To Play, or Not to Play?

LVJ questions whether game playing is an essential part of relationships, or whether it’s simply unavoidable.

bridget jones Dating etiquette Relationships Sex Texting university students

Should I text him? He texted me first yesterday, so technically I’m allowed to text him first today. But, what if I appear too keen? I kind of want to see him though. I saw him yesterday, but it was completely accidental and not for very long at all. But, he visited two days ago. He didn’t put an ‘x’ at the end of his text though. So, maybe I should give him some space; let him come to me. Fuck it, I’ll just text him.

Sound familiar?

Game playing has become not just an accepted part of relationships, but a somewhat essential element of the dating ritual. We no longer visit people when we want to see them. We no longer ring people when we want to talk to them. We constantly monitor ourselves, making sure that we don’t ring them more than they ring us, and we certainly don’t text them back straight away.

But, surely this all seems like a bit of a ridiculous, Bridget Jones-esque way of doing things. Well, of course it does.

When you’re just, possibly, maybe starting something, it’s slightly acceptable. You don’t want to give too much away, or appear too desperate. What’s more, you don’t know whether they’re hiding two wives and five kids from you. However, even if it transpires that they don’t actually have an unfortunate, secret harem, you still want to give off the right impression and maintain the correct air of mystique to keep them interested. Frankly, it’s part of the fun of starting something new.

However, once it’s established that actually you do actually quite like each other (i.e., it’s ‘Facebook official’), then you should, in theory, feel a bit more secure. Once you’re absolutely certain that it’s not a two-time ‘we-were-really-drunk’ thing, you would expect to feel more comfortable. Yet, you still find yourself asking who is clingier, who is more demanding and who is always the one to visit first. And you never want to be the one to visit first.

We all want to be the one who is in control of the relationship. This is where the game playing comes in. You know you’re both locked in a power struggle, whether you say it out loud or not. The age-old battle of the sexes is the massive, white elephant in the corner of the room. So, faced with Nelly’s albino sister, you take to playing the game. You make sure you don’t appear too keen. It doesn’t matter if you’re in charge or not; if you’ve got the power you want to keep it, if you haven’t got it then you need to get it.

So, maybe you don’t visit him. You go and see a play, or do a bit of work or visit a friend in your essay break instead. You’re proud of your willpower; convinced that you’re clawing the power back. You’re also massively aware every minute of that day that you are absolutely not going to contact him. Not even a little bit. You’re going to let him come to you. Then, you start worrying that he hasn’t even noticed your superhuman feat of self-control and he didn’t even notice your absence for a monumental six hours. You get annoyed: you know why you’re not making the effort, but why isn’t he?

When he pops round the next day, you’re a bit put out. The poor bloke doesn’t have a clue what he’s done wrong, or why you’re being off with him. He’s perfectly nice. As always. And then you realise that, actually, everything is fine and you were being a bit paranoid. You realise that if you’d just texted him the day before, all would have been well and the minor argument you’ve just had- well, the one you had in your head- wouldn’t have happened.

Once you’ve made the impossible decision to actually get in contact, a new problem arises. How, in our overly modern and technologically confusing world, do you go about making contact? Assuming Facebook to be your first port of call, do you leave a witty wall post, or a more intimate inbox message? A wall post has the advantage of being casual, but it is too matey? Resorting to an inbox message may, therefore, seem tempting. But, does it seem strange to resort to such a secretive means of communication merely to exchange what is essentially sexually charged banter? Facebook doesn’t seem to provide the answer, but neither does the good, old-fashioned method of just picking up the phone. Actually ringing someone unfortunately commits you to actually talking to them. On the spot. And, how are you supposed to be glib, witty and excellent in an actual conversation? Without thinking time. Dear God, no. Supervisions prove, on a weekly basis. just how difficult speech can become at times of heightened stress.

The solution then, as is so often the case, is the text. The good old-fashioned SMS message. But, oh: what a minefield. Never, since the age of piracy, has the letter ‘x’ caused so much consternation. In ordinary situations, three is pretty standard. Three, lower case ‘x’s. Some prefer just one; others like theirs to be capitalised. We’ve all got our OCDs. When texting him, however, everything changes. You can’t put your usual, quite affectionate ‘xxx’ at the end of your text, when he doesn’t even give you one, measly, lower case consonant in return. So, you end up in an ever-so-confusing situation, where occasionally you put an ‘x’, but more often than not, you don’t, because he bloody well doesn’t. It’s irritating, really: all this decision-making. Almost as irritating as the fact that he does not notice this at all. He doesn’t notice how many ‘x’s you put; he doesn’t notice how many ‘x’s he puts, and he definitely doesn’t notice the subliminal messages that these ‘x’s are supposed to convey.

Much like texting him at 11pm rather than 9pm is unlikely to have any real effect, all these little games are, effectively, arbitrary. But you still play them; it’s the big red button and although you know it’s not going to do you any good, you simply have to press it. The game playing is too much to resist. In fact, it’s impossible to avoid. Everyone does it. So, if you stop and start actually saying what you think, then you automatically lose ‘The Game’. It’s a ‘chicken-or-the-egg’ situation, so until everyone decides it’s time for an armistice, there isn’t going to be one. The game will continue.

All you can do is make damn sure you’re the better player.