LET THE GAMES BEGIN…the games of courtship

In the beginning of a new romantic connection, the negotiation between potential partners can feel an awful lot like playing games, or playing mind games.  What is actually happening is that negotiations are underway as to how the relationship should proceed.  Each person is also being careful to present as positive an image of themselves as they can so as to increase their power of choice while decrease their chance of rejection. This negotiation is about stuff like power and control, who accepts what responsibility, what understandings will be in place for behavioral expectations in the future.

This is the development of the “invisible unspoken contract.” (See article on Invisible Unspoken Contract).  Be aware that your choices and behaviors at this early point in the relationship determine how it will go later on should it last.  So if interactions are not to your liking,  or if this other person does or says things which make you uncomfortable, this is the easiest and most effective time to speak up in terms of making changes.

In the beginning of a new romantic connection, the negotiation between potential partners can feel an awful lot like playing games, or playing mind games. What is actually happening is that negotiations are underway as to how the relationship should proceed. This negotiation is about power, control, who accepts what responsibility, what are the expectations for interactions in the future. This is the development of the invisible unspoken contract. Be aware that your choices and behaviors at this early point in the relationship determine how it will go later on should it last. So if interactions are not to your liking, or if this other person does or says things which make you uncomfortable, this is the easiest and most effective time to speak up in terms of making changes.

Early on, after meeting someone to whom you are attracted, it is wise to keep in mind various
important considerations:

1.  Be aware of any old relationship patterns or patterns in the choices you made for previous partners. Note also any patterns within those relationships. Be aware that the one to whom you are now attracted, will also be part of this pattern. Attempt to determine which problems occurred in past relationships, and how you may have contributed to their formation.

2.  Deliberately slow the relationship’s development. The faster your relationship is going, the less control you have. Imagine yourself in a car, speeding down the highway at eighty miles per hour. The view along the side of the road is a rushing blur. So if there is a beautiful flower on the side of the road, you will not notice it, let alone appreciate its beauty. Now image yourself walking along the road. It would be unlikely that you will not notice the flower. It is much easier to stop and appreciate its beauty when you are going slowly.

There is no need to rush; you have the rest of your life to get to know this person and determine if he or she is the right one for you. The beginning of a love relationship is among the sweetest times of your life; savor it slowly the way you would delicious food. If you take it fast, and allow sex to begin quickly, this sweetness will be over too quickly. Taking it slow will give the relationship the best chance of being healthy. Going slow helps you to notice and address problematic situations early in their growth when they are still small and more responsive to change.

3. Keeping the relationship’s development slow prevents your destructive unconscious patterns from asserting themselves. If they do, the old negative patterns which had contributed to the problems in your past relationships are more likely to be repeated once again. These are your choices which either cause you to behave in destructive ways, or cause you to accept destructive behaviors by your partner. Take it slow! Make your actions and choice conscious, not unconscious!

4. Determine your potential partner’s intentions. Ask lots of questions. Consider this metaphor: You are traveling to a distant location. You go to the train station to catch a train to take you to where you want to go. You quickly board the nearest train. The train is about to roll. Then you realize that you are uncertain if the train is going to your desired destination or not. Isn’t it best to determine if it is the right train as soon as possible, so you will have the opportunity to get on the right train? When a new person is invited into your life, make sure the new person wants what you want, so you avoid becoming attached only to break-up because the two of you want a different kind of relationship.

5.  Look for “red flags.” While getting to know a new person, it is wise to keep yourself alert. Pay attention to all your senses, your thoughts and feelings. Do not let this other person talk you out of  your feelings…value them as you would a message from your most wise advisor. Your feelings are your antennae in a love relationship. If you have feelings of discomfort, disrespect, some things just don’t add up to you, or if something confuses you…trust these feelings! These are warning signs that all may not be right with this person. Proceed with caution. Be on the lookout for red flags: characteristics, situations, occurrences that do not fit with your values, which reveal character flaws or weakness in your potential partner. After weeks or months, if there are no “red flags,” or very few, but only minor ones, then you are probably safe.

It is wise to be cautious if this new person has financial troubles. If they ask you for money, let this be a strong warning to eliminate this person as a potential partner. A good partner is one who can be strong, self-sufficient and responsible. If this person seems to be in a financially bad position and does not ask for money, do not lend them any. To do so is to encourage a dependency, which would prevent him or her from learning a lesson, and it will put destructive pressure on the relationship. If  you have grown to value this person and they do have financial problems, let them know that this is a problem, as soon as you are aware of it, and suggest ways they may learn to fix them.

If he or she is not receptive to your observation or does not take action, you may consider moving on to find someone who is strong enough to be in control of their finances and their life.  Finances are one of the issues about which couples argue most. Lack of integrity is a major red flag. A good partner’s words and actions must match. If a person makes a promise, they must keep it, unless there are reasonable extenuating circumstances. If these kind of extenuating circumstances seem to occur frequently, then this is a red flag that hidden problems exist.  You probably should stay away. You must practice integrity as well. Lack of honesty and lack of respect for you and others are major red flags.

6.  Ask lots of questions. If your potential partner does not want to give you answers to your questions, his or her silence should be a red flag of caution. What is this person looking for in a relationship? What needs do you want met in a relationship? Are you ultimately looking for someone to share with you a committed marriage, or something more casual? It is of utmost importance that  you ask this person about this early on. Ask about the person’s past. Learn about his or her past relationships and struggles. How did they solve problems in the past? A good problem-solver will be good a “teammate” for you. What kind of persons does this potential partner choose as friends? Do these people share your values? How open is this person to seeking outside help should a difficult problem develop? If the two of you do create a long-term relationship, how willing is he or she to fix the problem, no matter what it takes? How do they treat the friends and family members? How does this person handle money? Is this person willing to be influenced by you and your needs?  If not, this is a red flag. Questions, questions, questions!

They do not need to be answered all at once, but these answers are vital to your safety and to your success at choosing a good partner.  The process is challenging, but no more challenging than being in a bad or dangerous relationship! Consider the kind of life this person leads. If they have many problems, be aware that by joining your life with theirs, their problems become yours.

7.  Arrange so that the first times spent together are safe and highly informative.  Your first few dates are probably best spent in public settings until you have determined that the candidate is trustworthy and safe.  For men, realize that female partners may be fearful of spending time with you in ways in makes it easier for her to feel safe and to say yes to your invitation.

Talking is nice, but words deceive more than actions can; you will learn more about this person through their behavior than their words. In a just-getting-to-know-you situation, each person is on his or her best behavior, which limits your ability to know his or her true self. Choose an activity which allows you to learn as much as possible about the way a person him or herself. People are more likely to relax in situations in which both people are able to focus on a shared activity rather than a more direct face-to face situation. Physically active and challenging past-times such as bowling, tennis, miniature golf, going to walks in a pleasant public place, eating messy foods, challenging activities.

Activities in which are new to the candidate, allows you to see this person when they feel awkward or frustrated. While it may be slightly uncomfortable for that person, it allows you to see how they behave when they are not at their best…a predicament in which they will often be if your relationship should last a long time. But also this kind of together time can provide ample opportunity for laughter and fun, as opposed to an interview-style restaurant dinner. If a person refuses to enter a new kind of situation, consider why; if they cannot handle their anxiety, how will this person be able to handle the anxiety provoked by deep intimacy, an essential to a good relationship.

8.  Delay sex as long as you can; this helps to rule out potential mates whose main interest in you is motivated solely by gaining sexual gratification. You should not be having sex with a new person with whom you are still uncomfortable talking about sex, asking about his or her sexual history, and asking if he or she has a sexually transmitted disease. If you would be uncomfortable sharing with this person your sexual history then you probably do not know them well enough. Remember, the two of you can talk about sex without being sexual. Doing so can add deliciously to the exciting build-up of sexual tension. Sex can be talked about as a way of determining if and this new person may be sexually compatible and share similar sexual values.

While being single, and while exploring the possibility of a relationship, masturbation can be not only a pleasurable relief from the build-up of sexual tension, but also it can be valuable practice to know your sexual response more fully. This will better enable you to teach your future partner how to please you. During your single days, to be the best lover you can for when that time arrives, if you are a woman, you might practice Kegel exercises so as to improve your sexual responsivity. If you are a man, you might practice developing strong ejaculatory control.

If sex occurs too early, the relationship will speed up dramatically in its emotional intensity, reducing your ability to choose what happens. Once sex has been experienced, your emotions will become more fully involved causing you to be much less rational, and therefore less able to be aware of all that is happening. Old unconscious patterns more strongly assert themselves after sex has become part of a relationship. If your partner wishes to be sexual and you are not ready, this person will demonstrate the depth of his or her of love for you by waiting. If all seems right between you and this special person, let the sexual tension between the two of you build until it is driving the both of you crazy. Let it build to fever pitch.

Undoubtedly after the relationship is much older, you will look back and view this sweet, early time as all too brief. There are many exciting ways to show you care without including your genitals. If this person is truly great, and the two of you make a good match, there will be plenty of opportunity for great sex in the future!

Good luck at loving yourself, loving life and being loved by others!

Andrew Aaron, LICSW