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Setting boundaries vs. playing games

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No one likes it when someone they are dating “plays games,” which is a nebulous description of someone trying to manipulate the other. (We’re not talking Monopoly, Bridge, or tennis here!) But very few people can articulate what constitutes a game. (However, it is commonly agreed that if an “attached,” [e.g., non-single] person acts as if they are unattached, s/he is “playing games.” Or if when asked “are you seeing someone else?” they respond, “no,” meaning “not at this very exact moment as I’m with you and she’s at home.”)

Some people consider arbitrary rules to be game playing. For example, women who won’t call men under any circumstance, or pay for a meal, or have an x-dates-before-sex criteria.

So when does setting boundaries cross the line to becoming a game? For example, although I understand why men offer me their phone number before I offer mine, I prefer to have him make the first move. So I respond with my number and invite him to call. My experience is that if I give him my number and he doesn’t call, he’s not that interested or doesn’t have the initiative I’m looking for. If I call him first, I never get a sense for either of these.

I also don’t like to be on the phone after 10:00 especially for the first few calls. For example, an initial call from a new man came in at 7:30 p.m. No problem. We chatted for 30 minutes, then he said he needed to do a quick errand and would call back absolutely no later than 9:00. No problem.

So when his call came in at 10:00, I sent it directly to voice mail. Could I have answered? Sure. But, 1) he was an hour later than he’d promised, which is not a good sign and 2) 10:00 on a work night is too late unless one knows the other is a night owl or has an already established relationship. If I’d answered, I’d be sending the signal that he doesn’t have to honor his promises and I’ll accept his calls whenever he dials. Nope. Not going there.

Is that playing games? Some would consider it so. Others would say I was setting a boundary of honoring my own needs first. Is this selfish? I don’t think so. If you bend your boundaries at the beginning of a relationship, a man will never learn to honor the ones that are important to you.

Does this mean you should be rigid? Not necessarily. But I’ve found when I waive my own boundaries, I’m in for a heap of trouble. He never believes any of my stated boundaries because I didn’t stand up for them (and for what I wanted/needed).

So what do you think is a “game” vs. a boundary? Have you ever purposefully played games in midlife dating? What did you do and why? What boundaries have you bent and what were the results? What haven’t you waived and are glad you didn’t?


For other topics to consider when you begin dating, get your copy for you (or someone you love!), of Dipping Your Toe in the Dating Pool: Dive In Without Belly Flopping.

About Yury Zvyagolskiy

Yury Zvyagolskiy
In almost all American movies there is a bad guy who is usually Russian and his name is Yury. If the bad guy is not from Russia, his last name usually starts with Z. So here I am - Yury Z. My specialty is personal effectiveness. I am an expert in goal achievement, personal effectiveness, relationships and effective thinking.

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