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If you ever played organized sports in your youth, at some point you’ve probably heard your coach say this. When you give up on a ball that’s rolling out of bounds, but the other team saves it for an easy score, there’s your coach barking “that’s why you play to the whistle.” You let off the gas and lose a loose puck battle, thinking the ref was going to blow the play, and you hear one booming voice cutting through the noise.
“You can’t stop! Gotta play to the whistle!”
It means to keep playing until the last second. To give every last bit of energy until the game stops. You don’t quit, and you don’t give up, just because you think the play is dead. If you stop, and you’re wrong, you might miss out on an opportunity or let the other team get a chance they shouldn’t have had. Play to the whistle means, simply, you keep going not until you think the play is over, but when you are told it is over.
This scrappy, give 110% effort attitude tends to be instilled in us during our most formidable years. I suppose adults like the idea that we’re being taught persistence and determination. While these are good qualities for us to have, it’s occurred to me that as adults in the modern dating world, this attitude can often betray and confuse us.
I recently met a girl. As anyone who has been in the dating app world for an extended period of time knows, it’s rare to meet someone and instantly, deeply catch feelings. When you meet a girl like this one that I met, it’s a game changer. You turn into a mushy sap. You check your phone every two minutes for read notifications. You scroll through their Instagram and Snapchat endlessly. Swiping right ceases to exist as you imagine how this could all finally work out. We went out a few times, and it seemed like it was going really well. But per usual, I was wrong.
I wasn’t that put off when she said she was busy at work, or when she was traveling for a couple of weeks. At least she was returning my texts, even initiating the conversations on occasion, giving me something to go off. Then the initial texts stopped, the return texts began to come less frequently. The telltale sign of classic ghosting, I assumed. After following the double texting rules of time spacing, I finally just straight up asked her.
Hey if this is one of those situations where you just can’t or don’t want to keep seeing me, no hard feelings just let me know.
I don’t feel like I was out of line in asking this sort of question to someone giving me the brush-off, and I don’t see why she’d need to lie when she told me that wasn’t the case and she really was just in a hectic time. I took her at her word and we kept texting, me always asking her availability, she continuously pushing back. My feelers were spaced out days, then almost a week apart. Every time she answered. Every time she said we should do something, and then was mysteriously unavailable again.
So finally, after two unreturned texts, I sent the final inquiry. Look, all you have to do is say no to this text so I know I’m not wasting my time here. Really, I’m a big boy I can take it, I just want to know. Two weeks later, and there’s still no answer, which is somehow an answer in and of itself.
You can call me desperate, needy, or stupid for not seeing the plain, obvious truth right in front of me. Of course I know she hasn’t been busy for weeks on end. Of course I know that she was fading out little by little to soften the blow. And normally, 9 times out of 10, with another girl I’d have had washed my hands of her and moved on long ago. Unfortunately, she’s the 1 out of 10.
Sometimes, and this goes for both men and women, we persist on these obviously dead dates because we’re too dumb to see the signs. Sometimes, it’s because we’re just plain desperate and lonely. But other times, it’s because we don’t want want to just let go of a good thing easily. That attitude, that instinct to keep going, it is born from that same place that adults wanted to instill in us as children. Persistence. Fortitude. Giving everything you have for something you want until you just can’t anymore. Not don’t want to, not too tired to, not too lazy to. Can’t.
That attitude is what keeps guys like me strung out despite knowing how this story is going to end. Because we remember back to our playing days; that one time we let up on a loose ball and it bounced right to where we would have been if we’d kept running. That’s why I’m still debating when to send a fourth unanswered text in a row, breaking my own rules. Because twice I’ve laid it out there, given her the opportunity to blow the play dead, and she hasn’t. I know this could be her being uncomfortable, wanting to be nice to me, or not being nice and not caring about me. But I don’t care. I’m going to continue to annoy her periodically until she either shuts it down or I lose interest in her. I can’t take the chance that the puck is going to stop right on the goal line instead of going over, costing me a goal because I stopped skating.
Next time you see a guy hanging on, chasing a girl who’s clearly not into him, you might still pity him, mock him, or try to show him the error of his ways. Hopefully now you can understand him. He’s just playing to the whistle..