Playing hard to get can be, well … hard. You’d love to talk to that cutie you met at the bar, but your friends say you aren’t supposed to call or text for at least a few days. And even then, you should come off as cool and indifferent, right? It turns out that the whole “playing it cool” act was never rooted in science in the first place. New research has even more good news: Playing hard-to-get might make your would-be boo less attracted to you. Finally, we can all relax!
A team of researchers from Israel and Rochester, New York looked at the relationship between uncertainty and sexual desirability over the course of six related studies. The first study looked at single heterosexuals aged 19 to 31 from a university in Israel, including 50 men and 51 women. They were each shown a photograph of an opposite-sex individual (the same photograph, for control purposes) and told they would be chatting online with that person. At the end of their chat, the participants were told they could send a final message to their partner. Once they were done, the researcher told them to check their messages: Some got a final message from their chat partner, creating certainty that the person was into them, while the others didn’t, creating uncertainty.
Next, participants were asked to rate the sexual desirability of their chat partner from 1 to 5. The people who received a final message gave their partner a significantly higher score than those who didn’t. They were also more interested in future interactions with that person. That certainty and security of knowing where you stand with someone really can make a difference when it comes to how much desire you feel for them.
So what’s wrong with having a little mystery in your life? “People may protect themselves from the possibility of a painful rejection by distancing themselves from potentially rejecting partners,” Professor Harry Reis, one of the co-authors of the study, said in a press release. “People experience higher levels of sexual desire when they feel confident about a partner’s interest and acceptance.”
Social psychologist and lead author Gurit Birnbaum added that based on the results of the study, sexual desire may “serve as a gut-feeling indicator of mate suitability that motivates people to pursue romantic relationships with a reliable and valuable partner,” while “inhibiting desire may serve as a mechanism aimed at protecting the self from investing in a relationship in which the future is uncertain.”
A 2012 study published in the European Journal of Personality supported the idea that playing hard-to-get is the wrong tactic to use, particularly for people looking for a short-term fling. But not all research agrees that uncertainty is necessarily a bad thing; a 2010 study published in Psychological Science concluded that uncertainty can increase a woman’s romantic attraction towards a man.
The jury is still out on whether playing hard to get is worth the effort, but research seems to be leaning towards honesty being the best policy. Either way, though, it’s good to know that being straightforward and honest doesn’t automatically mean you’re shooting yourself in the foot. The key is to be honest.
Check out my related post: How to have authentic relationships at work?