6 Pros and Cons of Playing Hard to Get

We’ve all seen the classic strategy of playing hard to get in action. Here are some pros and cons of the approach.

Barbie Ken
Source: Disney Pixar/Mattel

Thanks to Vine videos, Facebook is seeing a lot more video ads coming through. One of the ads that caught my attention recently was a video entitled “How To Get The Girl”. The video linked to an external page with another video (like a Babushka doll of ads) where these two guys proceeded to talk about the reason why many guys don’t get the girl.

They went on to talk about the typical “nice guy” approach, and how most guys approach relationships wanting to give a girl security and confidence in their interest. They went on to suggest that instead guys should put girls through something they called “The Scrambler”, which from my gathering of what they were saying, is essentially where you act a lot more coy and a lot more indirect in your approach. This in turn makes her think about you, and makes the girl fall in love with you.

It’s not a new idea. For decades it seems the saying “treat them mean, keep them keen” has been given legs and thrown around.

A less extreme extension of the idea is that of “playing hard to get”.

This is a strategy that both men and women implement, although it seems like it has more prominence as a female strategy. That said, I have seen a lot of guys act the same ways, and a lot of women are increasingly running into this strategy in effect.

You know what it looks like. Acting disinterested or busy. Short, terse responses that only come a few days after their message. Not calling back. Wearing certain clothing and playing more on the non-verbals. The appearance of being disinterested while actually maybe considering the offer on hand.

Personally, I’m not 100% sure on what to say on the strategy. I can’t lock it down and give a 100% certain, definitive statement on whether or not playing hard to get is the right thing to do. So using my little programming mind which enjoys to consider all the facets of something, I thought I would have a look at 6 pros and cons (3 each) of this approach.

Here we go!

Pro #1: It does actually get some results

*Sigh*. My personal disposition to the strategy of playing hard to get is that it probably isn’t the best way to approach things. I wouldn’t be alone in this view – a lot of people don’t like seeing men or women play this game with their potential love interest.

But darn it, it gets results.

Call it game, call it swagger, call it whatever you will, the indirect and sometimes non-committal approach has had success in getting someone to fall in love with you. If it didn’t, this strategy would not still be advertised or as talked about as it still is today.

I was watching some old episodes of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (classic), and Vivian (the mother) was talking to her eldest daughter Hilary about this guy she had fallen in love with. She had never liked him, but then he started dating someone. All of a sudden, she comes out and says, “I’m in love with Jazz”. Vivian makes a comment that forbidden fruit always appears the sweetest.

And perhaps this is why this strategy works. If someone says “don’t touch”, what do we do? We didn’t really care about it before, but now that someone has said don’t do it, we get intrigued.

Perhaps it is an element of the fall or some other psychological phenomenon, but playing hard to get has produced significant results.

Con #1: The other person doesn’t always take the bait

But what about when it doesn’t work?

What happens when you take a long time to reply to messages, don’t turn up on time, pretend to be flirting with other girls or guys, and the person you’re interested in doesn’t see that you’re trying to send a message to them?

And all you’re left with then is the people you’re flirting with getting the wrong idea, or someone completely dropping any potential interest they had in you whatsoever.

I’m not sure where the line is here that makes this strategy succeed sometimes and fail at other times. I would probably say playing hard to get gets less results than the direct approach, and maybe you’ve seen that happen in your life too. Perhaps you were the one playing hard to get for someone who didn’t bite, or maybe you were chasing someone who started playing this game with you, and you didn’t bite.

Wherever the line is, playing hard to get is not a fail-proof strategy for relationships.

Pro #2: It invites more of a chase

I was struggling to think of another two pros to the strategy of playing hard to get, but what I would definitely observe is that it does invite more of a chase. Some of the best (and worst) advice given by fathers, mothers, and many other people is not to accept someone’s first no as a no, but as an invitation to try harder.

Boy oh boy, how this one has bitten us before.

But it has also resulted in a number of people upping their game and producing a more strategic, romantic approach.

And usually the game of playing hard to get is put into effect to create more of a chase. When you don’t want someone to just be able to get you and find you out and build romance with you right away, but by revealing yourself in parts, things are kept interesting. Of course, a lot of people start from “less romantic” and work their way up to include more romance as the relationship develops, but this is a way to get those results a bit quicker I guess.

Con #2: You are telling the person the opposite message


Perhaps the biggest problem I see with the approach of hard to get is that you are actually sending all the same signals as someone who is not interested. Playing hard to get can often turn into playing too hard to get.

I can remember talking to a female friend once who was asking how she could communicate to a guy she was interested in him. She said she had been ignoring him, leaving conversations he was in because she was shy and not wanting to appear too desperate, and not returning his messages because she wanted to play a bit hard to get to garner interest.

I asked her what she would do to someone who was a stalker. She said she would ignore him, leave conversations he was in, not return his messages…

“OH!!! He thinks I’m not interested!”

True that.

People don’t always hear what you mean, they hear what you say. They don’t always know that you’re sending a sign. They don’t realize that you not picking up the phone when they call is you trying to garner chase, they think you don’t want to talk to them. They don’t always think that you’re saying “no” because you secretly want a bigger date with some more trinkets on it for your first/second/third date, they think there’s nothing there.

And in reality, playing hard to get can actually look exactly the same as someone who is disinterested.

Which isn’t a problem if you’re not interested. But if you are, then it’s the opposite of what you want to happen.

And perhaps for this reason many people don’t take the bait. Perhaps for this reason, this strategy is not entirely wise or a good foundation to build a long-term relationship. If you started your relationship by playing games with each other, then it sets a precedent of playing games in the rest of your relationship.

Pro #3: It increases the amount of time taken to get to know each other

But if you’re not playing too hard to get, but still giving enough of a clear hint, then something that definitely benefits your journey together is the increase in the amount of time your relationship has to develop. I think the best marriages are made of great friendships. Most of the marriage books I’ve read, the seminars I’ve been to, even the commentaries I’ve seen, they all suggest that friendship is a core ingredient in a good marriage. Friendship that turns into affection is often the strongest form of love that humans can direct at each other.

And if anything, maybe slowing things down allows your friendship to become stronger without the distractions of romance straight up. Or in other words, “taking it slow”.

Con #3: Games can leave people unnecessarily hurt or confused

TD Jakes was conducting a seminar based on his 30 years of marriage counseling experience. He spoke of couples who, in their dating relationship and even into their marriage relationship, were always playing games with each other. His closing thought on this part of his seminar was that “The only problem with that is that marriage isn’t for kids”.

I guess with a lot of dating that occurs in people’s late teens, 20s, 30s, even to older age brackets, a lot of the strategies and techniques and approaches people take are akin to the same approaches they would take in high school. Still “he said she said”. Still the texts that say “haha” instead of “hehe” which means something different and they should be able to work that out. Still looking at your watch and it means you’re sending him a message. Still liking her photos on Facebook and you never like girls’ photos on Facebook, so that should be an obvious signal without you saying any words. Still saying no when we mean yes, or saying yes when we mean no.

And as a result, many people have been hurt in the game of hard to get.

Wouldn’t it be better if we could be that little bit more honest in all our relationships? Not even just in dating, but in friendships, in family, in relationship with God, that our words and our actions weren’t roundabout or confusing attempts to communicate a cryptic message, but rather invitational and designed to build trust and strong foundations. I love how Scripture poses the question, “How can two walk hand in hand together unless they are in agreement?” And I think that if the message you are sending or receiving isn’t clear, it makes it that much harder to agree with someone.

Or once again, letting your yes be yes and your no be no.


But that’s just me. Like I said at the start, no one has all the answers on this topic. Playing hard to get does work sometimes, and doesn’t work other times. Whether or not it is a valid consideration in dating at all is also up for debate.

So I’ll turn it over to you. What are your thoughts on playing hard to get?

Happy reading!

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