A few months ago, to my delight and utter shock, I found myself dating a bona fide gem. Determined not to “mess this one up,” I did everything I could to play my cards right. I gave him space when he needed it, was careful not to call too often, and more or less stayed away from (as my best male friend put it) “any psycho girlfriend moves.” Then, seemingly out of nowhere on a sunny Thursday afternoon, I received The Breakup Call.

When I complained about this turn of events to a good friend, she told me I’d been “too available” throughout my relationship. I replied that I did so because I genuinely liked spending time with him and I wasn’t interested in making up fictional plans in order to keep him waiting. Self-righteously, I stated that I had very little interest in playing games. She suggested I reconsider my plan. “A little game-playing never hurt anyone,” she told me.

Which got me to thinking: Can two people create a healthy relationship without game-playing, or is it necessary in order to instill a little excitement? Have the rules of the game changed in the past few years? A quick poll of my savvy single friends and experts revealed that yes, I had a lot to learn. Here’s a rundown of what they told me:
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Rule #1: Game-playing can be exciting, not cruel
For starters, my friends told me that I had to get over the idea that games are only played by insecure, manipulative liars who are out to destroy the self-esteem of singles everywhere. Without game-playing, they argued, dating can actually get pretty dull. For example: If you get a call or email back from someone immediately, where’s the fun in that? Sure, it can seem cruel to make someone wait (or having to wait yourself), but take it for what it really is: a delicious dose of anticipation. It could pan out... or it could not. But either way, if a person does like you, he or she will call — it may just be a few days later than expected. What’s the rush? So I learned that I don’t need to accept an offer for a date tomorrow night, nor do I need to give my answer right away. Slowing things down and being a bit unavailable can be good!

Rule #2: Ladies, always take his number
Natasha, who is a close friend of mine, has a hard-and-fast rule: never give out your number, even to guys you like. A few nights ago while we were at dinner, I saw her wisdom at work when some guys at the next table began chatting us up. When one of them asked Natasha for her digits, she refused, but said that she’d be more than happy to take his instead. “But when a girl takes your number, that means she’s not going to call,” the guy argued. Natasha coyly replied, “It doesn’t mean I’m not going to call you, it just means that I have a choice in whether I’d like to talk to you or not. If I give you my number, I lose my right to vote.” Instantly, her suitor’s interest level leaped higher — and the reason is quite simple: Natasha was playing her own version of hard to get, and he was very intrigued.

Rule #3: Guys, slow down with the compliments
Men have been taught that women love compliments — and in many cases, this is true. But Neil Strauss, pickup guru and best-selling author of such books as The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, warns that in the early stages of dating, compliments can actually backfire. Sure, telling a woman that you can’t take your eyes off of her is flattering... but she’ll ultimately be more interested if she doesn’t know she’s absolutely riveting to you. Instead, throw out a more questionable comment, like: “Those are nice nails. Are they real?” or “I like your skirt — I’ve seen a few women wearing that very same one recently.” Your goal is not to hurt your date, but merely to make her question whether you’re really interested in her romantically. If done right, she’ll be eating out of your hand once you follow up with a more sincere statement, such as, “I’d love to see you again. How about Saturday?”

Rule #4: Have some tried-and-true charm routines on standby
While it’d be nice to think that you can always just “be yourself” on a date and bowl someone over effortlessly, let’s face it: no one’s scintillating 24/7. So if you’re face-to-face with someone you’re dying to impress, it can help to have some tried-and-true “routines” ready. A “routine” is any story from your life, eye-catching conversation topic, or party trick that always wins kudos from a crowd, says Strauss.

Take note of what’s worked in your own social interactions. Maybe you always get laughs when you regale people with the tale of that time you lost your car in a parking lot and wandered around for hours. Or maybe the question “I’m totally stumped about what to get my mom/dad for her/his birthday. Any ideas?” always gets people talking. These are the kinds of conversation starters you should have up your sleeve before heading to a party or off on a date. The way I look at it, this form of game-playing — plotting out ways to impress the object of your affection — can also be seen as doing one’s prep work (which is definitely an asset in the world of dating).

Natalie Krinsky is the author of Chloe Does Yale.