Does Playing Hard to Get Actually Work? See What the Experts Say

Playing hard to get only works sometimes. Read on to find out when.

Playing hard to get. All of us have thought about it. Most of us have done it. Even more of us have tried it and failed. And a select few have it down to an art. Or so it seems…

We talked to Jeremy Nicholson, a doctor of social and personality psychology, about whether or not playing hard to get actually works. Here’s the good news—it does. But there’s a catch. (And, oh, isn’t there always a catch?) It doesn’t work for everyone.

So how do you know whether playing hard to get will work for you? According to Dr. Nicholson, here are three times playing hard to get may work…

1. When you want to be desirable, not likeable 
If you’re sick of always being the nice guy or the good girl pay attention. In 2014 a group of researchers sought to answer the question, “When does playing hard to get increase romantic attraction?” They conducted two studies to see if playing hard to get “increased liking and wanting” and published their findings in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

“Individuals who acted engaged and interested on a date (easy to get) were seen as more positive and likeable,” explained Dr. Nicholson. “Individuals who were detached and non-engaging on the date (hard to get), however, sparked more interest and desire.”

So if you’re just trying to get someone’s to pay a little more attention to you, and you’re aren’t necessarily looking to start a long-lasting relationship playing hard to get might be a good strategy.

2. When someone only kinda, sorta likes you
Here’s where the real value of playing hard to get can be found. According to the same study, if someone’s already interested in you, then playing hard to get could be the key to tipping the scales in your favor. But watch out, if there’s not a foundation of interest to build on, it may just backfire.

“Participants who were already committed to the interaction (those who had chosen the date) found the hard-to-get date more desirable,” said Dr. Nicholson. “In contrast, participants who were not committed (paired at random) found the easy-to-get date more desirable. Playing hard to get magnified the desire and interest that was already present—but it was not able to create it from nothing.”

After all, it doesn’t make much sense to play hard to get at first sight.

3. When you’re a man.
I know, I know, it’s more than a little unfair but, according to Dr. Nicholson, playing hard to get works a lot better for men than it does for women. Since men are often called upon to make the first move, they’re looking for signals that a woman is interested. If you’re a woman, playing hard to get too soon could stop things before they even start.

But for the menfolk it’s a different story. If a man’s too eager and excited at first, it’s more likely to scare a woman away, so playing hard to get might be a good strategy.

“Men may benefit from appearing a bit aloof and stand-offish at first,” explain Dr. Nicholson, “giving the woman time to get comfortable with him and increasing the perception of his value as a mate.”

Man or woman—if you’re thinking of playing hard to get make sure you know what you want and you’re ready for the possibility that it could backfire. Sure, it can be an effective tool to attract someone you have your eye on. But take Dr. Nicholson’s advice, and make sure you’re using the right tool for the right job..


Megan Murray

Editor-in-Chief of The Date Mix

Megan Murray is the Editor-in-Chief of The Date Mix and works at the online dating site and app Zoosk, that has over 40 million members worldwide. She splits her time between writing for The Date Mix and working on the Zoosk product, which gives her behind-the-scenes knowledge about the world of online dating.

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