Is It Manipulation to Get What You Want from a Man?


Is trying to get what you want from a man the same as manipulation?

When I suggest that a woman might benefit from some strategies to help her approach dating and relationships, many women feel uncomfortable and conflicted. They say, “I don’t want to play games” or “I don’t want to seem manipulative.”

The ‘strategy’ of doing what works for you is not about manipulation or deceit. You can’t control people.

All you can do is protect yourself and do what’s best for you. You can communicate and try to remain true to yourself and your values.

So don’t worry – if you thoughtfully behave in this way, you’re probably not guilty of manipulation. Here’s an example:

Philip texted Hannah on Friday morning to ask her out for that night. Hannah said, “I would have loved to go out, but I already have plans.” Hannah didn’t really have plans; she just didn’t want to accept another last-minute date with Philip.

If Hannah lies to Philip, is that manipulation to get what she wants?

Hannah’s lie seems more like a white lie than outright manipulation. Manipulation implies an ulterior motive or outright attempt to unfairly influence a man’s behavior for your own benefit. Hannah is simply turning down a last-minute offer. Her lie prevents him from feeling rejected and avoids an awkward conversation about why she is saying “no.” He might feel scolded if she told him the real reason. Why risk an unpleasant encounter if you want to keep the door open for a future date?

But Hannah’s “no” likely does change Philip’s behavior for her benefit. He’ll probably ask her out earlier next time, which is exactly what she wants.

Does her lie make it subtle manipulation?

Or is it just a way for them both to get what they want? He gets a date with her when he asks in advance, and she feels valued by his effort and planning instead of feeling like an afterthought. Is this small deception truly unethical manipulation, or is it just a socially acceptable way to set your boundaries with a man?
I see it as healthy boundary setting. It isn’t always manipulation to get what you want.

But sometimes people can become confused by comments from friends or family—and their own internal conflicts. Has anyone ever criticized your approach to communication? Did you begin to doubt your motives and tactics? If someone says you’re manipulative, do you believe them?  Hannah might have doubts if a friend told her that she was playing games by turning him down or said she was passive aggressive and should tell him she’s annoyed with his last-minute date requests. Ultimately, you can’t please everyone and have to do what’s best for you. If your friends don’t like the way you handled the situation, maybe it’s their problem.

The Problem with Being a People-Pleaser

For those with people-pleasing tendencies, there can be internal conflict when setting boundaries. The desire to avoid disappointing others makes it challenging to distinguish respectfully enforcing limits from feeling like they are manipulating or letting someone down. Even when asserting reasonable boundaries, people-pleasers can be swayed by others criticizing their behavior as unacceptable.

Many women are culturally conditioned to be people-pleasers, putting others’ happiness before their own. This makes saying “no” difficult, as it can feel selfish to prioritize your wants. You worry about not being liked. Self-doubt creeps in – “Am I doing something wrong by standing up for myself?”

When so focused on pleasing others, you start believing you don’t deserve to get your needs met. Asserting boundaries gets mislabeled as manipulative, when really you’re just advocating for your own feelings to matter too.

How Can I Tell If It’s Manipulation?

Certainly, some women play games with men and practice manipulation to get what they want. They might use guilt trips or tell a man that her friends feel he’s done something wrong when it’s not true. Don’t forget that many men can see they are being manipulated and don’t put up with it. Just because someone tries to manipulate you, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be manipulated. You can say “no.”

Sometimes a woman’s behavior seems manipulative to a man, but she feels it’s the best way to express her displeasure and avoid a big confrontation. For example, a man might feel like he’s being manipulated by her “silent treatment’ while the woman is afraid to tell him what’s on her mind or is so upset about something he did that she isn’t ready to discuss it.

It’s also important to remember that women have been demonized throughout history for playing mind games with men, at times even being burned at the stake for their “witchery”. If we dress sexy, say “no” to sex, or wear makeup we can be accused of manipulation. Apparently, these things imply that we’re being controlling and deceptive. Is that true?

Some people even find people-pleasing manipulative. But people pleasers are motivated by avoiding conflict—they aren’t deliberately trying to deceive or manipulate.

The point is, you’re never going to be able to please everyone, so you may as well do what you think is best. Sometimes “strategies” are simply socially acceptable ways to stick up for what you want in a non-confrontational way. When people criticize you, think twice before you accept their version of events as the final word.

Bottom Line

In the end, there is a clear difference between setting boundaries in a healthy way and manipulation. While some may claim the two are the same if they don’t get what they want, that’s not accurate. Openly stating your needs and limits is not manipulation. It’s the foundation of mutual understanding and respect between two people.

True manipulation involves deception, covert control tactics, and not letting your partner make a fully informed choice. Setting boundaries allows each person to decide if the other’s needs work for them or not. When you have the courage to positively express your boundaries, without games or tricks, you can build an authentic, caring relationship – not manipulating each other.

What has been your experience with this issue? Have you been accused of “manipulation” simply for setting boundaries? Or have you encountered partners who truly manipulated you through dishonest means? Share your stories and perspectives in the comments below.

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