Why it doesn’t pay to treat dating like a tapas meal


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When the boy I, um, “loved” in middle school texted me for the first time, I waited a cool 23 minutes and 45 seconds before responding with a coy yet cute: “Hi, who’s this?” Then, love and attraction was but a game, but now, I’m weary, worn out, and so GD over making it seem like I’m kind-of, sort-of into someone when really, the very idea of them makes me emotionally masturbate. So here’s my question: Should we toss the “playing hard to get” trope as we would a pilling pair of old leggings?

Jordana Abraham and Jared Freid, co-hosts of Betches’ U Up? podcast tell me that when it comes to the subject of affection and where to direct yours, playing games is a near surefire way to lose. Because when you lock away parts of yourself from others for the sake of keeping an air of mystery, you place hurdles between you and the object of your desire. And that may prompt your crush to turn away from you and toward to someone else. “We are the tapas generation,” says Freid, who’s also a New York City-based comedian. “We want small plates because we don’t want to commit to anything.”

For the record, I hate tapas—of the literal and figurative variety. (They’re so small! Yet so expensive! I have to share them!) And, as Abraham points out, offering people only a bite-size piece of yourself—and a calculated one at that—ultimately isn’t, well, satiating. What’s much more interesting for everyone involved is living your life and fitting them into it when you have the time. “I don’t think it’s a matter of playing hard to get—it’s a matter of having a full life. That’s an attractive thing,” says Abraham. In other words, being—not playing—hard to get is really what people look for these days. This mode of operation communicates a sense of confidence and independence—and the two podcast hosts agree, it’s hot. And they’re not alone in their stance.

“We are the tapas generation. We want small plates because we don’t want to commit to anything.” — Jared Freid, New York City-based comedian and co-host of U Up? 

There’s a psychological reason that explains why we love to chase and be chased, too. “The concept that something that’s a scarcity becomes more desirable is true in many realms—whatever the commodity is,” psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD, tells me. “Whenever there’s concern that there’s not enough of it, people respond with I want it more, even though ‘it’ has changed.”

In relationships, we feel pulled to buy into this “scarcity principal” because we want someone to go the extra mile to court us. “Everyone wants to be desired. The more they’re desired, the better it is for their ego,” says Dr. Saltz. But the very source of this yearning should raise a red flag since ego-based appetites don’t ultimately serve us—or anyone in our immediate radius. “Game playing in general is, by definition, a fabrication. There’s an inherent dishonesty in it, and it’s not good for pre-relationships, a beginning relationship, or any relationship,” she adds.

But Dr. Saltz agrees with Freid and Abraham in that having your own interests outside of dating is a great way to be fully realized individual without playing any games. “You need a 360 life,” she says. “Putting all your eggs in the basket of this one person probably isn’t a great idea for a million reasons. Hopefully, there are other things that matter to you, that you’re enriched from—that make you, frankly, an interesting partner for someone else.”

“You can have a lot of investment in your work, in your friends, in your personal health and well-being. But if you really like someone, you’re still going to emotionally invest in them.” — Gail Saltz, MD

The through line of all this advice? Manipulation. isn’t. sexy. Sure, on rare occasions playing hard to get can work (studies have confirmed it). But do you really want your romance to start that way? Rather than subscribing to the limbo-esque dating framework of “Should I text them first?”, “Should I say I love you first?”, or “Should I pretend I have plans on Friday?”, Freid recommends thinking of yourself as the CEO of your dating life, or, as Abraham puts it, having your own standards that are high. And that, she adds, means, “dating because you want a specific kind of person with a specific type of standard.” Thinking like a boss will ensure your actions aren’t motivated by making every attempt to keep your new flame around. Instead, you’re just doing you—and continually choosing (or not choosing) to evolve as a couple together.

“You can have a lot of investment in your work, in your friends, in your personal health and well-being. But if you really like someone, you’re still going to emotionally invest in them,” says Dr. Saltz. In other words, you’re not a tapa. You’re an ambitious, interesting, and, yes, flawed person. Don’t offer your dating pool just a taste of your complex profile.

Here’s what experts say about sex on the first date, and if you’ve been together for a while, here’s how to make your quality time exciting again

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