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Avoiding Relationship Games In a Modern Dating World

Jessica Pontis, LCSW

It’s a tough scene out there for people who are single.  In a world where connecting with new people has never been more accessible, why is dating so hard?  With the increase of different types of tech and apps out there aimed at helping single people connect, why does it seem like I hear more and more from clients the struggle to find open, honest, and straightforward people looking to find love.  

One thing that I hear that seems to be becoming more common is the dating games that we fall into.  Dating and relationship games are the coping tools we utilize when we want to hide our feelings about someone or to avoid being vulnerable. Dating is inherently vulnerable, and the more we try to avoid that feeling (as uncomfortable it can be at times) the more we try and manipulate the situation to reap the emotional benefits of a partnership without any of the emotional risks. While it’s understandable why we would want to protect ourselves in this way it can lead to quite a bit of confusion when it comes to dating.  

To avoid partaking in these games we first need to understand what some of them are.  Here are a few examples of common dating and relationship games:

  1. Playing Hot and Cold – sending mixed messages can be both intentional and unintentional.  It’s not uncommon when people first meet each other to want to be cautious with their hearts.  This could lead us to being very open one day, to feeling like we need to pull back and be standoffish the next.  If you like someone, you like someone, and it’ll be hard to try and talk yourself out of those feelings.  Instead of trying to pull back and run the risk of confusing someone to avoid “catching feelings”, just allow yourself to enjoy their company and be upfront about how you feel.  
  2. Quick Jabs – think back to grade school, do you remember a time when someone was picking on you and your parent/teacher/adult told you, “Oh, they’re only doing this because they like you.”  Taking a jab at someone is the adult version of this, and make no mistake, it is not a healthy form of flirting. Jabbing results in making one feel insecure and makes them question their confidence.  There’s a difference between flirty banter and being rude to someone.  If you notice on a date that someone is taking jabs at you, even if they are small, it’s important to set boundaries.  If those boundaries are not respected, then that may not be a person who is going to treat you respectfully later in the relationship.  
  3. Love-Bombing – love-bombing is essentially the opposite of playing hard to get, where someone is immediately very open and communicates their love and feelings for you very strongly upfront.  It’s important to recognize that this is a commonly used tactic by those with narcissistic traits to manipulate others.  While it may feel nice to receive these compliments and communications, it’s easy to forget about your own needs and boundaries if someone is overwhelming you with their admiration.  If you feel more comfortable taking things a little slower, it’s okay to communicate this. 
  4. Ghosting – anyone who has dated in the modern world is more than likely familiar with ghosting and the frustrations that it creates.  Intentionally not replying to someone to avoid conflict if you’re no longer interested in them is one way to not have to be vulnerable, but if we never give ourselves the opportunity to have difficult conversations then conflict resolution skills may continue to evade us. 

It takes courage to step into the dating world and being upfront and clear about your expectations may feel more vulnerable, but it can lead to better outcomes when looking for love.  If you feel that you frequently fall into the trap of relationship games, or would simply like to connect with someone to walk with you on this journey reach out to one of the licensed therapists with Symmetry Counseling.  You can reach out to us online at, or by calling us at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment.

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