games. Instead we have the “adult” versions of them. The “3 day rule”. “Don’t text him”. “Take the same amount of time to respond as she did”.
I hear my single female friends say “should I text him?”. What they are saying “should I give away a little power?” What other reason is there to not text?
We all want what we can’t have. These games are going on constantly, it’s hardwired into human nature – we are a social animal. The only question is if we are aware of them.
A Tale of Three Girls
Let me tell you about three girls I dated, through a power tinted lens.
I had a first date with Anna when I’d had several unsuccessful dates in a row, and frankly, was suffering from dating fatigue. We had lunch together on a beautiful autumn day. We sat in the sun, chatting about literature, artistic goals and families. I didn’t call her.
A week later she texted and asked me to come that evening to see a competition her friend was in. My policy of saying yes to anything interesting won. Throughout the evening, it became clear she was into me. We had a good time. I was lonely. She was pretty. I dropped her home and kissed her. We fell into a relationship.
She ticked almost every box. Smart? Very. Pretty? Definitely. Creative (a big one for me)? Yes. Fun to hang out with? Lots. Physical chemistry? Great. Spark?
She never set my world on fire. I never thought “Anna is coming over tonight! I can’t wait!”.
So she pursued me (in a subtle feminine way) the whole time. After about 3 months, I ended it. Not because anything was wrong. It wasn’t. Just not enough was right. I couldn’t see it going anywhere long term and as much as I enjoyed her company I didn’t want to lead her on. Later we ended up as friends and she admitted she had tried not to text me too much. The adult version of the rules.
The dynamic started before my first date with Nina. She texted me saying she wasn’t sure she was ready to date and maybe we shouldn’t meet. I talked her into it. I think in part she appealed to the rescuer tendency many of us – including me – have. We all want to be needed. There can be power in being weak, especially in established relationships.
It went well – very well. She set my world on fire. I saw her again and again. She cancelled our fourth date, adamant she still wasn’t ready for dating. After 6 months chasing her, against all odds we saw each other for 2 months. Then she ended it again. I could write an essay on the reasons it ended, but ultimately, I was more into her than she was into me.
I recently bumped into her in the park. I said hi, kissed her on the cheek, said I was busy and walked away. It was a petty, way too-little-too-late attempt to rebalance the power.
We had a first date and there was an instant connection. Not fireworks, but definitely something. We clearly both felt it. She invited me to a party the very next night with her best friends. I got an enthusiastic stamp of approval from them and suddenly we were an item. Honestly, I didn’t think she was the one, but I wanted to give it a chance to be proven wrong. I did the things guys are traditionally meant to do. I was romantic, charmed her, did lovely things for her. I enjoyed doing them, and she clearly loved it.
About 6 weeks later she called to end it. I was a bit upset but I didn’t cry. Ultimately neither of us really cared enough.
He’s Just Not That Into You
The speciously titled book “He’s Just Not That Into You” is basically about power dynamics. From scanning, it has the base assumption the man should do 100% of the pursuing, and the woman’s only agency is through playing hard to get. So much for feminism. That approach certainly creates a power imbalance, and may work in some cases. It’s also manipulative and no better than the sleazy guys using PUA techniques to bed random women – manipulating people to meet your own needs.
I don’t think men and women are that different (although, never having been a woman, take that with a pinch of salt). We want to be needed. We are scared of rejection. We feel vulnerable. We want to be loved.
How do you restore balance when it’s out of whack? I’ll make the assumption that, if you are asking this question, you are the one with less power.
So far I’ve simplified the notion of power. Power operates simultaneously on many different axes. The stereotype is men hold power on money, women on sex, and men and women trade power in an uneasy alliance. But it can be on many different axes, somewhat unique to each relationship. But add up all those pieces, the end game is: who wants the relationship less?
Take a Pill or Diet and Exercise?
Humans want the easy option. There are things that work – playing hard to get sometimes works, but it’s ultimately manipulative. The goal is healthier relationships, not creating a machiavellian army. For example, Nina, the girl I was crazy about who dumped me, really wanted children and her clock was ticking loud. I could have gained a lot of power by suggesting we have children together (which I was open to), but I knew that would skew the power to me for the wrong reasons – she would possibly want me for my sperm rather than want me, so I chose not to exert power on that axis. Right result, but wrong reason. Process matters.
Rather than give the easy option, I’ll give the diet-and-exercise option. I have a female friend who is smart, funny, attractive, and perpetually single. Why? Mostly, she has terrible self esteem. She is desperate for a guy, and I’m sure guys sense that, she gives away her power instantly. I’m sure the first quarter decent guy who asks her to marry him, she’ll say yes. She has no power at all.
The answer is the opposite of that. Be the best you you can be. It’s a cliche, but true. People want to be with you then. Be confident in yourself and you’ll attract the right person. And if that person doesn’t want you? Well, tough luck to them. You are awesome. If they don’t realise it, that’s their loss.
Get some hobbies. Go out. Not to meet people. Just to be more interesting, more fun, more passionate, to have something to talk about, and yeah, as a bonus, maybe meet people. Maybe not. Who cares? You’re being awesome.
Like most things, it comes down to the basics of life. Exercise. Eat good food. Be kind to others. Be an awesome you. That gives you as much power as you’ll ever need.
Photo Credit: Luke Pamer