If you know about a book called “The Rules,” you might think that playing hard to get is the way to win over a man. But does it really work?


If you haven’t heard of the book, it was authored by a couple of women who wrote down the advice passed down to them throughout the generations. It gives you “rules” for how to catch and keep a man.


I’m not a fan of the book because I don’t agree with most of their advice. However, some people might find it useful because it essentially offers strategies for playing hard to get.


But as an online dating coach in Dayton, I know these strategies don’t always work.


Let’s take a look at some reasons why playing hard to get may – or may not – work.

Table of Contents

woman being mysterious behind a black fan

Playing hard to get builds intrigue and interest by appealing to our natural inclination to desire what we cannot get easily. As noted by Jaunty.org, this psychological aspect creates a sense of mystery and challenge, adding an exciting and attractive layer to the pursuit.


It stirs our curiosity and leads the interested person to put in extra effort to win your affection, or vice versa, which makes them more invested in the relationship.


Creates a sense of anticipation

According to research conducted by psychologists Harry Reis and Gurit Birnbaum, it’s important to strike a balance when showing interest in a potential partner. 


While initial interest is crucial to establishing a connection, it’s also advised not to reveal too much about yourself immediately.


The important thing is to gradually build a connection, creating a sense of anticipation and a desire to learn more about the other person.


Maintaining a level of mystery can increase the level of excitement, leading to a stronger longing to spend quality time together. It can spark an eagerness in the other person to do what it takes to capture your attention, ultimately leading to more depth in the relationship.


Creates independence

No one wants a relationship where one partner becomes excessively dependent on the other, sacrificing their needs and happiness. Playing hard to get communicates that you value your time and priorities, which is particularly important for modern women, including career-driven people.


Vice.com says that being busy, hard to reach, or engaged in other social interactions can signal that you possess qualities that make you an excellent potential partner. It means you’re not inclined to be overly dependent or clingy, steering clear of traits that might be viewed negatively in a romantic relationship. Instead, it reflects a level of self-sufficiency that is refreshing.


It sets the tone for a balanced and respectful relationship where both partners have the space to pursue their interests.



Risk of Appearing Manipulative

When it comes to playing hard to get, it’s crucial to be mindful of how it might be perceived. Research by Peter Karl Jonason (PK) and Norman P. Li shed light on the nuanced aspects of this strategy. They suggest that people have the capacity to subtly influence the decisions of someone they’re interested in.


Their research showed that someone might subtly change the situation around them, like making themselves less available, to make others want to be around them more. They also talked about a personality trait called Machiavellianism. This means being clever and sometimes tricky and wanting to do whatever it takes to have power.


The research suggests that people with high Machiavellian tendencies might use the ‘play hard to get’ tactic to make others want to be around them more. 


They also thought there might be a connection between Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy traits. This means that people who show signs of being self-centered might also have one or both of these other traits.


May send the wrong signals

Playing hard to get could send mixed or unclear signals if you are genuinely interested in a person. Be Here and Now points out that playing hard to get can result in a person misinterpreting a potential partner’s interest.


They might think that the person is not interested in them or that the person is playing mind games. One might even think that you’re only leading them on. Such misunderstandings can lead to confusion and frustration and potentially cause the partner to lose interest.


Single in the City explains that playing hard to get can be incredibly frustrating when people grapple with mixed signals and uncertainty about their standing with a person they are interested in, leading to unnecessary drama and tension and eventually leading to lost interest.


If you don’t want to end up in this situation, check out our article on effective communication.


You can appear impossible to get

Going to extremes when playing hard to get might lead to the perception that one is difficult or impossible to get, which might not be good if you are interested in the relationship. 


Clinical Associate Professor Susan L. Edelman says that you should not become completely unavailable just for the sake of it. She suggests that while it’s essential to maintain your own life, values, and opinions, it’s equally important not to make the person interested in you jump through unnecessary hoops.


eHarmony also cautions against overdoing the ‘too hard to get’ approach, as it can potentially lead to emotional distress for your (potential) partner. They might start to believe that you’re involved with someone else or that they don’t stand a chance.


Why Playing Hard to Get May Work

man chasing woman in flower field

If you know anything about psychology, you know that humans typically want what they can’t have. You have probably experienced it yourself; we all have.


An NBC News report examined a study conducted to determine how and why people play hard to get and if or when it works in attracting a mate. The study surveyed nearly 300 U.S. college students and revealed that women who wanted a committed relationship leaned toward men with moderate availability (not too easy or too hard-to-get). At the same time, guys preferred a gal with low availability (harder to get).


This is probably because, at a primal level, we think that if something is being withheld from us, other people must want to keep it for themselves. So it must be good.


Just like a 2020 study from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships on Discover Magazine, reveals that if you show less interest and are more selective, a potential suitor could desire you more and subsequently put in more effort to win you over.


And then there’s reverse psychology. This involves tricking someone into thinking you want them to do the opposite of what you want them to do. And as a result, they’ll do the “opposite” of what you want, which is really what you want. Get it?


Yep, humans are very interesting creatures.


So, sometimes, the “playing hard to get” tactic in dating or online dating may work. The reason is that if someone feels like they have to chase you, then you must be valuable. And people tend to value the things that they have to work for.


Being overly needy is generally unappealing. It’s a turn-off. According to All Women’s Talk advice, one of the best reasons to play hard to get is because you are a high-value, independent woman. 


It means you have standards that a potential partner must measure up to if he aspires to be your romantic partner. It signifies that you refuse to settle for a second-rate mate and won’t tolerate second-rate treatment. Playing hard to get asserts that you demand concrete efforts from him, a significant aspect of any potential relationship.


If you tend to want and need a lot of attention, then it is probably in your best interest to play hard to get so you won’t scare people off.


Why Playing Hard to Get May NOT Work

While there is evidence proving that people want what they can’t have, there is another side of the coin.


Playing hard to get in dating or the online dating world can only work for so long. Because, yes, the chase is fun for a while. But if you play hard to get too much or for a long time, you will send the message that you are simply uninterested.


If that happens, then your strategy has backfired.


Refinery29 counters the previous notion that playing hard to get makes people more interested in what seems hard to get, as it asserts that this strategy contravenes what’s known as the norm of reciprocity.


It explains that this fundamental principle proposes that we like those who express a liking for us and dislike those who dislike us.


While this concept may appear basic, research shows that reciprocity is paramount in establishing affinity between people. But when we play hard to get, we give the impression that we dislike the person, which in turn sparks dislike, not attraction.


Insights from Business Insider highlight and confirm that playing hard to get might attract people with an avoidant attachment style. These people exude a strong sense of self-sufficiency and prefer closeness only on their terms. They tend to keep intimacy at arm’s length and express interest primarily in those who appear less engaged.


The article adds that people might assume that most people seek comfort in a stable, secure relationship. However, for some, the feeling of not knowing how the relationship will turn out draws them to it.


It sounds counter-intuitive, as you’d imagine most people would find comfort in a secure relationship. But for some, the insecurity of not knowing where a relationship is going feels familiar and might be something they appreciate.


Playing hard to get is a strategic approach that can yield positive and negative results. 


Therefore, understanding its pros and cons is necessary for anyone considering this method in pursuing a romantic partner.


The advantages are evident for people seeking to establish a genuine, long-lasting connection. Playing hard to get can effectively filter out all the people interested solely in seeking sexual relationships.


However, you’ll have to strike a balance; going to the extreme can inadvertently make you lose potential partners who are genuinely interested, leading to missed opportunities for meaningful connections.


Ultimately, the decision to play hard to get is a personal one that’s dependent on preference and other critical factors. It requires careful consideration and understanding of its potential impact on the reciprocity of attraction.


Bottom line: there is no easy answer to the question, “does playing hard to get work?” It’s different for everyone. If someone tried it with me, I would chalk it up to them uninterested. Then, I would shrug my shoulders and move on with my life.

Justicia Amedu

Justicia Amedu


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Carol Morgan

Carol Morgan

Meet Carol Morgan, a seasoned expert in the field of relationships. Carol has a Ph.D. in Journalism, Media Studies, and Communication from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (1993-1996). Her academic journey also includes a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Journalism, Media Studies, and Communication from Northern Illinois University (1991-1993) and a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Advertising from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1986-1990). Her story of going from a failed marriage to finding true love online makes her a reliable person to talk to about relationships. Carol's trustworthiness comes from more than just her grades; it comes from things she has done in real life. Her experiences with ghosting and rejections for no reason during her time on online dating are typical of the problems many people face. She has done what she says she can do, not just said she could do it. Carol is a co-founder of the dating and relationship website Her Side His Side. She offers useful advice based on her own experiences, both good and bad. Because she knows how to spot red flags and get around the tricky parts of online dating, she is a good person to talk to if you want to make real connections. What makes Carol stand out is how easy it is to relate to her. She knows the ups and downs of looking for a serious relationship, which makes her a reliable person to go on this journey with you. You're not just getting advice from Carol; you're also getting insights from someone who talks from both academic knowledge and personal experience. You can trust Carol Morgan to be your practical guide. She combines academic knowledge with real-life experience to help you get through the complicated world of modern dating. To find love that lasts, you need someone who gets it. Carol is here to help you at your own pace.