Part II: The Intricacies of Playing Hard To Get

In the beginning of April, I featured research by Stanford PhD Jayson Jia on the tried and (maybe not true) dating practice of “playing hard to get.” You can read the full article here: The Intricacies of Playing “Hard To Get,” but the main findings are summarized below as well:

“Even though the men liked the person less if she was playing hard to get, they were more motivated to pursue her, like getting her phone number or getting a second date,” Jia explains. But he adds a big caveat: This occurred only if the man had expressed interest in the woman to begin with (Krakovsky, 2013).” 

A particularly discerning Heartalytics reader (you know who you are), reached out after reading The Intricacies of Playing “Hard To Get” with a thoughtful question…

I’m aware of previous research that agree with the findings you cited, i.e., that men are attracted to women who are straight forward and direct about their interest.

BUT they also indicate that for women, it’s the exact opposite. And women actually prefer men who are aloof, indirect, or play hard to get (for women, attraction actually decreases if a man is agreeable, attentive, or responsive to her during the first date).

Anyway, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on these studies and whether you feel that the advice on “playing hard to get” applies equally to both men and women.

Excellent question! So, let’s flip the switch.

Yes, in general women do seem to be attracted to men who show signs of not being readily available. Films, novels, poetry, theatre…they all tell us this. Why does Bridget Jones fall for the completely unavailable, serial libertine Daniel Cleaver? Why does Juliet immediately, without a single stitch of practical thought, find her family’s greatest enemy to be so absolutely irresistible?

My first instinct–this compulsion is born from a taste for anything challenging, unexplored, and unattainable. Wouldn’t it be so romantic to tame the untamable man? Wouldn’t it be glamorous to sail away with the rogue your father hates? I think that many of us (male and female alike) have an inner need to “fix” the perceived flaws we see in others as well. That coupled with the appetite for “bad boys” lands some women right into the category another recent Heartalytics article describes, Does Tall, Dark, Handsome and Aloof sound about right?.

I should let the Social Psychologists explain further…

Men should play hard to get if they want to attract the opposite sex on a first date otherwise women will see them as unmanly or manipulative, new research has shown.

The research, which only studied straight couples, found that women are suspicious of a man who is too attentive, and are likely to view him as ‘vulnerable and less dominant.’

The studies worked on the basis that people often say that they seek a partner that is “responsive to their needs” and that such a partner would arouse their sexual interest.

However it seems that in the early stages of dating, women are more turned on by unresponsive men.

Professor Gurit Birnbaum of the Interdisciplinary Centre, Israel, said: “We still do not know why women are less sexually attracted to responsive strangers.

“Women may perceive a responsive stranger as less desirable for different reasons. Women may perceive this person as inappropriately nice and manipulative, in that trying to obtain sexual favors, or eager to please, perhaps even as desperate, and therefore less sexually appealing.

“Alternatively, women may perceive a responsive man as vulnerable and less dominant. Regardless of the reasons, perhaps men should slow down if their goal is to instill sexual desire.”

The first experiment involved 112 single undergraduates aged between 20 and 33 years old who were paired with a member of the opposite sex on a 30 minute ‘date.’

It found that women who were judged to be more friendly and responsive were seen to be more sexually attractive. Men, on the other hand, were viewed as manipulative or looking for a quick fling if they were too eager to please.

“Some women may perceive a responsive man as over eager to please and therefore as less dominant and more feminine,” said the researchers.

Prof Birnbaum added: “Some women, for example, may interpret responsiveness negatively and feel uncomfortable about a new acquaintance who seems to want to be close.

“Such feelings may impair sexual attraction to this responsive stranger. Other women may perceive a responsive stranger as warm and caring and therefore as a desirable long-term partner.”(Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph).

My thoughts…OK.

  1. I think “masculinity” is a very complicated (and often repressive) concept that can hold men back from being authentic versions of themselves. Please see, Teaching Men to Be Emotionally Honest. The study above = case in point.
  2. It troubles me that women in the study responded to men who were attentive and open to be less “manly.” WHO SAYS “A MAN” CAN’T BE OPEN AND ATTENTIVE? Why on earth would any woman want to be in a relationship with a man who WASN’T either one of those things?
  3. I wonder where exactly these women came from who were examined–and what variety of emotional/psychological baggage they carried into the test room.

I am not saying these findings are untrue. I am only saying that I don’t like them.

I am challenging all who are reading to think about what type of person they want to be in there

Option A: Chase after people who aren’t altogether interested in you and choose your love interests based on an unhealthy, subconscious need for drama and unnecessary pain…?

Option B: Realize some of these harmful tendencies might exist within you and make a conscious effort to slough them away from your love life and choose to surround yourself with people who find you to be curious, significant and worth their time. BECAUSE YOU ARE.

Just think about it. And Love Wisely,

Editor, Heartalytics

Photography: Harper’s Bazaar

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