Does Playing Hard To Get Really Work?

July 7, 2011

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Most people have heard that “playing hard to get” is an essential part of dating. Our friends, movies (Swingers, He’s Just Not That into You), television shows (Sex and the City, Entourage, Friends), and advice books reinforce the concept of “playing hard to get” over and over, where it seems to be a must when dating. On one hand, you do not want to seem too eager or overzealous about a new person because you might be perceived as desperate or annoying. On the other hand, if they have not communicated with you for over two weeks or after calling them two or three times (and why three?) then they are probably just not that into you (and not just “playing hard to get”). So where does that leave you? Is the principle of “playing hard to get” really a dating essential and does it really work? Do we have to jump through the hoops of “playing hard to get” even if we like the other person?

Should I “play hard to get?”

If you are a woman, surveys say yes. These studies have found that women who are physically attractive, appear healthy and youthful, and are “hard to get” correlates with them being reproductively valuable to men. In other words, “playing hard to get” is a tactic used by women that show men that they are something to be valued and therefore are more desirable to men.

Women who “play hard to get” give the appearance that they are more selective in choosing a mate and will not just date (or for that matter mate) just any guy. We know from earlier blogs how high-maintenance women use this tactic in spades. This theory suggests that “playing hard to get” functions to test a man’s motivation, ability to invest resources (time, money, effort, etc.), and/or a sign of his fidelity. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that “playing hard to get” is a beneficial tactic for women to use.

But what about men, should they play hard to get?

A new study by Whitchurch , Wilson, and Gilbert (2011) on uncertainty and romantic attraction would also say affirmative. They found that women were most attracted to men when they were uncertain of whether these men liked them in return. In this study, the researchers told the women that men from different universities rated their Facebook profiles. The researchers informed the women that they were rated based on the degree to which the men thought they would get along with each woman (but what the women did not know was that these men and their Facebook profiles were fictitious). The women in this study were either told that the four male profiles they were examining were men that liked them best, liked them an average amount, or in the uncertain condition (which meant that the men either liked them the best or liked them an average amount, and the women were unaware of what the men had rated them).

The study found that the women were most attracted to the men when they did not know how they were rated (aka the uncertain condition). Also the women in the uncertain condition reported thinking about the men the most and it is suggested that this enhanced their attraction toward these men. It is proposed that the reason for this increased attraction is that the women might have spent more time thinking about these men and wondering how the men felt about them. This study suggests that men who create a sense of uncertainty (kept the woman they are dating guessing about how they feel about them), can actually increase that woman’s interest.

So what does this mean for me in the dating world?

It means that if you are a woman you can maximize the chances of getting into a relationship by valuing your self-worth and “playing hard to get.” You can do this by not being overly available and having (or just appearing to have) other male options. For men, it means that you should not immediately tell the woman you are dating that you like her and leave your feelings about her a mystery for awhile. By leaving your feelings a mystery she may think about you more and therefore be more attracted to you. Of course if both women and men play too hard to get then there will be no chance of anyone getting together. So please “play hard to get” responsibly.

Further Reading:

Buss, D.M. (1988). The evolution of human intrasexual competition: Tactics of mate attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54 (4), 616-28 PMID: 3367282

Walster, E., Walster, G., Piliavin, J., & Schmidt, L. (1973). “Playing hard to get”: Understanding an elusive phenomenon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 26 (1), 113-121 DOI: 10.1037/h0034234

Whitchurch, E.R., Wilson, T.D., & Gilbert, D.T. (2011). “He loves me, he loves me not . . . “: uncertainty can increase romantic attraction. Psychological Science, 22 (2), 172-175 PMID: 21169522 DOI: 10.1177/0956797610393745

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