No one likes to admit that he or she plays games; why would anyone cop to something so juvenile or immature? But, what if there were some real data that supported game play? One of the most frequently played games—playing hard to get—describes the act of feigning disinterest in a potential mate to increase the mate’s interest. Honing this type of game was the basis of New York Times’ controversial bestseller for women, The Rules. It’s also described in The Game, a how-to guide for any budding pick up artist. Despite the manipulative undertone, could these old school tactics and strategies help us find love? Researchers Peter Jonason and Norman Li spearheaded the study on college campuses to find the answer.
To determine effects of availability on desire, 270 heterosexual students were shown three dating profiles all similar save for the profiled person’s availability. When asked which profile would be the best choice for casual sex, both women and men preferred a partner with high availability. Without having to determine emotional or mental compatibility, singles need only to notice physical attraction—a determination that can be made without more than a glance. Without having to account for a future, singles can skip the process of determining sustainability.
On the other hand, singles seeking dating or a serious relationship, preferred moderate to scarce availability. Those with minimal availability are displaying greater independence and are less inclined to commit to a single partner without due diligence—all positive attributes of a future partner.
Availability didn’t just affect the type of relationship, it also influenced how likely the students were to invest actual resources in the profile. When participants were asked which restaurant they would take the low, medium, and highly available profiles to—fast food, casual, or luxe—the low availability candidates were most likely to get the luxe meal.
Those who play hard to get have two motives: firstly, to drive desirability of their potential mate but also to test just how committed the potential mate is to a longer term relationship. For anyone seeking a relationship, this sounds like the perfect recipe. But, is it?
In another study by Jayson Jia, Xianchi Dai, and Ping Dong, results revealed that playing hard to get only works if there is already some semblance of romantic interest. If someone is not interested in you to begin with, it is highly unlikely that they invest more effort in “acquiring” the person. If, however, someone shows interest in something more than a fling, playing hard to get is a way to demonstrate that you have other options, a characteristic of singles in high demand. If you start playing hard to get right off the bat, your plans to drive interest could backfire. Instead, approach potential mates with a friendly, social demeanor. As these researchers concluded, “Playing easy to get always yields more positive affective evaluations of liking, regardless of the degree of prior psychological commitment.”
So, how can you play hard to get in a way that isn’t manipulative? Here’s the answer: You don’t need to. If you cultivate a life with people you enjoy and activities that hold your interest, you will need to schedule time for a date instead of being available at a moment’s notice. If you find yourself coming on too strong, switch the mentality. Instead of playing hard to get, be more discerning. Give your potential partner a chance to show you who he or she is before revealing your interest.