lot of people like to try and separate their work life from their private life. But as I often talk about in my column, I'm a holistic thinker. To me, everything interconnects. If you want to understand your mistakes you need to examine every part of your life. The things that lead me to make mistakes in my design are the same impulses that lead me to make mistakes in other parts of my life with, let's say, women as an example. For my column today I thought I'd take a look at some of my classic design blunders through a very different lens.
Here's how it's going to work. I'm going to start each section by relaying a story that involves my interaction with women in which I made a fundamental blunder. I will then show you the card whose design I believe I messed up on. Your job is to then figure out the one mistake I made in both circumstances. Sound easy enough? An interactive exercise where you can both learn about Magic design and laugh at my dating foibles. (Go ahead and laugh, it's okay. I've been happily married for six and a half years and I have three kids. I've reached the point where my stories are more funny than pathetic.) And sticking to my assigned topic, there will be ten cards discussed.
One last note - I touched on a similar theme once before in a column entitled “Mistakes? I've Made a Few” where I used card design errors to explain general design mistakes that get made. Today's examples are more about cards where I very specifically messed up on some technical aspect of the particular card in question. And a final note (that thing about the previous note being the last note was just a blatant lie – the last one for this column I promise), some of the card mistakes I'm going to bring up involve behind the scenes knowledge that you don't have. This means it will be impossible some of the time to properly guess the mistake, but I figure snickering at my cluelessness should make up for it.
Ready? And away we go:
Let me begin my first story by revealing a shocking bit of news. I didn't date all that much in high school. And by “all that much” I mean “never”. Most people, when they hear that, assume the reason was because I didn't really try, that I was too intimidated to ask a girl out. That wasn't the problem. Fear has never kept me from making a fool of myself, so why should love be any different? My problem? Perhaps this story will illuminate.
Fear has never kept me from making a fool of myself…
Infatuation is an important rite of adolescence. You pick a girl (or guy) and you put her high on a pedestal. Then you get far away and stare. In high school, I had a mega-crush on a girl named Cathy (note that the names in this article have been changed to protect the innocent). She was attractive, of course, (infatuations are drawn to beauty like moth to a flame – man that metaphor is scarily accurate) but the thing that most drew me to her was how nice she was. She seemed to have such a good heart. It took me months to get the courage up to ask her out, but finally one day after play rehearsal (I was in theater – go figure), I asked her out. She seemed a little shocked, but she said yes. She said yes!
The date had been set up for the following Saturday afternoon and I spent every possible moment planning it. I knew it was a first date so I wanted to try and be impressive without being stalker scary. In the end, I planned a picnic. (In retrospect, perhaps a bit much, but I really liked this girl.) I was excited, but very nervous. Saturday morning I get a call. Something came up (I forget what it was but it sounded quite plausible) and Cathy had to cancel.
I was disappointed, but hey, things happen. I'd waited a while for the date. Another week wasn't going to kill me. And then the next week, wouldn't you know it, something else came up. So I scheduled a third attempt. My luck had to change soon. But no. Somehow the morning, or sometimes the night before, each date, something would come up. But I kept planning future dates because Cathy never said that she didn't want the date. And I really did. So I kept rescheduling them. And she kept canceling them. This little song and dance went on for a period of time that goes beyond embarrassing. But I kept thinking to myself that she's so nice, she wouldn't purposely keep accepting the dates if she never intended to go out on one.
The situation became more and more awkward (remember this took months to play out), until finally, the sheer bluntness of her unspoken message managed to pierce my irrational rationalization (what I like to call irrationalization – what, only Shakespeare can make up words?) and I finally confronted her and let her off the hook. And I never asked her out again. Well, except to the prom, but we'll get to that one later.
That's the “girls” part. Here's the card:
I made the same mistake in the design of this card that I made in the situation above. What was it? Click here when you think you have the answer (or if you just want to see what it is).
Note that these mistakes aren't in chronological order. I'm just jumping around to different moments in my life. This second one is actually one of the more recent. Shortly after arriving at Wizards I made an important realization. I was spending every waking moment hanging around with all the R&D guys (check out “R&D R&R” to get a sense of these early days). While I enjoyed the camaraderie, I was a little lonely. The realization was that I would never find someone to date if I never spent time around any women. So, I started looking around Wizards of the Coast.
With some searching I found someone who I was interested in asking out. She didn't even work at Wizards. Her name was Claire and she was doing some freelance work for R&D. So, I gathered up the courage and asked her out. And she said yes. Don't worry, this one actually leads to a date. And quite a good one actually. It made my lifetime Top Ten First Dates list. It was comfortable, Claire and I got along wonderfully, and it was actually very fun. As I was dropping her off, I got the following conversation.
Me: Thank you, that was fun.
Claire: I had a good time too.
Me: Is there some chance we could do this again?
Claire: Look Mark, let me just get this out there. I'm just not attracted to you. I think you're a great guy and I really did have fun tonight. So much so that I would like to go out again. But not in a romantic context.
Me: Oh. Okay.
Claire: Would you like to do something next week. Maybe see a movie?
Me: Sure, that would be great. See you next week.
And so Claire and I started going out on non-dates pretty regularly. And the more time I spent with her, the more I grew to like her. She was fun, she could hold up her end in an intelligent conversation, she made me laugh. It was kind of like dating. For me, at least. To her I was becoming a good friend.
After several months of spending time with her, irrationalization started to rear its head. Sure, Claire told me point blank that she wasn't interested, but look at how much fun we had together. Look at how comfortable she was with me and how easy it was for her to share information with me. Clearly, there must be some attraction growing. I mean, I felt it on my end. So, I decided that I needed to test out my theory by kissing her one night. I deduced it was the only way to know. And so I did. I'll never forget the look on her face. I was wrong. Real wrong!
The design where I made the same mistake?
Click here to see how they intersect.
As I explained earlier, my high school dating life was not exactly stellar. So when I got to college (at Boston University for those that care) I decided that I needed to take matters into my own hands. So the first month of my freshman year I concocted the “Bullseye Theory”. At the time I didn't have a lot of confidence in my dating skills, (By the way, the number one most important trait for successful dating by a large margin is confidence; If you don't believe, they're not going to believe) so I decided that I was going to find a way to get a date that took my inexperience into account.
This is what led to the Bullseye Theory. The Bullseye Theory held that even the worst archer could hit a bullseye if he just fired enough arrows. This meant that even I could get a date if I just asked enough women. Then and there I vowed to ask out at least one woman a week. She could be from my classes, my dorm, any extracurricular activity. It didn't matter whom, but at least one a week. And every week for my entire freshman year, I asked a girl out. How many dates did I get? None. My record was 0 for 42.
Which leads us to our card:
And the lesson? Click here.
It's my sophomore year at college (year two of the Bullseye Plan). Thanks to a series of Advanced Placement courses in my high school (while I may not have gotten dates in high school I did manage to accomplish something) I was a year ahead in college. (Oh, I stayed for four years, but I had the pleasure of having one full year with zero requirements.) This meant that I was taking junior classes. It was in one of these classes (in BU's College of Communications – I majored in broadcast & film for those that care) that I met Kate. It turns out that Kate lived in my dorm.
It started out as innocent note sharing and before I knew it we were spending a lot of time together. We studied together. We hung out together. We had meals together. We chatted about all sorts of things. Ah, so did the Bullseye finally hit its target? Of course not. I never asked Kate out. Sure, she would invite me to study in her room and I would arrive to find her in pajamas, but I never quite made the connection that Kate was interested in me.
Perhaps I wasn't attracted? Heavens no. She was a looker. Maybe she didn't meet some standard I had set for myself of who I would date. No. She and I would have gotten along wonderfully. I mean, we did. The problem was that I was so busy searching for a date that I never bothered to look under my nose. In fact, it wasn't until many years later that the day came when I realized that Kate had been making it crystal clear that she was attracted to me. (That was not the happiest of days.) Eventually, Kate moved on assuming I wasn't interested.
And the card this relates to?
Click here to see how these connect.
After college but before Wizards, I lived in Los Angeles. Let's just call this the “Roseanne” portion of my life. I spent six years in Los Angeles breaking into “the bizz”. During that time I began dating Susan. I met Susan at a party of a mutual friend. We hit it off immediately and spent the entire night hanging out talking to one another. At the night's end, I told her I'd be interested in taking her out to which she replied, “I'd better not. I'm kind of living with someone.”
You'd think the story would end there, but it doesn't. It turns out that Susan's significant other was attending school in another state and that she was eager to end things with him (to call it an unhealthy relationship is unfair to unhealthy relationships). All she needed was a little motivation. That's the part where I come in. I was very interested in Susan and was willing to help her work through a tangle of issues. Eventually things were resolved and Susan was officially single. And so we began dating.
But things were not as smooth as I wanted. I dubbed the issue the Oat Bran Problem. Susan chose to be with me because she realized that I was good for her. Not because she was excited by me or by the relationship, but because she rationally understood that she needed a healthy relationship. At first, it was okay because I made the fatal mistake of assuming time would heal the problem. But as the months went on (and the relationship lasted over a year) I slowly came to the conclusion that things were never going to change. And so, I broke up with a woman that I really, really liked that was willing to be in a relationship with me, because I realized that in the end I was never going to get what I wanted.
And this ties into?
What do they they have in common?
During my adolescent years, my lack of confidence with women played out in many ways. The most embarrassing was what happened to my speech skills when in the presence of any girl I was attracted to. I wasn't one of those guys that couldn't talk around pretty girls. Oh no, I was the far worse kind. The one that can't shut up around pretty girls. When I'm nervous, I talk. (Of course, I also talk quite a bit when I'm not nervous.) So whenever I would meet a pretty girl I would jabber on and on about all sorts of inane topics. (For Friends fans think of Ross' “factoids about gas” flirting scene.) Only one girl ever brought me to silence. Her name was Rebecca.
Rebecca was the daughter of friends of my parents. And she was literally the most beautiful girl I had ever met. She was smart. She had a sense of humor. We had a very similar upbringing and sense of values. In short, she was my dream girl. So what crazy thing happened when I asked her out? Nothing. Because I never did. The sheer idea of it scared the living death out of me.
Here's why. Rebecca was so perfect in my eyes that I had elevated her to a place beyond just a person. She was my fantasy. Whenever something went bad in my love life (or more accurately lack-of-love life), I always had the fantasy to fall back on. But if I took the plunge and asked out Rebecca and she said no, I didn't just lose that one date, I'd lose my fantasy. And with my dating life as it was, I couldn't afford to lose the one sure thing I had.
The card that reflects this dilemma?
In college I liked moving into the dorm at the beginning of the year as soon as possible. The key to doing this was to agree to help move in other students (especially freshmen). It was the start of my junior year (aka Bullseye Year Three). Now, I lived in a very nice dorm that was once a hotel (Myles Standish for any BU alum out there) in the center of Kenmore Square. Myles Standish was a nice dorm. And as such it was fun moving freshmen into the dorm as they were always so excited by their room. There was only one room that I feared. It was the smallest room in the building. A room so small that the bed and dresser only fit into the room in one configuration. Moving freshmen into this room was always a nightmare. The student was unhappy. The parents would lecture me about how much they were paying. Bad times.
Enter Yvonne, a bright-eyed freshman. She told me her room number and I knew I was in trouble. But when I took her up to see it, she was overjoyed. She was at college and had her own room. It wasn't tiny. It was comfy. Over the next few weeks I would see Yvonne around the dorm. We would chat. And for some reason I didn't really think of her as a potential dating option so I just acted normal. As time went on we spent more and more time together. And everything was okay until I deduced two things. One, Yvonne had all the qualities I was looking for (Attractive? Check. Smart? Check? Funny? Check. Interesting? Check. Shared interests? Check. Good conversationalist? Check.) in a girlfriend. And two, she was attracted to me. So I did what my instincts told me: I ran.
I had so built up my desire for a girlfriend that the chance of actually getting one scared me silly. I started avoiding Yvonne. I found excuses to keep us from being alone when we were together. And then late one night, I was lying in bed when there was a knock on the door. It was Yvonne. Now, I had two options. I could let her in late at night alone in my room (I had a single.) or two, I could pretend to be asleep. That's when I made my third, and most important, realization. I was an idiot! A very attractive girl wanted to spend some late night time with me and I was actually contemplating feigning sleep? What was I so afraid of? Actually getting what I wanted? And so, I opened the door. We went out for five years.
The card that matches the problem I'd had?
Flash forward five years. I'm living in Los Angeles trying to live my dream of being a television writer (not yet aware yet that my real dream would be designing games for a living). Yvonne and I did the long distance for a few years (those shrewd with math might have deduced the two year age difference from my junior-freshman references), but after she graduated she moved out to LA to live with me.
At first things were great. After two years of short bursts of time together, it felt great to just spend long stretches with one another. But after a year, I realized something was wrong. In Boston, we had both been where we wanted to be. Each of us had chosen the path that had led to our life at school. Now that didn't seem true. Yvonne was in LA for no other reason than to be with me. She was trying her hardest to make LA work, but she wasn't happy. For the first time in five years, our relationship was keeping her from doing what she wanted to do.
One day, Yvonne came to me and suggested that she spend the summer in Boston. She had lined up a job for the summer and thought it would be good for us to get some space. Even though Yvonne would take months to realize it, I knew that once she returned to Boston, she wasn't going to return. Saying yes to the plan was ending our relationship. Saying no, though, was much worse. I decided to pull a Seinfeld and end the run before things started to decline. To bow out gracefully. I wished Yvonne luck for her “summer” in Boston and ended my first serious relationship.
What card cozies up with that story?
Huh? Find out:
So my senior year of high school is coming to an end. And I'm face to face with the scariest thing that a dating-challenged senior can face – The Prom! Now, I might not have gotten a date throughout high school, but I was going to my prom. And I was going to do it right. I should identify the one girl I most wanted to take and simply ask her. It didn't take long. I knew the answer. It was Cathy. You know, the girl of my infatuation that accepted and then cancelled date after date after date. Yeah. That's who I wanted.
Now a lesser man might have learned his lesson from the humiliation that came before. But oh no. I was optimistic, naïve, and apparently had a really bad memory. So I asked Cathy to the prom. She informed me that she wasn't planning to go to the prom and declined. She actually said “no”; it was a big step for her. If only she hadn't lied doing so. You see, what Cathy meant was that she wasn't going to go to the prom with me. My classmate Michael? He was okay to go with.
But I was not deterred. I had actually taken into account the possibility that Cathy would say no. Or possibly say yes and cancel the night before. And so I made a list. (Can you tell I like lists?) The list was of seven girls in my class that I was interested to take to the prom. Number one – scratch off. Number two was much politer when she said no. Number three had a more realistic excuse. Number four seemed kind of puzzled I asked her. Number five thought I was kidding. Number six was a little rude. And number seven? No, she rejected me too. Seven up, seven down. Not one of my high points.
So did I go to my prom? Yes, I did. I ended up asking out a friend that also couldn't find a date. There was no attraction but we were both okay going as friends. Neither one of us wanted to miss out on the prom.
And this is connected to?
As I explained earlier, I found myself looking for dating prospects at work. One such girl was named Lucy. She worked the night shift at the Game Center (back then Wizards was testing its toe in retail and we had built a game center in our lobby). R&D liked the game center because it had a computer LAN (this was before R&D got our own computer lab). Most nights they would come and play some large group game for hours on end. The problem was that I've never been all that into computer games. I enjoy a good puzzle game as well as the next guy but real time strategy games aren't my cup of tea. So I spent my time talking to Lucy.
We'd chat. We'd play games. We even flirted a little. But I never asked her out for a number of stupid reasons. Finally, one day a bunch of my friends are going out to see a movie so I ask Lucy along. She says yes. Then after the movie I ask Lucy if she'd like to grab some dinner. She says yes. Sitting at the table in the restaurant I realized that we had finally crossed over into honest dating territory. We'd seen a movie together and now we were out alone at dinner. But then Lucy gave me a little speech. It included words like “not interested in dating” and “can we just be friends?” She even asked if we could each pay for our half of the meal.
I took Lucy back to my apartment, which was just a few doors down from her apartment. While we were talking I got the sense that there was some chemistry. All the signs seemed to point like she wanted me to kiss her. But then I remembered her speech and my lovely track record of misreading signs. And so… I kissed her. And you know what? She kissed back. Of course her name isn't really Lucy, it's Lora. Next October will be our seventh anniversary.
What Magic card lines up with my first kiss with my wife?
If only it was called Hand In Hand. Click here for the connection.
Wow, that's not what I expected to write when I planned this little activity. That said, I had a lot of fun writing it. If you share my view (or adamantly oppose it or even fall somewhere in between) drop me a note. I hope you learned a thing or two today and maybe some of it might even carry over to your non-Magic life.
Join me next week when I teach you how to not avoid a draft.
Until then, may you make some mistakes of your own.