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Dear Dr. Saltzman,

I have been reading all the advice you have given the mass amount of individuals on your site and I am throughly impressed. I am now hoping you can help me.

I am a 23 year old female who has been in a relationship for 3 months now. My boyfriend (25 years old) is truly amazing for the most part, as far as how he treats me and it is very clear that he loves me. He repeatedly tells me he has never felt this way before, and he told me fairly early that he loved me.

I myself love him very much but at the same time know that the love in our relationship is not even. If he tells me he loves me I always say it back and if he shows me affection I do the same but somehow it is very clear to me and him that he loves me just a bit more (maybe because I do not initiate the loving gestures as often as he does).

He is highly intelligent and is aware of this and has begun playing games or making calculated moves to see how I would react and I believe, in effort to make me love him more. Recently he told one of his friends who is a girl how "hot" she looked right in front of me (i am quite sure to make me jealous), and he has told me some jokes (that would certainly turn any girl off), and then tells me he is kidding and just wanted to see if it is something i would breakup with him over.

This is really starting to consume my head and bother me and I am slowly building up anger towards him. However, I feel if I confront him about it, he knows exactly what bothers me and might use it in the future to annoy me again. I was thinking if I "play it cool" he would stop that behavior because he would realize it isn't working. What should I do?

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Tina-Marie (Miami, FL)

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Hello, Tina-Marie--

As I hear your question, it all comes down to what you hope to find in a sexual relationship with another person.

If you are looking for a situation in which you have the upper hand and can control your lover, then it makes perfect sense to use tactics like playing it cool, flirting with someone else, withholding sex until you get what you want, or any of the other tried and true ways of manipulating sex partners (and by this time, believe me, I have heard them all). However, in my view, even the winners in this kind of combat are losers. They lose the opportunity to have an honest interconnection with another human being. And that kind of connection, grounded on candor and mutual respect, offers the only possibility of truly being seen, heard, and understood in this lonely life, which is the deepest desire of almost all of us whether we know it or not.

Look, Tina-Marie, suppose you do decide to play it cool and this has the desired effect of stopping your boyfriend trying to make you jealous. Now he never talks about other women, never even looks at them, never makes jokes, never challenges your insecurities in any way. You have won the game, and gotten what you want. But you already knew you could win that game, since, as you wrote, he "loves" you more than you "love" him anyway (quotation marks because that kind of "love" seems to have not much to do with what I call love, which to me is rooted upon deep respect for another person along with a desire that this person find joy in living--in other words, sexual desire may be part of love, or not, but sexual desire itself is not love, but desire which is something quite different).

OK, your tactic worked, you have won the game, and now you have a boyfriend whom you can control whenever you like just by playing it cool. Congratulations on your big win, and here is your prize: instead of a partner, a peer, an equal with whom you share the priceless opportunity of being seen, heard, and understood, you have created an obedient sidekick whom you can control just by playing it cool whenever necessary to get your way. That's the booby prize if you ask me.

In my opinion, you would do better to stop thinking in terms of manipulation and gamesmanship entirely, and aim at a serious conversation with your boyfriend in the course of which you discuss your feelings and his feelings, your hopes and your fears and his, your view of what you two are doing together and his. You might initiate this conversation by saying something like this: "You know, I sometimes wonder if you are playing games with me--jealousy games. Now whenever I call you on it, you say you are just kidding, but there must be more to it than that. And if you and I are really together as a couple, I'd like to know what that's about."

Now, in the course of such a conversation, you may find that you are not really suited for each other, and if that happens you will have saved a great deal of suffering, because then you will be able to stop these games before you get even more involved, and one or both of you ends up crying. On the other hand, you may find that you really do love each other, and that you both need to stop measuring which of you "loves" the other more, and just get on with it. In any case, real conversations--honest ones without scheming, manipulation and games--are the key to finding what almost all of us human beings seem to want: the chance to become truly intimate with another.

Be well.

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