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Does playing ‘hard to get’ work?

Years ago, at the very beginning of my quest for sensible input on dating, I read a book on how to get a guy. Bottom line: play hard to get, as hard to get as you can. The reasoning behind it: men love a good challenge and the more you distance yourself from them the harder they will work to catch you. Needless to say, I was still single long after reading that book.

The fact was, I was playing harder to get than most women I knew, and the scariest thing was I wasn’t playing it. I was it. I was quite impossible to get, as men I dated or encountered back then will testify. I wasn’t making eye contact, I wasn’t smiling. Basically, I wasn’t available at all. Well in my head I was but in my behaviour? Far from it.

What I showed was: I don’t care about you, I don’t want you in my life and I’m not interested in getting to know you. What I thought was: why don’t you see me? Why don’t you want to get to know me? Why don’t you come closer? What I felt was lonely, sad, depressed, and very, very anxious. Anxious about staying alone forever, anxious for guys to come closer, anxious about not being able to cope with the reality of a relationship. But none of that showed in my behaviour, at least, not for most observers.

The funny thing was, I didn’t realise that until I read this book about playing hard to get. I thought to myself: ‘Wait a minute, that’s what I’m doing and it isn’t working! On the contrary, it’s backfiring like crazy’. What happened? Because of my attitude guys mainly stayed away. There were two types of guys that did ask me out though: the ones oblivious to non-verbal communication (usually not a success) and the ones I didn’t consider an option. The ones I deemed too small, too ill-educated or too young. The ones I didn’t think were handsome enough. Come to think of it, it was quite a big category of guys. To them, I could be friendly and nice. Strangely enough that led to invitations for dates…

Guys tell me this all the time, they need to feel safe and connected in order to ask you out. They need to know you sort of like them. They don’t need you to flirt with them necessarily, but they do need to know you are not looking for Mister Perfect and that you are available for connection. And all you need to do usually to indicate this is to smile and make eye contact. To be interested in their lives, their opinions, best of all, their advice on matters. ‘Don’t ask a guy out, ask for his advice’ I usually say to women who ask me how to indicate their interest. ‘Ask him how to replace a car tyre or how to approach your boss regarding a pay raise’, anything goes. Just ask him ‘Hey, I need your advice on something’ (remember this for when you’re married, because it works wonders on domestic issues such as how to get him to take out the recycling as well).

Everybody likes to be invited into another person’s life. No one likes to be left out, ignored, kept at a distance. The reasoning behind playing hard to get is of course that no one likes to be stalked and overwhelmed with attention either. But there is a wide gap between stalking and ignoring. And true, healthy dating and flirting are about walking the line between the two. Paying attention without overdoing it. Indicating you like someone without overwhelming them. Showing you are available without giving up on your own life. It’s all about balance!

Now, getting the right balance is a unicorn, but still, unicorns are good to chase. So next time someone advises you to play hard to get explain to them why you will not do such a thing and how you will ‘walk the line’ between ignoring and overwhelming. How you will be available, interested and connected without losing yourself and without playing games. That will make for happy dating!

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