Single people have been put through the wringer over the past few years: First, they were ghosted, then they were mosted. (With mosting, your romantic interest lays it on thick, more or less convincing you that you’re The One, then ghosts you.)
Some got submarined. Unlike a ghoster, a submariner will pop back up months later, “much like an olden days sailor who shipped off, went under the sea and then came back triumphant from his mission,” as Metro described it.
Others were orbited. The orbiter doesn’t make meaningful contact again, but they watch every one of your Instagram stories.
Sure, all these dating terms sound a little silly, but they capture an underlying reality of modern dating: Millennials and Gen Z-ers have a certain ineptitude when it comes to making their intentions known, which is why situationships are now gratingly common. But finally, there’s a newly coined dating term that actually sounds positive for the singles among us: hardballing.
As defined by Logan Ury, the director of relationship science at Hinge, “Hardballing is a new dating term that means someone is being clear about their expectations of a relationship, whether you want a serious long-term partnership or a casual fling.”
Some have called it “dating like a CEO.” It’s your love life; why shouldn’t you call the shots on what you expect and want from the experience? But if you’re not one for cutesy dating terms, you could just call it dating with intention.
“When I’m dating, even if it’s just as simple as, ‘I am only looking for sex’ or ‘I want someone to go on fun dates with,’ I like to know what the other person wants.”
Kimmy Seltzer, an LA-based dating strategist and the host of “Charisma Quotient” podcast, said she’s seen clients adopt this attitude more and more. She sees it as a backlash to all the aforementioned noncommittal dating patterns.
“I call it the ‘pendulum effect,’” she told HuffPost. “We were seeing a lot of transactional dating patterns ― things like bread-crumbing and ghosting ― but a trend can get to be too much.”
Now the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction: No-nonsense, no surprises, transparent dating. Dating with discernment and an eye on the prize, Seltzer said.
“People are looking for and demanding more security, especially
during a time of uncertainty that the pandemic brings,” she explained. “So in essence, I think hardballing is a way to recalibrate what singles had gotten used to: the ghosting era.”
Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, thinks the pandemic may have something to do with more serious-minded dating, too.
“The pandemic has taught us all that life is short and if you know what you are looking for in a partner, why not say it outright so you can move on if the other person is not aligned with your ‘no compromise list.’”
Julia Bekker, a matchmaker and dating coach, agrees.
“I definitely believe that COVID highlighted what it feels like to really be alone and eliminated all the distractions of dating,” she said. “When all the options and socialization with friends is removed from the equation, people are forced to really sit with themselves and start to value connection more, in the end developing a deeper yearning for love and companionship.”
The trend coincides with the rise of “slow dating.” As The New York Times noted in a story last summer, people are dating with a lot more discernment these days, either out of concern for their health and safety or because they actually want to build a bond with sticking power.
In a Match.com survey released in 2021, 63% of users said they spend more time getting to know potential partners than they did before. The Match users also said they were more honest with people (69%), focus less on physical attraction (61% of Gen Z, 49% of millennials), and consider a wider range of people as potential partners (59%).
The dating style may have a new name, but it’s not exactly novel.
“Hardballing” may be the new shiny dating term, but obviously there’s nothing new about dating with intention. DeMarcus George, an account executive in New York City who’s single, said he’s always upfront about his dating goals when meeting women he’s interested in.
“It’s saved me from a lot of headaches,” he told HuffPost. “If a woman doesn’t want what I’m looking for or vice-versa, we just move on.”
Katie Ussery, a spiritual practitioner in Chicago, approaches her whole life this way, not just in dating.
“I hardball everybody in my life,” she told HuffPost. “I want to know what people expect from me and I want them to know the same ― friends, partners, and even within a work environment.”
She continued: “When I’m dating, even if it’s just as simple as, ‘I am only looking for sex’ or ‘I want someone to go on fun dates with,’ I like to know what the other person wants before I over- or under-invest myself.”
The benefits, according to Ussery? Little to no confusion. And for the most part, people appreciate the honesty. Even when dates don’t respond too kindly to Ussery’s upfrontness ― or when they express sharply contrasting intentions ― the approach works in her favor.
“I could consider the negative responses as a drawback but on the contrary, poor responses or responses that do not match my own expectations are actually helping me dodge unwanted situations and people, which is always a positive in my eyes,” she said.
Here’s how to hardball with finesse.
We know what you’re thinking: How do you hardball without coming off as aggressive or overly confident in the other person’s interest in you? It may help to save the tactic for later on in your first date, said Samantha Burns, a millennial dating coach and author of “Done with Dating” and “Breaking up and Bouncing Back.”
“I think hardballing can come off too rigid when done prior to a first date, where there’s no time to really learn about a potential partner and understand their viewpoint and what they’re willing to compromise on,” she said.
A hardballer with the most game will find a way to state what they’re after romantically in their online dating profile, Burns said.
“Taking the time to create a thoughtful profile and fill out all of the information is an essential first step that can provide some of the same perspective that is shared during a hardball convo,” she said.
As for how to broach the subject with a potential partner, aim for a casual, playful approach, Bekker said.
“I recommend casually and playfully asking some questions that will expose some of the answers you are looking for,” she said. “Just make sure it doesn’t feel like an interview.”
That means you’re not asking questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” You want to ask just enough to give you the insight you need to determine whether you even want to see this person again, Bekker said.
“Say something like, ‘So, how has single life been treating you? Are
you over it yet or still having fun? Even a simple ‘How long have you been on Hinge?’ can lead to an informative answer.”
Eventually, you’ll want to divulge your dating or personal goals, said Bekker, who recommends saying “something like, ‘I’ve had my fair share of dating, I’m ready for something real’ to segue into the conversation.”
Discuss your nonnegotiables, too, Kepler said.
“If one of your nonnegotiables is wanting to move to the West Coast in a few years, you may say, ‘Being an only child, my parents are a really important part of my life. It’s one of my goals to move to the West Coast in three years to be closer to them. I am really looking for someone who would be willing to make that move.’”
Whatever tack you take, don’t feel bad about being assertive, Kepler said. You have agency, and understandably, some demands for how you’d like your life to play out. Your date should, too. Ideally, they’re hardballing early on as well.
“Whether you choose to hardball before, during or after the first date, I would not delay talking about your relationship goals for too long,” Kepler said. “Otherwise, you may find yourself dating a person who ultimately is not aligned with what you want in a partner or your future.”