Dating a man who plays games can leave you exhausted, confused and unsure of where you stand. You don't, however, have to give up your own power by allowing such a man to control the situation. You can protect yourself by learning the tell-tale signs of a game player and establishing firm boundaries until you know someone well enough to be more open.
Recognize game playing. Signs of a man playing games include running hot and cold -- showing interest and then withdrawing -- as well as showing too much charm early on, making false promises and outright lying, writes psychologist Diana Kirschner in her article "Dating Games Men Play" on the website Self Growth. If a man constantly breaks plans with you, is overly difficult to reach or seems to be inconsistent in his interest, then he may very well be playing games. While some men play games out of fear of commitment or rejection, others may lack empathy or a desire for intimacy. Some see relationships only as a way of building self-esteem, serving their self-interest or obtaining other personal benefits.
Take control. Once you've identified a game-playing strategy, it is time to take back control. Deal with false promises by insisting that you receive your end of the bargain first, advises social psychologist Jeremy Nicholson in the Psychology Today article "How To Defend Against Manipulative Dating Games: Part One." Set consequences for poor behavior. Let him know that you will not tolerate a lack of respect for your time and other commitments, and that your dates will cease until he can make a reasonable effort to be consistent in his availability. In general, be coutious of new relationships from the beginning, and don't give up your power by becoming too attached before you really know the other person.
Choose whether to stay. Think about whether the man you are dating is simply fears commitment, or if his issues may run deeper. Signs that he might be a good catch and just require a bit of patience include a desire for a love relationship, a general positive regard for women, past long-term relationships and a willingness to grow and work on issues, writes Kirschner. On the other hand, if the man you are dating seems self-absorbed, lacks empathy, does not seem to want intimacy and flirts with other women, he may be narcissistic and view relationships as games to be won, according to a 2002 paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and funded in part by the University of Georgia. If the latter is true, you will probably want to consider severing ties with this man.
Identify your challenges. Think about what made you vulnerable to a man who plays games. Narcissistic men tend to seek out partners who are easily dominated and controlled. Having poor personal boundaries or being a "people pleaser" may also make you more susceptible. You may even seek out men who avoid commitment because of your own fears about becoming close to someone. Becoming aware of any personal issues that may attract you to the wrong dating partners will help you find healthier relationships in the future.
Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.