Falling in love is perhaps the most dangerous and exciting game any of us ever play.  Caught between security and a desire for the one person in the world who will love us completely and forever, it is a tentative, thrilling time of trial and test.   Can I really trust this person?  Do they really love me?  Will they take care of me?   Each wants the other but is unwilling to give up their autonomy without being sure.  So they try to have it both ways; they express an interest while keeping control and feigning disinterest,  hoping the other will read the signs and prove their love.  The games lovers play are part of dance of courtship;  forward and back, give and take, reveal and conceal.  They are like the party games we all played as children;  not just the obvious teases, such as Postman’s Knock and Blind Man’s Buff, but also Hide and Seek,  Charades, Consequences and Pass the Parcel.    

Hide and Seek is the most popular game that lovers play.  One partner hides, they withdraw, become distant, so enticing the other to affirm their desire by seeking them out.  This game is also known as Playing Hard to Get.   It is similar to Charades,  in which one partner pretends to be cool about the relationship, or too busy, or pretends to be interested in somebody else just to make the other work to prove they love them.  Of course, both partners can take it in turns to play this game, but as in Blink, one usually holds their nerve better than the other and the game morphs into another, the quest to discover who is ‘The Weakest Link’.  The winner is the one who can deprive the other, create the anxiety and still retain their unconditional adoration, the person who claims the throne in the last round of Musical Chairs.   But control is only gained at the expense of the insecurity of their partner, who may ultimately seek out a relationship that gives them more affirmation.   Even the winner is dissatisfied.  Having a partner one can control is boring, it’s no fun, and they may seek out the challenge of another person they can control. 

A weak partner, however, has games of their own.  A very effective one is ‘Cry Wolf’.   In Cry Wolf,  one partner makes the most of their vulnerability to elicit the care and compassion of the stronger partner.  They put on an act of being upset, unable to cope; they may even became ill and use the illness to appeal to the others compassion.  That way they can regain the control and the proof that they are truly loved. 

Love between insecure and self-centred partners is not all milk chocolate and roses.  In many of the games that lovers play,  the goal is to feel good at the expense of the other.  ‘Pass the Parcel’ as lovers play it, is not a game in which each person tries to hold on to the prize.  Instead, the parcel is like a hot potato; they try to offload their bad feelings as quickly as they can.  They blame each other, criticise each other’s attitudes, accuse each other of selfishness.  Pass the parcel is a vicious game that can alter its form according to what is in the parcel.   So when your lover says after staying the night instead of visiting her mum in hospital, ‘I feel dreadful and it’s all your fault’, or when your husband tries to excuse his infidelity by saying  ‘I wouldn’t have done it if you had been nicer to me’, they are trying to shift the burden of their own guilt on to you.   And when your partner is annoyed with you for being late and makes excuses to miss their next rendezvous, they are passing on their anger. ‘I’ll show you what that feels like’.   People who make assumptions about their partner’s behaviour,  ‘You never listen to me’  have often written the script because that is the way they behave.  People who complain about how awful their situation is, but refuse your help are passing on their sense of anxiety and helplessness.   And those who complain,  ‘You are never there for me.  You only think of yourself’, are seeking to offload their selfish needs.   Pass the parcel can also be played in bed.  Sexual anxiety and lack of desire in women takes the form of dryness and soreness, but their vagina acts out the accusation that their partner cannot satisfy them.  Exposed to such a fundamental criticism of his manhood, an insecure partner fails to achieve an erection and so comes to bear the responsibility for their lack of sexual satisfaction.  

And the killer;  when insecure lovers question whether their partner really loves them, they are seeking to pass on their own ambivalence and with it the responsibility for ending the relationship.  How much better it is if we can prove that our erstwhile partner never loved us anyway.  This makes a hero, a martyr out of us as the wronged person and avoids the guilt.  ‘Pass the Parcel’ often shatters a relationship, but some couples may achieve a sense of  togetherness by passing the parcel onto a third party; mother-in-law, boss, the government or even the unexplained illness that afflicts one of them.

Lover’s party games need to be recognised for what they are, the enactment of a fear of  dependency,  an unconscious desire to maintain control of oneself and the adoration of a loving partner.  In successful relationships, couples soon develop the trust to end the children’s games and create conditions for the grown up love game of Happy Families.  But in unstable relationships between insecure partners or in love affairs, it can last much, much longer.  Some couples appear to thrive on the intrigue and excitement.  For them, the pain of love makes them feel alive.