As a mating strategy, being a little reticent, holding back and waiting to be chased are a clichéd moves that are trotted out by advice columnists everywhere; playing hard to get is an established tradition in sexual relationships. (In fact, Darwin wrote about ‘coyness’ as a mating strategy in 1871.) Playing hard to get – it’s one of the most popular and trusted games you can play with someone’s heart. But does it actually work? Well, yes and no – experimental psychologists have found that playing hard to get definitely makes someone want you more… but it also makes them like you less. So it’s not really a suitable strategy if you want a long term relationship. But you probably know all of this – let’s face it, when you’ve been there and done that you realise that a certain amount of honesty and forthrightness are essential for a relationship to blossom and thrive.
Game playing is not a healthy adult behaviour, but sometimes these things are so engrained in our understanding of how relationships work that we indulge in the behaviours subconsciously. What if, without even realising it, you are holding back from the person in your life? Or what if you’re getting a lot of mixed signals in your relationship as your partner runs hot and cold, and you’re not sure if you should give them time or if you’re just being manipulated? Trust issues, as well as being time poor, can present as game playing in relationships even if that is not your intention, and while remembering that people can be reluctant to open up, it’s also important not to get entangled in a relationship that will be characterised by emotional withholding.
This is a fine line to walk and it’s fraught with danger because games can drive a wedge between two people who are otherwise very suitable for each other. How do you avoid all the confusion and negotiate through this rocky terrain?
Playing it Cool
When you meet someone you like your instinct might be to keep your feelings to yourself so as not to frighten them away, or risk your heart before you are sure. But ask yourself this; are you being coy to protect your own heart or are you not answering their calls in order to manipulate theirs? If it’s the latter, it’s time to make a change. Although it has been established that uncertainty does increase attraction, this is no way to build a solid and real connection with someone. If you’re just scared to make a giant leap and trust someone new, that’s okay; taking your time is rarely a bad idea. Not showing the full extent of your feelings for someone is understandable and – depending on the timeline – occasionally wise. But the risk you take when you play it cool for too long is that someone you like will take you at your implied word and will back off permanently. If you need time, you should ask for it.
You go out and have a lovely date and you think things are on, only to not hear from your potential mate for days… then, just as you’re about to give up, they get in contact again. Sound familiar? Dealing with someone who runs hot and cold can be one of the most frustrating experiences in life, but no matter what age you are you can get addicted to this rollercoaster of attraction and repulsion. It’s thrilling – but it’s also a recipe for heartache. If you are the kind of person for whom yearning for the attentions of someone you like is familiar, you can get caught up wanting someone who doesn’t want you back. You need to be careful not to let this cycle go on for too long. The way to cure the problems in a relationship characterised by mixed signals is to be completely honest about your feelings and what you want.
Time for the Talk
No matter how scared and vulnerable you feel, if you can’t stop thinking about the ‘more’ that you want out of this relationship and how you’re not getting it, it’s probably time to talk to your love interest about it. Until then, you won’t know what their motivations are, and you won’t know whether or not your relationship is viable. You don’t have to declare your love with a sonnet but you can ask them out for a drink and tell them you’d like to be exclusive, or that you’d like to be a more regular part of their life. These kinds of statements will sort a game-player from a genuine person pretty quickly.
There’s not a human being alive who will ever really be satisfied by a relationship with someone they can’t be sure of; everyone needs to know that their significant other is into them, so you should never feel bad about wanting this stability and assurance. If they won’t engage in the conversation, that’s also an answer.
Confusion ends when one is honest. Honesty opens you up to rejection – but as sex advice columnist Dan Savage always says, you should “rush towards rejection” as early in a relationship as you can. This will save time and tears. Rejection hurts but it’s worth the risk, because it allows you to move your relationship to the next level – or it leaves you free for a genuine relationship with someone who is over all those games.