Should Men Play Hard To Get?

Who 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). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on January 30, 2012, in gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Adorina Betgorgiz

    I disagree with Allen that women play “harder to get” than men. I really think it depends on the individual’s personality regardless of their gender. I think as adults, there shouldn’t be any games in order to make a relationship start. But on the other hand, making a person confused about how you feel is a game that at least works on me. The confusion and not knowing whats going on in the person’s brain can make my brain work for hours and then I get tricked by my own brain’s thought and I get to this conclusion that If I’m thinking so much about this person then it means I like him!

  2. I believe that in general if someone is looking for something serious, no one should “play” whether if it’s playing hard to get or keeping someone guessing. If a relationship starts off great from the very start and people are certain of someone’s interest that’s good. But I believe people love to see progress, or a way to see if things are moving along. If someone’s interest seems questionable or perhaps a little unpleasant at first, then we would get stuck with that first impression. As someone’s interest becomes clearer we see that as progress, something that we can compare to, “back then when I wasn’t sure.”

  3. I agree with Liliya that people who play games are not being honest. Yes, some people play the hard to get role because they don’t want to seem easy or they want to be persuaded, however, it’s all a game. In the past, I’ve asked my female friends why do they play hard to get and they usually say its fun or they want to make sure the guy has patience’s. Personally, I’ve never played hard to get. When I am dating a woman I like to take things slow. That way we can get to know one another and possibly build a friendship before taking things to the next level. I think that people who like to play hard to get has the same intentions but they go about it the wrong way.

  4. Gabriela Holzwarth

    I thought that the most insightful part of this article was the statement that when we spend more time thinking about someone, then we feel that we must like them a lot. I have certainly had the feeling many times of wanting someone who I was not sure liked me. I would spend hours and days and nights ruminating over this particular man, wondering why he did not text or call. I would stay awake at night, thinking about what he was doing at that moment, if he was with another girl, if he cared about me at all. And while I was doing this, my brain did not even register that perhaps I was only thinking about him so much because my brain was just actually confused. Perhaps, I was not thinking about him because I liked him so much, but rather, because I was puzzled and mystified by him. Women and men alike want to know what is going on. No one truly likes the unknown; however, we are all strangely attracted to the mystery of things. This is why women can feel more attracted to men who play hard to get. Our brain, rather than the man himself, makes us feel this. The more time we spend on this particular man, the more we build him up in our minds to be something he may not actually be – just a fantasy, desire, and daydream. Therefore, men do indeed have a relevant reason to play hard to get, but just not for too long, or this daydream may develop into resentment quite quickly.

  5. Liliya Baranova

    I personally think that when two people play games they are not being completely honest with each other. Plus I think it is easier when you know you are attracting to someone because that way it is easier for you to pursue that person. Whenever I met a guy I always wonder what he is telling me, is it the truth or some game that guys think is necessary to score a girl… I personally never play games and men appreciate that because they know that if there is some kind of problem in their lives I can be honest and give them the perfect advice without the game. I think that is why my boyfriend and I never fight about things because we are honest and whenever we have to discuss something serious we go all out, meaning that we are fully truthful and we get each other. GAME= NO GO!

  6. I think Allen hit the spot, when describing men playing hard to get. I’m sure that could be easily said for women too. By what I read, it seems that girls like the mysterious nature of the men. I guess that’s what attraction does. The curiosity draws attention to the opposite sex, causing them to think more about the person, which like the post says, causing them to have a liking for the other. More and more people meet in clubs and bars these days, that some have even put into words to describe men who can approach women and just grab their attention. The word “Swag” has been recently coined for men who has confident to carry themselves, which seem to attract females. The sense of confident seems to be the major factor in attraction.

  7. This blog posting resonated with me because I feel the “guessing game” experiences in relationships are most common with people my age (late teens and early twenties).
    The women in the study who show to be more interested in the men who are attracted to them but are ambiguous about their feelings sounds like many women I know, including myself. There is something about that early stage of getting to know somebody new that is intriguing and exciting. We like mysteriousness and being in the “threshold” of receiving the confirmation of the man’s interest because I believe we are waiting on something we kind of already know to be true (he IS indeed attracted to us and we sense it but we like the anticipation of the man SHOWING it to us). This is what I and my friends have experienced in these kinds of similar situations, online and in-person dating.
    It makes sense to me that men would not be as attracted to women who seem like they are not interested in anyone or are too easy. That is because men have a stronger “hubris” or pride that helps them measure their achievements, what and how they obtain what they do. So, if a woman takes too long to show interest or shuns the man from the beginning, most of the time the man will forget about her because that is hurting his pride and ego and getting in the way of his attainment. So, he’ll move on to another girl to fulfill that. If a girl is too easy, there is no rewarding feeling for the man because he didn’t have to try, which mean no real, personal input is necessary to get the girl, meaning there would be no reason to have pride in having that girl.

    Amazing study and great post! I think a lot of men and women can relate.

  8. In my life, I have experienced opposite instances of this post. I believe that if a man shows that they are uninterested or leave a lady in the dark about what they think about them, then women tend to grow disinterested in them. However, if they disinterest is mutual between the two individuals an attraction tends to grow, due to the factor of mystery. Every situation varies though; I believe that depending on the personalities of the guy and the girl. If the girl is someone that is timid and shy then she would not like to be clueless to how the guy feels towards her. However, if the girl is a go-getter then I am sure she would like the idea of a possible challenge.

  9. This is very interesting, and I agree with the comment Adoree makes. Its probably best to be upfront as possible, and this research as a whole seems to be more applicable to people not seeking long term relationships. How could you date someone who you knew was using fake tactics to persuade you? This strategizing seems to be some form of display, and really seems like its geared to people who lack maturity and need to scheme in order to get a mate. I’m a man, and I know a ton of other men who use strategies like this to earn women’s attention, and it’s really funny to watch. I think in all circumstances, honesty and a true portrayal of opinion and feelings is the best way to find someone who you can share a bond with, not attempting to sway someone’s opinion of you by portraying a lack or even an abundance of interest.

  10. I think the fact of a guy or girl playing hard to get, only makes things difficult for both parties. But we all should feel the urge of being liked by someone, indeed we are attracted more to girls or boys that only put their focus mostly on you. But the idea of physical appearance is what allows people to mostly make their judgment. I don’t really think men play hard to get, but mostly girls that follow that type of trend. Maybe, in the eyes of guys or girls, we all like to have a lot of people chasing after you, but that doesn’t really give a reason for everyone to be playing hard to get all the time.

  11. Aditya_wm_studies_2011

    When looking at the major picture, playing games with opposite gender is part of “the meeting process.” Many relationships starts with having a type pf attraction to one and another. It could be as simple as, “i must have what i can’t get.” Men or Women manipulate what they have physically and psychologically to win a mate. Women who has looks sway men into liking them through their physical attributes. Simple enough, as men, we find physical attraction powerful and in our minds it creates the illusion of love, when “lust” is more likely. When the mind games begin, it all depends on the individual. Personally, it drives me mad! Or one could give up easily if he does not feel that the time given is not worth the outcome. Or one could also find the rejection as a challenge and pursuit her further. Now, does this mean that men should play hard to get? Looking at my own physical attributes, there is no way in hell I can play that card. Perhaps a guy that looks like George Clooney or Brad Pit can. Relate back to the article; the fake profiles were of attractive men. They weren’t of average, overweight or unattractive men. “Game” is correlated completely to who you are.

    Should men play hard to get?

    If you can manage it, absolutely. If not then it’s unlikely to work. I am not an attractive man and I’ve tried playing the hard to get game, nothing happened.

  12. I think men and women are both guilty of playing hard to get. I have seen it go both ways.
    I agree with the post that women are slightly more fascinated with men who are mysterious. I have also seen this scenario played between a woman and man too. I think people do it to feel wanted and in control. Allen O’Neal pointed out that women play hard to get more often than men. Maybe that’s because women can gain control of men by using their sexuality? Maybe men prefer fewer games because they have more sensitive egos and want to know that the woman they are with is devoted solely to them?
    I don’t think playing hard to get is a good idea for either sex. There is something devious about playing games with a potential love interest. In my experience any man that has played hard to get has usually been impossible to keep because he out playing hard to get with other women as well. I prefer men who are honest and straight forward from the beginning. There might be less mystery involved but also less heartache in the future!

  13. I don’t think anyone, guys or girls should play hard to get and I also think guys don’t play hard to get as much as girls. Guys play hard to get to an extent while female do it constantly in many different ways. I cant see guys playing hard to get other than them acting as if they were not interested in a female. Guys only play hard to get when he knows his female of interest is going to take a lot to get, by doing that its help because the female is wondering why the guy is not showing how much he likes her . im guessing females play hard to get for the same reason but females take playing hard to get to a whole different level.

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