“Don’t be too easy.”
“Always leave him wanting more.”
“Make him work for it.”
“Don’t text back too soon – you’ll look desperate.”
Most of us are all too familiar with these statements and have, at one point, either perpetrated or been on the receiving end of dating’s informal commandment: playing hard to get.
While people of all a/genders have been known to feign elusiveness in order to “earn” a potential mate’s affection, research focusing on cisgender, binary, heterosexual relationships shows that women overwhelmingly trump men in playing hard to get.
And I think we need to talk about that.
Most of us – regardless of our sexual preferences and gender identity – have our own unique way of approaching emotional and/or sexual relationships. Yet in this particular article, I want to focus on the phenomenon of playing hard to get within heterocentric, cisgender relationships.
Women in said relationships have been socially conditioned to sit back and relax on the receiving end, all while consciously reeling a man in forward one step before pushing him three steps back.
In other words, we’re taught to say “no” when we really mean “yes,” but that saying “yes” too soon means “desperate.”
By teaching our girls to reject until deserving of approval, we’re consciously teaching the boys who date them that a girl’s “no” will eventually turn into a “yes” if persistent enough.
Mix that in with a storm of fiery hormones and male competitiveness, and you’ve got yourself careening down a slippery slope into rape culture.
Let me back up for a moment and explain why playing hard to get is a hard and fast rule in dating and why – if exercised in moderation – yields benefits in the long run.
Regardless of one’s gender identity, playing hard to get could serve to test a potential partner’s willingness to commit. If you jump into a relationship without initially testing the waters, you could later learn your partner may not be right for you.
On the other hand, someone who is just interested in casual sex has too much to risk by persisting against initial reluctance. Someone who is interested in a long-term relationship will put in more effort.
The ugly side of this model of pursuit is when it warps dating into a game where people are treated as pawns and conquests.
Our colloquialisms only serve to perpetuate the competitiveness in dating:
“Did you score last night?”
“He won my heart.”
“My buddy has had a lot of sexual conquests.”
Some people are so hungry for a challenge that they’ll pursue a person for the thrill of the chase, and once you feel your guard slipping a little bit, they show resistance to moving forward.
Playing hard to get affects actual dating in enough ways to be discussed in a later post, but I want to focus on how when this competitiveness spirals out of control –specifically on how the objectifying and sports-like connoting of real human beings feeds into the imposition of one person’s will over the other.
A person who has repeatedly linked up with a mate after a diligent session of playing hard to get has brainwashed the formula of a rejection evolving into acceptance.
We’ve basically internalized men as aloof robots who will thoughtlessly follow a woman as long as she dangles the prospect of sex like a carrot in their faces – and that prospect is especially enticing in her refusal.
And we’re encouraging women to use sex as a weapon.
Such tenacity and resilience that stems from toying with a person who is playing hard to get is undeniably admirable in the pursuit of personal goals – but people should not be treated as goals.
So here are some reasons as to why playing hard to get can not only yield a tarnished relationship, but also contribute to the language of rape culture.
1. It Touts the Belief That ‘No’ Equals ‘Yes’
The core strategy behind playing hard to get dictates refusing a man’s initial advances with the agenda of expecting him to disregard the rejection and persist in his pursuit.
Even in a healthy relationship, refusing to partake in interaction from time to time is normal and accepted. In the context of self-care, initially rejecting a proposition to follow it up with rescheduling is normal and straightforward for both parties.
But using “no” as a “yes” can be confusing, manipulative, and a pitfall into unwanted consequences.
That being said, nobody should rape. Period. A deep-rooted belief that contributes to rape culture maintains that men are straightforward while women inherently possess an allure of mystery – it is up to men to push their limits to uncover what women truly mean. Also, the idea that women don’t like sex is an antiquated patriarchal notion – and playing hard to get strengthens that it.
Consent should be present in all relationships. When we’re confusing a no for a yes, though, we’re forecasting premature consent. And it’s important that while we can begin by having women stand firm in their rejection, men should also learn to accept it and that a “no” isn’t a reflection of them.
This strategy is pervasive in songs, movies, and even Internet trends.
The hashtag #ThisCouldBeUsButYouPlayin – inspired by a Maino song and first brought to life by Twitter user @baeElectronica – usually is ironically accompanied with an unfortunate pair of people, entangled animals, or any variety of pictures depicting ~relationship goals~.
As much as the trend elicits humorous responses – some of which I’ve enjoyed on many occasions – the trend nods to the pairing of dating with playing.
We play games with the intention of winning, regardless of our individual tactics and maneuvers.
And if we’re still treating dating like a game, it’s going to be played like one – complete with deception and foul play.
The National Institute of Justice reported 85-90% of sexual assaults reported by college women were perpetrated by someone they knew. One can’t help but wonder if these crimes started with a misinterpretation or incorrect anticipation of consent.
Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” also nods at the unclear point between a woman’s no and a yes, by predicting and even initiating its eventual acceptance.
If playing hard to get is acceptable, then at what point will a man finally accept a refusal and move on?
To me, that seems to be the real blurred line.
2. Women Feel Obligated to Consent
We all have a finite amount of time per day that we use to spend in any manner we want, whether it’s working to support ourselves or interacting with those we think matter most.
Considering women are often (either by nature or nurture) more empathetic, we sometimes almost feel indebted to someone who has taken out the time to talk to us and buy us $50 worth of drinks, despite our initial rejection.
First of all, you should never feel obligated to have sex.
Your sexual desires are your own, and you are not withholding them from a man, which is something that playing hard to get assumes.
On the other hand, if you’re truly uninterested, it’s often helpful to state that from the start – or not to accept drinks. No man purports himself to be the Mother Teresa of alcohol and buys it for anyone who is in need. And remember that in social situations, the minimum obligation to someone buying you a free food item or drink is a polite chat.
That being said, it’s okay to change your mind if upon interaction you find out the person is not that great.
It’s also important to heed the fact that rejection should not be taken personally.
A person could have myriad reasons for not accepting an invitation to hang out, whether they want to spend time with friends or are uninterested in a commitment.
When a man keeps pushing a woman for initially saying no, he will go out of his way to pamper her. After a point, a woman’s no might turn into a yes based on pity alone.
I, personally, have been victim to this situation.
I met a man at a time when I wasn’t looking to date anyone. And upon making that clear to him, he spent an inordinate amount of time and money on me to persuade me otherwise. Eventually I gave in and gave him a pity kiss and ended up hating myself for going so against my gut.
After digging into how just why that feeling was so uncomfortable, I realized how blindly I was ignoring my gut in favor of societally dictated principles.
No one owes anyone anything, especially not sex.
Sex is meant to be an enjoyable, consensual act that is not the end-game.
3. It Commends Those Who Ignore Consent
The method prescribed by playing hard to get prioritizes non-verbal language over verbal language to gauge interest.
An initial reluctance is immediately met with further persistence, and if the woman does happen to change her mind, it’s the man who is rewarded.
It isn’t enough to tell a woman to be more straightforward – language alone isn’t going to change a deeply engrained formula of coercion. It also isn’t enough to assume all men will back off at the first sign of a straightforward no, because society has conditioned them to keep on pushing tenaciously.
If this repressed aggression releases itself in the form of rape, it’s women who are blamed for not being clear enough – and that a man was just trying his hardest.
By rewarding those who ignore consent, we’re treating women like trophies and passing sexual assault as participation awards.
Playing hard to get is often not playing, but rather, asserting.
It tends to reflect poorly on the perpetrator of the phrase because it’s a cheap way to save face. Blaming a woman for acting difficult is a lot easier to assuage a bruised ego than saying she isn’t interested.
4. It Establishes a Glaring Double Standard
If playing hard to get has the ability to evolve into a much greater issue, it should be simple enough to tell women to be upfront to their dating prospects, right? Women should be taught to proclaim a resounding yes or no to their sexual or emotional prospects.
Well it turns out, the resolution isn’t that simple.
For decades, women have been instructed to give a man the thrill of a “chase” by rejecting his advances to see how hard he is willing to work.
Gender roles have typecasted men as hunter/gatherers, and women are expected to feed the very predatory desire that hurts us.
At the same time, men are under no such pressure to assume the role of a darting gazelle in order to win over the woman of their dreams.
Society is much more accepting of a straightforward man. And if he appears uninterested in a woman, it’s because he actually is.
Women, on the other hand, are either admonished for their straightforwardness or perceived as threatening.
If she immediately says yes, she is too easy or promiscuous; if she immediately says no, she is a “tease” who is guaranteed to change her mind.
Such gender roles should not be factored into dating because it sets up women for a loss from the onset.
It’s absurd and contradictory to have a man think less of a woman if she shows interest too soon, yet also think less of her if she doesn’t show interest soon enough.
Women have the discretion to say whatever whenever they want without the context of a presumed formula. And men can be better partners by accepting a woman’s individuality without placing her under a presumed label – it all serves to make dating a safer experience for both parties.
As a girl growing up and navigating the dating world, I always had a problem with hearing the cautioning advice on not letting a man in too easily by feigning disinterest.
Not only is playing hard to get a biting case of cognitive dissonance, but it also puts structure into dating – into an activity that is supposed to be fun and spontaneous.
Furthermore, we’re attacking a woman’s choice by passing her off in this manner.
Based on my own dating history, I’ve noticed a trend in the boyfriends I’ve had that claimed I made them chase me: I was initially disinterested in them.
Although I’ve been lucky in my dating life, I have made a promise never to play hard to get or try to adhere to a societal staple of dating. It’s unfair to both parties and can cause some serious damage.
To continue with the trend of consent, let’s all try to eliminate manipulative tendencies in dating.
If you were waiting for mutual support, here is my personal vow to text, call, or Facebook whenever I feel it’s right – and I know the right man won’t chastise me for doing so.
If you are truly disinterested, let the person know right away. And if you want to test if the person is right for you, there are other ways to pique someone’s interest rather than playing aloof.
If you don’t feel comfortable to going on a date right away, reject initially, but make a point to reschedule. Also, practicing self-care and establishing your own goals in life that don’t concern dating organically makes you hard to get.
Men should also be taught to reject this ingrained practice of dating and begin to respect choice, as well as eliminate any sense of entitlement.
Let’s all eliminate the games out of dating to make our lives a little safer.
Nikita Redkar is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a freelance writer in New York City who currently interns for Fusion Network where she writes about diversity in pop culture and how it’s shifting the current landscape of racial and gender politics. When she’s not writing, she is taking classes in sketch comedy and reading bizarre astronomy theories. She likes cute animal gifs and dislikes long walks on the beach, plagues, and other cliches.