It’s almost become a rule at this point in our society that you have to play mind games with your crush to keep them interested in you. But “playing the game” makes dating and relationships giant headaches when they don’t have to be that way.
There’s a huge misconception out there that you have to be clever and manipulative when dating someone new to keep them on their toes, and somehow that is supposed to make them want you more. While this may work for a little while, this immature tactic absolutely does not pay off in the end. In fact, you’ll be more emotionally in debt than you were before you decided to play the game.
To gain some professional insight on this topic, I spoke with relationship experts and coaches about what makes a relationship work, what doesn’t, and why people feel the need to play relationship games in the first place.
You surrender to fear
If you’re someone who tends to play mind games (or be the victim of them), you have to start out by asking yourself why. If you’re the player, what are you doing it for? If you’re getting played, what is it you need to know about the player that you’re just not grasping? Both of these questions have the same answer: a person who likes to deceive and play games is afraid.
Everyone has their own set of fears that drives them. It can be a fear of commitment, of getting hurt or rejected, or of being vulnerable with another person. A courageous person can have these fears and still be honest with others as well as themselves. Someone who is cowardly, though, plays mind games. Dr. Georgianna Donadio, best-selling author of the book Changing Behavior weighed in. “A person who can’t be authentic is afraid,” Donadio insisted. “And if you’re afraid, how can you have a love relationship with somebody? What is it that you’re afraid of? What is it that you’re afraid that they’re going to find out about you?”
Playing games with your love interest may on the surface make you feel like you have the power and like you’re in control, but it’s a complete facade. The bottom line is you can’t ever expect to get close to someone or earn someone’s love when you have that mindset.
You ruin your own chances
At the core of Donadio’s philosophy about relationships is the concept of authenticity. “If you are inauthentic at any point in the courting or in the meeting or getting someone interested in you, you have to ask the basic question, what’s going to happen when they find out that whatever it is that you’ve said about yourself isn’t true?”
Think about it, no one wants to feel like they’re being strung along or deceived. If a person senses that you’re playing games with them, they’re going to move away from you, not toward you. So by playing the game you think will win you your prize, you’re actually self-sabotaging.
The person you desire will catch on to you at some point and then you’ll have no one to blame but yourself when they leave. You may have just blown your chances with a wonderful, kind person that could have been a great addition to your life.
You’re being selfish
Playing mind games with another person is entirely about you. If you’re toying with someone’s emotions, you’re not giving thought to how they must be feeling or how you’re affecting them. All you’re concerned with is your own feelings and making yourself look like the winner.
Donadio explained, “What we’re really talking about is how do we feel about ourselves,” she said. “It’s never really exclusively about the relationship that we have with the other person.” In other words, if you’re playing someone, that says a lot more about you than it does about the other person.
Someone who is straightforward about their feelings for another person effectively demonstrates that what matters most is truly connecting. Someone who is deceptive and manipulative demonstrates that what matters most to them is themselves, their own interests, and their self-image. A person who plays games is not only afraid, but they’re insecure. First of all, that’s not an attractive quality. Second, no one wants to be with someone who is all about themselves.
You’re being dishonest
Relationships are about trust. You can’t expect someone to trust you and love you if you’re being dishonest, and if you’re being dishonest you’re basically saying that you don’t trust others either. Face it: no one wants to be with a liar, and if you’re playing games lying is exactly what you’re doing. You’re manufacturing a version of yourself that you want the other person to see; you’re not showing the real you. And if you’re so scared of showing the real you, you can’t ever expect to have a real relationship.
According to Donadio, “If you are a person that feels good about yourself – you like yourself, you live with integrity, you behave well as a human being – you’re not going to be afraid of being exposed as a jerk or being exposed as a liar.” The only person who is afraid of being called out on their lies is a liar. The only person who is afraid of being honest and open is someone who is dishonest and closed off.
A genuine person never has to worry about those things because crafting a version of themselves to mask their real identity is not their goal. If you’re playing games with your love interest, you have to own up to the fact that knowing and loving the other person isn’t your main motivation. Your main motivation is proving something to yourself; it’s trying to make up for the fact that you’re ashamed or insecure.
You’re creating your own unhappiness
If you’re stuck in this cycle of playing games with people, you’re not only hurting others but you’re continually damaging yourself. You’re never going to have a lasting or fulfilling relationship because you’re too busy fabricating and plotting. Your true feelings and desires will never get to see the light of day because you’re giving your time and effort to a false act. “If you’re cloaking your feelings,” Donadio says, “if you’re masking your feelings, what it leads to is your own unhappiness.”
By hiding from another person beneath the cover of your games, you’re hiding from yourself. Playing games pushes your love interest further away and it ultimately also pushes you further away from your true self. So not only will you not get the person you’re chasing after, but you’ll also end up feeling worse about yourself in the long run. When all you’re dealing with is superficialities, you’re missing out on giving your life and your relationships meaning.
You’re wasting time
Every moment you take to play your game detracts from time that could be spent building something valuable and real. Every time you deceive for the temporary feeling of success, you’re cheating yourself out of lasting and genuine happiness. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of people these days are wasting their time. According to Lindsey Cummins, CEO of Winq (a social polling app for millennials), 59 percent of the app’s users “admit that they’re guilty of playing mind games in relationships.” This means that the majority of millennials are dishonest and afraid when it comes to dating and relationships.
As it turns out, though, people are also pretty divided on what kind of effect playing mind games has on relationships. Cummins said that “48 percent think that playing mind games with your love interest will get you nowhere while the other 52 percent actually think it can get you somewhere.” It’s a close count on this one, but still the majority think that playing games is more advantageous than not.
When you think about it, that’s a huge societal problem. At the very best, people are confused about whether they should be honest in relationships. At worst, they think that being deceitful and manipulative is the standard for a relationship. Speaking to this issue directly, Donadio urges, “We need to get back to integrity and authenticity in our society.”
You’re trying to be mysterious
Yes, as humans we do crave mystery. When we’re left in the dark about something, we yearn to know more. When someone makes themselves less available, we want to spend more time with them. While this is all true, there is a big difference between doing these things purposefully and being an individual. Maintaining individuality in a relationship is healthy and important for both you and your partner. However, a person who purposefully leaves another in the dark is intentionally being disingenuous and crafty.
“I think the myth that you have to pretend or you have to create mystery is not healthy,” Donadio shared. “But if you’re a very mature and centered and self-confident individual, you’re going to have a mystery or mystique about you.”
It’s a bit of a riddle, but simply put, humans are complex. No matter how long you’re in a relationship with someone, you won’t ever know everything about them because we’re all always changing and evolving. That’s what keeps a relationship interesting. If you’re trying to be mysterious or unavailable to make yourself more wanted or seem more attractive, you’ll end up pushing your love interest away.
There will always be a loser
Games have rules, the most important of which is that by the end of the game there is a loser. In the case of playing mind games, there are two losers. For one, the person that you’re toying with will be hurt. However, they’ll eventually recover and move on. The biggest loser in a relationship or a potential relationship is the one who initiates the game.
Another relationship expert and coach, Jessica Elizabeth Opert, reinforced Donadio’s assessment that playing mind games “is a clear sign of low self worth.” If your personal fears and insecurities are what drive you to play games with people’s hearts and heads in the first place, do you really expect those things to disappear when your love interest does?
The person that you played will move on, but you will be in the same emotionally stunted place you were when you first started out. “Clear, kind communication always trumps mind games,” Opert maintained. “When we are playing mind games we are actively making things harder.”
You’re not ready for a relationship
What all of these experts have come together to say is that if you’re playing games, you’re not ready for a relationship. You also aren’t good relationship material. Building and maintaining relationships is hard work and if you start off with an illusive foundation you’re doomed from the get-go. As Donadio said, “If you’re going to play mind games in terms of how you represent yourself, that is immediately going to backfire. The truth always comes out.”
So if you truly are interested in someone romantically, you’ll want to be upfront about your feelings. You’ll want to give the other person the attention and the care they deserve and you won’t have the desire to play games. But if you’re immature and your main priority is feeling like you’ve won something or like you’re competing for victory, you’re planting a giant red flag in the ground that will eventually signal everyone away.
If you really are tired of playing games and finally want to find a love that is real, you’re going to have to be brave. That means being honest every step of the way and being forthright about your feelings, your expectations, and your weaknesses. And if you come across someone who wants to play games instead of trying to foster an authentic connection, wave them goodbye. If there is a hint of trickery or deceptiveness in them, they’re not worth your time. Smoke dissipates and mirrors crack, but the truth never does.