Whenever we begin a new relationship, there appears to be certain games that many people play, consciously or unconsciously. It can be maddening.

Let’s pretend a friend of mine emailed the other week excited about a new relationship that had been going on for two months. She had met the man online (where an increasing number of people meet one another, whether through a formal online dating site, or just randomly through a common-interest site). The two of them had hit it off famously and the relationship was going extremely well. The sex was the most fantastic sex she has ever had. Uh-oh.

So she writes me and says, “I think I’m falling for this guy.” More so, she says she’s never felt this way about any other guy before him (and let’s assume she’s been involved in serious relationships previously).

Excellent, I say to her, and encourage her to express her feelings to this man. I mean, it’s been two months, the relationship is going swimmingly, and she seems ready to move it to the next level. She’s just afraid. Like so many people in a new relationship, she’s afraid of all the possible things that could go wrong. What if he doesn’t feel the same way? What if he’s hiding this weird, deep, dark secret about his life? What if his family is screwed up? What if he moves away for his job in a year’s time (an actual possibility)?

Indeed, What if?

It’s the question that keeps so many of us from pursuing our hearts and our feelings.

I answer, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. All of those things, and more, could be true, but you can’t live your life based upon “What ifs.” You need to live based upon your needs, your feelings, and your own desires for your future.

Like most good friends, I love my friend dearly and would do anything to not see her hurt. But it seems that in new relationships, hurt is part and parcel of what you get.

So after considering my advice and the advice of her other friends, she thinks, Okay, I’m going to tell him how I feel. I love him, and he needs to know that. And I think I see the same kinds of feelings in him toward me too — whenever he sees me, his eyes light up and his whole demeanor changes. I think he loves me too.

Wisely, because in my pretend world all of my friends are wise, she doesn’t just blurt out, “I love you!” In some instances, such a course of action may be the best way to go. But she knows better based upon past experiences and perhaps a little something in the back of her head which encourages to play it more indirectly. And so the game begins…

My friend loves a man. The man seems to return those feelings. They’re both mature adults, it’s been two months, so you’d think it would be a simple matter of saying, Well, I think I’m falling for you, and he would say in return, Well, I think I’m falling for you too.

But alas, it is not to be.

She says, “So what if someone were to tell you that they were falling for you…?,” posing it as a hypothetical. A none-too-subtle hypothetical. But still, it distances her somewhat from the actual meaning of the question by not putting the emotions onto her directly. Why? To protect her own heart and to be able to keep her dignity if the answer isn’t reciprocated.

He says, “I’d be terrified!”

Ouch. Not the answer she was expecting.

She honestly believes — and she’s a very level-headed, rational and logical person — that this guy has more than just a passing feeling for her. She’s just not a fling for him. These signs have been very clear to her. So why would he act like he feels virtually nothing for her?

The game play theory suggests he’s doing it for the same reason she framed her question as an awkward hypothetical — he’s trying to protect his own heart and feelings, having come off of a bad relationship that was uncomfortably one-sided (hers). He may be more cautious than usual, and in doing so, denying any connection to his own feelings. Love is “terrifying” to him right now, because he can’t imagine the emotional commitment at this point in his life.

So why not just say that? Why can’t we simply be honest with people we obviously care about, even if we’re not yet sure we “love” them? Do we honestly think we’re saving them from some possible future hurt by withholding such an honest discussion immediately, when the opportunity naturally presents itself?

I don’t have the answers, but I find such questions intriguing because we’re so often concerned with our own self-protection, we may end up sabotaging the real potential of the relationship and feelings in front of us. We’re so concerned about being hurt, we deny the possibility of a reality in which we’re happy. I’d call it self-sabotaging, but that’s too dramatic. I’m not always certain people make these decisions consciously, either; it may very well be an unconscious reaction or behavior, occurring “in the moment.”

I wish we, as humans, wouldn’t feel the need, so often born out of fear, to play these relationship games. I wish that we could be honest with ourselves, so that we could be honest with the others in our lives and put an end to such games.