Should Men Play Hard To Get?

kissWho are women most likely to find attractive right at the beginning of a relationship?

  1. men who strongly like them
  2. men who may like them
  3. men who show disinterest in them

On the one hand, plenty of psychological research says we tend to like people about as much as they like us. But what if we don’t know whether someone likes us or not? How does uncertainty affect things?

Psychologists at the University of Virginia and Harvard wanted to know. So Erin Whitchurch, Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert set up an experiment. They told 47 women college students that they wanted to see if Facebook could work as an online dating site. Each was shown (fake) profiles of four “likeable, attractive” men.

Some were told, “These men liked you the most.” Others were told that the men had rated them “average.” A third group was left wondering as researchers explained that the men might either like them “the most” or “an average” amount.

Finding: The women were attracted to the men who found them attractive, just as prior research predicted. But they were most attracted when they weren’t sure how much the men liked them.

Keep in mind that these uncertain women didn’t have to worry that the men found them unattractive. They knew the men thought they were either average or very attractive. When there is a possible negative outcome – being seen as unattractive or ridiculous — women turn off.

So why would women feel more attracted with ambiguity than when attraction is strong?

A couple of things may be happening. When we respond strongly to positive experiences but then adapt, we get used to it. But when we are uncertain we spend more time thinking and trying to understand. So we never adapt.

But also, when we spend a lot of time thinking about someone we figure we must like them a lot.

But consider that this study only applies to the earliest stage of online dating. And the researchers looked only at women. Men have been found to be most attracted to women who are interested in them and not other guys. They are less attracted to women who are either “hard to get” (not interested in anyone) or women who are “easy to get” (they’re happy to date several men).

And as Psychologist, Adoree Durayappah points out:

(These) participants did not meet the men in person, and this was at the start of a relationship. Thus, we are uncertain if women keeping men guessing about their interest increases attraction or if keeping one’s partner guessing as the relationship develops would be advised. My personal hunch is that keeping one’s partner guessing about one’s interest during a growing relationship probably isn’t the best strategy for building a close connection.

Makes sense to me.

And if you don’t want to play games, be yourself and find someone who doesn’t want to play games either.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on November 25, 2013, in men, psychology, relationships, sex, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. This is a really nice article, ambiguity sometimes plays a very pivotal role in a relationship :)

  2. Best relationship advice I’ve ever heard: “be yourself and find someone who doesn’t want to play games either”. Interesting post – thank you.

  3. I was dating this man who lives far away well not that far but the only way we contacted each other was texting or calling on the phone and he works Monday through Friday and he works on Saturdays also so when we text he always ask me do you miss me baby Everyday I got annoyed by that I told him to stop and that for me to tell him that I miss him and That then he text me back and said so I guess you don’t then I told him whatever And That Women Ask Men That And Everyday Women Annoy Men Than He Text Bye Bye Delete Delete He Said Cause I Compared Him To A woman Should I Move On Help I Do Miss Him I Texted Him That And I Said Because We Are Far Apart Of Course

    • I don’t know enough about your relationship to say one way or the other. Is this a relationship that is mutually supportive? And healthy? Does he treat you well and seem to care about you as much as you care about him? Answers to those kinds of questions should help you decide.

      You might also want to discuss this with someone who knows you both.

  4. Interesting post. I’m thinking about social cushioning, how gently rejecting someone compares to telling the person to eff off. And how that plays with playing hard to get.

    I really, really hate telling people to eff off. But if a guy thinks I’m playing hard to get by being nice about it, I get backed into that corner. And that’s no fun for anyone.

    No means no. Don’t say it if you don’t mean it, either. And for Dog’s sake, can’t we at least get to know each other before we get forced to make decisions about intimacy?

  5. You know what’s interesting, I was just thinking about this the other day before I read this article! I have noticed in the past that I would be interested in a guy if he was interested in me first even if I wasn’t attracted to him. I think it was because I’d never had a relationship before and I was flattered that someone had actually taken an interest in me.

  6. It;s the mystery of the guy. Games are annoying, so I think it’s best for guys to avoid women or girls who want a guy who plays cat and mouse with them. The reason I feel is because of women’s egos of course. Women so bored of the usual and getting atttention from guy’s, you know take for granted, that guy’s don;t usually get from women. Especiallly the pretty women; they find the guy’s showing interest but cat and mouse and being on and off with them, more attractive. The reason is because these women, afteralll, can’t comprehend guy’s not showing all interest toward them and being on and off and making the women chase them instead. I mean afterall, these women have the “goods” and are used to guy’s kissing their feet and showing so much interest in their prized vaginas of course. So the egos are over inflated, and the women find it interesting and appealing for a man to not be “iikes the rest” and to not be all over her beauty and feminine charm. I mean who would’ve thouhg that was possible? (sarcasm)

  7. I feel as though men do play hard to get quite often. It’s kind of like when a guy does the tough guy act and kinda shows a disinterest in a woman that he thinks might like him. My friends actually do this all of the time. They try and act like the woman showing interest in them is just any other woman while in reality they are very much attracted to them and interested in them. Often times I actually see this strategy work amongst my friends. Personally I feel like if you’re attracted to a person then you should show them and not play any games. But in contrast it makes me wonder sometimes why women always play a hard to get card. But seeing as I am a Male I am not to sure why they are doing it. It may be be that both genders try and play this game on occasion to show that they have power over the other and they can dominate the sitution with such disinterest.

  8. I am learning a lot on your posts Georgia. I suppose it is best to be myself. Try not to work out what is going on and not play games :D xox

  9. I don’t think it’s a matter of whether men SHOULD play hard to get, but rather CAN they?

    • Some can.
      It mostly comes to cases where the woman was first interested in the man. If she first shows interest and he appears to be too “easy” she may loose interest.
      It’s exactly the same thing that sometimes happen when a man is after a woman,
      if she appears to be too “easy” he may loose the interest.
      I am not saying that’s right or wrong but we can’t tell other people how they should feel.

      It’s just that most of times the man is going after the woman so it’s the norm she is the one who is assuming a “defensive” position by playing hard to get.

  10. “Interesting theory. It may even fit some women. But it doesn’t sound like the women I know.”

    Well, why is it attractive for a man to play hard to get if it wasn’t the “hey this guy is not falling all over my beauty like the other guys, he must have something really going for him, hmmm”. It’s like the guy has more value to women now that he’s not fawning over them. I mean I don’t think a man should be all clingy or else that looks desperate which is bad. But I don’t think a man should have to try or purposely not show much interest in order for him to look different and better to a woman. I mean seriously, I don’t care how it sounds, but simply a woman that I’m interested in and feel is interested in me. She should be flattered and happy that I’m interested in her and showing it, because I’m not some guy and I shouldn’t and won’t play games to get her full interest as I feel I don’t need to and should not have to. And if that woman feels I should, then I’m going to cut off my pursuit just like that. But knowing how some girls can be. That will probably make her more interested after that ha

  11. This was such an interesting experiment! I have been in a relationship now with the same guy for a year and two months now so it has been awhile since I’ve really “looked” to see if someone liked me, or paid attention to any other guy’s feelings about me aside from my current boyfriend’s. However, I remember one particular instance in high school where I kind of found it attractive to know this one guy, Gabe (who was a senior while I was a sophomore) was interested in me, which is related to this experiment. I had only found about this through friends so technically it was just hearsay, but the way he looked at me in the halls during passing periods kind of reaffirmed that. I did find him attractive, but I guess it just gave me a mysterious, but good feeling to not know his exact feelings for me since we had not officially been dating yet. I don’t know why women, myself included, find it so intriguing to not know the level at which a guy is pursuing us or finds us attractive. Maybe because like you said, it is somewhat like playing a game.

    However, I find it interesting how you said “plenty of psychological research says we tend to like people about as much as they like us”. I love my boyfriend dearly, and I know he loves me too, but there are some instances when I feel like he is not working enough at the relationship like I am and I find myself starting to care a little less as well. I figure if he doesn’t like me enough to (say for example, want to spend the whole evening with me after we’ve both been working all day) then why should I care about it? I think this kind of relates to the research showing we tend to like people about as much as they like us. Or maybe this is just my way of “getting back” at him for things he does to me. Or maybe it’s just a way of protecting myself from getting hurt from some small actions of his that may hurt my feelings in a way. Regardless, I think this was a really cool experiment!

  12. I personally would just get with someone who is somewhat same as me and we have feelings rather than one or both us end up stuck in something and one of us later one gets some feeling while other doesn’t and one will get hurt and other will be happy.

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