Playing Hard to Get: How to Attract Drama and Broken-Winged Birds

By Seth Myers, Psy.D.

Playing hard to get is bad for so many reasons, yet the main reason has to do with wasting time. The idea behind playing hard to get is that someone will want you more if you don’t always reciprocate the interest. Breaking News: If you are someone who plays hard to get, I’m not sure that you’ll really want to be with the few people who are willing to be strung along like that.

I define playing hard to get in the following way: showing someone a certain level of interest, but not following through with plans to actually get together. People who play hard to get are very calculated in their behavior. They give you enough attention to keep you interested, but they bow out before you can actually establish a real connection. One of the most frequent examples of playing hard to get is telling people you’ll call them to set up plans for the weekend, but not actually calling until the weekend has already begun. As a therapist – and someone who had his fair share of dates in the past – I find this behavior absolutely unacceptable.

Think about whom you’re attracting when you play hard to get.

If you play hard to get – regardless of whether you’re a man or woman – I’ll tell you the two groups of people who will want you even though you kind of string them along: people with low self-esteem and people who seek drama or distraction. If you’re looking for something long-term and steady, I can’t imagine that either of those groups is a pond you want to cast your fishing net into, right?

Attracting people with low self-esteem

If you play hard to get, the vast majority of people who are going to keep pursuing you are individuals who, underneath it all, have low self-esteem. Regardless of how they come across when you meet them, their self-esteem is obviously impaired to the point that – how crazy does this sound? – they would keep liking someone who simply doesn’t like them as much back! People who put up with being strung along often feel a little desperate and don’t feel that they have much better dating options. Simply put, no one with a good self-esteem is going to hang around very long if their positive feelings aren’t being reciprocated.

Attracting people who like drama or who don’t like to be alone

Overall, most people essentially want the same things, and those things aren’t terribly complicated. They want to feel close to someone; they want to feel a certain level of freedom; and they want to feel appreciated. While the majority of men and women are fairly normal and want fairly normal things, there’s a smaller percentage of men and women who like and seek drama. These individuals tend to be more emotional or even thrill-seeking; tend to use substances more than their peers; and tend to crave emotional highs and lows. For these individuals, a super peaceful and consistent romantic relationship would feel totally boring. If you play hard to get, some individuals are going to continue to seek you out because they don’t like to be alone and see trying to ‘get’ you as a challenge and distraction. Don’t let yourself believe that these individuals are truly interested in you, because any sane person with a good ego is going to lose interest in you very quickly if you play hard to get.

The difference between people who play hard to get and those who don’t

Men and women are both guilty of playing hard to get, and leading people on when they aren’t necessarily interested. Honestly, there are no good or healthy reasons why anyone plays hard to get. People play hard to get because they crave attention and want to get it from as many people as possible; they feel bored and like the constant stimulation of someone seeking them out; and they don’t like to feel lonely, so playing hard to get allows them to always have someone to text, call, or hang out with – even if their heart isn’t totally in it. People who play hard to get, sadly, would often rather spend time with someone they don’t really like simply to avoid being alone. Like an old friend of mine once said, “I guess I’d rather have a bad relationship than no relationship.”

On the other hand, men and women who don’t play hard to get know themselves better, know what they want, and believe they can get it without having to resort to games or manipulation. They are more genuine in their relationships with others. While the person who plays hard to get is always on the move – going out, talking to different people on the phone – the person who doesn’t play hard to get doesn’t like drama, doesn’t like wasting time, and is perfectly content to spend a weekend night at home.

Your relationships will get better as you learn to be clearer about the kind of characteristics in a partner that will put you at ease in a relationship. While individuals who play hard to get may be attractive or appealing on the surface, ask yourself if you want to be liked a little bit or a whole lot!

About the Author:

Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.

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