Playing hard to get is often touted (by PUAs to benign douchebags, in particular) as one of the best ways to make someone chase after you like a lovestruck zombie with endless endurance (that’s a lot of chasing, I know).
It’s more or less based on a psychological convention called the Scarcity Principle, which essentially says people place more value on anything that’s hard to come by, including other people. The principle relies on the fact that us humans hate being told that we can’t have something, which means we’re naturally drawn toward anything — or anyone — that lingers outside of our reach.
Scientific studies have honed in on such scarcity, proving that it really does apply to romantic relationships. For example: In one 2010 study, researchers had several collegiate women look at the Facebook profiles of four fellow male students. The researchers told them that the men had also seen their profiles, and that each of these men had one of three reactions to their pages: (1) The man really liked them; (2) the man kinda liked them; or (3) the man didn’t know how he felt. Following the Scarcity Principle, all of the women said they liked the “uncertain” man most, and they even reported thinking about him more than the others as time went on.
Another 2010 study uses the Scarcity Principle to explain why bar-goers seem to become more attractive toward closing time. Sure, being completely wasted might have something to do with you wanting to makeout with everyone who crosses your drunken path, but this research also suggests that, since the night is coming to a close and fewer people are in the bar, those few patrons who are still standing look more attractive than they normally would.
“Playing hard to get can create an atmosphere of intrigue that makes the person who’s pursuing feel challenged, and it can become something like a game that heightens involvement,” explains licensed clinical social worker Marty Babits, co-director of the Family and Couples Treatment Service and author of I’m Not a Mind Reader. “The important part is the ‘playing’ part: You’re playing together, so it’s involving.”
But just because it “works” doesn’t mean it’s good or can’t go very wrong. Which is why Babits emphasizes the importance of being respectful: “Playing hard to get can be part of something that’s devious, where you’re just throwing the other person off balance without caring about how they feel. It all depends on the quality of the playing: Is there a feeling of fun in the play, or is there a feeling a dishonesty?”
Sean Bowe, a man who’s been with his girlfriend for 18 months as a result of playing hard to get, also says there’s an art to this kind of romance. “If you don’t give them enough attention, they won’t think you like them, but if you give them too much, you’re too available — there’s a fine line that you have to walk,” he explains. “It also only works on [people] who already get a lot of attention, since you’ll be different in the sense that you’re not giving them as much attention as the other dudes, which indicates that you have more confidence and more going on.”
So there you have it: Playing hard to get really works, but always remember that you’re the one “playing” and that the other person might not be playing the same game (or even having that much fun).
On that note, I really don’t care if you read this article, since I have plenty of cool readers out there who like me and stuff.