Love is a game, but can you win it?

The coined 'dating game' is more than just an expression. In our age of social media, dating sites and glossy magazines, playing the 'game' is an expectation. Relationships and breakups are often measured in a series of 'wins', 'losses', and 'failures', and the 'ex' must be the enemy in this toxic screenplay. Emily Christie discusses the harmful consequences of this kind of outlook.

We are constantly bombarded with ideas of perfect relationships: when to make the right moves, with common rules including no sex before the third date. As well as this, intensely competitive ideologies and ideas are marketed to us by blogs, magazines and television shows: ‘how to keep your man interested in bed’, ‘how to win an ex-partner back’, ‘how to score a number’. This idea of successes and losses is also seen in how we view ended relationships. Being “dumped” is considered awful and ended relationships are often branded as “failures”. Furthermore, there are expectancies for when we should “settle down”, various markers we have to hit, moving in, marriage, and if in a heterosexual relationship, the idea of “running out of time” when considering having children.

These notions create the idea that a relationship is entirely down to hard work, which of course is partly true. If you compromise, spend time on your relationship and pay attention to your partner, it will obviously be much healthier than if not. But relationships, love, and emotions cannot be viewed in this formulaic way. The relationship becomes subject to these standardised notions of seriousness and branded as a success or failure. For example, if a couple have been together for a long time but don’t get married, there must be something wrong. The pressure put on individuals to meet these relationship goals and keep partners is unrealistic when considering why many relationships end. Some, actually, just end.

People drift apart and personal goals and wants change, and with these constant personal changes it’s no surprise that breakups are commonplace. It’s a healthy part of life, but our demonising of ending relationships and the terror placed by the media and those around us on being “alone” is terrifying and stressful. Viewing relationships in competitive terms, as “wins” or “failures”, just doesn’t work in a world in which reasons for breakups are countless, and not all are entirely bad. An ended relationship doesn’t take away the good things that happened, and we should still be able to celebrate once happy and healthy relationships that have come to an end as well as enjoying dating and relationships at our own pace. Or, simply loving being single, without feeling like we are somehow falling behind. Love is confusing, but it’s also one of the best feelings in the world, and when we can feel free to explore it at our own place it can only get better.