When I was small, I loved chess. 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.
Once I discovered men, chess palled (well, except strip chess). 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.
The guy who bugged me more than anyone ever had was Jake. He was my next-door neighbour in university residence, and he had his bed smack against my wall. A new girl visited that bed nearly every night. Judging by the wump-wump-wump sound, he was bouncing her off that wall at the speed of fifty bangs per minute.
In the mornings, he would often knock on my door, holding a female-related item — glasses, panties, a bracelet, a hair-clip.
“Ummm, if a girl shows up looking for me, give this to her please.”
“What does the girl look like, Jake?”
“Ummm, cute. That’s it. Cute.”
Then I’d go off to class, my brain going wump-wump-wump from lack of sleep. This had to stop.
Before getting out into the world and learning about men and venereal diseases from personal experience, I thought I’d read the manual. 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 had been examined long before the words “self-help book market” even existed. Ovid, Stendahl, Shakespeare 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.
The carrot was, 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?
Then would come the stick. Deny, deny, deny. The possibility of sex would be dangled and withdrawn. In books, the difference between a two-bit prick-teaser and the love of someone’s life seemed only to be how heartfelt and sincere the excuse sounded.
If anyone deserved the stick, it was Jake. But, I would throw in the carrot too. He might have been a player, but I wanted him, anyway. Possibly because he was hotter than the beach at noon.
But there was no way he was going to be dropping off my panties at a neighbour’s. No. The way I was going to do it, he’d be begging for a glimpse. Ovid, Stendahl, and Shakespeare all concurred.
One morning, Jake came again bearing some girl’s pathetic attempt to mark her territory. I had just come out of the shower. To answer the door, I wrapped a towel around myself.
“Sooo,” said Jake.
The towel dropped a little. “Ummm, if a girl….”
Ssslip. Caught the towel just in time. ”Actually, you want to go grab a beer tonight?”
“So sorry, Jake. I have a paper due tomorrow. Perhaps some other time.”
And just like that, the carrot was offered. It was attached to a stick, but poor Jake did not know that yet.
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 heated that they kicked us out before dessert.
He got visibly frustrated. Tough.
At that point, the school year was ending, and Jake chose an out-of-town internship. I wanted to call him so badly, I actually broke the phone to prevent myself. But, he cracked first. He called. I was out.
By the end of the summer, victory was mine. When we returned to school, Jake had decided he was in love.
Once he professed it flagrantly enough, there no longer seemed to be any point to holding out on him. Rumour had it that he was the best ride in town. Rumour was right. We didn’t just go the wump-wump-wump way, though — we broke the bed.
Carried by the momentum of unexpected passion, Jake and I became a couple and even moved in together in the last year of university — much to the consternation of all the girls who never had a chance to reclaim the missing bits of their wardrobes (or leave any more in Jake’s room). These women failed to understand that the prick was the ultimate handle on the man’s brain, I thought smugly.
For some time, I was perfectly content. I had outplayed a player. I got the guy I wanted by the application of self-restraint and brain power. He was hotter than hot. The sex was great. What was not to like?
But at night, I couldn’t sleep, even though there were no longer any wump-wump-wumps from next door keeping me up. It seemed rather dumb of him to have been reeled in by a ploy so simple. If I could do it and get him, anybody else could as well?
It occurred to me that a man who chose to waste this amount of energy on skirt-chasing wasn’t worth having in the first place. Plus, what if I no longer felt like playing? I wanted to trust and respect him for a change. I could not. Ovid looked the other way, Stendahl wept, Shakespeare shrugged his shoulders.
I broke up with Jake in the midst of an unseemly argument about who was responsible for doing a week’s worth of dishes. Because really, crunching a man’s heart under your heel might lend a certain spring to the step, but who wants to corral a dude into marriage by means of a stick and a carrot?
The stick and the carrot is meant for donkeys, monkeys and dogs. The guy I really fell for and married was too smart for it. But that’s a whole other story.
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