Winning With a Hard-to-Get Strategy


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“Easy things nobody wants, but what is forbidden is tempting.” ~ Ovid

Usually when we think of someone playing hard-to-get, we think of deceptive tactics used to manipulate another person’s perceptions and affections. That’s not OK. The Rules suggests we pretend that we’re busy when we’re not, act like we have to get off the phone when we don’t, and generally seem unavailable when we’re anything but. Men too are encouraged to keep women feeling uncertain with push-pull tactics or even outright assholery.

Here are the four worst and most common Hard-to-Get strategies that I’ve seen women deploy:

  1. Act bitchy.

Make him try to get your attention repeatedly by giving him 10% encouragement and 90% disinterest. Extreme examples include teasing or even mocking the guy in an effort to show him who’s calling the shots. 

Effectiveness: Good for filtering out all guys not “blessed” with the Dark Triad traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism and sociopathy. 

  1. Act unpredictable.

Keep him guessing, never let him forget that other guys find you hot, i.e., you have options. Encourage attention from other men and flirt in front of him whenever possible. Keeping him in a perpetual state of jealousy will keep him focused on you.

Effectiveness:  Excellent for a highly volatile and drama-filled relationship that blows up in a few months.

  1. Act independent.

Get all feministy by demanding plenty of Girls Nights Out, going to parties without him, and generally acting like the nights he doesn’t see you are none of his business. The idea is to leave him in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. He should always want more from you than you’re willing to give. 

Effectiveness: Guaranteed to create resentment followed by low investment. 

  1. Act casual.

The last thing you’re looking for is a relationship. You’re cool with no-strings sex, and you’ll engage in it as often as possible, peppered with warnings to him not to get clingy, you like your space, and you don’t have any idea when you’ll next be available. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

Effectiveness: Poor for a man with any self-respect. good for a total chump (but you don’t want him). 

As you can see, all of these attempts to demonstrate that you are the forbidden, tempting thing can fill weeks or even months with confusing mixed messages no budding relationship can survive. They’re the worst form of self-sabotage. (In some cases, the women really are all these things – in which case a personality transplant is required.)

Is There a Way to Play Hard-to-Get Successfully and Ethically?

Funny you should ask. Research shows that both men and women prefer less available partners in some cases.

In one study, both male and female college students indicated they prefer easy-to-get targets when they’re seeking casual sex. When they’re interested in dating and forming a relationship, they prefer targets with intermediate availability.

In another study, men and women were asked what they’d spend on a date for people with various levels of ability:

Easy to get: $33.10

Harder to get: $34.99

Hard to get: $44.45

Clearly, both sexes place a higher value on hard-to-get people. So how do we define hard-to-get? It turns out that when 500 college students were asked that question, the two behaviors both sexes cited most frequently were:

  1. Appearing highly self-confident.
  2. Talking to other people.

In other words, we’re not interested in people who manipulate us, we’re interested in people who are confident, socially adept, and presumably well-liked. We’re looking for “inner game” in people. Men and women were equally likely to report having used these behaviors to appear attractive to someone they were interested in. 

However, when the researchers drilled down, they did find some sex differences. 

Women were more likely to report:

Men were more likely to report:

(Thankfully, these last two tactics were infrequently reported.)

From thestudy’s author, Peter Jonason:

“We all would want honesty in dating but this is never going to happen. We are not overtly lying, but we’re always trying to marry up.”  

…Women broadcast their interest and made themselves unavailable, while men appeared available and pretended not to be that interested. 

The research also confirmed what anyone who has ever dated anywhere, ever, probably already suspected: that women play hard-to-get far more often than men do. 

“Women derive more benefit from playing hard-to-get because it allows them to test men out and increase the demand men place on them.”

Both men and women also used the tactic to test a potential partner’s willingness to commit.

Another study included a group of male college students who were asked to choose from among attractive women, each of whom had an assigned level of availability.

Easy to get women: 5 votes

Always hard to get women: 6 votes

Selectively hard to get women: 42 votes

By selectively hard to get, the males understood that the woman was easy only for them to get, and would reject the other males. If she was perceived as selective, but liked him, he was very inclined to like her back. 

The Winning Strategy

Appear confident and well-socialized in front of your desired object. At the same time, communicate your interest clearly. Yes, you could spend the whole night flirting with other guys, but you choose to spend it talking with him. 

Filter in relationship-worthy men and filter out cads and players by acting:

  1. Interested and encouraging
  2. Focused on him, keeping communication with other males platonic
  3. Available for further opportunities to spend time together
  4. Disinterested in any casual contact or relationship

Withholding sex until you’re in an exclusive arrangement is really the only way in which you want to be very hard-to-get!

H/T: Stuart Schneiderman

Note: The paper summarizing the research mentioned above is not yet available for full perusal online. I have obtained the data for this post via the sources linked in the post.