Original Draft – How I Played A Player

When I was small, I was a devoted chess-player. It was like foretelling the future. By lining up the pieces a certain way, I could get my opponent (usually someone equally inept) to move the way I wanted. It was magic.

I don’t know if you can be born a player. But, by the time Jake was five, he could get any of his teachers (female, of course) do what he wanted. “He was just the cutest little boy, weren’t you, Jakie?” lisped his mother. “All the girls at school were wild about him. They still are.” Then his mother pursed her lips, sort of wriggled her nose and looked at me down its length.

Once I discovered men, chess palled (except strip chess and only occasionally). Men were mysterious. Men could call or not call. They could say they were in love with you or not even remember your name. The unpredictability of their erratic behaviour bugged me. I was like the Ancient Greeks, looking at the sparks flying off cat fur rubbed with amber rods – those were very patient cats, or really scratched-up Ancient Greeks – and wondering about the nature of the phenomenon.

Oh, yes, Jake. Jake had cost me a month’s worth of sleepless nights. He was my next-door neighbour in university residence and had his bed smack against my wall. A new girl visited that bed every night. Judging by the wump-wump-wump sound, he was bouncing her off that wall at the speed of fifty bangs per minute.

Before truly going out into the world and learning about men and venereal diseases from personal experience, I thought I’d RTFM. No, not the self-help books. (Why would I want to augment their writers’ disposable incomes? They were plenty rich already). After all, the mechanics of infatuation were being examined long before the words “self-help book market” even existed. Ovid, Sapho, Stendahl, Choderlos de Laclos, Dumas, Mary Queen of Scots, Pushkin, Shakespeare, Chaucer and countless others wrote about falling in love.  They also – unlike the writers of self-help books – all agreed on one strategy. The carrot and the stick. They vouched for it. I believed them.

I wish I could have taken a stick to Jake.  In the mornings, he would knock on my door, holding a female-related item (glasses, panties, a bracelet, a hairclip). “Ummm, if a girl shows up looking for me, give this to her please. And say I had to leave for, like, a month.” “What does the girl look like, Jake?” “Ummm, cute. That’s it. Cute.” Then I went to class, my brain going wump-wump-wump from lack of sleep. This had to stop.

The carrot and the stick is the simplest of set-ups. It works on donkeys, monkeys and dogs. No self-respecting man would ever admit that it works on him. Of course not. He is not into head games. He is only interested in women who are honest. What matters is the personality. If she is a good person, everything else is not important. But I believed the printed words, rather than those that came out of men’s mouths. Guess what? Nuts to them. The carrot and the stick. Like a charm.

The next morning after a wump-wump-wump night Jake came to drop off another girl’s pathetic attempt to mark her territory, I had just come out of the shower. To answer the door, I had wrapped a towel around myself, but the damn thing kept slipping. “Sooo,” said Jake. The towel slipped a little. “Ummm, if a girl … actually … you want to go grab a beer tonight?” Ssslip. Caught the towel just in time. “So sorry, Jake. I have a paper due tomorrow.  Perhaps some other time.”

The carrot is, obviously, sex. A low-cut dress. A frisson of perfume. Gorgeous cascading hair, slim legs and long eyelashes. Porcelain skin and pedicured toes. A bit of lace here, a garter belt there; who could possibly resist taking a swing at a low-hung piñata? Some could, but the rest all wanted a go, so they asked. For my name. For my number. For a date. Then came the stick. Deny, deny, deny. The possibility of sex was dangled and withdrawn. The difference between a two-bit prick-teaser and the love of someone’s life, I learned, was how heartfelt and sincere the excuse sounded.

For the next two months, Jake did his best to sleep with me. He laid on the charm.  He was clever, he was funny, he could even be obliging. He brought me tea when I was up cramming and a box of chocolates when the exams were done. Naturally, I reciprocated. “So, Jake, what color do you like better? This one is Russian Roulette and that one is Wicked. Which one goes better with my toes?”  But whenever he invitingly opened the door to his room, I went on to mine. Alone. We did go to a restaurant eventually, and when we started kissing there, it got so bad, they kicked us out before desert.

Occasionally, a guy would try to fight it off. Refuse to play. But the way only very few women can stop half-way through a chocolate bar, very few men can call quits on a woman they have not yet slept with. An infatuation is like quicksand. The more you thrash to get out, the faster you sink in.

Frustrated, Jake decided to turn the tables on me. Since I wasn’t ponying up and going the wump-wump-wump way, who needed me? Not him. The school year was ending and he took an out-of-town internship. He did leave a number where I could reach him. I wanted to call him so badly, I actually broke the phone to prevent myself. He cracked first. He called. I was out.

When men engage in this behaviour, instead of denying plain old sex, they deny affection. “I am really not sure where this is going.” “I don’t know if I am ready to have a serious relationship.” “I have never been in love with anyone. I don’t know if I am that kind of person.” Same game, different chips. When a prick-teaser meets a heart-breaker, the loser is whoever can’t delay gratification.  There is rarely a winner.

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder. By the time we were back in August, Jake had decided he was in love. We never went wump-wump-wump; instead, we broke the damn bed.

Why did I do it? Because crunching men’s hearts under your heels lends a certain spring to the step and eases any pangs over prior disappointments. But, once I decided that the prick was the ultimate handle on a man’s brain, the sport lost its appeal. I was free to concentrate on my career; I got married to the right guy and had two lovely daughters. I even took up chess again. But it remains my considered opinion that the subject of seduction ought to be taught in schools. Well, at least to all the girls.

In the last year of university, Jake and I moved in together. I broke up with him in the midst of an unseemly argument about who was responsible for doing a week’s worth of dishes. There is no way to be married to someone who is such a jerk about everything. Last time I heard from Jake was on my thirtieth birthday. He sent tulips to my office with a card that read, “You were the love of my life. I should have done the damn dishes.”  Only took him four years to apologise.  If you can call it an apology.  Anyway, I am glad things turned out the way they did.  I am happily married.  In fact, I haven’t had a single dream about Jake in months.