Print This Post Print This Post

Raw Concepts: Double Messages

Every so often I’ll meet a guy who will tell me a story along the following lines:

“I was having this no strings attached relationship with this girl, and I told her I wasn’t interested in a relationship. I kept telling her I didn’t want one. But over time, she caught feelings for me! What the fuck, dude? This shit always happens to me! I don’t know why! I mean, I told her the deal straight up.”

Oh I’m sure you have some theories as to why it happened? It happened because you’re just so fucking awesome, right stud? It’s not because you text her back and forth 100 times a day?

Or make future plans with her rather than keeping the boundaries clear by only calling her for sex and nothing else? It has nothing to do with you cooking for her, spending nights at her place, cuddling with her after sex and having long talks in bed about each others childhoods and future dreams? Or keep making future plans or going out on dates together?

Or when she told you one time she didn’t want to have sex anymore because she was catching feelings and wanted to nip it in the bud because she felt you didn’t care about her in that way, and you reassured her she was special and talked her into having sex with you one more time? All those behaviors are totally irrelevant because you verbalized in the beginning you just wanted sex, right?

Or every so often, I’ll have a girl tell me:

“There’s this guy at work who keeps hitting on me. I keep shooting him down and telling him nothing will ever happen, but he keeps trying. I don’t know what kind of girl he thinks I am! The nerve of him. I told him over and over nothing would happen, but he won’t give up. Can you believe it? The nerve! Tee hee!”

Yes, I have no idea why this guy keeps hitting on you either. Outside of the fact your attention-whore self obviously wants him to keep hitting on you, you transparent validation junkie.

Yes you rejected him. On instant messenger for four hours straight with lots of witty repartee and verbal jousting, as you smiled the whole time, basking in the attention. Because that apparently sends a much clearer message than just saying “Hell no!” and ignoring all future attempts at contact and flirtation.

And just to make sure he got the message, you asked him to meet you for lunch or take a walk just so you could “clarify what his intentions are” and affirm yet again that you have no interest. None.

But before leaving you made sure to mention what type of scandalous things might happen if circumstances were different and you were interested. They’d rock his world. (Of course you’ll conveniently omit or downplay this part of the conversation when relaying it to others later because, you know, it’s not that important. Especially if relaying it to a romantic partner).

But none of that scandalous stuff matters anyway, because you’re not interested. And with a clear, unequivocal rejection like that, you’re right, it’s totally unclear why he keeps trying. After all, it’s not like you’re playing high-school level attention whore validation junkie games!

And guys, if the girl telling you this is someone you’re romantically involved with, don’t fall for it. It’s a jealousy play, and she’s either a validation junkie playing Let’s You and Him Fight or she wants you to step up and give her a relationship and this is her way of subtly reminding you that if you don’t step up another man will.

There are two ways women reject men: the “no way in hell” nuclear option brutal shootdown and the coy “no but what I really mean is try harder and I might break down” flirty rejection calculated to give the guy hope and keep him coming back for more.

When she really isn’t getting any enjoyment out of the chase and flirtation and wants the guy to give up for good, she will use the former type of shootdown on him.

If he keeps coming around, it’s because she’s doing the second type of rejection. The “no” with the coy smile or the no followed by some playful banter and subtle “innocent” flirting throughout the day. If she gave him the former type of nuclear option serious rejection I described and then he still kept coming around, believe that she would not be taking it so calmly and he’d be threatened with being reported to human resources. Women know how to reject men so that they just keep trying harder and how to reject men so that their hopes are so crushed that they never try again.

Or there’s the girl who claims “I told him we’d never have sex because of my religion/born again virginity/he’s in relationship” but she keeps the conversation charged with nonstop sexual innuendo. If the guy isn’t talking about sex and is keeping the topics platonic, she’ll be sure to introduce scandalous topics into the conversation, lascivious looks, all the outrageously erotic things she would do to him if they were having sex and sometimes she’ll even say things like “maybe we should just do it” or “come over.”

Then when he gets excited, she’ll be like “No, that would be a bad idea.” or laugh “Just kidding!”  The repeat this process over and over again, like Lucy “innocently” pulling the football from Charlie Brown:

Then when the guy, after constantly getting sexually worked up by her and then shut down, then worked up again, gets fed up over being repeatedly set up to look like a fool, she’ll act victimized and outraged. “You’re reducing it to sex! You obviously just want a notch, and outside of that anything else is a waste of time!” She flips it around the guy and makes him the sex-crazed one, even though she was as guilty if not more guilty of making everything about sex through her words and behavior.

Mind you, the guy might have been perfectly fine with a platonic relationship. Or with a relationship that just consisted of just foreplay for the foreseeable future. Or if it was clear sex was never going to happen ever, and he wasn’t okay with just foreplay, he would have taken the option to move on with no hard feelings.

But none of those options would give her the constant validation she craves, so they’re unacceptable. Thus whenever she felt he was starting to accept sex wasn’t happening and was settling into platonic behavior or showing signs he might move on altogether, she’d suddenly reintroduce sexually charged dialogue, physical contact, provocative outfits, hot and heavy makeout sessions, or whatever else it took to work him up sexually again before shooting him down.

Eric Berne described similar games like Rapo:

1. First-Degree ‘Rapo’, or ‘Kiss Off’, is popular at social gatherings and consists essentially of mild flirtation. White signals that she is available and gets her pleasure from the man’s pursuit. As soon as he has committed himself, the game is over. If she is polite, she may say quite frankly ‘I appreciate your compliments and thank you very much’, and move on to the next conquest.

If she is less generous, she may simply leave him. A skillful player can make this game last for a long time at a large social gathering by moving around frequently, so that the man has to carry out complicated manoeuvres in order to follow her without being too obvious.

2. In Second-Degree ‘Rapo’, or ‘Indignation’, White gets only secondary satisfaction from Black’s advances. Her primary gratification codes from rejecting him, so that this game is also colloquially known as ‘Buzz Off, Buster’. She leads Black into a much more serious commitment than the mild flirtation of First-Degree ‘Rapo’ and enjoys watching his discomfiture when she repulses him.

Or “Frigid Woman:”

The husband makes advances to his wife and is repulsed. After repeated attempts, he is told that all men are beasts, he doesn’t really love her, or doesn’t love her for herself, that all he is interested in is sex. He desists for a time, then tries again with the same result. Eventually he resigns himself and makes no further advances.

As the weeks or months pass, the wife becomes increasingly informal and sometimes forgetful. She walks through the bedroom half-dressed or forgets her clean towel when she takes a bath so that he has to bring it to her.

If she plays a hard game or drinks heavily, she may become flirtatious with other men at parties. At length he responds to those provocations and tries again. Once more he is repulsed, and a game of ‘Uproar’ ensues involving their recent behavior, other couples, their in-laws, their finances and their failures, terminated by a slamming door.

This time the husband makes up his mind that he is really through, that they will find a sexless modus vivendi. Months pass. He declines the negligee parade and the forgotten towel maneuver. The wife becomes more provocatively informal and more provocatively forgetful, but he still resists.

Then one evening she actually approaches him and kisses him. At first he doesn’t respond, remembering his resolution, but soon nature begins to take its course after the long famine, and now he thinks he surely has it made.

His first tentative advances are not repulsed. He becomes bolder and bolder. Just at the critical point, the wife steps back and cries: ‘See, what did I tell you! All men are beasts, all I wanted was affection, but all you are interested in is sex!’

In its everyday form this game is played by unmarried ladies of various ages, which soon earns them a common slang epithet. With them it often merges into the game of indignation, or ‘Rapo‘.

Of course that common slang epithet is “tease.” When people think of teases, they always think of women and sexual teasing. But there are plenty of guy teases out there, and they operate as relationship teases. Both the sexual tease and the relationship tease are raging narcissists and manipulative, insecure validation junkies.

Both of these narcissists clearly state some supposed rule, like no sex or no relationship, but when it seems like the other party is willing to accept those terms by not begging for more or are willing to reject them outright and not take the deal anymore, they ramp up the opposite behavior because they don’t want to lose the ego boost that comes from the other party trying to get more.

Because narcissists are emotional vampires that feed off of ego boosts, and they will manipulate people into constantly giving them the validation they crave, and then when the game isn’t fun any more, either because they’re bored with how easy the target is or the target gets fed up and expresses their dissatisfaction, they’ll unceremoniously dump the target without a second thought and move on to the next target.

These types of narcissists get off on spreading their story to people of “I don’t know why this keeps happening to me where I have sex buddy relationships with women and they end up getting clingy” or “I don’t know why I keep rejecting this guy and he won’t get the message. I told him no!” or “I told him no sex, but for some reason, I have no idea why, he kept having sex at the forefront of his thoughts and thought he might get some!”

These innocent victim routines are lies they tell both themselves and others to convince that they’re (1) paragons of honesty that always engage in fair play and (2) they’re just so damn awesome/sexy/irresistible/superior that the other party just can’t stick to the ground rules. They’re framing the situation in a way favorable to them, a frame that allows them to retain the moral high ground and appear incredibly desirable. But like I’ve said before, once you learn to spot the intended frame, you can spot the ulterior motive.

Their ego boosts get satisfied in two ways. First from the victim of the double message that they string along. Then when that source starts getting exhausted, they get their ego boosts from telling their innocent story to third parties, sometimes same gender friends and sometimes future romantic prospects, who reassure them both that they have nothing to feel guilty about because it wasn’t their fault and that yes, they must indeed be that uncontrollably awesome or tragically misunderstood for this to repeatedly happen to them.

When someone states one intent verbally but conveys another intent with their innuendos and behavior, this is a double message. Double messages are calculated to make the victim believe they are the insecure or selfish one, rather than the actual insecure or selfish one is the narcissist giving the double message. On some level, the narcissist giving the double message knows what they’re doing and has planned it. I gave three examples but this wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive list. Any repeated inconsistencies in stated intention and demonstrated behavior qualifies, not just teasing.

If you’re one of the victims, don’t go for the okey-doke and buy into the shame or guilt. You’re not the insecure one, the crazy one, or the selfish one for feeling betrayed by the sexual or relationship tease. Despite their protestations to the contrary, they built an expectation in you to fill their narcissistic hunger for validation and then punished you for that expectation once it backfired on them. That being said, you’re not totally innocent either. You were probably playing your own game, that of “Kick Me.”

These types of teases are a waste of time, not because they didn’t give you a relationship or sex. People have a right not to give you a relationship or sex. They’re a waste of time because they’re dishonest, manipulative, self-centered, lack empathy and clearly don’t respect you because they clearly get a rush from repeatedly creating hope in people then turning around and crushing that hope.

And if you’re looking for a decent person, it’s the discovery the person you’ve become invested in is a lying, selfish narcissistic that makes them a waste of time, not the fact they didn’t give you a relationship or that you didn’t score a notch on your bedpost.

And both the narcissist giving the double message and the victim who falls for it and both participating in yet another game, “Why Does This Always Happen to Me?” (“Why do these girls keep wanting relationships with me? (despite my sensitive, reassuring, and affectionate boyfriend-like behavior?)”, “Why do these guys keep thinking I’m some kind of common chick who they can sleep with? (despite my teasing, innuendo and flirtatious body language?)”, “Why do I keep attracting these double message-using narcissists into my life (despite the fact I act like a total doormat that gives them the ego boosts they need by rewarding their bad behavior?)”

Narcissism is the #1 relationship problem of our modern era.

Recommended Reading:

The hands-down best book for learning about these games is the bible of transactional analysis, Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis by Eric Berne. That is the book that introduced the games Rapo, Frigid Woman, Let’s You and Him Fight, Kick Me, and Why Does This Always Happen to Me?

One of Eric Berne’s students built on Berne’s transactional analysis theories further with Scripts People Live: Transactional Analysis of Life Scripts

Another great transactional analysis book and a very positive motivational book as well is Muriel James’s Born To Win: Transactional Analysis With Gestalt Experiments.

Click this webpage for a summary of transactional analysis, along with an index of games.

14 Responses to “Raw Concepts: Double Messages”

  1. excellent post. have you read the book “when I say no I feel guilty” it’s a must read.

  2. Great stuff, T. Always happy to see you posting.

  3. Nice post, thanks. I haven’t read Games People Play (about to), but this is a metacognitive level I haven’t yet consciously observed. I’m curious what game I most often play. What games do you think are the most noble?

  4. Abe, there are indeed good games. Near the end of the book Berne has a section on them. This is a quote from the book talking about them:

    THE psychiatrist, who is in the best and perhaps the only position to study games adequately,
    unfortunately deals almost entirely with people whose games have led them into difficulties. This
    means that die games which are offered for clinical investigation are all in some sense “bad” ones.
    And since by definition games are based on ulterior transactions, they must all have some element
    of exploitation. For these two reasons, practical on the one hand and theoretical on the other, the
    search for “good” games becomes a difficult quest. A “good” game might be described as one
    whose social contribution outweighs the complexity of its motivations, particularly if the player has
    come to terms with those motivations without futility or cynicism. That is, a “good” game would be
    one which contributes both to the well-being of the other players and to the unfolding of the one
    who is “it.” Since even under the best forms of social action and organization a large proportion of
    time has to be spent in playing games, the search for “good” ones must be assiduously pursued.
    Several examples are offered here, but they are admittedly deficient in both number and quality.
    They include “Busman’s Holiday,” “Cavalier,” “Happy to Help,” “Homely Sage” and “They’ll Be
    Glad They Knew Me.

  5. Yes, I read through the book last night. At first I was surprised by the lack of quality in the “good games,” but then I realized that this may speak for the idea that truly noble actions cannot be transactional in nature.

    For example, a man could donate money to a cause anonymously, never telling another soul about his action. What game is involved here? In this situation, it is a game played with the self. When I act in a charitable nature, I do so because I know that I can barter the positive energy which I’ve put out into being a more dominant and confident person.

    I consciously give to my friends as generously as I can, because as a result, I’m never afraid to ask from them in return. In the same sense, I give to the universe.

    I initially asked what the best games were, because I’m not sure this is the most evolved frame with which to give.

  6. Abe, the key lies in a concept I’m going to go into at a later pointed called Social Interest. It’s a concept Alfred Adler came up with and you can read about in the book Superiority And Social Interest I think the achievement of social interest is the goal that separates good games from bad.

    Or you can look online to research more about social interest and Alfred Adler. This page is a good start. It defines social interest as follows:

    The healthy person neither loses himself in his ideal-self fictions or lives through others, the two faces worn by neurotic selfishness; the healthy person makes his deepest goals conscious while integrating them into activities that improve family and community.

  7. Great post.

    I give this advice to male friends all the time but the answer to the frigid woman (and I don’t think the woman is playing a game so much as wanting her man to *do it* for her) is the simplest thing ever: compliments. What I hear from my women friends, especially those in long-term relationships, is that while their men reminded them how hot they were every 5 minutes in the beginning, they taper off the compliments with time. Women are fairly verbal creatures, to a man arousal in a woman is the highest form of compliment. To a woman, a man being aroused by her is nowhere near enough. The secret to hot sex is making the woman feel sexy and gorgeous. The end.

  8. Karol, I agree with you when talking about the sane, normal frigid woman who wants to have a happy, conflict-free marriage but just doesn’t know how to be sexually compatible with her husband. For that woman, your advice would work. For her the payoff is hopefully peace and understanding and compatibility.

    What Berne is describing is a pathology, a woman who is looking for the drama that comes from fighting with her husband and tension. For that type of woman, her payoff is the sense of power and ego boosts she gets from him trying to get sex and from rejecting him and criticizing his character.

    For the former well-intentioned but confused sane woman I think your compliment strategy would work. For the frigid woman, complimenting her and calling her hot would just feed the ego monster and give her more reason to condemn the guy as being a pervert.

  9. Interesting. I guess I always assume my guy friends are dating sane-ish women. For the record, when women complain to me about their relationships my answer is always to have more sex.

  10. Reread the description of the frigid woman game. You try to have sex with her, she flips out, so that advice doesn’t work. But those types of women are sadists with real issues, so I’m sure your friends’ wives don’t fall into that category. Real, true sadists are rare.

    The advice you give your female friends is 100% right. Especially oral sex. So much female advice overcomplicates things unnecessarily.

  11. brilliant.