The Games We Must Play

Dearest Rachel –

For all that I said the other day about women who insist that they don’t want someone who ‘plays games’ – and yet they inevitably play games themselves – the fact of the matter is, there is really no getting away from playing games in this process of finding someone to fill that emptiness in one’s life and home.

Bear in mind that I’m not talking about being reckless with someone’s heart. That’s a different matter entirely, and decidedly not something anyone should be doing. But as it so happens, the process of discovering who another person is, and how the two of you relate to each other, cannot be done all at once (do you hear me, “A”?). It’s a gradual, step-by-step process… and when you come down to it, it’s either a game, or it’s war.

Let’s start with the fact that, even online, a chat should be just that; one person introduces themselves with a little thing, the other one responds and says something about themselves, and so on and so forth. Taking turns, like moves on a chessboard, trying to understand your… not so much opponent, as that’s a rather harsh assessment.

And yet, given the hazardous nature of this search for a partner – you’ve already read about the bots and the yanderes that I seem to have come across – each of you start out guarded, tentative, wary of the other. For all intents and purposes, you two are opponents, even as both of you would prefer to be much the opposite of that. Each move ideally places you in a position where it becomes easier to understand and ultimately capture the other – which in theory is your mutual goal.

But before playing to capture each other, you have to determine whether it’s worth the pursuit. And here, it stops being a chess game, and moves on to high stakes poker (because what could be higher stakes than your heart and future life?). Or maybe rummy, as there are a lot of cards involved. Some cards can be disposed of, but there are so many to, ah, deal with. This is just the tip of the iceberg:

Religion. This one, at least for me, is the most paramount. After all, it’s why I’m looking at a Christian dating site, rather than something more generic like, say, Tinder. If I’m looking for a life partner (as opposed to the occasional hookup, or a friend-with-benefits arrangement), I obviously need to find one that shares my beliefs to a fairly great extent. And that doesn’t mean she has to be an evangelical – after all, you weren’t at first. But it does mean looking for someone whose faith is important to them, and whose life at least attempts to structure around her/our God.

The interesting thing about the app is that it includes both denomination and frequency of attendance as a main section of each individual’s profile. And here’s where this poses its own set of problems. There are a fair number of ‘nominal’ Christians out here; those that attend only on special occasions, or once or twice a month. That’s certainly not the kind of faith I’m looking for. But on the other hand, those that attend regularly every week suggest that they have themselves a church home, one that they have roots in. Dare I make an effort to uproot them from a place they’ve settled into? Or do I leave my own, where my roots are buried three generations deep, in order to pursue her?

As critical as this card is, it’s the one that makes me question the most as to what I’m doing looking for someone online. One would think I would do so much better to find someone here at my own church, who clearly would share my beliefs, and would not require any uprooting in order to make the connection.

But the pool, though broader and deeper than most churches afford, is still fairly shallow. One could wade through it, and get one’s feet wet, but diving is pretty much out of the question.

Politics. The other third rail of polite discourse, but one that’s integral to making a deep connection. Once upon a time, my father and I spent so many meals debating this subject or that over the kitchen (or restaurant) table. It was a friendly, mind-sharpening discussion, despite our differences. By and large, we tended to be on the same page, just with slightly different perspectives due to age, life experiences, and that sort of thing. It’s the sort of healthy debate that allows one to keep one’s wits sharp while giving you a firm grounding in your own set of beliefs. Usually, there was a little bit of give-and-take, where we would concede points to the other and vice versa.

Which is why I can rarely have this kind of discussion with Daniel. I’m afraid he’s dug in on his position, and while time may convert him through dissolution, presently no amount of persuasion, no matter how logical, will shake him. After all, it’s become a matter of faith with him, and there are times when faith by its very nature defies logic.

Clearly, I need to find someone who shares a similar – but not exact – perspective on the world at large. To be fair, I expect her (whoever she may be) to have a slightly more liberal view – because, for whatever reason, that is a defining tendency for the female of the species; I’ve known this ever since my political science classes in university – but not dreadfully far off from my own, lest we be incapable of civil discourse. And I hardly need to tell you about how next to impossible civil discourse seems to be anymore. So yeah, this is important too, even though I wish it wouldn’t be. In a way, it’s not really all that far removed from religion; while our church leaders try very hard to remain apolitical, there are some tenants of our faith that are simply hewn to by one side of the aisle and disdained by the other, rendering a choice clear. Meanwhile, there’s at least one side of the aisle that seems to have replaced religion with policy pronouncements handed down from on high – truth is what our betters tell us what it is, and woe unto he who challenges the gospel according to Our Leader – or whoever’s writing His speeches.

Career vs. job. When I first signed up on this dating app, my dad warned me to not bother with any ‘career women.’ This struck me as odd, because nearly everybody my age who’s single has themselves a career – you almost have to be working to support yourself, by and large (thank you, by the way, for allowing me to be an outlier to this rule). What he brought up next, however, explained the meaning behind his message: there’s a difference between having a job and having a career. A job is simply a means to an end; it’s how you make that living that you need. Were a better offer to come by, you’d drop it in a heartbeat. By those lights, I never really had a career, merely a job.

But then there are those dream jobs, the ones a person longs to have from childhood, and studies and practices to work in that field. That’s a career. And there’s nothing wrong with having a career; indeed, it’s probably more honorable than just having a job. When you love what you do, you will do it with your whole heart, as scripture itself commands.

The thing is, now that I’ve been freed from my job, I want to be able to travel, to do things at the drop of a hat, spontaneously. A career, for the most part, won’t let somebody do that. A job can be left behind, but if you’re married to a career, well…

I’m seeing a little bit of this issue as I continue to communicate with Naruko. I thought she lived in the area – and she confirmed that she did – but her work with Doctors Without Borders has her currently stationed in Indochina, apparently. She seems either eager to get together, but obviously, it will have to wait until she returns stateside. In the meantime, I’m left to ponder what she truly wants out of a relationship (let alone our relationship). Does she want someone to go with her on assignments, and be there for her at the end of the day? Or does she want someone who will stay behind, and keep the home fires burning? She speaks of being tired of being alone, but her career makes it difficult to mesh with most potential suitors. Even I find myself wondering if this could possibly work between us. Still, we’ve hardly been communicating for more than a week or two; that’s not enough time to come to a definitive conclusion.

Children. I first contemplated this when Erin mentioned the tribulations of one of her running partners, and her situation of juggling a career and two kids while also having been effectively abandoned by a defiantly unfaithful spouse. Now, you’ll recall how we both agreed that we really didn’t want children (although before I mentioned that possibility, it hadn’t crossed your mind not to have any – to you, it seemed like having kids was just what married couples did), but that became a moot point. And while kids would – like with a career – severely limit the opportunities for travel, there are the summers, after all. I actually contemplated asking this young woman out, before being advised against it by Erin, who, while not exactly horrified at what I was considering, was pretty clear she had not intended for me to come up with that as a potential remedy for her difficult situation.

It remains a sticky issue for a potential life partner, especially for one who might want children (i.e., doesn’t have any at the moment, but who’s to say about the future?) Granted, that shouldn’t be an issue if she’s closer to my age – the older a woman gets, the more dicey it is to have a child, for both their sakes. But, to return to Naruko as an example, she’s 39. Having a child isn’t entirely out of the question. And this would be starting from the beginning, rather than picking up on a child who’s already being (or even been, in many cases) raised. That’s a lot to ask in my fifties. We saw it as a silver lining that he had Daniel so early, while we still had the energy (most of the time) to deal with him. I’m not so sure I could do that now.

And of course, there’s the fact that my own odds have long since been curtailed. Oh, Lars insists it can be undone with around a 25% success rate, but after nearly twenty-five years? Hard to imagine. Will that be a deal-breaker? That’s up to her, but that’s further along in the game than I am with anyone up until now.

Pets. I hate to consider this a hill I would die upon, honey, especially since you know where I would come down on this subject. They say to get a woman’s attention on sites like these, a guy would do markedly better if he has a photo of himself with a dog. But that’s not who I am, and not who I’ll ever be. And like with the career and children, this too serves as an anchor weighing down on any dreams of long-term travel or the like.

And after tending to Chompers on my own in his dotage after you’re departure, I really would just as soon never go through that experience ever again. Yes, some of it had to do with the fact that he was something left behind by you, another reminder that you were gone, and I had no idea of what to do with him in so many ways. But you know I was never an animal person. I was always glad that your messes tended to cancel out your ability to provide a suitable environment for a puppy; only to be thwarted by your desire to save a old, more-or-less housebroken (that tended to change over his last few months, I might point out, but we’ll be swapping out the carpet soon enough, so it’s no big deal) dog. Who was I to stand in your way? If it kept you happy…

So it may be an issue where I’ll have to be flexible again, although I’ll let whoever she may be know my story. Who knows? Maybe she’ll take pity on me, and bend in my direction on this.

So that’s enough to fill a poker hand; trying to get all of these to line up to my liking is like trying to fill an inside straight. And there are so many more potential deal-breakers out there; it will probably take a whole other letter to touch on them.

Would that I could have just been allowed to stay with you, and let that continue to grow and blossom. But somehow, that wasn’t part of His plan. Wish I knew what He had in mind.

For now, though, keep an eye on me, honey, and wish me luck. I’m going to be needing it.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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