Why Playing Hard to Get is a Losing Strategy

September 15, 2011

Note: For the purposes of this article, playing hard to get means making men jump through hoops for the privilege of spending time with you or getting to know you. It does not mean delaying sex until emotional intimacy is established, which is always sound strategy.  

We live in an era where young male mating preferences follow this approximate order:

1. One-night stand

2. Regular hookup partner

3. FWB

4. Dating

5. Celibate

It’s not surprising that the most desirable or dominant men sit astride the top of this pyramid, while less socially dominant males may consider themselves lucky to get a girlfriend.

This means that women playing hard to get are looking at scant odds. If you’re aiming for the hottest guy in the bar, you’re wandering in Hit and Quit territory. If it’s any more complicated than “Let’s go” you’re going to come up empty.

If your goal is to find a good guy boyfriend, you’re targeting a group of guys who by definition have fewer options. They’ll be easily discouraged by your evasive and manipulative “Rules” moves.

Yet the “hard to get” strategy is still a female favorite. 

1. Perhaps your mother told you that guys love the chase, and want to work for your attention.

That was true in her day, but no longer.

2. You might play hard to get in order to communicate that you’re not a slut.

Most men willing to double down and chase hard prefer that you are one, and will disappear quickly if sex doesn’t happen early on. Occasionally a real cad will hover in the end zone for a while, but then it’s touchdown and Game Over.

3. Maybe you think that being hard to get communicates that you have lots of options. 

This is female projection. Men pursue who they are attracted to, and are not influenced by social proof to the same degree as women.

In fact, research shows that women are more attracted to men who they are unsure of. But even in those cases, the victory is short-lived. As E.B. writes in The Economist:

“Playing hard to get enhances one’s appeal at first, but beyond enriching a relationship’s origination myth (eg, “She wouldn’t even look at me for weeks!”), it doesn’t do anything to sustain one’s appeal once the stakes are raised. It’s a crafty opening gambit.”

But how do men feel about women who are hard to get?

From the always interesting Psyblog written by Jeremy Dean:

“Back in the 60s and 70s, before the sexual revolution had really taken hold, the standard dating advice for women was play hard to get. In some quarters it still is.

Like the Roman poet Ovid 2,000 years earlier, social scientists in the 1960s accepted the cultural lore that women could increase their desirability by being coy. When interviewed, men seemed to agree: they said that hard to get women were probably more popular, beautiful and had better personalities.”

A 1973 study conducted by Elaine Walster at Wisconsin investigated how men feel about women who are hard to get. Single men were given a portfolio of five women, and were told those women had already rated them, as well as four other guys. 

“This was all a ruse, however, to set up a series of experimental conditions related to how hard to get each of the women appeared to be. Each woman fell into one of the following categories:

  • Easy to get: had apparently given high ratings to all five men, including the participant.
  • Selectively hard to get: liked the participant but not the other four men.
  • Always hard to get: didn’t like any of the men, including the participant.
  • No information: there was no information provided about two of the women.”
Check out the results: 

“Each man saw the women’s ratings, including of themselves, then chose one to date.  One woman was far and away more popular than the others, and it had nothing to do with the small variations in their descriptions:
  • Easy to get: 5
  • Selectively hard to get: 42
  • Always hard to get: 6
  • No information: 11 and 7 for the two women for which no information was provided.”
Here is the critical finding: 


The woman who was apparently selectively hard to get, i.e. easy for you but hard for everyone else was the runaway winner for the men. Not only that but men thought the selectively hard to get woman would have all the advantages of the easy to get woman with none of the drawbacks of the hard to get woman. They thought she would be popular, warm and easygoing, but not demanding and difficult. 

Showing selective interest is the best strategy for women. 


So this experiment suggests that playing hard to get only works in the sense that it signals selectivity. But for the person you are after, you should be easy to get because otherwise they’ll assume you’re hard work. 


Remember, you must consider the male in question. How hard is he willing to work, and what is he working for? If you want a man who is willing to work for a relationship, it makes no sense to target guys having one-night stands. When you become interested in a man who is relationship-oriented, you must be “easy to get” for him alone. This is especially crucial now, 40 years after the Sexual Revolution.

How can a woman communicate that she is selectively easy to get? 

What can a woman do to be more approachable to the right men?

Should women initiate outright?

I’ll tackle these questions in my next post, with some choice quotes from fellow bloggers and HUS commenters.