The trials and tribulations of playing hard to get

Playing Hard to Get

© Ehud Kenan, used under Creative Commons license

Chloe Marshall wonders how much thrill the chase really holds…

A man smiles at you across the bar, you coyly look back and then away, not wanting to seem too keen on the uptake. You might really fancy him, but you want to present him with a challenge, like a porcupine whose quills stand up on end when on the defensive. You might wait to give him your number, wait to reply to his texts, and generally behave in an evasive, aloof way when he asks to see you – purposely playing hard to get. Because, so the theory goes, you’re the mysterious oh-so-desirable woman, who he works extra hard to impress, thinking that you must be worth it in the end.

Does this dating mantra work, or will your pursuer just give up, concluding that you’re a selfish, self-centred cow? According to Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, two straight mates who took it upon themselves to write The Rules to guide women in this direction, it’s crucial to provide your pursuer with a challenge.  Their book is one of America’s bestsellers with a huge following, so they might be right… or are they?

Many of us hold back in the first few dates due to a fear of getting hurt, or not wanting to scare the other person off. But purposely holding back just to make the other person work harder could come across as manipulative, and some will not tolerate this kind of game playing. “I’m too old for the bullshit – if someone wants to be with you, they’ll be with you, it’s that simple” says Eliza, 38, lecturer.

Some really love the chase, however: “I find it really exciting when I’m not sure quite how interested a potential partner is. The slightest hint they’re into me will make me really happy. If they laid their feelings down on the table right away, I would find it quite a turn off,” says Amy, 26, an accountant.  And even if you do get annoyed as you pace around your living room, wondering whether they’re interested or not, doesn’t the challenge of it all make dating more exciting?

Either way, it’s common sense that in the early stages of dating, you’ll get as much respect as you command. If you immediately show that your life revolves around them, you may be giving them an open invitation to walk all over you. Although it may seem silly to pretend you’re a little less interested than you really are, it’s one of the ways to gauge one another’s feelings when dating (totally counterintuitive though that may sound). And it’s sensible to work out whether or not your feelings might be reciprocated before you book that romantic trip to Paris for two for your elaborate declaration of love.

What if you detect that they’re the one playing hard to get? Should you play the part of the challenge too? If they decline invitations and doesn’t call you back, you should make it clear that you’re busy and have your own life as well. And when it comes to sex, you could make a noble act of celibacy, until they’re so keen they’re humping your leg to pieces… but instead of following ‘rules’ you may think it’s more pleasurable to do it when you both feel the time is right. Always playing the game to have the upper hand will be perceived as fun and challenging to some people, but annoying and childish to others. There is of course also the risk that they aren’t playing hard to get, and they just aren’t that interested. Ow, my head!

All the world’s a dating game, and we are merely the players. If you don’t play at least a little hard to get, you might come across as needy or desperate. But if you play too hard to get, you might seem standoffish and cold. Sometimes, you really just can’t win, and those very early days of dating are a minefield that needs crossing as fast as possible.

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Chloe Marshall

Chloe Marshall is a London-based freelance journalist writing for the Huffington Post, The Guardian, Diva and of course Biscuit. Chloe loves to write about gender, sexuality and feminism, with a healthy dose of travel and culture on the side. She's into chicks, chocolate and cats, in no particular order.

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