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If You Can Quit This One Habit, Your Dating Will Dramatically Improve

Jenna Birch is a dating coach and author of The Love Gap, a social science-based dating guide for modern women trying to build lasting relationships in today’s tricky romantic landscape.

When it comes to dating, some play “the game.”

You know the one: You act unavailable, don’t text back right away, and dodge date invites—essentially, you're playing hard to get.

Some men have actually grown to expect games from women. I’ve been told that the chase creates mystery and excitement. One guy says it “establishes value” because you’ve got to work for a spot in their schedule. There’s a rush of nervous energy because you don’t even know if the person in question is going to text you back or blow you off. Sounds so fun, right?

As a recovering game-player though, my best advice is to cut it out.


My indoctrination to dating games was accidental. In my early twenties, I was a bookworm finishing a masters at a rigorous college and working full-time hours as a freelance journalist. I was also enjoying some newfound attention from the guys in a slightly older social circle (my best friend at the time was several years my senior).

So there I was: Coming into my own and growing real confidence for the first time ever. While I was still focused on work and college first, I was starting to entertain dating more often than I’d done in the past.

At first, I wasn’t an intentional game-player. I am reserved by nature, so men would often call me “mysterious.” I was also genuinely busy and had a jam-packed schedule. So when a guy would get my number, I couldn’t always meet up right away. Small talk wasn’t easy for me, but guys who engaged in wordplay were my kryptonite. They broke me out of my shell, and I seemed to vibe with the wittiest charmers of the dating pool.

The guys with whom I sparked most frequently were socially-savvy, career-oriented, and very assertive. They were also competitive and liked to pursue women who seemed inaccessible.

At first, I didn’t actively think about how playing hard to get was impacting my dating life—but then I’d go on a few dates with a charming guy and think, “Oh, wow. I think I do like him,” at which point I’d develop feelings. That’s when the seesaw would tilt in his direction—and he’d start to play games with me. Sometimes he’d be unresponsive, refuse to text back for a few days, or suggest a maybe-date only to make me wait around and see if he’d come through. In retaliation, I became forever “busy” (even if I wasn’t), I would not text him back for days at a time, and I'd cancel drinks at the last moment.


If I trace it all back, I now realise this vicious cycle began because I wasn’t dating for a relationship. I wasn’t actively investing in anyone. The resulting relationships were haphazard and often unhealthy. But at the time, the games were bad habits, and I was hooked. I’d always resort back to games when I felt defensive or wanted the upper hand, which is the exact opposite of how to build a great relationship.

According to Marisa T. Cohen, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at St. Francis College and co-founder of the Self-Awareness and Bonding Lab (SABL), most of the games we play are the result of societal influences. There was even a best-selling dating book in the 1990s called The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. Some of those dating guidelines included: Don’t accept a Saturday date after Wednesday.

But those tactics perpetuate inauthenticity in relationships. “If both people are playing games, they aren’t being true to their own wants and needs,” Cohen says. “If we aren’t honest with our partner, we aren’t actually building a healthy relationship.” Since dating sets the stage for any relationship, those games run deeper than the surface-level intrigue.

Even if you do wind up in a relationship, your dynamics are already out of whack—and you may end up walking on eggshells around your S.O., so he won't withdraw affection again. In a way, an abusive relationship is operating similarly, Cohen says. “People are often so immersed in the relationship that they fail to see toxic signs; the abusers can appear to be very loving and attentive at times, giving the abused person the reinforcement he or she needs to stay in the relationship.”


I eventually realised this merry-go-round of drama never produced healthy relationships. I just generally felt awful the majority of the time.

It seems so obvious, right? Any solid relationship prospect would want to feel special. If a person is only into you for the games and the adrenaline rush you provide, their interest will be fleeting. So, if you actually want to build a healthy, happy relationship, your best strategy is showing selective interest. Don’t play hard to get. Just be hard to get for everyone but those special, healthy, compatible matches.

This is a strategy I employ now more than ever. I try to dial back a bit on all the fun, flirty banter and get to know a person intentionally first. That way, it’s easier to notice which guys seem interesting, kind, and worthy of special attention.

Try it. When you finally like what you see in a prospect, make moves! It’s 2017 for crying out loud. If a person is turned off by your genuine interest, that’s not your person. Authenticity is a great filter for those who just want to mess with your head.

Ever wondered what dating apps are doing to your self esteem?

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