If you have been dating for awhile in your life, whether it’s through apps or IRL, it’s easy to conclude that dating sucks. And you know what? You’re right.
There are absolutely parts of dating that are awful. Most specifically, all that unnecessary game playing in dating makes it hard to find your person.
Game playing in dating sucks
It seems like there is a never-ending list of terms being added to our vocabulary to explain all the ways that dating can suck. To date successfully, you must navigate the sea of breadcrumbers. When a person ghosts you, then you need to effectively cope with your disappointment. You must have the confidence to walk away from a benching situation. And you need to be able to discern between genuine interest and lovebombing.
Related: What is love bombing in dating?
Fundamentally, whether you are dealing with someone who has completely ghosted you or is leading you on, you will need to be able to cope well with your feelings of hurt, anxiety, anger, and embarrassment which come up along the way.
How to cope with game playing in dating
When a person ghosts you or leads you on, it’s so easy to take this personally. When I dated men who ghosted me and manipulated me, I used to feel this was a confirmation of my unworthiness. It sucked. However, this was a false conclusion. When a person manipulates you during the dating process, it is only a reflection of their emotional availability and maturity.
People play these games when they are at best, avoidantly attached or at worst, emotionally abusive. Whatever their reasons, it’s important to not take their actions personally. At the same time, it’s important to cope with your feelings after being ghosted.
The way you do this is to first validate your emotions. Of course, it can be embarrassing to acknowledge you feel hurt after being ghosted or manipulated. It’s vulnerable, after all, to acknowledge we clearly cared more about someone than they cared about us. But it’s necessary. Next, you can cope with journaling, coloring, deep breathing, or talking to a friend.
How to actually enjoy dating
At times, it can feel like you are powerless to all the ways dating sucks. After all, most of your dates will be “unsuccessful.” Almost all the people who you date will not be for you. In fact, only one person you go on a date with will be the one for you. And every single person before that will not be for you. (There may be other potential matches for us but if you are seeking a monogamous relationship, you will stop when you finally find your compatible, available, match.)
To stop feeling powerless, it’s important to remember that most of the people you meet during the dating process will not be for you. It’s not personal and you’re not failing. It just takes time to find the right person for you if you’re being honest about what you need to not settle. Ideally, to enjoy dating, you take the power back into your hands. Here are some ways to do this.
Tip 1: Remember dating is an assessment process
Every person you meet until you find “your person” will not be for you. This is ok. Dating, ideally, is an assessment process in which you are discovering if a person can meet your non-negotiable needs. These needs are the things you must have to feel safe, secure, and happy in a relationship. They are unique to every person as well.
To change the dating process, it’s incredibly important to become clear about what you cannot live without. These are the qualities such as being trustworthy, committed, or sexually attractive (to you) which must be present to not feel like you are “settling.”
We do not want this list to be more than 3-6 qualities. Otherwise, while we may want something, we are confusing our deepest values and needs with qualities that are more like a cherry on a sundae. For example, maybe you want someone who makes a certain amount of money but them being funny is more important to you. Getting clear about your non-negotiable needs allows you to never settle while allowing for the authentic nature of other human beings to exist.
Tip 2: Honor Your Non-Negotiable Needs
Once you know these needs, it’s incredibly important to honor when you go on dates that it’s too soon to tell if they are right for you. As you continue to date them, allow yourself the chance to see if they truly meet your needs.
If you are dating someone and you discover they only have 1 or 2 of your non-negotiable needs met then you must walk away. As the old saying goes, “it’s close but, no cigar.” Meaning, yes, they may have seemed “perfect” for you but now you know they are not.
If you don’t walk away, once you discovered someone doesn’t meet your non-negotiables, then you are wasting your own time by bargaining with reality. For example, if you meet someone who is funny and kind (just like you need) but they don’t want kids which you also need them to value, you must walk away. Otherwise, you may spend years trying to change someone’s mind (which you don’t have the right to do) instead of just moving on and finding your person.
Tip 3: You must know your worth
To date effectively, you must be grounded in your inherent self-worth. You stop dating for attention or to feel desirable. Instead, you date to find the relationship which is right for you. This sense of self-worth dramatically reduces the time that is spent with game players. A person with self-worth does not waste their time wondering why someone ghosted them or why they are leading them on.
They will properly cope with their feelings of disappointment or frustration. But then they move on. A woman who is confident in herself knows the truth: There are absolutely men, just like employers, who will manipulate you. They will take advantage of you. They will ask you to settle for the bare minimum.
As a woman who loves herself (or acts as if she loves herself), it’s important to honor your worth. Consider, when dating, what is the bare minimum which would make you feel respected? Not desirable, not approved of but respected. Maybe it’s that they return a text to you within 24 hours. Or maybe it’s that they make consistent plans to see you. Perhaps it’s that they don’t flake. Maybe it’s that they communicate honestly rather than giving excuses. (It is possible to tell someone you’re scared of commitment rather than blaming work by the way.)
Related: How self-love affects relationships
Tip 4: You must ask for what you are worth
Whatever you need to feel respected, you honor this boundary. You do this by asking for it directly if you are not receiving it. You do this by accepting reality if someone isn’t willing to respect you.
This is a very similar process to salary negotiation to be honest. Way too many women due to trauma and/or sexism, feel lucky for any work or any dating attention. When a person believes they are not enough, often, they will settle for crumbs and/or pennies. They falsely believe some attention is better than nothing.
Recently, I was in the process of negotiating my pay for a product I would create. They wanted to pay me far less than I requested. During the conversation, I found myself saying, “I would feel respected by X number.” And I was honest about my value. I didn’t undersell myself because they didn’t want to pay me that much (which to me was the bare minimum).
Sometimes we worry about asking for “too much.” This is true in dating as well as salary negotiations, but the better question is often “Am I asking for enough?”
Tip 5: Stop excusing people
When a person lacks self-love, they will get stuck in analyzing why someone is ignoring them or mistreating them. They will take these behaviors personally. They will negotiate with reality that there is a genuine reason other than the fact this person is emotionally unavailable and/or manipulative. Period.
When we rationalize why someone did something, we give them the space to keep hurting us. The truth is that people always show us who they are. People make time for their priorities. And regardless of what they tell you, if they are not showing up for you, the relationship with you is not a priority and/or they lack the skills necessary for a healthy relationship.
An emotionally immature person doesn’t magically find the skills to be a healthy partner because you allow them in their life. The process of becoming available – having secure rather than avoidant attachment – is infinitely more complex than liking someone. You do not get someone to magically heal because they marry you or have children either.
As a couple’s therapist, I know for a fact, you can be married to someone who is still closed off to you. You can be married to someone who literally doesn’t show up for you and leaves with all the responsibilities may it be financial, household, or childcare.
I spent 11 years going back and forth with a man because I kept accepting his excuse that work was “too demanding.” The truth is the situation was like that the line in “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” by Mike Posner. He says, “And I can’t keep a girl, no ’cause as soon as the sun comes up, I cut ’em all loose. And work’s my excuse but the truth is I can’t open up.”
When I finally stopped excusing this man, I created space in my life to find my person. I started dating in a new way and honored my needs. Within the year, I found my husband.
Tip 6: You must keep trying
The game playing in dating not only sucks, but it’s also demoralizing. It can be so hard to continue to do something in which you regularly experience disappointment. It is important to allow yourself time and space to honor your feelings and self-soothe. You may sometimes need to take breaks from dating too if you feel a lot of grief or insecurity. If you have a lot of intense feelings, I would also highly recommend therapy.
Related: Should I give up on dating?
At the same time, if you want to attract a healthy, long-term relationship you must keep going. I know how hard this can be though. I literally almost deleted the dating app off my phone right before I met my husband. The last date I ever went on before my husband was a guy who showered me with attention via text before our first date. However, after our date, despite a previous pattern of non-stop texting, he went radio silent.
I was hurt, angry, humiliated, confused, and rejected. My roommate at the time invalidated my emotions saying it was just one date so why would I be so hurt. But I was hurt because I was hopeful. I truly felt so ready to meet my person but yet again, I found another dead end. To cope, I took the day to honor my feelings.
The next day, I woke up committed to my self-trust. I knew my person was out there. I also knew I was strong enough to face the discomfort of dating for as long as it took. Sometimes, it’s so easy to fall into the temptation of not wanting to hurt so we stop dating. But then you will never find your person. They won’t show up on your doorstop like your Amazon delivery.
Dating can work out if you stick with it
You must put yourself out there. Just like you cannot get your dream job without applying to jobs, you cannot find your right partner without dating. All too often, I see people missing out on potentially finding their person because they are not dating. They want a partnership, but they don’t want to face potential rejection, but this is not the nature of life.
Psychologist Susan David explains, “Only dead people never get unwanted or inconvenienced by their feelings. Only dead people never get stressed, never get broken hearts, never experience the disappointment that comes with failure. Tough emotions are part of our contract with life. You don’t get have a meaningful career, or a raise a family, or leave the world a better place without stress or discomfort. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”
Trying to find your person is inherently uncomfortable yet, how glorious you have the ability to pursue your relationship (and life) dreams. You are strong enough to handle the discomfort of dating. You are also more equipped now to set healthy boundaries as needed on the game playing. With dedication to your needs and worth, you will find your person faster than possible otherwise.
About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Therapy Within Reach: Setting Boundaries, will be released September, 2023.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.
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