Date like you mean it: “Hardballing” your way to the partner that you want

Date like you mean it: “Hardballing” your way to the partner that you want
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Let’s play “hardball.”

According to conventional wisdom, Millennials and Gen Z types have an awkwardly rough time making their intentions clear, in life in general and, specifically, when it comes to relationships. It could be procrastination, a culture of scrolling for the next best thing, or just laziness because mom is still doing your laundry.

However you got where you’re not going, dating with intention — or what’s now known as “hardballing” — is one newly-popular strategy to bring clarity to your relationships.

But does it work?

The premise is simple: be very clear about what you want from the beginning.

In a job interview, you probably know that you want the position, so you’re at a disadvantage when negotiating precisely what you’ll get out of the relationship. (You’re probably also broke or about to be, adding to the pressure to be accommodating.)

80-hour work weeks? You’re in. Lunch at your desk? No problem.

In a potentially romantic relationship or even a purely sexual one, the playing field is more likely level (unless you’re just that desperate to get laid, the equivalent of being broke at a job interview).

In this situation, you should be able to be very clear about your needs over the long term.

“I think it’s fair to say what you want, but it also can sound harsh and impersonal, and things are too transactional these days, as it is,” says Dr. Pepper Schwartz, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Washington, and the longtime resident psychologist for reality TV hit Married at First Sight.

“Hardballing can also sound entitled, which is not an attractive attribute,” she adds.

For those set on finding their forever-mate, “I think it’s about trying to find a medium place where you can say that you are really only interested in finding a compatible long-term partner. But you don’t make your statement so specific, or have so big a laundry list of attributes, that the person feels that nobody could qualify, or that you’re just being spoiled, and really using it as a way not to be committed.”

Which would be an unexpected twist.

“I think hardballing is a mixed bag,” says Jake Myers, founder of LGBTQ Therapy Space. “On the one hand, I think it’s good to be clear and vocal about what you want, what your needs are, and how you’re feeling when entering into a potential relationship. The problem is, sometimes the ‘non-negotiables’ that one can list can be limiting, and you might reject a great match for something superficial.”

Anyone who’s seen Seinfeld knows what that looks like (see “big hands,” “close-talking,” “shares a name with a serial killer”).

“For LGBTQ+ daters,” explains Myers, “this can range from height, to sexual position, to penis size, and while those things might be important to some, ultimately it’s about the connection you have with a person that matters.”

While a connection might bring two people together initially, a good vibe and a good lay can only get you so far.

“From a couples counseling standpoint, unmet needs are one of the largest sources of conflict in a relationship,” says behavioral psychologist Dr. Sean Robertson, founder of the Relationship Development Program. “So if you know your needs and you can convey them right away, then you’re probably going to be less likely to have conflict in your relationship and thus in your life.”

“But it’s a double-edged sword,” he adds.

“I think people are being more upfront about their needs than ever before,” Robertson says. Still, it can lead to stubbornness, whether it’s about ethnicity, an open or closed relationship, or, again, penis size. “They lose flexibility and maybe even lose sight of the other person. Relationships are a negotiation. It has to be a balance of both people’s needs.”

Relationships — and people — also evolve, says Myers.

“Some tops eventually want to be bottoms, some people who don’t want kids change their mind, and some relationships that start closed end up open. To me, the most important things are simply, ‘Do I connect with this person?’ as well as, ‘Am I attracted to this person?’ If you have both of those, the other details can work themselves out through communication, honesty, and respect.”

And those three strategies, whether you’re hardballing or not, should be a constant.

“Like all things between humans, the art is in the delivery, and correctly gauging the other person’s intentions and reactions,” says Dr. Pepper. “So the trick is not to be too blunt.”

Let’s play “softball.”

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