The Road Best Taken
I'd hate to be a self-defeatist or pessimist, but for whatever reason, I am faced with this question a lot: How much is too much to fight for the affection of the opposite gender? Is the only love worthwhile that which is almost instantly returned? Do the ends justify the means? That is to say, if it takes three months for your actual soul mate to realize that fact, are those twelve weeks of effort really a problem at all? Picture the classic fork in the road, except both paths are dark and have spooky vegetation.
There are two opposing trains of thought in this discussion. One is a more aggressive, independent, and self-confident 'take me or leave me' attitude. We’ll call this the Me Approach. The focus of this philosophy is on Me; my personal satisfaction and pride, and it definitely has its merits. Why fight through thorns and treacherous ground for someone who isn't putting in the same effort? The case could be made that the only people worthwhile in your life, romantically or otherwise, are those that are as equally interested in earning your trust and respect. Trying too hard to earn someone's affection is considered demeaning, demoralizing, and disrespectful of your own self-worth.
The other approach, seemingly more romantic, says that love is worth fighting for. This one we’ll call the Us Approach. This premise is based on the rationale that there is a more than reasonable chance that there is an eventual Us to be had, given that one doesn’t give up the fight. This idea has made its way into movies and literature for centuries. Boy meets Girl. Girl dismisses Boy because of a perceived shortcoming. Boy tirelessly charms, schemes, and bares all for Girl. Girl slowly realizes Boy's allure. Lo and behold, at minute 75 or page 237 (of 260), Girl falls in love with Boy. And in spite of, or because of, the very act of his fighting for her despite her misgivings, they do indeed live happily ever after. Most importantly, they are better off for his struggles. As long as we're talking about a reasonable Boy taking reasonable action, and not pressing on despite frequent and intense law enforcement involvement, this is a perfectly viable option.
I cannot decide for the life of me which of these approaches is the best. As in most everything in life, a little bit of both is probably in order. Unfortunately, these two approaches are almost mutually exclusive. Why? Let's compose a scenario. Through whatever means, a bar, a dating site, mutual friends, Boy meets Girl and they have a First Date (duh duh duhhhhh). It goes reasonably well. Girl doesn't want to throw her martini in Boy's face, but neither is she head over heels in anticipation of their next encounter. Seeing that this is the modern world, Boy texts Girl random chatter occasionally. Girl isn’t first to initiate the conversation, she is not especially verbose, but she always responds. There’s even the occasional lol or :) thrown in and come on, that’s got to mean something right? Lets state an assumption that she is coy at best, indifferent at worst. It's a tossup for Boy, does he forge ahead or find the next Girl?
This is where we realize that these two viewpoints are hard to hold equally. Asking Girl on a second date after she hasn't made her own attempts at flirtation breaks Rule #1 of the Me Approach. She hasn't made any effort? Well, goddammit, I'm not going to either. Why exert any further effort when there are plenty of other fish in the sea? But this is rule #1 of the Us Approach. I am interested in this girl and, goddammit, I am going to do this! A second date could work, it’s not like she's actively rejecting my presence, she's just not wildly in love and that is fine for now.
Impasse. In retrospect it’s easy to see that each of these approaches has worked for hundreds of thousands of Boys and Girls over the years. Meet any amount of couples at a gathering and you can hear both versions: the I Just Knew He Was the One story and the Listen to What He Did When We Were Dating story. They've also failed plenty of suitors of either gender. While we can imagine the lost possibilities of quitting too soon, we can actually see the futile efforts of an unrequited lover. It's unfortunate that foresight will never be as good as hindsight because a huge leap of faith is necessary, regardless of which dark and spooky path you take at the dating fork.