Playing hard to get
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Playing hard-to-get: does it work?

By Sarah Gehrke Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 07:30
Treat them mean, keep them keen: it’s the stuff of old proverbs and dodgy dating advice. ‘Don’t call someone till three days after a date,’ is a popular idea. But ‘playing hard-to-get’ is an evolutionary strategy too, a recent study found.

Supply and demand

There are two main motivations for people to ‘play hard-to-get,’ according to the recent research. Firstly, it’s about making yourself seem more desirable by being less available. In a way, it’s just like economics: limited editions of products, luxury goods and other artificially restricted goods are supposed to work in the same way. And “if you increase your apparent value, you can get ‘better’ mates” as a result, says Peter Jonason, one of the researchers.

Secondly, not making things too easy for prospective partners helps with finding out how much they are willing to invest in the relationship, they say. It’s all about getting more information.

“If you can increase the information you have – especially for women – you can make better mating choices. You don’t necessarily choose a guy who’s going to be ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ because you collect more information, you make the supply lower, forcing him to put more investment in.”

Commitment test

In short, “playing hard to get works as a test – the test of commitment: is this guy or girl going to take off, or are they going to stick around?”

In order to find out more about this ‘commitment test’, the study looked closer at what ‘playing hard-to-get’ exactly entails. The researchers collected a list of dating strategies people use to make themselves seem less available – things like pretending you’re less interested in someone than you actually are, acting confident, openly flirting with others, or delaying your answer to calls or texts.

Women used the strategies slightly more than men, though the differences were not extreme. But when it comes to reasons for playing hard-to-get in the first place, there were no differences between the sexes.

Both sexes

Those who thought that playing hard-to-get was a typical girl’s thing might be surprised, but “just like women, men benefit from increasing their demand – from people wanting them more,” Jonason says. And “both sexes invest heavily in long-term benefits and in their offspring. Therefore men can also benefit from getting more information about a woman.”

One question remains: isn’t playing hard-to-get with strategies such as the three-day rule simply rude? Unfortunately, that’s something the study didn’t address. So, as always, the safest bet might just be to simply be yourself.

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