September 30, 2023 | Rome, Italy


By |2018-03-21T18:21:18+01:00November 25th, 2009|"American Girl"|
In one breath, his entire strategy became apparent

#8220;What’s your self-interest?” I asked him. He laughed. “You get right to the point, don’t you?”

We were on a date, our first. We sat at a table for two in a neighborhood bistro not far from where we’d first met.

“You tell me,” he replied. “What’s yours?”

Neither of us answered. Keeping things in abstract terms was a much safer strategy.

We were discussing game theory.

“I hate to think that game theory is the way the world works.” He said. “It’s such a pessimistic way to view things. But I have to admit in my work as an attorney, it’s always served me well.”

Game theory, at its heart, is a mathematical construct that assumes people act based on their own self-interest. They make value judgments and decisions based on what they want. Then they look around and figure out who can help them and who’s in the way.

If it sounds narcissistic, it is. It assumes we’re in the game for ourselves not just in the end, but also from the beginning. I’ve heard it used in political science circles and economics.

At the moment, it seemed incredibly relevant to dating.

A jazz trio played in the corner as we sipped Australian Zinfandel. It was dark and we sat close.

“When was your divorce final?” I asked him.

“Since the spring. It took a long time to process but I’m happy to have it behind me. I still need to communicate with my ex-wife when it comes to the kids. Outside of that we live very separate lives.”

“You have two kids, right?” I asked.

“Yes, Sophia is 12 and Charles is eight. I have them every other weekend.”

He appeared sufficiently single and emotionally untangled from his past. I was relieved. It was nice for a change to be on a date with a man both available and honest.

“And you?” He asked

“No, I’ve never been married and I don’t have kids. I really get along great with kids but I’ve never wanted my own. I come from a big family so that was enough for me.”

The important facts were on the table and judging by the strength of our eye contact, all was going well. There was considerable attraction.

I toyed with my wine glass as I looked at him. In the crowded bistro, I had that strange sensation that we were alone and the rest of the world didn’t exist. I hadn’t felt this in awhile.

“I must tell you,” he said slowly, “That I find you very attractive. I remember seeing you on the street and wanting to meet you. It’s wonderful to be sitting here with you now.”

I looked down and smiled. When I looked up, he wasn’t.

“But the truth is… ” He paused holding his breath.

“Yes?” I encouraged him.

“I know this is probably not what you wanted to hear. But the truth is, I already have a girlfriend.”

There was a long silence as I looked at him in, and took in what he said.

The jazz band instantly came into my foreground and the saxophone sounded like a foghorn calling me from the distance.

“You have a girlfriend already?” I asked with a strangely steady voice.

“Yes,” he said nodding. “She lives with me.”

I stared at my wine. I wondered if I should get up and leave but I didn’t feel the pull. Instead I wanted to know more, to play it to the end.

“Then why did you ask me out?” I asked, surprised by my own calm. “What is it you want?”

He was silent for a moment, and then said his words quickly to make sure they all came out.

“I’d like to have you as a lover. I was hoping you’d be interested.”

In one breath, his entire strategy became apparent. I didn’t answer, but let the idea hang in the air just to feel the pressure it created; the way my chest felt tight like the inside of a drum.

The date had gone the way of the world. I sat back to take it all in, as game theory proved its accuracy — again.

About the Author:

Madeline Klosterman wrote the "American Girl" column from 2008 through 2019.