Conventional wisdom says that if you want to make a man fall in love with you, make him chase you! I’m convinced that ‘playing hard to get’ has been practiced ever since Adam and Eve found each other, covered with leaves. Why else would lines like these have been handed down through the ages: “Anything that comes easy loses its excitement,” and “To love and not to have is the greatest torture and the most tormenting pleasure.”
My own mother, too, wasn’t being coy when she told me to play it cool with boys. She really believed in her own mantra. “Men love to chase girls,” she would tell me. “Girls don’t approach boys, that’s not the way it’s done. You’ll seem too ‘easy’.” And it was true: in my own experience at school, girls who gave in to the advances of the opposite sex too soon were judged harshly, especially by other girls. Society had invented a number of appealing labels for these girls, the favoured title being ‘fast.’
I suppose this is why my poor first boyfriend had to ‘chase’ me for two years before I finally succumbed to his charms. He wrote me love letters, dedicated songs to me, stood outside my house in the moonlight pining for me… what he got for his persistence was a six-year relationship. Did the relationship last beyond that? Of course not! It’s not like I found my ‘one true love’ by being frigid. But despite this, my mother’s words continue to echo in my head, with the result that I have never, ever asked a guy out on a date. Never! Even if I have a crush on a guy I patiently wait for him to make the first move, and if he doesn’t… oh well, my crush eventually fades away.
There is an interesting flipside to this, though. When I was at college in America, I would jealously watch my American girlfriends go on exciting first dates with handsome boys, enjoying wild, steamy, passionate nights with said beaus. The problem was that these dashing studs didn’t bother to call the next day, and I’d have to endure long conversations with my girlfriends that revolved around the question, “Why hasn’t he called?” College boys weren’t interested in ‘relationships’; they just wanted to move on to the next conquest as soon as possible.
So had my mother been right all along? Well, being momma’s good little girl meant that I lived through years of the typically American college experience without succumbing to temptation despite my ‘exotic’ looks. When a college boy first made a pass at me, I was thoroughly confused by the whole thing and had no idea what was transpiring. I could have taken some comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the only unattached lady in my dormitory, except the only other ‘unscathed’ female weighed around 300 pounds. Anyway, suffice it to say that realising that what is considered virtuous in your part of the world makes you a ‘freak’ in other, more cosmopolitan circles was a huge cultural shock. This realisation is also a rite of passage which will hopefully make you more mature: faced with so much peer pressure and a new, open environment, will you choose to stick to your own culture or adopt the ways of the society you are living in for a short while?
Back in Pakistan, people thought it was pretty cool that I had upheld my morals and traditional Pakistani values. My attitude earned me the ‘respect’ of my Pakistani guy friends but did little to help me understand relationships and the realities of male-female interaction. In retrospect, would I have been better off being able to ask a guy out? Should I have made the first move all along? And how would guys in the late 80’s have reacted to a gutsy, independent girl who knew what she wanted?
Actually, I can answer that. I knew of hardly any women who got away with living the ‘fast and furious’ lifestyle in Pakistan. The ones who were forthright and open about their choices had to bear with insecure husbands always questioning their past relationships. It was clear that the Pakistani man was not ready for a ‘carefree’ girl.
Things have changed over the years, but not very much. I have some male friends who think that ‘playing hard to get’ is a silly, dishonest game. Another friend of mine has an entirely different take on the issue. She says, “Playing hard to get is neither attractive nor mature… but although it is seen as being old-fashioned today, it can also simply be a means of doing things differently from the rest… a person who holds their own and keeps things mysterious while maintaining boundaries. A woman who’s a challenge also conveys that she has standards to maintain. Boundaries and mystery should never be lost when in a relationship.”
All in all, I don’t think I ever set out to ‘play hard to get’ on purpose. This attitude was conditioned into my system by my parents. “You will fall in love once and marry that man,” they had intoned. So when you were chased while you were single without a proper marriage proposal in hand, of course the only answer you could give the guy was “No!” You fought the flattery and attention by constantly telling yourself: “Girlfriend, he only wants to sleep with you.” Such was my upbringing!
With all these games abound, I often wonder: once the game is over, is love over? How would things have fared if Laila and Majnu or Romeo and Juliet had not died for love? Are Heer and Ranjha, buried in one grave, asking each other for space: “Hey, stop crowding me,” she tells him. “I need my space!” Now, space is another topic entirely, a topic that will take much more ‘space’ to address… next time.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 13th, 2011.