Desire: Hard to Get, Hard to Like

Playing hard-to-get may make you not such a great get.

By Matthew Hutson, published on May 1, 2010 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

How many days are you supposed to wait before returning a call? If you really care, you should probably skip the games. Research shows that playing hard-to-get may in the end make you not such a great get.

Addicts will tell you that wanting and liking are not the same; the dopamine system in your brain may crave a hit, regardless of whether obtaining it still piques pleasure from your opioid pathways. The new studies, from Stanford, found that when people initially lost a prize—when they were jilted—and then had another chance to win it, they wanted it more than if they'd won it in the first place. But once they got it, they didn't like it as much as if it had been obtained easily. Being jilted can actually drive wanting and liking in opposite directions.

And for once, the hotheaded actually made better decisions than their cooler companions. The initial jilt-factor made them want the prize less—screw this!—so they avoided chasing after an ultimately disappointing reward.

In the dating realm, study coauthor Ab Litt says, "Playing hard-to-get is especially ill-advised if one's goal is to establish a lasting, longer-term relationship." So call that crush today.—Matthew Hutson

Standoff Situation

Depending on the game, following the rules might backfire.

  • "Men are born to respond to challenge. Take away challenge, and their interest wanes.... Don't call him and rarely return his calls." —Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, in The Rules
  • "If the target is attractive and used to men fawning all over her, the pickup artist must intrigue her by pretending to be unaffected by her charm." —Neil Strauss, in The Game