The Science Of Playing Hard to Get


According to my Psychology-101 Professor, there is no empirical evidence to support the theory that playing hard to get is an effective attention-getting strategy.

I don’t doubt that statement in a scientific sense, but I think it necessitates some clarification (and yes, my B in Intro to Psych qualifies me to do the clarifying). While I fully acknowledge that showing genuine interest in the object of your affection is the best way to attract them, from my experience, the following hypothesis holds true: Whether male or female, gay or straight, young or old—once you’ve graduated to the stage in which you’re chatting, texting, and bumpin’ and grindin’, under-expressing your interest will, more often than not, heighten the other party’s.

Like any credible psychologist, I’ll examine a relevant case study:

Early in the semester, Ava started seeing James. In the dawn of their relationship, James was anything but hard to get. He initiated all plans to meet up, insisted that Ava sleep over, and regularly enjoyed morning-after meals with her in public. James seemed like a straight shooter—no games, only forthrightness—right?


After two weeks, James seemed bent on transitioning from sleeping-with-Ava-in-an-effort-to-girlfriend-her to fucking her.

As James’ texting habits became less and less consistent, Ava became more and more bemused. It wasn’t that James was blowing her off entirely; he would text, after all. But something had definitely changed. Hours lapsed before he would reply to a simple message such as: “I’m getting ready to go out. What are you up to?”

Ava couldn’t figure out why James had gone from eager to borderline apathetic within such a brief period. As a proficient player of The Game herself, Ava decided to start double texting James (gasp!) in an attempt to ascertain why the hell he wasn’t answering her in a timely fashion.James later admitted that his strategy was indeed executed mindfully. He systematically deprived Ava of the stimuli she had grown accustomed to in an attempt to induce intrigue—to perpetuate, even heighten, her interest in him, and to spur her into action.

Voilà! Hypothesis turned theory. Call me Sigmund.

For the record, James was just a prick—a crafty fucking prick. He made a habit of reeling girls in with idle promises of a healthy, mutually enthusiastic relationship and then, for months, stringing them along with erratic texts and infuriatingly vague, idiotic statements like: “I don’t know what we are. Exclusive, not exclusive… But I like you.”

The point is that Ava fell for it. And you and I probably would have, too. It took Ava three months to break things off with James entirely, and not until it was totally over did she realize how brilliantly he had played her. Remaining a distant acquaintance, Ava watched James do the same dance with two other girls over the course of the year. Once, she even heard him provide the following advice to a love-struck friend: “Just fuck with her a little. Don’t respond to that text. That’s what I do.”

Granted, James may be an extreme case. But whether you want to concede it or not, you too have played, do play, and will continue to play hard to get. So will I.

While some are more calculated than others, we’re all guilty of under-communicating our interest in hopes that whomever we’re toying with (even if only subconsciously) picks up the slack. It’s the good old fashioned push and pull phenomenon. It’s safe to say that all of us would rather be actively pursued than categorized as clingy, desperate, or unprepossessingly over-avid. And that’s why the proverbial Game will always exist.

Excuse me for getting all kinds of heteronormative, but Darwin taught us that it’s ingrained in our nature to compete with members of our own sex in winning over those of the opposite sex. As intrinsically competitive beings, it’s advantageous to appear as if we can afford to be coy—the implication being that we must have other suitors. No one is more desired than the desired, right? So it makes sense that individuals who’ve mastered the art of the subtle chase seem attractive—or, for science’s sake, evolutionarily valuable—to potential long-term partners.

Peacocks have ornate feathers. We have mixed signals.

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