Do we ever outgrow playing games in dating?
This week, our resident sexpert, Olivia Petter, questions whether the age-old dating trope really helps you get what you want
Friday 6 January 2023 By Olivia Petter Illustration by Martina Paukova
If Shakespeare thought music was the food of love in 1623, today he’d say it was games. Yes, I’m afraid in 2023, games do work. They work very, very well. So well, in fact, that you might not even realise you’ve been playing them your entire life.
When we talk about game-playing in relationships, it’s easy to resort to cliches and cite the things we did as teenagers, one smug eye-roll at a time. Things like waiting to text someone back. And pretending to be busy when someone asks you out. Or feigning indifference when someone does something that bothers you.
All of these things classify as games – and they all fall into the umbrella category of playing hard to get, arguably the only game we play. Why would any self-respecting adult indulge in such juvenile behaviour? Surely, we’ve all learnt that no healthy relationship is formed on such nonsense? And those who rely on it must be imbecilic children cosplaying as grown-ups. To quote Taylor Swift, ‘it’s me, hi. I’m the problem, it’s me’. Chances are it’s probably you, too.
Whether we like it or not, few among us have moved on from playing these games as adults. And if you think that you have, well, you’ve probably just got better at them. It’s nothing to feel ashamed of, either. Because, as much as I’d like to believe the opposite, they work. It makes sense, too. Of course, if someone you fancy is being distant, it’s only going to make you like them more. Likewise, if they take ages to reply to your texts, it’s only a matter of time until you text them again. And again. Just me?
In all seriousness, though, I think there is a balance to be found here. Because the fun of playing hard to get becomes tiresome rather quickly, particularly when you start to really like someone. It’s also going to hinder the progress of your relationship; there’s only so many days you can wait to reply to someone before your connection fades away.
My advice is to not be afraid of indulging in the games a little at the start if this is what the other person is doing. I’m not saying you should make elaborate excuses every time someone asks you out, but it’s OK to be a little reticent at first and hold your cards close to your chest.
That said, though, there is an expiration date on this behaviour. I’d say it’s once you’ve got to know someone a little better and start to have feelings for them. By this point, your head and heart will be a little more fragile and any kind of game playing has the propensity to cause emotional damage, especially if you’re the one that’s losing.
So, if you really like someone, I’d say it’s OK to transition into being easy to get. In fact, it’s pretty crucial if you want to have any hope of ever getting into a relationship.
The quick-fire round
How do I start emotionally vulnerable conversations with my partner?
This is going to sound a little ‘Live, Laugh, Love’, but you just have to be true to who you are and open up to your partner about what’s on your mind. It can be intimidating at first, but you’ll probably be surprised by their response, which – if they’re a good match for you – will be fuelled by compassion and understanding. Take that first leap and you’ll see.
Any tips for dealing with your ex moving on?
I know it’s old-fashioned advice, but sometimes the best way to get over someone is to get under… you know the rest. They’re an ex for a reason – and if they’re moving on faster than you’d like (although, is there ever a good time?) it only reaffirms that they weren’t right for you. Consider it a blessing in disguise.
Got a question for Olivia? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will remain anonymous.
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate