There’s a reason playing hard to get has stood the test of time. At one time or another, we all want what we can’t have, be it a person, a job, a talent or a sports car. And contrary to the clichés, the chase is no longer gender-specific. The days of dogged suitors hounding indecisive ingénues may not be completely behind us, but women are at least as intrigued by the unknown as men are. The single woman will instinctively wonder about the mysteriously reserved man in the shadows, even as his friends shower her with drinks and compliments. Logical? Perhaps not, but society has conditioned us to question the free lunch. Intuitively, we believe that what is available must not be as valuable as what is held back.
In an issue of Japan and the World Economy, Centre College professor David Anderson describes the phenomenon as a simple economic formula. “Our dating behavior reflects the kind of ‘social price’ we have set for ourselves. If our personal standards and courtship demands are high, we’ve put a high price on ourselves. In the marketplace, it’s common to assume that the more expensive products are of higher quality. Putting a high price on ourselves implies that we have a lot to offer as a potential mate.”
Of course, there are other reasons we so eagerly engage games of cat and mouse. Human nature prompts us to set new and challenging goals for ourselves – professionally, personally and socially. Not to mention that the thrill of pursuit and conquest can go a long way in heightening sexual tension, and let’s face it: sexual tension is fun.
So how do you execute a successful chase while playing hard to get? Simply avoiding the object of your affection isn’t exactly a recipe for instant desirability. Coyness can make you appear cold, arrogant, even dull. While it may be true that anticipation builds sexual chemistry, that only works if there’s interest to pique. In other words, the pursuer has to know they want the “unattainable” before it’s worth trying to attain. That usually means laying on the eye contact and flirtation first, to spark initial interest. The hard-to-get part comes into play when you appear aloof of the next time you meet, or casually decline to set a date on your first encounter. Maybe he wonders what has changed. Maybe she assumes your seeming interest was your natural charisma. Or he’s just up for a challenge. Who knows, but it’s an age-old strategy that continues to ignite pheromones and encourage many a standoffish suitor to dedicate his or her best efforts.
There are a number of pitfalls to be wary of. Like any game, playing coy can go on too long. Even the most chase-hungry man will give up eventually. And if he doesn’t, you might wonder why he’s such a glutton for punishment. A little flirtatious chase is fairly harmless, but habitual pursuit of the unattainable is one of the classic tells of a fear of intimacy. And anyone whose attentions turn obsessive or dangerous is a suitor you’d be advised to avoid – successfully.
As you get caught up in playing your role, don’t lose your perspective when it comes to people you care about. If you’re playing with someone’s feelings, the game can turn ugly. This is even more true if you know you have no real interest in being caught. Turning on the hot and cold just to feel desired is a different game altogether, and one that is best left unplayed.
Also, beware becoming a trophy at the end of the chase. It’s one thing to catch someone’s interest by adding a little mystery. It’s another to build an attraction that is based solely on the thrill of pursuit. Once the prize is won, pursuit is a thing of the past. It’s thanks for the trophy, and your one-time admirer is off to the next hunt. If it’s a relationship you’re looking for and not a game, make sure there’s something more to your flirtation than adrenaline. He has to be someone you’ll enjoy when you’re not running, and you may want him to look at you the same way when the chase is over.
Playing hard to get is really about keeping your feelings about someone under wraps. It’s commonly employed as a courtship strategy, but it doesn’t have to involve feigning disinterest. Sometimes it’s as simple as playing it cool the first few dates. Be open and engaging, but let your level of interest be a mystery for a little while. It will give your date a chance to decide he’s crazy about you before all your cards are on the table.
Of course there are no hard and fast rules to love. Many men are drawn to women who know what they want and are unabashed about going after it. A woman who is tired of dating emotionally unavailable men might take comfort in one who can’t be without her. Follow your instincts, and learn from your mistakes. Should playing hard to get be a strategy in your dating play book? Only you can say. There are millions of people out there and at least as many ways to spark a connection. Flirtation certainly doesn’t require an elaborate performance…but a little mystery never hurt anyone.
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