My good friend Paul needs help.
He's polite, funny, Jeopardy-contestant smart and boy band cute. He also claims he's been trying to figure out the dating scene since he was four, and judging from his battle scars and war stories I'm inclined to believe him.
Paul has tried all avenues hoping they'd lead to "the one." Online, offline, blind dates, blind fate. He's not so much interested in settling down into holy matrimony as he is in calling off the search.
"This is exhausting," he told me one day over coffee. "If I have to fill out one more about me profile, my computer is going through the window."
Incidentally, most of the laptops I spied around the coffee shop were set to one dating service or another with most of the fingers banging away on the keyboards attached to men. No sense in pointing that out to Paul. He had enough to worry about without comparing himself to the back of the heads of all his competition.
"Maybe you should take a break from it," I suggested, thinking about the old adage of finding what you're looking for when you stop looking.
"That only works for highway exits and socks," Paul said.
I have found that to be true.
Because Paul was in extra bad shape, I let him eat half my Danish. The topics moved on to movies, books, and eventually D&D.
"Man," he lamented. "People think D&D has a lot of complex rules? They should try dating."
I suspect many have and most would agree with Paul. At least with D&D there are rules. Books full of them. And while the "dating" aisle of a bookstore is jam packed with books offering their own rules, they often contradict one another.
Play by The Rules!
Don't play games!
It's enough to make a grown man… cry?
"Holy cow, Paul, are you crying?" I asked.
He responded with the international sign for choking—wrapping his splayed hands around his neck. "Help?" he managed to eek out.
Laughing when the person across from me is choking is just one of the many reasons no has listed me as their emergency contact. It's also why I can't play a cleric. Fortunately, my laissez-faire approach to healing also made Paul laugh which in turn dislodged the Danish.
We parted shortly after, but I continued to think of Paul and his plea for help. This wasn't just about the cheese Danish. He, like so many others, needs help in another area.
What if dating did have rules? Even better, what if D&D rules applied to dating?
Some rules already do. Think about that guy who's a sucker for tall, thin model types with an IQ equal to the average daily temperature of Siberia. He's blinded. Or the girl who continues to date losers, despite her friends' firsthand arguments of why she needs to dump him. She's deafened. Or what about the girl who gets all tongue-tied and clammy in the presence of Wil Wheaton and would have passed out into a pile of advanced reading copies if she weren't paralyzed in fear? Yep. I — I mean she—was petrified.
Wouldn't it be great if you could make a skill check before you actually hit on someone? Drunk frat guy: DC 4. Sober sorority snob: DC 25. Knowing isn't just half the battle. It's the whole battle. Just imagine the hit points you could spare.
And how much more confident would you feel showing up to a blind date with a shield? Maybe some bracers for your feelings? Asking someone for a date wouldn't be so traumatic, would it?
I'm no relationship expert, but I am a procrastinator with a deadline so I've decided to come up with my own set of rules to help navigate the Be-Mine field known as dating. And I know just the person to help—a self-proclaimed authority who is never shy when it comes to unsolicited advice.
"Hi Mom," I said, calling at my usual time. Unfortunately it's also Law and Order's usual time.
"Why do you always call when my show is on?" she answered in typical fashion. "You either better be in an ambulance or waiting for one in a ditch."
Don't be alarmed. Judy's not heartless. My evening phone call is more regular than the changing of the guard, so she must think I'm just calling to talk about recipes or who guest-hosted on The View.
"Law and Order is on approximately 37 times a day, so conflict is inevitable," I reminded her. "Besides, I need some dating advice."
That's enough to cut off Sam Waterson. "I thought you'd never ask."
Before I can explain further, she kicked things off with her favorite rule: put yourself out there.
"That's actually pretty dangerous in D&D," I said. "Especially if you're a squishy wizard. You should really stay in the background and let those who can handle things take the brunt."
"Typical," she said. "Remember 7th grade when you let your supposed best friend dance with Todd Putter, and next thing you know they're dating for three years? You loved Todd Putter!"
Must we go there? Jeesh. I can still feel the sting of my braces cutting into my upper lip from fake smiling as I watched them dance over the gymnasium floor to Almost Paradise.
Maybe we'll come back to Judy's advice later. No need for all of us to feel bad about ourselves.
But before we turn The Player's Handbook into a Playa's Handbook, here are some basics to remember.
Secrets are for Squirrels
While Dungeon Masters have the ability to keep their rolls private (and we trust them why?), the rest of us have to lay it all out in the open. Believe me, I've tried claiming 6's to be 9's, and watched fellow group members nudge the playmat a fraction of a second upon realizing they rolled a 1, but it's no use. New DM has the eyes of a beholder and every one of them will call us out.
Most of us only have two eyes and a pair of ears (if we're lucky), and apparently that's not enough to decipher your beloved's true intentions. Take Paul again. He went on—what he perceived to be—a great first date with a girl named Amy. She claimed to be "normal," and "mature," and "not a fan of the stupid games that surround relationships." Paul was relieved. Finally! He could be himself and not worry about how Chapter 3 of whatever dating book she was reading was going to contradict him.
Paul sent Amy a text message following the date reiterating how great it was to meet her and how he was looking forward to date number two. But alas… there wasn't going to be a second date. Amy wrote Paul off claiming he was "too aggressive." That's right. The normal, mature, not-into-dating-games woman was threatened by a text message. Good riddance, I say.
Start Seeing Things
In D&D it's good to use minis and battle grids to visualize the action. With dating the same is true, except that you don't have props. And I mean it. No props. If your date is not a D&D player, busting out your minis and telling them all about your tiefling warlord is not a turn-on. Trust me. But back to the action.
Judy is a big believer that visualization leads to fruition. The visions of triple red sevens dancing in her head as I write this is the only explanation I have for why she brings home so many oversized checks from upstate New York casinos. Before you even land a date, visualizing the action can position you to take advantage of opportunities and be ready for hidden obstacles.
"The world is your battle grid." (Thanks, Judy.)
How so? Well, leering from behind a corner does not scream 'approach me!' so remember it's just as important to position yourself in such a location that offers you concealment from being obvious but still granting you full view of your subjects.
Eyes on the Prize
No one likes a surprise round in D&D. Usually it means you failed your perception check or, in the case of my group, forgot to do one. Hidden enemies abound in the dating world! That subject you've been casing? You may not be alone.
"You think you're the only one with eyes?" Judy asked me once about my dog's painfully cute vet. "If he's that good-looking, believe me, you've already got competition."
I hate competition almost as much as dogs hate thermometers.
My point? Don't let an enemy surprise you and move on in your action! Be ready to strike at a moment's notice. Sure, it may provoke an oppy, but who cares? If you succeed, the reward will be much sweeter. All's fair in love and war.
Getting Some Action
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you have to take some actions to get some action. Judy wants you to put yourself out there, but 'out there' doesn't mean putting your paralyzed self in the path of a big rig. Here are your options.
Free actions include a look, a wink (cheesy but I can't stop you), a smile or a wave. Although these actions are free, make sure you use them sparingly. You don't want to be that guy.
Do people still buy strangers drinks? If so, that's considered a minor action. So would offering a girl your chair in a crowded bar (I love this one because I'm very lazy and usually wearing heels).
Judy likes to say "move it or lose it" but that's usually in regard to slow drivers and grocery shoppers who leave their carts in the center of the aisles. She's not messing around and neither should you. Plotting your move action is very important. Just as the name implies, move actions let you either position yourself to a more desirable location, like closer to your subject—or, if you're so bold, you may have already readied an action and walked right up to them. But what to do when you get there?
We all look forward to standard actions during game play, but in the realm of dating—hello, they're scary! This includes horrible things like talking, asking for a phone number, introducing yourself and enduring/using cheesy pick up lines. Sorry. Most turns have to include a standard action unless you want to be perpetually free.
Leave Your Mark
A girlfriend of mine had tickets to a comedy show, so she brought this guy she was interested in. "Interested" is the key word here. They weren't technically dating although they had been out quite a few times in what most would construe as romantic-inspired situations. Anyway, the guy ends up giving his number to the waitress at the club, right in front of my friend! He didn't think there was anything wrong with this.
"What do you have to do to a guy to make him realize you're on a date?" she asked.
"You should mark him," I said.
This of course was lost on her as she's not a D&D player, but I may have converted her after explaining what I meant.
"A marked target will automatically take damage should he or she hit on another target."
"Brilliant," she said. "From now on I'm bringing a Property Of stamp and a scarlet colored ink pad on all my dates."
And yes, gentlemen, she's still available.
Having back-up is a great idea both on and off the battle grid. In D&D it's called flanking. In dating, it's called having a wingman. Here's a tactic I don't recommend you try at home:
Guy 1 is interested in Girl, so he enlists the help of Guy 2. Guy 1 and Girl go out to a bar; once there, Guy 2 (already at the bar) fake chokes on the cherry in his whiskey sour so Guy 1 can "save" him and look like a hero to Girl. All goes as planned until Guy 1 and Guy 2 burst into giggles the second Guy 1's arms encircle Guy 2's waist. Girl believes that if Guy 1 needs to employ such juvenile tactics to win her affection, he's clearly not the guy for her. Neither guy looks like a hero.
Maybe the intentions were good, but the execution was terrible. If Guy 1 had an action point, that would have been a good time to use it.
If Girl had a wingman instead, perhaps he or she would have tried bull rush to rid Girl of Guy 1 (and Guy 2 for that matter, who's probably not above hitting on an unmarked subject) before their half-ass drama went down. All good wingmen/women have probably needed to use bull rush…. unfortunately most rolls result in a critical fail.
Sealing the Deal
Another friend was dating a really great guy. He was smart and funny and as focused on her as a service dog is focused on his master. Yet she wasn't 100% confident he was ready to commit. This guy was also a huge football fan and talked about opening day of the season with the same enthusiasm and fervor that she'd surely be talking about their pending nuptials one day. So she delivered a coup de grace in the shape of showing up at his house on opening day to cook him football-shaped French toast (I know!) with mini Dallas Cowboy flags (sort of the metaphorical flag she was sticking in his helpless body) perched atop the powdered sugar-covered pile of sweet, syrupy goodness. Not wanting to disrupt his game-watching juju, she left after breakfast but not before popping a homemade lasagna in the oven for later.
Poor guy. He never had a chance. Thank goodness this one worked out. Who wants to compete with football-shaped toast?
That's What Friends are For
Here's a great Judy-ism: Build a bridge and get over it. If only it were that easy. And if we played by D&D rules, it would be. Just knowing that Tabitha has good friends with healing powers makes her a little extra confident in combat. Maybe too confident sometimes. Why not get yourself some cover, Tabby, instead of using all your move actions to chase gnolls around the playmat with your flaming sphere? But I digress. You may not have healing surges in real life, but you might have friends. That's what they're for.
Dating can be overwhelming, sure. But just like D&D, the more experience you get, the quicker you'll level, and with every level comes greater advantages.