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Advice: Playing hard to get actually works

April 18, 2013|Anna Pulley, @annapulley | RedEye's sex columnist

I am single and actively dating, and I recently received some advice from male friends that I should make myself less available to the men I date and try playing hard to get. My question is, does this really work? And if so, what are some effective strategies?—Mouse Seeks Cat

You know, I was all prepared to launch into militant all-caps speech about how honesty is NOT JUST A TEA BRAND, but there is research that suggests playing hard to get does work in some instances.

In a study published in the European Journal of Personality, psychology researchers ran four experiments on hundreds of U.S. college students about playing hard to get and determined that everyone does it, but women do it more than men, and that it can be helpful in landing a mate.

"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," says study author Peter Jonason, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Western Sydney in Australia. The study also found that if you’re looking for a committed romantic relationship, women tend to want a man with medium availability (not too easy or too hard), and men prefer low availability (aka hard to get). A similar study about speed dating also showed that women who were more selective (hard, but not impossible to get) fared better. And a 1973 study, also done on college students, came to comparable conclusions about how being selective increases your demand.

If you’re a woman looking for a casual hookup, however, it doesn’t pay to play, but if you’re a man looking for the same thing, then “it pays to be impossible to get,” Jonason says.

A male friend agreed that seeming hard to get was sometimes beneficial, but for a slightly different reason: “For people who come off as over-eager in relationships, playing what they think of as hard to get sometimes levels them out to normal levels of enthusiasm and interest.”

On the opposite side of the argument, a female friend noted, “It's been my experience that if someone wants you only because they can't easily have you, well, once they do get you, they have no idea what to do with you.”

It should be noted that “playing hard to get” doesn’t involve extensive head games or manipulation. The two most common strategies noted in the study were “acting confident” and “talking to others.” As another female friend put it, “To me, hard to get is not a game you play—you shouldn't date someone you're not interested in or don't respect—but as a set of subtle reminders that you are valuable, independent and desired.”

As for effective strategies of hard-to-getness, I reached out to people on social media channels (because my own dating strategy is “hopelessly transparent and available”). Many suggested not to rush to return texts or phone calls, to not ask what night works for them, but simply state a date, and to be less bend-over-backward accommodating. The most common suggestion was also the simplest: Actually be busy. Having a life works wonders for your dating life.

Want to ask Anna an anonymous question about love, sex or dating? Email your quandary to redeyedating@gmail.com.  Need to give your dating life a boost? Sign up for RedEye Dating.

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