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“I’m interested in a guy, but he’s inconsistent in calling and texting me. Usually when I call or text, I don’t get a response, but then I’ll see that he’s using social media. I take that to mean he has the time but he’s not using it to stay in touch. That means he’s not interested. But whenever I fall back, he starts to contact me again. I feel like he's playing games. I like him but is he really interested?? And what does it mean when a guy only steps up when you walk away?” —C.R.

I hate to break it you, but he’s not interested. I know, I know. He’s calling, and that’s supposed to be a clear sign that he’s into you. But he’s not consistent, and equally important, he only appears to be into you when you’re not into him. Both are red flags.

I wish I could recall the man who pointed out the difference between a man being interested and a man wanting to feed his ego. That guy has saved me from countless dating headaches with the priceless advice that I am now passing on to you.

When a man is interested, he just is. He calls, he spends time, he woos and puts in consistent effort because he genuinely likes you. But your guy is operating off ego. If he were actually interested, he wouldn’t run hot then cold all the time. He would be answering your calls or responding to your texts consistently, instead of procrastinating on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. This guy does, however, want you to want him, which shouldn’t be confused with him wanting you.

He gets a kick out of you calling and texting and reaching out. When he looks at the screen and then ignores you, he feels wanted and powerful that he can make the choice to brush you off. He only picks up the phone to call when you stop contacting him because it’s a blow to his ego that you are losing interest. He does just enough to get back in your good graces and then pulls the same trick again.

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The only type of man who is more frustrating than the type of guy you’ve described here is the one who is really into you, then just one day pulls a disappearing act where he never calls and never responds—until months pass, then he texts you to say, “What’s up?” like he just saw you yesterday. If that guy is a level 10 on the frustration meter, then the guy you’re dealing with is a 9.5.

You like him, and I assume that’s the only reason you’ve continued to play what Keith Sweat once described as a “Merry Go Round” game with him. Note I said “with.” You’re smart, so you’ve picked up on this pattern, but you’re still indulging him. Like him, after being ignored, you probably get a kick out of knowing that he is now interested in you, too.

Know that this doesn’t end well for you and that if you want these games to stop, you have to stop participating in them. That means stop picking up the phone when he calls. Stop responding to his texts and/or emails. Also, stay off his social media pages as cyber-lurking never helped anyone get over anyone else.

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Good luck!

Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at askdemetria@theroot.com.