Playing the Love Game

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If you were to do a Google search on “love is a game,” you would find a large number of quotes from authors, philosophers, musicians, and everyday people who have felt like love is just a game.

“Love is a losing game.”  

“Love is a game in which one always cheats.”

“Love is a game that two can play and both win.”

So is love really just a game?  How is it possible that some believe it is always a losing game while others believe two can win?  What strategies can we use to make sure we are winners?

According to a recent study by Mons Bendixen and Leif Kennair from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, there are two main strategies we often use to find love and attract potential partners.  What do these two strategies look like and do they both work?  If not, which one will make you a winner?

Competitor Derogation

Competitor derogation is the strategy of making others look less attractive than ourselves.  Name calling, spreading rumors, or pointing out a rivals more negative qualities are all examples of competitor derogation.  In other words, we make our rivals look bad.

Results of the study suggest you may find that attacking others is a great way to find love.  It is a tactic viewed as effective by those seeking a short-term, casual relationship such as a hookup or brief romantic adventure.  But when it comes to long-term relationships, you may find that making others look bad is cheating.  And we all know “cheaters never prosper”, and here’s why:

  1. Lack of Being Genuine 

    If we focus so much on attacking others, then we are probably spending little time showing ourselves.  It is easy to use the faults of others as a mask to hide our own weaknesses.  But eventually, the mask will have to come off and when we can no longer hide behind others, will your partner still really want to be with you?

  2. Karma 

    We all know that “what goes around comes around,” and this is especially true in dating.  Once your partner spends enough time with you, they will probably begin to see your attacks on others as a major flaw.  If you are so willing to attack the faults in others, they may begin to wonder what you say about them behind their backs.  Are you really worth keeping if your worth only comes from the bad things you can say about others

  3. Insecurity 

    If you find yourself using derogation tactics, then maybe you should ask yourself where it comes from.  Chances are, you may be so insecure in yourself that you feel you are not really worth keeping around and can only find such worth by taking away the worth of others.  Instead, think about your best qualities and try a new tactic.


Self-promotion is the art of making ourselves seem attractive to potential romantic partners by wearing, doing, or saying something meant to show that we have some attribute a possible mate would want.  In other words, we make ourselves look good.

Results of the study suggest that when it comes to keeping love, self-promotion tactics are most effective in areas that express a desire for lasting love, such as commitment, exclusivity, and loyalty.  Even if you are just looking for a romantic fling, you may find that self-promotion tactics such as bringing out your best physical qualities may work just as well, if not better, than derogation tactics.  Why?

  1. Confidence

    Research shows that those who act confident in themselves are naturally more attractive to others. And this doesn’t just apply to romance.  Confidence means we know what strengths we have to offer and shows that we do not allow our weaknesses to control us.  When others see our confidence, they will be more likely to excuse our faults because they see our true worth.

  2. Humility 

    The more we focus on promoting our own good qualities, the more likely we are to also recognize our own weaknesses.  This means we can be more honest with ourselves and potential partners.  Rather than putting ourselves on a “winning” pedestal by pushing others down, we can recognize that we can work with a potential partner to improve each other and win together.

  3. Self-Esteem 

    When we promote our own good qualities, we recognize that we have good qualities to promote.  In other words, we don’t need to steal worth from others to feel valuable to a potential partner.  We eliminate jealousy, envy, and pride towards others because we don’t feel the need to compare ourselves to them.


In the game of love, clearly cheating does not work.  If you really want to win, play fair and use your own strengths.  That way you can work with your romantic partner to reach the finish line together.  After all, love isn’t a race.

If you want to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, try taking our READY assessment for singles.  If you want to learn how you and a current romantic partner can win together, try taking our RELATE assessment for couples.


Written by: Dallin, Master’s Student in Marriage, Family, and Human Development reviewed by Brian Willoughby, Ph.D.


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