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The Dating Games We Play - Don't Hate The Game, Hate The Player

Single people in their late twenties and early thirties often resort to new and inventive ways to find their perfect match. We, as a society, have moved past uncomfortable church single mixers, asking our married or committed friends to set us up, hanging around in hardware or lingerie stores hoping to strike up a conversation over the sockets or red leather corsets. Singles now have a huge resource to turn to in order to further the search for "happily ever after."

The advent of the internet has spawned countless internet Dating sights that allow you to search for potential mates whether you're straight, gay, rich, poor, religious, ugly or heart-stopping gorgeous. In my perma-single state, I've dared to dip my toes into this new circus of single, and have skimmed photos of smiling single men in towns both mine and beyond to read a little bit about how these men describe themselves. "Nice_Guy _in_BFord" claims that he loves children, is a great cook, works at a grocery store and enjoys hunting. "RobbyRichie822" says he likes tall girls with blond hair, is a single father, and hopes to find someone to go hiking with him. The unique screen names, uncomfortable self-portraits, and poorly spelled "About Me's" are all interesting to leaf through...but...one line on online profiles always makes me laugh...

"I don't play games."

Liar!!!

Yes, you do!!!

We all do.

Dating, at its core, most stripped down, is NOTHING BUT a huge game. It's gambling: wagering, odds, strategizing. It's juvenile: hide and go seek, you want it, I have it. It's fantasy: shaving, cologne-ing, tweezing, dressing up. It's a psychological thriller, it's a physical stimulant, it's smiling, acting, faking, and all the while placing the most valuable asset each human being has on the table...our heart.

It seems to me that starting up a relationship has to have some method to its madness. It starts with a mutual attraction, furthers to outright flirting, grows to spending time with your desired-one in a public or private setting, and culminates with the decision whether outright recognized or just mutually silently accepted that the couple is now in a committed relationship with one another. This may or may not lead to love, or as the anthropologists refer to it, "romantic love" and "pair bonding." This "pair bond" may culminate in marriage or simply remain at co-habitation or whatever situation is desired by the people within the "pair bond."

Of course, as any single girl in her late twenties will tell you, the likelihood of finding such a situation, with each passing year, grows smaller and smaller. Women have the ever-so-attractive distinction of being referred to as "spinsters" or "old maids" while our male counterparts, from their twenties and beyond, get to be called slightly desirable names like "confirmed bachelors." Personally, I think the double standard is bullshit. As much as society has grown more tolerant to women being more career oriented and less wife-and-mother focused, there is still a certain stigma to being 27, single and childless.

"Confirmed bachelors, " I feel, were planning their bachelorhood from an early age. In high school, there was always that guy or two that dated everything in a skirt, bragged in the locker room about his conquests, and had that certain something that drove the geeky band girls crazy and made the cheerleaders drop their Lollipops. They never had a steady girlfriend and were always surrounded by their guy friends. They joined fraternities in college and spent every Friday night at their KDR house being the life of the party and the center of attention. The found themselves in positions of power, power over women, power over their classmates, their KDR fraternity brothers, and eventually this power took them to lofty heights in their chosen careers. These men have been told from a young, tender age that they are wonderful, handsome, intelligent, and special, and have grown to believe it. And, they have also chosen to magnify it. Most often, this magnification stems from a poor feeling of self worth. This dichotomy has always intrigued me, how someone can know they're handsome and smart, but, for whatever reason, they still do not believe it within themselves. Guys and girls alike suffer from this psychological hiccup, and it makes them destructive to themselves and those that care for them.

So, in adulthood, these people achieve great successes in high powered careers, enjoy exciting and vibrant social lives, they golf at country clubs and sup at fine restaurants, they smoke Cuban cigars and wear expensive suits, they drive "conspicuous consumption" cars and trucks, have the finest electronics and take the most expensive vacations. Anything anyone has ever done, they've done it bigger, better, faster, and cooler than you or I. However, in order to protect their emotional destitution, they build up walls of arrogance and conceitedness, and although they appear to have it all, they're lacking more than confidence and worthiness...they have never been in a healthy, loving, romantic relationship.

These men indulge themselves in half-hearted relationships either until they become bored with their flavor of the week and just forget to return their phone calls or until something better comes along. They trade in their 5'6'' 25 year old brunette model with a great career and biting sense of humor for a 6'1'' 23 year old blond with a tighter ass and bigger breasts and more willingness to give head and swoon at their advances. In my years of overanalyzing men, I sometimes wonder if it's because a woman gets too close or too intimate and the man has to bail before he gets hurt or is found out to be a worthless loser in an expensive suit.

For whatever reason, I am attracted to this type of man. It's almost like I'm a blood hound, able to smell their issues from miles away, and find myself inexplicably drawn to it. Even though these guys are more often than not a loser in a pricey suit, there is some feeling of victory I experience when I'm let into the heavily guarded recesses of his soul and find that he's not a douche bag, that he's actually a person, a human being with a heart and a soul, that he's a decent, caring, but misguided man. But, sometimes, I'm disappointed to find that he's just an asshole who drives a fast car.

This latest fast car, a black 2006 Audi TT, screamed into the parking lot at my radio station with the stereo spewing some industrial rock with screaming guitar and garbled growling vocals out of the open convertible top. The screeching tires and loud music caused me to turn my attention from my cigarette and chat with Michele and Melissa to this mysterious car. The door opened and the driver's foot came out first, followed by a black leather brief case, and there stood an expensive suit, designer sunglasses, and confident gaze in our direction.

"That must be the new sales guy...Ari. I heard Dan talking about him starting next week, " Melissa informed Michele and myself who were enraptured with this tall, spiffy, new guy confidently swaggering over in our direction.

"Uh huh..." Michele and I both uttered in distracted, curious unison as we watched his every step, his every arm swing, unable to take our eyes off of him.

Ari walked over to us standing under the tree in the adjacent yard and introduced himself, saying he started work the following Monday. He took off his shades to reveal piercing blue eyes. His face didn't register much emotion. Ari was sporting a look that was a mixture of boredom and professionalism. He never once smiled, he was stoic and completely nonplussed.

I snapped out of my hypnosis and took the lead in introducing myself, Michele, and Melissa.

"Ari, good to meet you. I'm Lynn, this is Melissa in Accounting and this is Michele. She's gonna work with you in sales.'

"What do you do here, Lynn?" Ari asked very business-like.

"I'm on the air...I'm actually Jesse Jordan."

"Oh, yeah, I've heard you on the air. You're pretty good. And kinda funny." He kinda cracked what I assumed was Ari's version of a smile.

I'll be damned if Ari didn't gush over me. Just a little.

We made stifled conversation for a minute and when Ari went inside to fill out his W-2's and other new job paperwork, us three girls all agreed that Ari was undoubtedly a total douche bag.

Ari started the following Monday and was put through the initiation process, every day tearing into the parking lot in his shiny black convertible, dressed to the nines, and always maintaining his unwavering blank unimpressed stare at everything. He worked his way up to early success, having met his sales goal and receiving a large bonus check within weeks of his tenure which was presented to him by Baxter, the General Sales Manager, in our monthly full staff meeting amidst applause and accolades. I was also recognized at this same meeting, being awarded "Colleague of the Month, " and I presented my Chili's gift certificate to Michele for being the catalyst that caused my recognition, also amidst applause and gratitude.

In the weeks following the meeting where Ari and I were both recognized and rewarded, Ari made fast friends with management, which was comprised of mostly men, ingratiated himself with the on air personnel, and seemingly effortlessly established a flashy clientele that included the hippest clubs, bars, and businesses in town.

I sat back and just watched him rise to success and popularity among the ranks at the station, namely with the men in positions of power and notoriety within the staff. As a woman, the "boys club" never ceases to amaze me. The world of men is vastly different from the world of women in that if you have the right toys, the right hobbies, and the right cocktail in your hand, you can achieve far more than any woman ever could if given the same skill set and opportunities. Ari was a natural born sales person in both selling himself and his personal value and selling the professional value of our radio station. His methods might have been unorthodox but his results were certainly anything but as he was awarded "Top Seller" within two months of coming on board.

Every Thursday after work, we would go to the station's signature bar, Wave's, where I also moonlighted as a bartender, and have a few cocktails to celebrate the near end to the work week. There were usually seven or eight of us that would show up and eat, drink, bitch about the stresses of the week, the absent colleagues and their fuck ups, and laugh about the funny stuff that happened to each of us. The girls usually would eventually section themselves off and the boys would reciprocate, and we'd talk about our respective boyfriends or bad dates, and the men would talk about golf, their next sales proposal, sports, usual boy talk.

After a few cocktails one night three months into Ari's tenure, I got a little buzzed and a little chatty, and found myself infiltrating the boys golf chat and plopped down at the table next to Ari. His focus, much to my surprise, turned from his male pattern bonding to me and left his caveman conversation and turned to chat with me. Ari's focus was me, for whatever reason. I secretly wondered why this was, so I decided to see how far it would go and for how long I could hold his attention. I deliberately sucked down the rest of my Captain and Coke and shoved my empty glass in his face, batted my eyelashes and said,

"This is empty. Will you refill it? Please?"

Ari stared at me blankly with a glint of shock on his face and his eyes twinkled slightly as he reached in his pocket for his money clip and peeled a $50 off of the wad of bills.

"Are you asking me to buy you a drink?"

"Yeah, it appears that way, doesn't it?"

"Do I have much of a choice?" he asked as he placed my empty glass on top of the pretentious bill. Game on.

"Nope." I gave him my sweetest, most adorable smile and shrugged my shoulders in victory and adorableness. He countered with a sideways semi-irritated, semi curious smile. I suspected there might have been something there. Perhaps I was right. Only time would tell.

"Sami, I got Lynn's next drink." Sami, the bartender, poured my double Captain and Coke and placed it in front of me, took Ari's $50, brought his change, and Ari left Sami a $5 tip. Nice. Very nice.

I thanked Ari for the cocktail, swiped it up off the bar and turned to rejoin the girls. As I sat down, I glanced over my shoulder to find Ari still looking in my direction. As quickly as I turned my head, he turned his back to rejoin his boy chatter. I grabbed my smokes out of my purse, Michele and Melissa and I went outside for a smoke, and the conversation found its way to Ari.

"I don't know yet if I like him or not. He's always so far up Baxter's ass..."

"Well, I'll tell ya, he's a hell of a sales person.'

"He's got a hot car, that's for sure."

I chimed in with,

"I kinda like him. He's arrogant as fuck but he's kinda cute."

The both turned and looked at me incredulously, as if I had dared to speak the unspeakable.

"Oh, Lynn, come on."

"You do like those cocky assholes..."

"I dunno, " I defended my statement, "yes, he's cocky as shit, he's arrogant, and he drives that stupid mid-life crisis convertible...but he's hot."

They both shook their heads in disgust and the conversation quickly turned back to the upcoming station events and who had screwed up what and how they, themselves, could have done everything better than everyone else.

Given what I had observed and believed without a doubt to have been chemistry and sparks between myself and Ari, I used the next few days to continue to explore the validity of this suspicion. In laypersons terms, I had a crush on him and tried my hardest to flirt my ass off with him. I meticulously chose my wardrobe each morning to accentuate my finest assets, gave myself extra time to make my hair perfect, and even rolled into work early every morning to give myself an excuse to spend time adjacent to him on the sales floor before my air shift.

Ari countered my efforts with hanging around the office longer than necessary, popping into my studio to say good bye before leaving to go make suit and tie business sales, and when he'd leave the studio, he'd stop for a brief second, wave at me through the window, wink at me (I'm a sucker for a winker) and look back once before heading down the stairs. We traded silly emails through the day, he'd return with comments about my on-air content, and we even had some secret inside jokes with one another.

I was tickled with the mutual flirtation we were engaging in and enjoyed every part of it.

When Ari walked into Wave's during one of my Friday night shifts, I about passed out with excitement. I dragged Sami into the kitchen after I poured his Crown on the rocks and gave him his change and giggled like a teenager. Sami, who had known Ari for a long time, told me she hadn't seen Ari come into Wave's in years and this must mean something was bubbling between us.

The minutes ticked by to hours, the customers filtered out that night one by one, Sami and I called last call, and did our closing duties and I found myself at the bar with Ari and Jackie, the owner. We sat and drank and talked and drank and talked, and I got brazen after drinking about ten shots of liquid courage. Ari had left his cell phone on the bar and I picked it up, dialed my number from his phone, and stored his number in my contacts list while he watched, never asking what I was doing or doubting my actions.

I now had Ari's phone number.

Eventually Jackie left me and Ari alone at the bar, to our own devices, and we settled in on the bar stools, my feet propped up on his knees, and we talked until the sun came up. The conversation found its way to our work at the station.

Ari totally fit the profile of an arrogant, conceited, self important asshole. This is a major turn on for me.

"Yeah, so today, I helped broker a radio station." He said this completely out of the blue, as if he had said "Today I ate grilled cheese for lunch, " and waited for me to swoon or gush or give him a grandiose reaction to his major broadcasting accomplishment.

"You 'brokered' a what?" I asked over my Captain and Coke.

"A radio station in Muncie, Illinois...yeah, a Buddy of mine brokers stations out of his office in Syracuse and needed my help to close this deal. I made like five percent of the million dollar deal in commission in under an hour."

"Wow, good for you." I said, completely unimpressed with his blatant boasting about his windfall. I really and truly was unimpressed. I would have been more impressed if he'd said he gave a pint of blood or adopted a stray dog. I am unimpressed with money and conspicuous consumption.

"It might result in a job offer for me down the line. This company we work for is so backwards. I got really pissed this morning and decided I had thirty days to get what I want or else I'm gonna jump ship."

"Well, what do you want that you aren't getting?" Any time anyone complains about their present situation, I'm half curious and half incredulous as to why they continue to endure their own self-induced suffering.

"There's no support from management in this sales office. I've been telling Baxter for weeks and weeks that we need this amazing computer program that I used in Philly. It's only $100 but the company flatly refuses to pay for it. It's just so incredibly stupid. And, on top of that, I had to sit through one of those ridiculous meetings with upper management where they all just blow smoke up your ass all morning, 'it's so important that you implement the utilizations of the ramifications of the sales process in your proposals.' Please. This is second nature to me. I'm so above this garbage."

Wow. How arrogant. How completely arrogant. And hot.

Ari wanted me to swoon over his massive accomplishment, selling this random station somewhere for his possible "buddy" in Syracuse. There is no way for me to verify whether or not this transaction actually took place, and if it did, good for him. If it was all bull shit, hey, who cares? Ari also wanted me to be impressed with his financial windfall, and admire his bank account and all it's new zeroes and commas. This was not happening because money is not a turn on for me unless it's my own hard earned money in my bank account which at that time, had one comma and three zeroes. Ari also wanted me to cry out for him not to take another job and convince him he was an integral part of the financial success of the broadcasting company we were both employed by. None of this was happening and he continued to attempt to impress me with his boundless knowledge, financial stability, and his unwavering sales skills.

He finally figured out that his boasting and puffed chest weren't working on me and decided to begin to belittle me and my chosen career, in the hopes of getting a rise out of me or making me admire his success. I chose to do neither.

"You have it so easy, sitting in the studio all day, you don't know what we go through in sales."

AHA. I GOT YA, ARI.

"Yeah, actually I do."

"Oh, is that right?" He turned to face me with a look of doubt on his face as if I had no idea of what he went through on a daily basis.

Little did Ari know that I used to wear the business suits, I used to hand out radio commercial rate cards, I made presentations and wrote out time orders, I used to push to make goal, I used to do his job.

"I used to do what you do, Ari. And I know how terrible I was at outside sales. That's why I got out of it and got into the studio. I know exactly the stresses you're under, the pressure to make sales goals and match numbers, and that's why I'm so grateful to have the sales team that we have. You guys all keep me in a job."

SCORE ONE FOR LYNN. Ari shut the hell up for about five seconds in pure shock. Ari was trying to get me to argue with him, to match wits about the merits of being in sales versus being on air, about how he was far more important and necessary for the functioning of the radio stations, and I totally knocked the wind out of his sails.

I won that argument.

Around 5AM, I told Ari I had to go home, and he waited as I turned off the lights and locked the bar, and he walked me across the street to my crappy car, gave me a hug, and I watched him as I drove past his convertible as he climbed into it.

I pulled out my cell phone and decided to give in to him just a little and typed a text message to him that said "Thanks for keeping me in a job. J See you at work Monday."

He called me the next night to see what I was doing.

I screened his call and didn't call him back until three hours later.

This game was totally on.

"Hey, you called? What's up?"

"Just wondering what you were up to. You working at Wave's tonight?"

"No, I have a remote and then I was gonna go home and hit the hay. I haven't been up that late in months. I'm exhausted, aren't you?"

"Nah, I'm alright...got a nap this afternoon after my buddies and I played golf." Of course you played golf, you Audi driving, Oakley wearing, Crown drinking pretentious asshole. He continued,

"Well, I'm probably gonna be in tonight. You should come by after your remote."

"Yeah, I might be able to do that, I just don't want to be out late. I'll give you a call when I'm done, okay?"

"Sounds good."

I had no intentions of going out to Wave's and I figured he was used to girls falling all over him because of his appearance and distant demeanor and I didn't want to fit in that category, even though I was internally falling all over him because of his distant demeanor. His clothes and accessories didn't do much to turn me on. But physically, HOT. Ari was very handsome-tall, masculine, broad shoulders with a large, stocky build. He had a disarming smile and fast charm and wit. He walked with a confident swagger and spoke with purpose. When Ari talked, people listened. Extreme confidence is almost always an indication of extreme insecurity and I feel it's my purpose in life to help those suffering quietly and internally because of what they feel are their short comings to discover and believe that they are worthwhile and fabulous people. I've done it before and I am certain I can do it again. Also, I didn't want Ari to think that when he asked me to jump, I'd promptly reply "How high?" I wanted to tease him with my own brand of distance. It's the very seductive "hard to get" game. It almost always works. And, I'm usually only good enough at it to play for the first three or four hands before I lay my cards on the table.

I did my remote that night from a club in town, and asked all my friends about Ari, if they knew him and what they thought of him. Most people, as I suspected, used words like "cocky, " "rude, " "asshole, " "tool, " and one girl in the crowd overheard my Ari Inquisition and this stranger must have had carnal and first hand knowledge of Ari and went so far as to call him a name pertaining to the size of his manly endowment or lack thereof as it pertained to his personality. That response was unexpected. That night, I went home, fell asleep amidst the variety of adjectives used to describe Ari swirling in my mind, and when I checked my phone in the morning, Ari had called three times and left two messages, wondering where I was, reminding me they were still kicking at Wave's, and then in the last message, asking me to call him on Sunday.

Which I did after waiting until late Sunday afternoon.

Here is where men and women differ using public opinion. Men, when hearing derogatory things about women, will discard the woman in question because it's unacceptable for a woman to be rude or flighty or indiscriminate. Ludacris was right when he rapped that [men] "want a lady in the street but a freak in the bed." Women, however, have some ingrained emotional need to fix the proverbial "fixer upper man, " and take the asshole out of the asshole guy. We crave the diamond in the rough, we search high and low for the prince trapped in the frog, and the gentleman trapped in the body of an Armani suited "cocksucker."

Ari answered my call on the first ring, to my surprise, and after I got out a "Hey, Ari, " he said quickly,

"How do you like your steak and where do you live?"

For a moment, I was speechless. This was "reign taking" like I had never experienced. I gathered myself and picked my jaw up off the floor and replied,

"Oh, okay, umm, I like my steak medium rare and I live on Water Street on the north side. What time are you coming over?"

"About two hours. Can you make some side dishes?"

"Yeah, uhh, lemme check my fridge, umm, let's see, how about garlic mash and broccoli?"

"Sounds good. I'm bringing movies, too. See ya in a bit."

No sooner had I hung up the phone and did a dance of joy than I started tearing around my house, cleaning, boiling water, taking out the trash, chopping broccoli, I was in a mad rush to have my house perfect for Ari's debut into my domicile and wanted to serve him the finest garlic mash and roasted broccoli so he'd fall in love with me and let me inside his protective emotional armor.

Ari arrived right on time, just as I was giving the final mash to the potatoes and pulling the broccoli out of the oven. He commented on the delicious gourmet scents that permeated his olfactory senses, and I plated steak, taters, and broccoli, poured him a glass of red wine, and served him first. Although a liberated woman of the 21st Century, I still get a sense of satisfaction when catering to and making happy a man in my home. I plated food for myself, poured myself a hearty glass of wine, and sat down at the table to dine with Ari.

I must say I was impressed with the steak. It was a perfect medium rare and had great flavor. It matched well with the Shiraz Cab I purchased the weekend before and the garlic mash was fabulous. Ari commented on how he'd never had roasted broccoli before and how good it as and I was ecstatic that my hours of Food TV had paid off and that Ari might actually respect something I achieved.

In matters of romance and Dating, I operate purely on intuition and how I'm affected by the man who happens to be in my sights at that particular moment. I was shocked to discover I was speechless when Ari was around, unable to come up with witty banter quickly, almost shy about making my regular sarcastic comments, and pretty much shut the hell up and let him take the conversational lead. To me, this is a good sign...my intuition is almost never wrong in matters of the heart. I was flat out giddy and giggly that Ari was on my couch, sipping from one of my wine glasses, and actually wanted to spend time with me.

Once my intuition told me that I really, really liked this guy, I was beyond flattered when Ari actually paid me a few compliments. He told me he thought I was adorable and that he enjoyed talking to a girl that could actually carry on a conversation and used sarcasm as much, if not more, than he did. And, his appreciation for my sarcasm allowed me to loosen up a little, let down my guard a little, and after he spit out his kind words of acceptance and admiration, I snuggled closer to Ari and he put his arm around me after dinner and I looked up into his bright blue eyes and felt myself falling for him.

Ari was a master story teller and regaled me with the movie trailer for his life story movie. He had been blessed with an exciting life, had lived in various places up and down the East coast, and had endless tales and stories about crazy parties, extensive travel, celebrity meetings and sightings, and our shared passion, radio.

Our conversation turned to our mutual ground, work in radio, as it does for people who eat, sleep and breathe their careers. I began to tell a story about how one of our coworkers had helped themselves to my personal set of headphones and how it upset me.

"I've always had a thing with people taking my stuff...I don't know why!!! When I saw my headphones on RJ's head, I about came unglued. All he had to do was say, 'hey, Lynn, can I borrow your headphones?' and I would have been just fine with that, but just help himself to them? NO WAY. AARGH. That's my third set of head phones!!!" I regaled him with this tale of my idiosyncrasies with mock anger and pretend frustration.

"Okay, people who take your stuff bugs you...what else ya got for pet peeves?"

I took a sip of my Shiraz Cab and contemplated my pet peeves, again suffering from an abatement of my quick wit and ability to think on my feet.

"Wow, okay, umm, I can't stand it when people tell me 'how it's gonna be.' My ex had a friend that informed me that I wouldn't see my ex on a weekend again, EVER, because they were going fishing EVERY WEEKEND. I DON'T THINK SO. Don't tell me how it's gonna be. OH, OH, OH, THE BEST ONE...if you call me and I don't answer, LEAVE A VOICE MAIL. I hate that...if you have something so important to tell me that you have to call me, LEAVE A VOICE MAIL!!! That's not cool."

"Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, " Ari replied to my laundry list of peeves, "but people touching your stuff and telling you 'how it's gonna be', not leaving you a voice mail....smacks of control issues." He shook his head, teasing me.

It was like Ari had turned on a light bulb in my head...he was right and because of Ari, I discovered I had control issues. I laughed and playfully punched him in the arm and told him I agreed with him...I'm Lynn and I'm a control-a-holic.

Our conversation went on and on, and Ari tried a thousand different times to get me to swoon or to react to what he believed to be his massive accomplishments. When I tried to get in on the conversation and make my retorts, I was irritated to discover he had a problem with talking over me. I'd be mid-sentence and he'd start a new train of thought, negating and disregarding what I had to say. Now, I was crushing hard on Ari especially since he had just pegged the "control freak" in me, so this was not cause for anger, it was like he was taking over and I was slightly turned on while being irritated. So, I began to shut my mouth, clap my hand over it, and when he'd stop mid-interrupted-sentence and look quizzically at me, I'd apologize for talking in my most sarcastic tone, and say "I forgot your words were more important than mine, Ari." And I'd bat my eyelashes at him.

Ari left around one and I climbed in bed, so happy that I'd had such a fun night with Ari. I actually thanked my higher power for the evening, and explained that I would understand if it was ending pretty soon, as most of my start up relationships did, namely during Head Space and Karma.

The following week at work was non-descript, with Ari and I exchanging covert glances across the sales floor at each other, not making any outward deal at all over our flirtation or our Sunday night spent together eating steak and psychoanalyzing each other. Fast forward to Thursday happy hour at Wave's. The gang from work had all filtered out, leaving Ari and I to ourselves at the bar. We drank and talked, and our conversation which had clued Ari into my issues, this time clued ME in to Ari's insecurities. Although I hadn't found the root of it, Ari desperately wanted to be the center of attention in whatever crowd he was currently running. He cared deeply about what others thought of him, not in the "do they like me or not" sense, but more in the "do they think I rock" sense. I learned of his seven year relationship that ended badly and hurt him deeply. I learned that he hated living in our town and desperately wanted to branch out and spread his wings, but was being held down due to agreements he had made with his ex and their shared assets. I could sympathize with his caged bird song, and felt slightly bad for him and his situation and need for acceptance, even if it did border on a need to be worshipped.

Ari's hand found its way to my knee after three cocktails, soon his arm was around my shoulders after seven, and I reciprocated and put my hand on his knee after the eighth. We finished up our tenth round and he offered to drive me home. After a ride in his Audi where I marveled silently at the European sports car leather seated comfort and sport tuned craftsmanship, I invited him in and we drank some more and talked some more. Ari felt he was too drunk after our fifth glass of wine somewhere around 3.00a to drive home and I told him I'd love it if he stayed over.

I completed my nightly routine in preparation for sleep in the bathroom in solitude, quickly taking out my contacts, putting on my pajamas hurriedly, turning off the lights and locking my door as if Ari would disappear from my house, and as I slipped into my bedroom around 3.30a, I was thrilled to have found Ari peacefully sleeping with a kind of a sweet smile on his face that drastically differed from his normal look of superiority and indifference. I closed my bedroom door quietly and slid in bed next to him, put my arm around his middle to caress his exposed stomach and chest, and whispered in his ear,

"If you're not gonna kiss me then I'm gonna kiss you." I cupped Ari's face in my right hand and kissed the left side of his cheek sweetly and gently. Ari seemed to wake up a bit and opened his eyes slowly, turned to face me and smiled an Ari smile, and then he kissed me back, sending an electrical wave from my top to my toes. We made out pretty much until the sun came up. When we finally broke our kisses, I rested my head on his shoulder and he ran his fingers through my hair until I fell asleep. He woke up with his alarm, got dressed, and slid back in bed next to me to gently wake me, he kissed me good bye and told me he'd see me at work in a few hours.

Ari and I began to spend more time together, out on the town or at my house watching movies and snuggling on the couch. One night, he actually returned to his house to get a clean and pressed suit for the next day at work and came back to my house to spend the night. He showered in my bathroom, and once all Ralph Lauren suited and Oakley sunglassed, he gave me a goodbye kiss and lamented he didn't have another hour to lay in bed with me. After a delicious dinner Ari cooked at his house the next week, he invited me to stay over with him and gave me a T-Shirt out of his drawer and a pair of his boxers. When his dog tried to lay down between us, Ari gently pushed him off the bed and wrapped his arms around me, squeezing me and yelled at his playful puppy, "MINE!!! I saw her first!" His doggie barked at him to which Ari responded to his dog and turned to make his lips meet mine and we fell into a passionate kiss that lasted for three hours.

I was positive I was getting pretty good at this game. I tried to stay away from Ari, not follow him around or crawl up his ass to maintain a sense of mystery about myself. I tried to avoid his calls and return them at a later time or day. I tried not to like and be fascinated by Ari like I felt my self liking him and being fascinated by him. I tried to play the game. But, much like my athletic ability, my ability to play and win at Dating games is mediocre. I suck at the game. I'm terrible at playing games with people's hearts. I'm fairly straightforward about my feelings. If I like someone, I'll pursue them as long as I feel I'm being pursued back. The "hard to get" game is one I have NEVER mastered. And, my Mommy always taught me to treat others as I'd like to be treated, and I know how I feel when I find I'm being strung along and therefore don't like to do that to others.

However, it's important, when playing the dating game, to ensure that your partner is playing by the same rules as you are. It's even far more important to know that your partner is playing THE SAME GAME as you. Using my knowledge and real-man-experience from my past, I listened when Ari told me he had concerns about getting involved with a co-worker as this situation had burned him in the past, so I made damn sure to acknowledge our fling to only those closest to me at work. I also tried to give him space and understand when my calls went unanswered or tentative plans were put on hold. Ari was in his mid-thirties and was used to living as a single man, unattached and unhindered. The last thing I wanted to be was an attachment or a hindrance in Ari's eyes.

If I was playing the "checkers" dating game, Ari was playing something like fucking "Twister." I had a checker board and was ready to allow him to "jump" me (extensive "checkers" metaphor so get your mind out of the gutter) and he was spinning the spinner and going red foot on yellow. We were both using two diametrically opposed sets of rules, and hell, we weren't even playing the same fucking game in the same room, the same fucking house, town, state, country, or the same god damn hemisphere on the same god damn planet.

I was so busy reveling in my shot in the arm of self confidence that Ari was crushing on me that I forgot to keep my head in the game, whether the game truly was checkers or Twister, and I forgot to watch for the warning signs leading to my eventual and inevitable defeat in the overall game that is Dating. His cell phone was like the proverbial third wheel during our evenings together, always ringing and interrupting his constant flow of verbal arrogance and superiority and my comical self-effacement and false self-absorption. He'd silence most of his incoming calls and rarely check his voicemail, but when he did, he'd go out of ear shot, which slightly troubled me, but I was enjoying his company so much I'd let it roll off my back.

Eventually, all good highs result in a crippling low. All drunken nights result in a painful hangover, over indulgence on Thanksgiving results in indigestion, and all existing Ari's result in Lynn picking up her heart off the floor.

I was pulling double duty at Wave's on a Saturday after a particularly busy radio week. The entire sales staff had been at a week long seminar out of town and the air staff was out at clubs and grand openings every day, and I was spending my night behind the bar pouring drinks and simultaneously doing a live broadcast on the station, promoting both the bar and the DJ that was totally kicking ass. The sales staff and the air staff were united in the necessity to blow off steam from the stressful work week and all of my coworkers were in attendance and at varying stages of intoxication.

Baxter, Michele, and Melissa were playing darts with Shawn and one of the bouncers, Aaron and Kyle, jocks on the station, were fawning all over Stephaney, the new blond sales girl with a huge set of knockers and the top to showcase them, and the remainder, less Ari, of our fifteen person staff from sales, the business office, and on-air, were lined up at the bar, hooting and hollering for me as I'd be talking live on the radio and mixing up their Jacks and Cokes at the same time. It was an amazing night. Management, sales people, jocks, office personnel, all were united in the cause and the cause was partying. Ari was lost in the crowd of three hundred people, mingling, networking, and completely ignoring me and I happily returned the favor as I had enough eyes on me and was enjoying every second of the undivided attention and adoration I was receiving from all my friends from work and from the listening area. I flirted, I mingled, I hugged and gave kisses on the cheek, I was a regular social butterfly and yet the one person I wanted to pay attention to me above all others was on the other side of the bar in a sea of guys indulging in male pattern bonding.

Three hours into our station wide party, Ari finally found his way over to me, plopped down in front of me and ordered up two shots, I mixed up his requested concoction with flair and fabulous attitude, and as I poured them, he announced one was for me and the other was for him. I handed him his designated shot glass proudly and smiled at him as I reached over to kiss his cheek. He smiled and held my gaze as he picked up his shot glass. We knocked them back and I thanked him, had a quick thought and told him to stay put, I'd be right back.

I hurriedly retrieved my camera from my purse, handed it off to the victorious Baxter who had killed in darts and came over to brag about his win in Cricket, and when he was done reminding us he was the master at darts, I asked him to snap mine and Ari's picture. Bax smiled at me and told me and Ari to get closer together. I smiled my happiest smile and placed my arm around Ari's upper body and held my eyes open as the flash flashed. I got a look at the digital display of our buzzed, smiling faces when Bax handed my camera back, and saw I looked fantastic while Ari had blinked in the picture. Ahh, foreshadowing. Upon closer, sober inspection the next hung-over day, I discovered our body language was vastly different. I was leaning in to Ari, my arm proudly around his shoulders, my face beaming, while Ari's head leaned away from me, his posture turned in the opposite direction, and he blinked. Fucker.

As quickly as he appeared and bought shots, Ari told me he was leaving. Actually, he didn't tell me, he told Baxter just loud enough for me to hear it, and then made quick goodbyes and hit the door.

Baxter shrugged his shoulders at me and I shrugged back after asking if it was something I said, we both smiled and laughed, I bought Bax and myself a shot, and he went back to partying and I went back to working and partying.

Two hours later, I was outside having a smoke and taking a break when I saw Ari's Audi come screaming into the parking lot. The car had just come to a halt and I was already on a brisk walk bordering on a tear to his car. I should someday learn that when I'm slightly intoxicated, I shouldn't be allowed to attempt to make strides in romantic relationships, but the torpedoes were damned, and my Ari was back in my scene. I got too far to turn back when I saw both the driver side and passenger side doors on his Audi open and I saw one brown haired head and one blond haired female head disembark from his vehicle. The point of no return was about ten steps behind me and I froze momentarily, taken aback with Ari and his tall, blond, female friend casually walking towards the door. While motionless, I contemplated going to my car under the guise of needing something, but my car was on the other side of the parking lot and wouldn't make a suitable respite. I scanned the dumpster at my six o'clock, the station truck at my three o'clock, the group of bar patrons, none of which I knew personally at my five o'clock lighting books of matches on fire, the cluster of motorcycles in front of the bar at my eight o'clock, and even gaped at the solid concrete under me, longing for it to turn liquid and swallow me up to a parallel universe where there was no blond female, but even it remained steadfastly solid. There were no viable options...I had committed to saying "WELCOME BACK" to Ari, I was far too invested in it to turn back and look like an asshole. So, I walked the last fifteen steps and met Ari and this tall, leggy blond when no other escape route was available or fa.5ade was believable. Getting a good look at this girl reinforced every insecurity I have about my physical appearance. She was pretty, young, blond haired and blue eyed. She was dressed like she had fallen out of an Abercrombie ad and had a body with T&A that went for days. She was runway, haute couture Audi TT convertible hot. Although not slack in the looks department, I consider myself more girl next door, off the rack at Macy's, Dodge Stratus with a CD player cute and I felt vastly, painfully inferior.

"Hey, you, you're back!" I said through a plastic smile with a high pitched, nervous voice. I knew my number was up, that my delicious high was quickly resulting in a painful low, but I had to keep up appearances and hang on to my dignity.

"Yeah, they shut down TNT's so we shot back. Oh, yeah, umm, Lynn, this is Vanessa. Vanessa, this is Lynn."

Fuck you, Vanessa, and more importantly, FUCK YOU, ARI. But, nice manners.

My unwavering plastic smile bent a little bit and I squeezed out a "Hey, Vanessa, how are you? I'm Lynn. Oh, I love your shirt...where did you get it?"

I have no idea what she said. I was focused on finding a way out of this situation for my dignity and my delicate ego. Suddenly and thankfully, I had an epiphany and realized my cell phone was in my pocket. AHA, ESCAPE ROUTE. I immediately wiped the plastic, toothy, gritted fake smile off my face and replaced it with a surprised look of "Oh!" and my hand instinctually went to my left back pocket to feel it's non existent vibrating ring and retrieved it as if I was getting a phone call. I flipped it open to look at the pretend Caller ID immediately, so that Vanessa and Ari wouldn't know I was pulling a fake out, put up the "I have a phone call" finger, and excused myself from my personal hell, from Ari and his newer, faster, prettier, younger, and blonder model. I talked to nobody on my pretend phone call just long enough to watch them, in my peripheral vision, go inside after he opened the door for her, walk up to the bar, and sit down to order drinks. I then watched Ari fetch Baxter, Aaron, Kyle, Michele, Melissa, and watched as he introduced her to them. Michele locked eyes with me through the window and looked at me quizzically, and if I read her mind correctly, she was asking me "What the fuck is going on? I thought you...and Ari...what the fuck?" And I responded with the same non verbal shrug, saying to her, "I don't fucking know either, Michele." She gave me a sympathetic smile and blew me a kiss, and I responded with a half hearted smile, thankful for her concern.

I ended my fake phone call with a sigh, closed my phone, and replaced it in my pocket, defeated. My shoulders slumped, my ego deflated, and my confidence and self worth took another right hook to the stomach. I realized in this game, I was the ultimate loser.

Although I was defeated and Ari was done with our brief three week whatever, I wasn't about to let him completely ruin my evening. I was the star of the show and he wasn't anywhere near forgetting that because I did everything in my power to keep that from happening. Even if Ari didn't want me, I found solace in my good, real friends and their support. The crowd was loving the DJ, they were loving having me behind the bar and in the DJ booth yakking on the mic, and I was loving being the center of attention.

My Ari and Captain Morgan high was but a distant memory the next morning as I was left with a hang-over, both in body and in spirit as I turned my alarm off the next morning. I made sure to be as presentable as possible given my self-ingested situation, and arrived at work at the same time as I had for the last three weeks to not cause any suspicions.

I can be an amazing actress when I have to be. I was all smiles to everyone in the sales offices, even poking my head into Ari's cubicle to wish him a good morning, and as he turned to say something back, I turned away from him as quickly as I had turned to greet him. I was hurting for a number of different reasons. Ari had treated me with blatant carelessness, and as soon as he had found something better than myself, he dropped me like a bad habit. On top of that, he paraded his new find, this leggy blond around as if she was his new toy, his new personal play thing. I was no longer somebody of value, I was another "in between" and I was gonna be damned if I alluded to that fact in Ari's presence. Although no explanation for his behavior was needed, Ari felt I deserved one on Thursday night at Wave's during our weekly Wave's Happy Hour.

When not consciously being an amazing, Oscar worthy actress, I'm actually kinda crap at hiding my feelings towards other human beings. When the dirty, filthy, murderous looks I was casting in his direction at Wave's finally irritated him, Ari came over and confronted me, offering a sad, idiotic, and diluted explanation for his treatment of me.

"Listen, okay, I told you from the beginning I didn't want to start anything with someone I work with."

I said as hushed as I could, even though my blood pressure was over the limit for someone of my age and size, regardless of how many double Captain and Coke's I'd sucked down in the two hours we all were there,

"Yeah, Ari, you said that. And I heard that. I gotcha loud and clear."

He made his eventual goodbyes after receiving five phone calls on his cell, and when I returned home later that night, I was drunk and sad and lonely, and started a barrage of text messages to him. I needed more answers, I had more to get off my chest, and he was going to read them.

Ari was just as self-absorbed as I am and I knew he'd read them if I kissed his ass just a little. Our text conversation went something like this from what I can remember.

"Why are you so mean to me?"

"I'm not mean 2 u. I told u I didn't want n e thing serious. I FUCKING HATE TXTING."

"You only hate texting cuz you suck at it. Seriously, I think you're awesome and you keep proving me wrong."

"1st of all I don't like doing this on text and 2nd of all I told u I don't like mixing work with Dating. Why can't u understand that. Hope we can be cool at work."

I never responded to that last message from Ari because I passed out cold due to extreme intoxication after I closed up Wave's and got myself home by the grace of God. When I woke up in the morning and read his questioning of my ability to accept what had gone down between us, I responded,

"Bottom line, you hurt me. I really liked you and was enjoying getting to know you and our time spent together. That's unforgivable in my book. See you at work!"

With the sending of that final text message at the wee hours of 7AM, I pounded the last nail into the coffin of my infatuation and desire for Ari and buried it as best I could in the cavernous recesses of my memory of crushes past. Staring at the visual silence and the audible lack of ringing of my cell phone, I fully realized Ari was completely finished with me. He opted for the leggy blond that gave great head with the amazing T&A and my great sense of humor and biting sarcasm would eventually disappear from his memory. I assumed his endless phone calls and nights spent away from me during our fling were spent with Vanessa, receiving mind blowing blow jobs and adulation for his achievements, whether his ginormous bank account and endless tales of success and self possessed fabulousness. And I again thanked my higher power for the strength of character and resilience to make it through being rejected by a loser in a pricey suit who drove a fast car.

Although again I had been played intentionally, I was thankful Ari had cut me loose before I started having true and deep feelings for him. Over the next days and weeks, I began to hear stories of Ari and Vanessa being caught in the throes of passion and nakedness in very public places around town. I swallowed my pride and greeted both her and Ari with smiles when they began appearing at Wave's on Thursday nights together and sequestered themselves from the rest of the crew.

For whatever reason, probably because I crave the "fixer upper man, " the "confirmed bachelor, " or the proverbial diamond in the rough, I labored under the assumption that Ari might have been one of those princes trapped in a frog. I hoped that Ari wasn't just another cookie cutter designer suit in designer sunglasses, carrying a designer briefcase and driving a designer car, using his bank account and drive to find reverence to find affection. Even though I started to scratch Ari's surface, I started to get inside his protective armor and find the real person, the man with insecurities and fallibilities, the real personality, not the "one man show with a two drink minimum, " his innate need to be reminded of how fabulous he was caused me to be shut down, cut off and I was no longer needed or desired.

I hate to think I was wrong about Ari. I hoped to find the real Ari inside, but I was just left with the superficial, thin veneer of his personality and the cold hard reality that he chose for me to experience.

Everyone plays games when it comes to dating. If you don't play games or even make an attempt, you might as well hand in your dating membership card. I played myself and tried to convince myself I would be enough to satisfy Ari. I played myself thinking that someone like me could capture and retain his attention, hoping that a nice Dodge Stratus girl with amazing intentions, genuine concern for his happiness and true interest in the person beneath the armor would be enough. I hoped my assessment of Ari was correct. Although Ari let me in just a little, exposing just enough of his soft underbelly and his vulnerabilities to pique my curiosity and like him a lot, he pulled away from me just as quickly as he came close to me.

Dating is a giant game.

If one hates the game, they don't play it anymore. In my opinion, there are differences in the level of the game being played. There's the beginner level, like junior high, the intermediate level, in high school and college. Of course, even though Sex, money and careers confuse all levels of dating, the game is one we all love to play. We withhold, we mask our true selves through lies, and through outside influences like friends, Sex, money or careers. It is in our nature as humans to titillate and excite the desired Sex to get our desired result, whether it be affection and attention for one night, one week, one month, or one lifetime. We're all guilty of indulging in the game. I'm certainly not saying I'm Lilly white in this juxtaposition of the player and the game. Although the focus is Ari and his careless treatment of one Lynn's feelings and hopes, I have certainly been Ari and men I've been around have certainly been Lynn.

Regardless of what the outcome of this giant circus of single may be, I love the game and hope to be one day successful at it. However, I hate the consummate player and all his perpetrations.

I still respect Ari for his accomplishments and successes. Hell, I had to look him in the eyes every day. I do not regret one second of time I spent with him as I learned about myself from him and hope that perhaps he learned about himself from me. I wished Ari and Vanessa endless love and satisfaction with one another and hope that Vanessa can see Ari for what he truly is...a flashy exterior with a really amazing man inside just waiting to get out, even if it is way late in the game for Ari, since he's pushing his 40's by now. Vanessa, hopefully, is playing Ari's game, whether it's Twister or Backgammon or Uno or Trivial Fucking Pursuit.

Therefore, I hate the player but I love the game and hope one day to win, even though I'm a consummate "spinster" with a career, a sense of humor, a Dodge Stratus with a CD player appearance. I'm a girl seeking a "fixer upper" man in a sea of, well, players.

By Lynn Hessley - I was born in Warren, PA in 1980 and now live in the Southern Tier of New York state where I work in radio full time.  

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