When people say that they “don’t want games” in a relationship what they really mean is that they do not want sick games, stupid games or somebody messing with them. Trying to imagine a relationship without any ‘games’ at all is like trying to imagine a world without weather. It is just not possible. It could be said that the whole of life is a game, so it is not really so difficult to accept that what happens in relationships are ‘games’ of one sort or another. Therefore, there is nothing derogatory about the term ‘game’, games are only a problem when they are negative in some way.

What makes a game negative?

Games are negative when they are done purely for the effect they have on someone without being willing to engage with the consequences. If we pretend to like someone when we don’t really and are only trying to get something from them (attention, sex, free drinks) then that is a sick game – particularly if we know the other person likes us. It would mean that we were leading them on and playing with their feelings, knowing full well that we were are going to hurt or disappoint them sooner or later. If we are playful with someone that we genuinely like (or that there seems to be a fair chance that we will like them) by flirting a bit, or paying the compliments in roundabout ways that can be a fun and very healthy game for both parties. It can be a way of letting someone know that we have good feeling for them without having to just blurt it out.

Why not just tell them we like them?

Sometimes it is best just to tell the person that you like them. But, usually it is better to do it indirectly. It can really put the other person on the spot if we are too direct too soon. We have all had experiences of thinking that someone who we had just met was going to become a real friend, or a partner, only to find that as we got to know them the person turned out to be very different from what we expected. We all learn to have defences of one kind or another. Games are a way of playfully letting down a little bit of our defences in a way that gives us a way out, without too much embarrassment on either side, if it all goes wrong. If we really have got a liking for someone early in a relationship and came right out and say it, then can put pressure on the to return the compliment or return the feeling. It creates and awkwardness and can dampen the other persons enthusiasm for getting to know us. They may feel embarrassed, they may wonder what we want from them, and so on. It is better to just take our time and let things develop slowly.

Of course, the other might have a positive response too. A well-delivered compliment can really help a relationship. However, we would need to make sure that we respected the other persons internal process. It takes some people a while to make up their mind about how the feel. Rather than make the compliment too direct it might be best to play it safe in and compliment them in roundabout ways in the beginning. We can compliment their dress sense, or their hairstyle, for example. Or, we can make indirect complements like “Anyone as fit looking as you would…” or “I can see you keep yourself in shape. Do you work out a lot…”. Really we are telling them that we like them, and they will know that, yet somehow it is safe and non-threatening. However, only a few compliments at a time. That is the essence of a healthy game.

If there are rules then it is a game.

The first thing we do when we want to play a game is establish a set of rules. A game is really a set of rules with which to play by. We could say, therefore, that if there are rules then it is a game. If is not a game then what is it and why would you want to take part in it? There are also rules in sports and in the business world.  We would not likely be better thinking of relationships as a sport or a business! Just because it is a game does not mean it is not ever serious. We only need to observe people watching a football match to realize that a game can be a serious and very intense business. Games can be very serious and games can be very silly. They are often both at the same time depending on our perspective.

The no-game relationship game.

If one of our internal rules is ‘it is best to be upfront’ then that is one of the rules from our game. Whether our game matches the game of the other person is a large part of what relating is about. If one of our rules is “I don’t play games”, then we are playing the game of not-playing-games. It is still part of a set of rules and so it is still a game. After all there will be other rules along with that rule too such as; ‘be serious’, and ‘I will notice everything you say and do’ and so on. Just because it is a ‘serious game’ rather than a ‘silly game’ doesn’t stop it being a game. There may in fact be a fairly heavy-duty ‘superiority’ game going on in the ‘no games’ approach. But, usually it just means the person is trying to be honest and authentic – which is a healthy game.

Is being authentic a game?

You may wonder, “Is being real, sincere and authentic a game? Surely that is not a game?”. It is really down to definitions of what a game is. Since I have sneakily defined a game as ‘anything with a set of rules’ then it is a game. Being authentic is a very good and healthy game, and is highly commendable (it is certainly far better than a game of lies and deceit). However, we have to be careful. If we get too enthusiastic with ‘being real’ we could come across as confrontative or even aggressive. We could end up unconsciously trying to impose our rules on everyone else. We may be tempted to assume that our rules are better or superior in some way. Mutual respect has to be a rule in any healthy game and it is important to let people reveal themselves in their own way and at their own pace. People have learned to be guarded through painful experiences and we need to respect that rather than decide that ‘everyone should be more open’ and then try and push them into it.

If we do not like the idea of ‘games’ in relationship then, of course, we are perfectly entitled to feel that way. However we may find that by being open to the ideas that playing games in a relationship can be a positive experience, and a healthy way to interact with others, that we make it easeir to connect with people without getting to serious to soon – as that is one of the biggest killers in the early phase of any relationship.