Telling Single People What They Don’t Want to Hear

In my opinion, there’s no such thing as “the game of love.”

Love is not a game; if you truly love someone then you do your best to avoid all the stress that comes with playing games. You instead practice honesty, communication, and empathy because, after all, isn’t one of the best perks of a relationship the fact that you get to cut out all the bullshit?

Being single, however, is different. From my experience and that of my friends, being single is full of bullshit, which makes it an ideal hunting ground for people who are still playing games. It’s also tricky because, a lot of the time, the people acting like players don’t even realize it. These are the people who are like “I hate drama!” in their Tinder bio, but still drunk text their high school ex once a month. Humans, man, we’re terrifyingly unaware of ourselves.

Another obstacle to the “game of singlehood,” as I have deemed it, is that the players and those being played are often the same people. I know that when I was single I would feel very in control with some guys and completely manipulated by others. I could never figure out why I was strong and independent around some men, but others reduced me to a desperate fool with little self-control or self-respect (lol).

But I have a theory, and I think it applies to the majority of people who have ever ridden the roller coaster of singlehood. I think that, more often than not, we exist as both the chaser and the one being chased. We are forever dangling on the hook for one person, while keeping another on the backburner.

Photo: Tord Sollie

I’ve decided to name these roles that we find/fill in our own lives, and I’m going to explore and explain them below.

There’s the Vice and the Habit — you have both, and you are both.

This means that you seek a person you’ll never be with while doing the same shit that hurts you to someone else. You feel naive and powerful at the same time. You’re human, so fear not, this is normal. We don’t always know why we do what we do or want what we want.

You’ve got a Vice and you’ve got a Habit — both are sources of affection and stress and optimism and guilt. Who are these inevitable addictions? Let me introduce them, though you might find that you know them pretty damn well already.

Let’s start with the Vice, in terms I have defined.

Vice (n): The person that you find yourself going back to over and over again, whether it be in your daydreams or real life. They don’t really appreciate you, but your desire for them never falters. You keep finding subtle ways to prove your worth to them, but they’re never looking in your direction for long enough.

Can I tell you something about the Vice? They will never fully commit to you. Let me repeat that: they will NEVER fully commit to you. I don’t say this to be rude, but it’s true. I’ve been on both sides of the game people, and I know this shit, that’s why I’m writing about it. Help me help you. Listen up.

You are waiting on something you will only ever get in doses. That’s the whole deal with the Vice — they love you on weekends, in moments, when you’re there. They tell you sweet things and treat you like you’re the world when it’s convenient for them. They feel so goddamn real when they’re there, but still slip through your fingers every single time.

They aren’t heartless, or at least they don’t intend to be, but they cause you pain just the same. They’ve hurt you more times than you can count on your fingers, in ways big and small, direct and indirect. They’re your exes, your friends, and your old flames. You have convinced yourself that one day they’ll probably come around, but somewhere deep inside you know the truth is that they won’t. You’ve promised yourself you’re done with them, but it changes nothing.

You will live out the fantasy with them, on request, secretly hoping that this time the game of make believe will inspire them to make it a reality. Jokes on you though, the reality in which you’re there in the long-term doesn’t exist. The Vice feeds off of the short-lived adventures. They get high off of the “almosts” because it keeps them from committing. They don’t get in too deep. They dip their toe in and then retreat every time.

Photo: William Stitt

Inevitably, they come back to you again… days, weeks, months, or even YEARS later, knowing that you will be there. It’s like having twenty (amazing and traumatizing) first dates. There’s no promises. No intimacy. Nothing. There’s just them, and you, coming back each and every time like a dog starving for water.

And the worst part is, you can’t even be mad at them because they’re not doing it maliciously. It’s crazy actually, how truly unintentional their cruelty is. They’re just another human doing their best and repeatedly fucking up. And that’s why you can’t bring yourself to be pissed at them. That’s why you can’t hold a grudge for more than 24 hours. That’s why you keep believing, because you know that deep down they’re good — but even good people hurt people.

Who knows? Maybe they really are close to committing each time, maybe they mean it, maybe they’re not trying to hurt you like this. But actions speak louder than words, and their actions are the same every single time. They love. They panic. They run. They return. And who are you to be upset? You do the same thing to your Habit.

Habit (n): The person you know you’ll never really go for, but you keep them around anyway. You string them along because their earnest efforts make you WANT to like them, but something is missing. You’ve convinced yourself that you miiiiight go for it one day, so it feels justified to keep them around.

The Habit is fucking tricky because they’re kind of perfect. They’re everything you know you should want. They probably check all the boxes that you’re looking for in a significant other, and yet there’s just something that holds you back.

You don’t want to write them off because you think you might get your shit together one day and take that leap with them. But you aren’t there yet. So you keep them at a distance, but always within arms reach. You’re convinced that you aren’t leading them on because the attention feels good enough to push the guilt to your subconscious.

You’re not out to play them. You’ve told them how you feel and that you like them, but you just “don’t want to ruin your friendship,” or you “aren’t looking for a relationship,” or whatever. You have been honest. You have been straightforward. If they still think you’re leading them on, then that’s their problem right? Right?? Wrong.

You know you’re being an asshole. You can’t help it. The flirtationship has already been going on for so long though— why end it now? Why cut them off for their own good when it feels so good to be loved? Because, well, you’re kinda selfish. That’s not to say you’re a garbage human who never thinks about anyone but themselves, but you ARE human, and humans are selfish. That’s just a fact.

Photo: Pavel Badrtdinov

We have the capacity to give and love and do incredible things, but we also falter. We act impulsively. We get caught up in our own world. We become so involved in our own messy whirlwind of emotions to the point where we forget how our choices are impacting those around us.

In times of high stress or insecurity, when things feel chaotic or sad, we stop considering the other person. We are out for blood. Or sex. Or love. Or whatever looks and sounds and feels like those things. We are so willing to disregard the pain of others if it can cure what ails us for just a moment — that’s where the Habit comes in.

They’re always there. Even when they’re not physically with you, they’re a button and a screen away. You can call them and you know that they’ll always pick up, because that’s what they do. They’re selfless when it comes to you, ever-willing to walk out on a limb if it means you might pay attention to them for a second.

They think that after enough effort on their part, you might actually take a chance on them one day. They would date you at the drop of a hat. They would have reservations because, after all, you’ve hurt them so many times, but the potential of it all would be too much to resist. “It could be great,” they tell themselves.

But it wouldn’t.

Because if you loved them the way they deserve to be loved, you wouldn’t string them along like this. You wouldn’t see them as a fallback, but rather for the incredible person they are.

No, if you loved them, you would’ve committed the first or second or third or fourth time. You would love them even when they’re not right in front of you. You would prioritize them. But, for whatever reason, you just can’t. You wish you could fall for them, but you just… can’t.

And you never will. Because you are their Vice.