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What does It Mean to "Play Hard to get"?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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As with many activities in life, the thrill of the dating game is often in the chase, not the capture. The destination may be intriguing, but it's the journey that keeps the interest level high. This is the basis of playing hard to get, a relationship tactic in which the pursuee deliberately holds the pursuer at bay in an effort to appear more alluring and selective. Playing hard to get is not the same as being hard to get, although the hapless victim of love may not realize it at the time.

Both men and women play a variation of this game while actively dating. Many men are taught to remain aloof whenever a woman flirts or shows definite interest. When a man plays hard to get, it is often a test to see how serious a woman is about him. If he doesn't return her phone calls for a few days but she continues to call, he knows she's still interested in him as a potential date. Men also do this in order to appear more confident and intriguing. Many women prefer to work on a challenging relationship than to settle for a man who is always accessible.

Women sometimes play hard to get as a screening device, especially when they encounter more than one suitor at a time. Each man may go home with her personal phone number, but she determines which calls she will return and when. One thing many women of dating age want to avoid is the appearance of desperation. By being less accessible, a woman establishes a sense of mystery about herself. If she returns all of her suitors' phone calls the next day, she may come across as too eager and too needy.

Playing hard to get can backfire if carried past a natural stopping point. The game is not called impossible to find, after all. Sooner or later, the pursuer and the pursuee must move on with their relationship or agree to drop the whole cat-and-mouse routine.

Using this tactic may work as a screening device or an integrity test, but eventually, an interested suitor needs some evidence of mutual attraction. At some point, the chase, exciting as it may have been, needs to become the beginning of a new romantic relationship. Playing hard to get has its place in the dating scene, but once the game is over, it's over. New relationships thrive on access and openness, not mixed signals.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By anon335704 — On May 22, 2013

I think mine has backfired when a girl who I was not attracted to was trying to chase me, especially when I was quite ill. I don't have anything to do with her.

By anon324893 — On Mar 13, 2013

Stop all of the chasing nonsense. If a man/woman really like each other, just say so and see where things could go. Honestly, children play little games, and grown ups know want they want. Period.

By DylanB — On Nov 18, 2012

My sister could write a book on how to play hard to get with guys. She is absolutely gorgeous, so she can afford to do this.

Other girls are so happy to finally meet someone who is interested that they don't dare play hard to get. However, my sister gets hit on every day, so she is very choosy about whom she dates.

Even once she picks a guy to date, she plays it cool with him for awhile. She is keeping her options open, simply because she has so many!

By orangey03 — On Nov 17, 2012

I know a man who plays hard to get with women. He basically treats them like he doesn't care whether they are there or not.

The problem is that this often continues well into the relationship. He starts to show a little more interest after they have reached intimacy, but then, he backs off again.

I know that he has issues, and I'm sure that his fear of commitment and being hurt is what makes him act this way. It is very hurtful to the girl he is in a relationship with, though, because she feels as though he doesn't even care about her.

He has lost quite a few girlfriends this way. I wish he would realize that the cycle of hurt and loss only occurs because he makes them leave. He is sabotaging himself.

By JackWhack — On Nov 16, 2012

@Perdido – I agree with you. A girl playing hard to get is only alluring for the first couple of times this happens. After that, she starts to seem snobby.

My best friend will only let a girl play hard to get at their first meeting. If she doesn't start to seem interested during the first date, he will drop her.

He says that the whole hard to get routine makes him feel a little emasculated. It might be permissible at first, but once the dating begins, it has to end.

By Perdido — On Nov 16, 2012

Playing hard to get with men is only useful for the first couple of encounters. After that, it becomes insulting to a man.

By anon291760 — On Sep 16, 2012

Women who play hard to get are such losers, and are a waste of time meeting anyway.

By anon261770 — On Apr 17, 2012

Playing hard to get is annoying, but cat and mouse for a while is fun. I was being treated poorly and as an 'option' rather than a priority. A good spell of limited contact, then cat and mouse (warm one minute, less available the next) redressed that and, to be honest, was highly sexually charged for us both.

It's exciting, but probably only as a means to stop one partner or the other taking the other for granted and injecting a bit of a reminder back in! Beats giving up on a relationship, doesn't it?

By anon230578 — On Nov 19, 2011

I always found playing hard to get a silly game for simple minded people who can't engage in any conversations of depth, so they get their thrills out of hoping someone likes them over another, or returns their calls. There's a natural cat and mouse act that occurs between two people attracted anyhow, because a serious relationship requires serious commitment and that can be challenging enough.

If a girl (I say 'girl' not 'woman') doesn't appreciate a man who is always around, she's not ready for a relationship. She wants to be forever 21 or fawned over because of her low self esteem, or has some Cinderella/Snow White complex, and the same goes for guys who act this way.

I like to pursue a girl if I'm interested; it's the hunter/gatherer in me as a man. When two people are mature enough to want a relationship, you damn well better have your partner wanting to always be by your side. That's what relationships are about -- being together, not playing games. Save the games for lovemaking sessions.

By anon190131 — On Jun 25, 2011

I have read the article impatently! This game is frustrating, because usually, there are two people involved and even though they might like each other, playing hard to get makes one of them angry or frustrated, depending on his emotional well-being!

I almost said no more returning calls to that guy, since he does not call me, but texts me.

By anon136525 — On Dec 22, 2010

I think women just enjoy frustrating a group of men who are interested in her. Eventually she does choose but also enjoys even more being cold and blowing off the other 9 out of 10 guys.

By anon88408 — On Jun 04, 2010

I don't see how playing hard to get is "for sexual predators."

By anon85644 — On May 21, 2010

I agree with Cayenne as well as the article. It can be a protective mechanism or even a screening device as well as present a healthy challenge, but taken too far it can absolutely backfire and yes, people do get hurt, including and perhaps even especially the one playing hard to get.

By anon53508 — On Nov 22, 2009

playing hard to get is for sexual predators.

By cayenne — On Apr 06, 2008

I've always thought it was annoying, and probably counterproductive, to play hard to get. It seems like dating, friendships, everything would be so much easier if more people were honest about what they wanted and what they felt. It's so hard for everyone to be vulnerable that I guess this is one way of protecting yourself, but it seems like it's one that can really hurt yourself and other people.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick


As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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