Is Being A Player So Wrong? What Game Theory Teaches Us About Dating
Going steady, being exclusive, staying casual, hooking up, courting; we use a lot of words to describe how people connect romantically, and yet, dating remains this ever-complicated stage of intimacy. When does dating move to a committed relationship? How does it differ from a friends with benefits situation? Are Pete Davidson and Kim K still dating or not!? And can someone please, for the love of god, explain to me what an Instagram ‘soft launch’ is?!
Dating is complicated. It’s loaded with hidden assumptions, expectations, rules, and intentions, and ultimately, it means something completely different to different people. When we are unclear about the meaning of ‘dating’ – both for ourselves and others – things can get messy… fast! But game theory might be able to make things clearer.
What is “dating” anyway?
Pardon the pun, but some people believe that the word ‘dating’ is outdated, and we kinda get it. After all, Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “regularly spend[ing] time with someone you have a romantic relationship with,” which is kinda vague, no?
To some extent, dating implies that two (or more) people are getting to know each other; it’s how we explore compatibility. But people traditionally date within a heteronormative and/or mononormative context known as the Relationship Escalator, which Amy Gahran, author of “Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator”, defines as:
“The default set of societal expectations for intimate relationships. Partners follow a progressive set of steps, each with visible markers, toward a clear goal.”
The goal at the top of the escalator, according to Gahran, is to achieve a marriage where two partners remain permanently monogamous, cohabitate, and receive legal recognition for the relationship, if possible. In many cases, buying a house, having kids, and participating in some type of religious ceremony, are also goals. Partners are expected to remain together, at the top of the escalator, until death –– which means that we can only achieve marriage success somewhere in the future, at a distinct point where longevity can be recognized.
But what if that’s not what we’re looking for?
Game Theory and Dating
In the context of dating, words like “game” and “players” undoubtedly have negative connotations. Perhaps they remind you of pop culture phenomena like the Tinder Swindler and West Elm Caleb, or songs like No Games and Playas Gon’ Play. Maybe they just remind you of an ex –– and if those internal sirens are going off now, my apologies. Regardless, the fact that some people treat dating like a game is really unappealing to people.
Yet, do we really have to hate the ‘players’ when it comes to dating? Or can we reframe our thinking? Game theory makes us believe the answer is yes!
Game theory refers to the science of strategic decision-making. It’s the study of social situations among competing players, their choices, and how certain outcomes are achieved. And it asserts that in any game, players make decisions that are interdependent, meaning they have to consider each other’s possible choices and strategies when formulating their own. And we can apply this to the game of dating, where we have to consider our partners and their possible choices and strategies as we pursue our romantic goals.
Game theory teaches us to literally change the way we look at gaming and competition, to be more comfortable identifying as ‘players’ and making interdependent decisions. You see, people like games –– they just want to know which ones are being played, and the tools to hopefully win. So when we look at romance through a Strategic Choice Approach, or what #open co-founder Amanda Wilson likes to call a Relationship Choice Approach, we are deciding what type of relationship we want first, and then finding another person (or multiple persons) who want the same thing.
What Does it Mean to Date Authentically?
The frustration that arises in dating is that very often, players aren’t defining the specific game variation they’re playing, or what the rules are, or what winning looks like for them. If you are playing the game of marriage, your strategies are going to be different than if you are playing the one night stand game. The strategies you employ to find your future partner might not be the same as they would be if you are looking for someone to satisfy a sexual kink or fantasy this weekend.
Strategies have been used within the context of dating for hundreds of years. However, with some outdated rules such as “Don’t call him and rarely return his calls” and “Skip the serious topics”, maybe it’s time for new ones. Being authentic about our wants, needs and desires is what helps us to enjoy the dating game. Starting with those more “serious” conversations allows us to put it all on the table from the starting line. There is someone out there who wants what you want – you just have to put it out there! This creates an opportunity for you to be authentic in the way you play the game, whilst also not wasting your, or anyone else’s, precious time and energy.
Clarity is key across the board of relating and dating, whether you are looking for a monogamous committed partnership, or are navigating multiple romantic connections. You can design a unique strategy with the clarity of your needs, wants and intentions to attain your specific desired end goal. Rebekah Campbell, author of 138 Dates, created just that! She decided that after a 10-year hiatus from the dating scene, that she would play the game of 1 date a week for a year with a clear end goal: to find a committed partner to start a family with. She applied a strategy and let the games begin.
If you apply that to your own context, what game do you want to play, what is the end goal, and what might your strategy look like?
How to be #open When Playing the Dating Game
Using dating platforms to meet others online may not be new but, as we know, the ways that people date & relate have changed! We know that connecting and exploring with others is more complex than the traditional principles that mainstream dating apps use. Whether you’re poly, monogamish, consensually nonmonogamous, queer, into kink, progressive swinging, or simply curious and want to expand your boundaries, you deserve a dating app that helps you find your perfect matches.
#open was built upon the tenets of game theory, and thus the rules of the game are important. We ask players to play NICE within our community:
Negotiate: Communicate your intentions, expectations, and desires with clarity and honesty.
Include: Treat yourself and your fellow players with respect. Be welcoming and accepting of others.
Consent: Always obtain affirmative, enthusiastic consent. Please don’t send unsolicited NSFW pictures to others, or display them publicly on your profile.
Experience: Be open to new experiences and the experiences of others. Allow yourself and others to explore without shame or judgment.
So, what does this mean IRL? If your end game is to be in an open relationship, then put that first. Choose appropriate hashtags in your #open bio, to be authentic in sharing who you are and what you are looking for. We have over 60 different in-app gender, sexual orientation, and relationship styles to choose from, or you can always type in your own. For some, labels help people to define themselves, and for others labels mean nothing. We can accommodate both.
Narrow your search down to those that are looking for the same thing as you, then begin to look at who you want to play your chosen games with. Using a strategy in the game of dating makes the likelihood of compatibility a better chance of happening. Plus, then once you meet that lucky person(s), you already know you have something in common with them!
With clarity and strategy, we believe that the game of dating can be a simple and pleasurable one! On your marks, get set, GO!