Player Syndrome: How dating can be too much about fun.

In shidduch dating, both parties come to the table with a clear goal in mind: marriage. Of course,  there is the small matter of the first date to get through. But the ultimate purpose is clearly understood, and that shapes everything about the encounter.

Most significantly, if either party becomes convinced that there is no prospect of marriage, dating comes to a halt. But there are other important outcomes of the marriage focus. In particular, one expects to see progress during the dating. If one or both of the daters senses that things are stalled, that it has become a matter of treading water, the shidduch will be called into question.


While dating for marriage is very serious business, there is a playful element to it as well. Many people want to see that the person they are dating has a sense of humor (for some reason, many people seem to look for this and even think it is objectively important). Most people are looking for someone who has a sense of fun and is able to have a good time. Maybe it is because they are imagining the person as a potential future parent, but most probably it is because we recognize that life is also recreation and not just work.

The whole process of dating includes an element of playfulness. In fact, many people will include actual games in their dating activities. Dating involves a lot of storytelling and other lighthearted elements of conversation. One of the worst criticisms one can give of a date is that it was “boring.” There is quite a bit of similarity between dating and playing a game, not least the way one party acts in order to get a reaction from the other.

And entering a loving relationship with someone has much in common with play. People turn to playful mannerisms when they feel love towards another person, from inventing cute names for them, to smiling a lot, to doing silly things. While people vary as to how playful they become, playfulness is present in the love journey of most people – and that is completely normal and welcome.

Yes, but no, but maybe

However, there is a small percentage of people – we call them “players” – who take the idea of play in dating way too far. To the point of dysfunction. They seem to treat dating only or mostly as a game, and seem resistant to developing a meaningful emotional connection and do not want to take the relationship in a serious direction. In short, they get stuck somewhere in the middle of dating.

There are many reasons why people may get stuck during dating, but only a small number go about it by turning it into a game. This is done for only a limited range of reasons. Most notable is because of an ambivalent relationship orientation.

Here’s how ambivalence happens. As a baby, our life depends on our uniquely close relationship with our primary caregiver, our mother. We literally wouldn’t survive without her and we are entirely wrapped up in our connection to her – to the extent that a small baby does not see itself as something separate from its mother. As we develop, we begin to understand that we are, in fact, a separate entity from our mother, and that our mother has a life separate from meeting our infant needs. As we grow older, we seek and attain greater independence – to the point of being ready to strike out to build a home and family of our own.

However, deep down we always want to recreate the unique bond that meant so much to us as a baby. Our pursuit of a close romantic relationship is our key way to regain the comforting cocoon on our earliest days. When we find someone with whom we can bond in the deepest way, we feel a profound sense of elation. This is because it allows us to recapture the bliss of infanthood.

The problem is that the more we draw close to another person, the more we sacrifice our independence. Most people are more than ready to give up on a significant degree of independence to gain the rewards of true closeness to another person. Achieving this special bond is so important to our happiness, that we are ready – even enthusiastic – to give up a fair amount to achieve a truly close relationship.

That is true for most people. Some people struggle with this. They want the closeness, but they are not ready to be tied down. Their attitude to a committed relationship is “yes, but no.” They prefer to keep things as a “definite maybe.” But how can this type of person keep the relationship from either getting super intense, or conversely from falling apart? For a small minority, the answer is to treat it like a game. They focus on making the dating as enjoyable as possible while trying to avoid getting to a point where they feel forced to take things seriously.

But if you are looking for marriage, then dating a player is going to be frustrating and likely disappointing. While the person you are dating is looking to have a good time, you are laser-focused on getting married. While you see dating strictly as a means to an end, the player-type is happy to become absorbed in the dating experience. If you are serious about dating, you need to be able to identify the player-types playbook and call it out before you get hurt.

If you are the player type, you are likely to keep trying to move the dating away from commitment and towards a friendship. In this, you are likely to ignore that the person you are dating is not looking for a friend, but for a marriage partner. While your date may enjoy aspects of what’s going on during the dating, they will ultimately be hurt by getting drawn into an unproductive cycle. Your delaying tactics don’t solve anything long-term, as ultimately, they realize that the only way to have the benefits of closeness is to stop playing around and start getting real. So, the “playing” is an exercise in futility. It buys a little bit of time at a really high cost.

The playbook

Very briefly, here are a few tips about how to detect a player. If you see several of these features together – especially if you see all of them – that strongly hints at the possibility of a player-type.

Very amicable.  Players are really playful (hence the name), so they are always fun to be around. They come across as good-natured and typically polite and friendly. But despite the veneer of kindness, they are curiously indifferent to their date when it comes to moving things along.

Drag things out. They will look for every possible reason why to keep things going. They will look to buy time and avoid having to make a commitment. Their reasons are not substantive, but one is inclined to agree because they are being so nice about it.

Long history. More experienced players will have a long history of dates that went quite some time before they ended. That is a pattern that they start to accumulate: clocking up many shidduchim that go on for a while.

Not prioritized. Often players don’t give dating the priority it deserves. They fit dating around their otherwise busy lives. You may start to detect a pattern of unavailability. Meeting up with you rarely seems to be as important to them as it is to you.

Unreliable.  Of course, there are numerous reasons why people may be unreliable, but this is a feature common among player-types. They typically don’t take the relationship too seriously, and they assume that you are going to be okay with that.

Vague reasons. Consistent with this pattern is giving intangible reasons for why the relationship isn’t becoming more serious. “I’m just not feeling it” is probably the most common. While anyone can find themselves feeling that way, with player-types this is to be expected.

In short, one can tell a player by the very dramatic gap between their nice manner and their dismissive attitude towards the relationship.

Not a joke

The sad thing is that there is nothing fun about being messed around. The person who for a long time was happy to go along with it ultimately falls victim to this behavior. All the enjoyable dates turn bitter and sour once it becomes clear that the whole thing was a farce the entire time. There is likely to be confusion or resentment at the end of day, when it becomes clear that it is not going to go anywhere.

So, if you are dating someone who is covering up their ambivalence with their affable nature, call it out. Don’t go along with it. You have no obligation to be a victim. What use is charm without respect? If in doubt, consult someone who understands these things.

If you are the player, please understand that this behavior pattern is dysfunctional. You are dating for marriage, so act it. Face up to the fact that you have an ambivalence problem and speak to someone who can help you handle this better. Dating is actually not a game. Ultimately, you genuinely want to be married, so stop sabotaging your own efforts in an act of faux playfulness.

In addition, being a player is seriously unfair. You may think you are a really nice person, but you are causing incredible hurt. You can try to convince yourself that you gave your date a really good time, but in reality, you are just a heartbreaker. Cut it out. If you find that difficult, get help.

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