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Men: how to play hard to get (and why it works)

By Hugh Wilson
Men: how to play hard to get (and why it works)
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There is a common consensus that women who play hard to get tend to get what they want, because men can't resist the apple that stays — for a while at least — tantalisingly just out of reach. Happily, it works the other way round too.

That's right, men can get results playing hard to get as well, though we'd probably call it something else. Maybe we'll feign indifference or keep her at arm's length, but it amounts to the same thing. Playing hard to get can be a devilish dating strategy.

But not necessarily a simple one. There are pitfalls, and you certainly need to know when to stop. So here's how to play hard to get and, more importantly, why it works.

It works
First off, playing hard to get works, but don't take our word for it. Research published earlier this year in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science found that women are attracted to men who they think are attracted to them, and uninterested in men who they think are uninterested in them.

So far, so what? But the interesting finding was that the women were most attracted to men whose feelings towards them were uncertain or vague. In other words, shrouding their true intentions in a cloak of mystery made the men seem more attractive.

"When people first meet, it may be that popular dating advice is correct: keeping people in the dark about how much we like them will increase how much they think about us and will pique their interest," said Harvard University psychology professor Daniel Gilbert.

But why?
Why on earth would women be more attracted to men who are vague about their feelings? Surely their best bet is to go for the men who are open about their attraction?

While that might be true, psychologists reckon there's something called salience going on, which simply means how frequently you think about something. By keeping her guessing, you're keeping yourself at the forefront of her thoughts.

According to psychologist Adoree Durayappah, "because you keep wondering about the other's interest in you, you end up thinking about that person more than if you knew, off the bat, that they liked you a lot."

And the more she thinks about you, the more interested she becomes.

So how do you do it?
There's another theory as to why playing hard to get works: it marks you out as being selective. In other words, if you're hard to get, but she gets you, she really must be something special herself. You're worth the challenge, because you're not after just anything in a skirt.

And that gives a clue as to how to go about playing hard to get. You can't be seen to chat up every other girl in the bar, while only giving her the occasional coy look. What masters of the art do is to give her occasional coy looks, but spend the rest of the time chatting to the boys.

It works in any situation, whether at work, college, online or on a night out. If you seem vaguely interested in her, but only her, you may well pique her interest.

Don't play too hard
But you have to give her something to play with, so to speak. The Association for Psychological Science study results "provide an important caveat to the conclusion that we are romantically interested in others who are romantically interested in us," said psychologist Eli Finkel. "The results suggest that although this reciprocity effect is strong, the pull of delicious uncertainty might be even stronger."

The study showed that women were most interested in men who were vague about their interest. But remember, science has long known that we are attracted to people who are attracted to us, thanks to the principle of reciprocity.

So playing hard to get is a fine balancing act. If she thinks your vague interest is in fact a lack of interest, she'll write you off. Keep throwing her bones. Allow that glance in her direction to linger a little every once in a while. Maybe even smile before returning to your conversation.

Playing hard to get is about resisting the temptation to walk over to her the first time she catches your glance; it's not about avoiding her glance altogether.

Play a longer game, if you can
If you've never seen her before, your strategy may only last a couple of hours. If there's a risk you won't see her again, you'll have to make your move before the night is out. If she's someone you know or have seen around, it's worth continuing the strategy for a few days or even a couple of weeks.

According to Erin Whitchurch, one of the study's researchers, being vague about your interest creates an uncertainly that leads her to think about you more. And there's even better news than that. "Rather than recognise it's because of the uncertainty, they assume it is because they must be attracted to the person," she adds.

In other words, if you give the uncertainty time to take root — overnight, perhaps, or over the course of a few days — she may come to believe she's thinking about you all the time not because she's trying to work you out, but because she's attracted to you. Why else would your interested-but-not-too-interested behaviour at the bar or on Facebook keep popping into her head?

Let her catch you
At some point, the games have to stop. There's no point playing hard to get forever — at some point you want to be 'got'. Some men play hard to get up to the first real contact, others up to the first date, and some men for a considerable time after that.

It's a tough one to judge. As a rule of thumb, play hard to get until you've secured a first date, and then let your natural charm and instinct takeover. Unless you're an expert at keeping the embers alight, she'll lose interest if she thinks yours will never be more than lukewarm.

But what science suggests is that playing hard to get works, for men as well as women. If cheesy chat-up lines and other less-than-subtle approaches aren't working, it's worth taking a step back and playing it cool (though by no means indifferent). You might be in turmoil inside, but a cucumber-cool exterior could be the best weapon in your romantic armoury.

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User comments
dammit. this is so true. i played the friend card first, but after awhile came the subtle "you're obviously more of a special guy mate than all of my other guy mates " card.