I love my friend Stacy. We have been pals since childhood, despite some of her serious eccentricities that I won’t go into here but let’s just say I can no longer travel with her due to the many neuroses.

But Stacy is a stunning, drop-dead gorgeous woman. She is smart and funny and fit and compassionate and a good, loyal friend. My whole life I have been completely overshadowed by her sheer physical beauty — guys didn’t even see me when she was around. And yet I had more boyfriends, more dates and more proposals. Why? Because Stacy is a terrible game-player when it comes to dating. Everything is over-analyzed and strategized. She is constantly fretting about men and how to play them, even if they simply approach her to say hello. She has rules about when to call, how to act, what to do that has ended up sabotaging every decent relationship she ever had. At 45, she is alone, unhappy because she always wanted children, and involved with a married man who treats her like shit.

Finally she met someone and yesterday they had a raucous day of boudoir activities for the first time. It was sort of unexpected — they met at the gym, had been flirting wildly for months, had been out on a couple of dates. But he showed up at her house ready to go for a long bike ride, it started raining, and they ended up spending all day in bed.

This guy is five years younger and sounds totally promising. He is completely smitten with her, telling her how beautiful and smart and funny she is. He is attentive, considerate, attractive, and has a good job (she lived, on two separate occasions, with unemployed losers who stole money and belongings from her while cheating on her at the same time.)

But just one day after their first encounter, and she is already playing games.

I just got this e-mail:

“He just told me in the parking lot of the gym that he wanted me so badly that he had to leave because he had a boner. I played it totally cool, just like it was any other day and that nothing had happened. In fact, I actually flirted with this other guy there right in front of him.”

NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is what she ALWAYS does. Immediately with the game-playing, the mixed messages, and then she wonders why decent guys walk away, confused and no longer interested. I thought she’d outgrown this after so many failed romances and therapy in which the shrink told her she had to stop strategizing!

I replied:

“Don’t play it. Just behave how you feel. No strategizing!! If you want to continue seeing him and it made you feel happy and flattered that he had a boner, tell him so. Embrace it. No flirting with the other guy!! You don’t LIKE that guy, and all it’s going to do is confuse the guy you like.”

She replied:

“Yes, absolutely, no playing games.”

But I know it’s doomed before it’s even begun. She is hardwired to treat men and relationships like a giant Risk game. I don’t know how to get her out of it, or how to make her truly see that this is what the problem is.

Advice, anyone?