Playing Games

There’s a concept called Radical Honesty that was made popular by a book with the same name. The idea was that you were to be not only completely honest, but also completely forthcoming. If you met someone and they reminded you of Jabba the Hut, you’d be obliged to tell them so immediately.

It may not surprise you that this hasn’t caught on. Besides being unpleasant for just about everyone, it’s incredibly scary and difficult to do. I considered trying it, but balked. That’s not to say that everything is bad about it, though. Telling the truth is the right thing to do in nearly every case, and there’s something to be said for being forthcoming.

And there’s something universally appealing about that sort of social freedom, even if not taken to its unpleasant extreme. How many among us haven’t had to suppress the urge to tell someone just how heads-over-heels we are way before that’s an appropriate thing to say?

A friend and I were talking about this recently. She told me a story about a guy she was involved with. She would text him a dozen times in a row and receive only a short response in return. They would make plans, and he would break them. I thought that I was going to have to deliver the whole, “he’s just not that into you” speech, when she hit me with a surprise. When they finally did meet up, she told me, he was going on and on about how much he liked her and how glad he was that she was part of his life.

Interesting. I can’t say with certainty what happened, but I’ve (over)analyzed enough social situations that I think I can make some reasonable assumptions.

I think he doesn’t text her because he doesn’t have to. He knows that if he completely ignores her, she’ll still text him. He doesn’t respect her time, because he doesn’t have to. A last-minute cancellation is met with a wide open schedule of alternatives.

That doesn’t mean that he’s a jerk, either. My guess is that he wants her to respect her time and wants to feel like he has to stay invested in their conversations. I think most of us want that. It’s very similar to how women sometimes turn their men into puppy dogs, not because they want to, but because they can. They test to see if he’ll roll over, and are disappointed when he does.

I told her to stop responding. Respond once, and if he doesn’t write back, too bad. No follow up. If he cancels, he becomes lowest priority until he works his schedule to accommodate hers. Be generous with time and attention until it’s abused, and then shrink back. He’s busy, she objected. We’re all busy, but we all make time for things that are important to us. Act as though you deserve that attention, and you tend to receive it.

Ultimately, she decided not to take my advice. She told me that if overcommunicating scares him away, maybe he’s not the right one for her. She’d rather find someone who appreciates that quality.

That strategy works sometimes. I’ve met couples before comprised of two people who would absolutely drive me nuts if I had to spend much time with either, but they’re well paired. Their social errors (by my definition) happen to cancel each other out.

Dating is a tough game, though, and that’s really leaving it to chance. Changing oneself can be an act of cowardice, when it’s done against one’s own wishes to appease someone else, or an act of bravery, when it’s done to turn a new leaf and be a better person. I think that making course corrections like I prescribed to my friend fall into the latter category.

Some, including her, call it playing games. I won’t argue with the definition too much. By whatever name it’s called, though, I think it’s a positive thing to do. I’ve been in relationships with girls where they commanded respect and others where they didn’t. It’s easy to be lazy and not put effort into returning texts and keeping schedules. If you’re busy and she accepts it, it’s hard not to fall into that trap.

But the best relationships are those where both have to work at it a bit. I think about her experience and consciously take action to match that experience to her desires. She does the same for me. Neither of us coasts, mostly because neither of us wants to be with the kind of person who coasts.

It sounds cold and calculating to come up with the heuristic, “ignore him if he doesn’t text you back”, but I think it’s actually a caring thing to do. It puts the relationship on a track that leads to mutual respect and consideration. It’s no guarantee they’ll ever reach the end of that track, but I think the odds are far higher than if left to chance and old habits.


Photo is me on top of a mountain in Utah last weekend. I flew into Vegas and then drove up there to visit my brother.

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