The Benefit of Being “Hard to Get”

Woman kissing man's cheek
Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

A fascinating study in the Journal Of Social and Personal Relationships found that, in dating relationships, people want to be challenged.

Details of the study

The study found those who were open and candid about their feelings for the other person were perceived as less desirable than those who held back.

The researchers conducted three experiments.  In the first one, an online profile indicated whether the potential partner was easy or hard to get.   Those with the hard to get profile were considered more appealing.

In the second one, sexual interest was higher in those who engaged in in-person meetings with “insiders” who played the role of being more difficult.  This arrangement required the participant to resolve perceived disagreements.  The participants found the “more difficult” insiders were more sexually attractive.

The third experiment involved chat messages. Sexual attraction and a desire to have a future relationship was higher when those messages conveyed the “insider” was more difficult.

One of the co-authors of the study cautioned that playing “hard to get” can backfire if it “makes you seem disinterested or arrogant.”  He recommend building a connection slowly and not being totally open about your feelings early in a relationship.

Practical ramifications

Based on the research I did for my latest book, Ask: How to Relate to Anyone, the results of this study aren’t surprising.  I found that, in any context, talking about yourself is counter-productive. 

A better approach is to avoid making declarative statements and, instead, ask questions about the other person.  When you empower people to talk about themselves, you trigger a chemical reaction in their brain that gives them immense pleasure. 

Studies have consistently found that asking questions improves interpersonal bonding.

According to Alison Brooks, and Leslie K. John,  associate Professors of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, [T]he wellspring of all questions is wonder and curiosity and a capacity for delight. We pose and respond to queries in the belief that the magic of a conversation will produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Sustained personal engagement and motivation—in our lives as well as our work—require that we are always mindful of the transformative joy of asking and answering questions.

When you combine the study about the benefit of being “hard to get” with my research, here’s the bottom line.

It’s not about you and revealing your feelings.  If you want to have a successful relationship in any context, you need to change your communication style from conveying information to eliciting it, and do so in a genuine, sincere way.