Hate the Game

At some point, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

I have. I’ve gotten it from a friend justifying a spontaneous hook up with some guy she barely knew at a party. A couple of times, I’ve heard it from people who made a habit of leading others on, just for the attention. Once, tragically, it was all the explanation a mate could give me right before he cheated on his long-term girlfriend.

So, I figured it was about time I took them up on the offer. This post is about hating the game.

“The game” is hook up culture, the underlying societal pressure that encourages people to have casual hook ups on a fairly regular basis. Just so we’re clear, when I say “hook up,” I’m not talking about that term fishermen use when they get a bite, reel that fish in, and take the cold-blooded vertebrate back to their place.

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A “hook-up” could mean sex, it could mean making out, it could mean something in-between. What it definitely means is physical intimacy without commitment.

Jason Evert writes that the idea really kicked off in the 1960’s with the “free love” movement, which assumed that if there were mutual feelings between two people, then they should feel free to have sex.  There was just one fatal flaw: the promoters of this so-called sexual revolution had no idea what “freedom” or “love” actually meant.

Like Jason, I absolutely believe that we should be free to do whatever love is calling us to do. But, I don’t think even the players are kidding themselves that “the game” has anything to with love. The guy swiping right on tinder at 1am and hoping to get some company by 2am certainly wouldn’t say that he is looking for true love. The people grinding in the club generally aren’t convinced that their soulmate is hiding somewhere on the dance floor. It’s not about love; it’s about short-term, no-strings-attached pleasure.

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I’m convinced that “the game” sucks. While I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a “player” these days, I’ve had random hook ups in the past and I’ve got a number of friends who have done the same. Without fail, reviews of the experience are that it is just a tad disgusting. I mean, you’re with this person, whose personal hygiene is but one of many mysteries, there’s probably a bit of alcohol, maybe some vomit; it’s just not that great.

And when it comes to going home with someone, I don’t think anyone enjoys being that person finding their clothes, awkwardly putting them back on, making jokes, walking out the door, and pretending like the whole experience doesn’t leave him/her feeling really, really crap. It becomes a kind of soul-destroying contest to see who cares less.

But we get told that this spiral of short, sharp intimacies will leave us fulfilled. So when we’re left feeling unsatisfied, we assume that the problem can’t be with the culture. It must be with us. So, we try to mentally reconstruct the the experience as a fun fling. Maybe an amusing story we can tell to get a laugh from our friends.

I’ve got to call the bluff. It all seems like a pretty hollow way to pretend you don’t hunger for a deeper connection.

When we consider hook up culture, it’s really important that we think about sex. Yup, your puritan Catholic author totally just said that. Writer Frank Sheed said that “modern man practically never thinks about sex.” “Players” will fantasize about sex, they’ll joke about sex, but they never actually pause to think “What does sex mean? What is its purpose?”

A huge part of sex is vulnerability. Imagine standing before someone, completely naked, and instead of taking you into their arms, they laughed at you. Or they took a snapchat to share with their friends. Or they recommended five, 30-minute sessions of high intensity cardio a week. The thought is terrifying, its sickening, and the reason why is because you’re putting it all out there. In that moment, you are totally giving yourself to the other person.

But during a hook up, two bodies are speaking a language of self-giving and commitment that doesn’t actually exist. It’s like you’re telling a lie with your body.

Often, people use hook ups to shut their emotions off from their physical actions. After all, getting intimate with someone without any expectation of commitment, without any need to know them on a deeper level, or without ever actually seeing them again, is a really good way to stop intimacy from hurting as much. A “player” might not have any any physical boundaries, but there is often a mile-high wall around his/her heart.

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In the past, I would use hook ups like a kind of shield.  “The game” was a good way to avoid my deeper fear: that I actually couldn’t handle a lasting relationship. It was a safeguard against the demands of commitment; the demands of actually caring about the person who I was with.

I think, too, that “the game” was an attempt to find self-worth. I got it into my head that if a lot of people wanted to hook up with me, then it was because I was worth a lot. But in reality I found the opposite to be true. The longer I lived like this, the less self-worth I had.

See, in a way, this kind of sexual “freedom” is just proclaiming yourself to be available for free and usually, when something is free, it’s because it doesn’t have any value.

I’m not saying that a person who lives like this is worthless. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Your kisses, your body, and your heart are an infinitely big deal. That’s why its messed up when people act like they aren’t.

Sex doesn’t just say “I take you for a little while” or I just like your body.” Sex says, “I totally give myself.” When you completely give yourself to a person is this way, a bond forms. I’m not just being poetic here. When two people have sex, they release a hormone called oxytocin, which works like a kind of chemical superglue,  psychologically bonding the two lovers together.  It’s called “making love” for a reason.

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Unsurprisingly, breaking this powerful neurological connection often causes a lot of emotional pain. Our bodies, like our hearts, are not made for casual hook ups. This is one of the reasons why Catholics (and a whole bunch of other people) believe in saving sex for marriage. It’s not because sexual intimacy is dirty, bad or impure. It’s because sex is good, it’s sacred, and it has the power to bond people together.

Intimacy is meant for so much more than just a “game.”

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