Growing up, I was the kind of kid who practically inhaled each and every issue of magazines like Cosmopolitan and Seventeen. I loved the fashion editorials. I loved the “scandalous” reader stories (which don’t actually seem all that interesting or ridiculous compared to some of the shit you guys send us). I loved the sex tips, despite eventually realizing 95% of them were repeated several times throughout the year (“GRAB HIS BALLS WITH ICE IN HAND” and whatnot). With magazine articles as my guide, I learned how to look, talk, fuck and date… poorly.
The idea of “dating rules” stuck with me for a long time. I believed until I was in my mid- to late-teens that there were things you simply did not do, as well as ones that you had to, and that not abiding by these standards would mean you’d wind up alone forever. In particular, the notion of how to make people like you by behaving scarce, also known as “playing hard to get.”
For a long time, I thought not texting somebody first, trying to make somebody a tad bit jealous (to add “tension”) and acting like you were only half-interested in a guy were the fertilizers that made a relationship grow. I have since realized they are simply shit. Ineffective shit. Ineffective shit that merely leads to me dating primarily–with a couple exceptions, thank goodness–indecisive assholes who have also instinctively internalized these silly, arbitrary rules.
For example, the act of figuring out how long to wait before calling somebody. This can be a tricky question for some, as we’ve been taught by television and movies for years to wait until the other party calls you, never vice versa (which is ridiculous, since if everybody followed that rule, nobody would call anyone). We’re supposed pause for a matter of days in order to give this silly illusion that we don’t have the time to pick up our phones and text or call a person.
Men receive similar advice, sometimes being told to wait an entire week before calling females in order to increase their own value, as well as the woman’s desire to pursue a relationship–which apparently doesn’t seem to work out for everybody (shock). I’m not sure why it’s surprising that women (or men) might be irritated at a person for not calling, but then again, why wouldn’t they just call up the love interests themselves?
According to the characters in Swingers (1996), the callback is a complex system of rules:
Mike: So how long do I wait to call?
Trent: A day.
Sue: Tomorrow, then a day.
Mike: So two days?
Trent: Yeah, I guess you could call it that, two days.
Sue: Definitely, two days is like industry standard.
Trent: You know I used to wait two days to call anybody, but now it’s like everyone in town waits two days. So I think three days is kind of money. What do you think?
Sue: Yeah, but two’s enough not to look anxious.
Trent: But I think three days is kind of money. You know because you…
Mike: Yeah, but you know what, maybe I’ll wait three weeks. How’s that? And tell her I was cleaning out my wallet and I just happened to run into her number.
It’s a silly thing to worry about, right? After all, if you like somebody, you like them and there’s very little use in pretending you’re only a bit interested.
Much to my dismay, however, there does seem to be scientific research to back the idea of “playing hard to get” as a legitimate love-finding strategy.
According to studies by Robert Cialdini, an expert on influence, the psychological phenomenon he calls the Scarcity Principle causes people to view something as more attractive and valuable if it is rare. If something is “difficult to obtain” or hang on to, others want it more (for example, if Macy’s One Day Only Sales weren’t every couple of weeks, they might actually be noteworthy).
In a study by Whitchurch, Wilson, and Gilbert (2011), women were told to look at men’s Facebook profile pictures. They were also informed that each man had already looked at their profiles and had rated them on a reaction scale of liking them a lot, liking them a little bit or being uncertain of their feelings. The women rated the “uncertain” men as being the most attractive and desirable.
Regardless of what science, movies or television may say, however, I don’t think playing coy is for me.
The problem that I’ve always had with pretending to be disinterested is that (a) I already have trouble not coming off as a bitch, so (b) the person inevitably thinks I’m completely not into the idea of getting to know them. As a result, our chemistry falters, rather than builds.
Plus, when I’ve effectively done the whole “playing hard to get” thing–which is rare–I’ve typically wound up dating assholes who’ve internalized a thick slab of teenage wisdom on how males versus females are “supposed” to behave toward one another. Too much GQ and Men’s Health? Perhaps, but they’re the ones who still somehow think it’s perfectly acceptable to ignore or be rude to the person you’re dating–who any woman you’ve slept with–because somehow, if she’s interested in you already, she doesn’t deserve to be treated with quite as much respect as those you haven’t “earned” it yet. I’ve found that the men and women who do not resist their urges and outwardly deny their desires (unless, of course, their desire is simply to flirt–which is absolutely the case for some!) are often the most straightforward ones.
Plus, if somebody seems disinterested in you–even if he or she is secretly intrigued but wants to act unavailable for desire’s sake–it could set off fears about being seen as “weird” if you continue pursuing another date or a relationship. If a person is seemingly resistent to going out again, wouldn’t it be logical to respect those wishes by not chasing after him or her?
To me, there is no dating system. If you like somebody and want to sleep with them, do it. If you just want to flirt with them, then simply doing that is absolutely fine, too. But denying your desires because you’re afraid of what that person or others might think of you is silly. It often leads to not getting what you want, or starting off a potential relationship negatively because neither of you have been honest about your feelings.
If you do the whole “hard to get” thing and it works well for you, by all means, that’s fantastic! Everybody’s got their own dating deal, after all. I’ve just always been a terrible (and I do mean terrible) actress, so I think I’ll stick to nonfiction. Am I easy because I don’t believe in having standard rules on what date to bang somebody? Maybe by the kind of folks who have said, “If you sleep with him on the first date, he’ll never respect you.” But I only give my attention to those whom I’m drawn to, and if somebody doesn’t believe I deserve respect because of that, then why on earth would I want to sleep or be with that kind of person, anyway?