The Evolution Of Dating From The Playground To Playing The Field
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The Evolution Of Dating From The Playground To Playing The Field

And the games that go along with each era.

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The Evolution Of Dating From The Playground To Playing The Field
NYP Decider

As I sit here and enjoy my box of mac 'n’ cheese, I wonder about the ways we develop (and don’t develop; we all know those sorts of funny folk). As we grow up, we maintain some of the favorite foods, likes, shows and people we cherished as little ones. Needless to say, our development and childhood are very influential in shaping our adult lives and behaviors.

Then I wonder: do we also maintain some of our earlier dating and relationship practices? What kinds of behaviors do we outgrow and what behaviors manifest into parts of our adult lives? Granted, people are a little more complicated than mac 'n’ cheese -- you can’t just add lobster and call it a grown-up dish -- but I think there are some ways we do just that when it comes to our dating life development.

Thus, the evolution of how we humans date and mate originates with the big bang that is the playground, where all the action happened -- who kissed who behind the trees, playing tag and always singling out the cutie from the other class, and then spinning lovesick on the tire swing when your crush gave you a push.

Life seemed simpler then: we felt a feeling for someone, identified it and usually did something about it (or one way or another made sure that said crush heard through the landline grapevine, or a series of secretly passed notes, was made aware of the feelings) or set the feelings aside. The most frequently played games were four square and “house” and nothing more than recess fun! We had courage, were fearless in our big dreams of love, took people's feelings seriously, and practiced resilience day in and day out.

Then middle school happened, and that’s not something anyone ever wants to speak of again (hello and goodbye puberty, thank you very much) but can pretty much be summed up by sweaty palms, brace-faced first kisses, too much makeup, too much Axe body spray and affections that fluctuate as wildly as hormones do.

We begin learning communication in this phase of our dating development, important lessons about self-confidence, and how to encourage the esteem of others -- basically how to be decent human beings when it comes to other’s hearts.

High school rolls around and suddenly we are tossed in a whole new set of social statuses, classmates, and thank goodness new styles (though this doesn’t apply to quite everyone, myself included -- I may or may not have still worn Limited Too clothes as a freshman, who knows) and we encounter the era of great change, part one.

Suddenly there are omnipresent status groups that aren’t really talked about but somehow inherently understood and labels are being slapped onto each person who walks through the doors each morning.

Now, there are different factors to be considered when forming a crush on someone: are they popular? Do they have a car? Will they be a good kisser? How much um, *cough cough* experience do they have? Are they out of my league? Am I out of their league? Are they my type? So on and so forth. Sprinkle in a fresh batch of you’re-almost-a-physical-grown-up-but-still-have-the-emotional-development-of-a-kid-hormones and, wow, have we got a complex situation brewing.

It’s amazing how in a span of ten years we can go from “I like so and so because they make me laugh and gave me their pudding at snack time,” to “omg, they are so hot but so out of my league, but I should totally talk to them, but that would be so embarrassing, but maybe I’ll ask them to prom, but maybe I’ll be rejected, but they are just so cute, and they totally checked me out in gym class today and…” y’all know the rest.

So goodbye to the days of simplicity and ease. Even so, with this messy situation comes the excitement of meeting new people, experiencing growing up together, and a whole new playing field for the games of the heart. One such game, that I’m not sure when we pick up, is playing hide and seek with our affections.

In high school, relationships are sometimes short-lived, but for those who don’t couple up to roam free and thing-fling with everyone, when did it become okay to make a playground out of other people’s feelings?

I’m not talking about playing the field or testing the waters to see if there’s a spark. I’m talking about entering into (what the kids call) a “thing” with someone, declaring an interest, keeping near constant communication, taking the steps toward the classic albeit sometimes over the top high school relationship, only to then (also what the kids call) friend zone that person shortly before it’s found out by everyone (now through the cell-phone grapevine) that the friend-zoner was in cahoots and had a “thing” with another person (or twelve -- it varies) at the same time.

Hello, broken hearts! Now, this doesn’t seem to be malicious planning by certain adolescents to woo someone with the sole purpose of leading them on and being a heartbreaker; for some maybe, but certainly not all. I completely understand fickle interests, I have them too, and that sometimes a spark can flicker out between people and a new one can ignite in no time. That’s not the issue. The interesting thing in all of this is the communication aspect.

Considering the natural progression of communicational skills, at this stage in life, we should be adding finesse to the ways in which we communicate with others, not allowing it to disintegrate or totally cease. Like when kids and are able to say “I like you!” clearly and knowingly, it seems that by the time we reach teen years articulating those feelings should be easier to articulate.

Maybe it’s a combination of the newfound social influences or the mottled mix of adolescent emotions that are hard to define, that makes communicating intentions or feelings and interpreting those of others difficult at this age. The regression in our communication during high school years seems out of place but is merely another building block in our dating to mating development, I guess!

Does this regression affect our behaviors as adults, though?

Soon we graduate and get jobs, go to school, and pursue a future of whatever kind and our emotions generally mature, as do the ways we express them and conduct our business in accordance with them. We learn the so-called appropriate ways to talk about and act upon our feelings and begin perfecting how we interact with potential dates or mates as we welcome the great era of change part two. So it should be smooth sailing in young adulthood and beyond, with maturity prevailing and clear conversation leading the way.

However, remember those communication breakdowns that plagued the trying years of high-school? It seems that they come back to haunt us a little bit: the supposedly adult ways of dealing with our feelings about other people or ourselves include things like ghosting, cheating, lying, showboating, cat-fishing -- there’s a whole host of things that “grown ups” do in the dating world that are far from the acceptable things we are assumed to be practicing!

So is this just the lobster on our mac 'n’ cheese, the actions that bring us into the grown-up club but is merely a glorified version of our kiddy conniving?

Could these things be caused by a hiccup in our development that lurks from the cantankerous teenage times? Or maybe we’ve reached the end zone, and the games and goofiness don’t ever get sidelined? Maybe it’s just human nature to play games with people, and that trait develops alongside us.

Also, last question: Do we ever reach full dating and mating maturity? My brain can’t process what the developmental stage of full maturity is right now, that’s a bit of a reach into the future and I’m currently doing the whole “carpe diem,” “live in the moment” thing (New Year new me, you know how it goes).

Until I can unlock the mysteries of mature dating behaviors, I think I will settle for a Friday night filled with Disney movies and probably Ben & Jerry’s (which was definitely part of my New Year’s plan, obviously) and hanging out with my mom. Maybe Disney will have some sage or archaic answers about love and relationships and people and why Ben & Jerry’s tastes so good. Alright, now I’m just playin’… or am I?

xoxo- Abby

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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