'We’re not saying it’s good or it’s bad, but for some people these strategies are working,' said Dr. Omri Gillath. 'We’re not saying it’s good or it’s bad, but for some people these strategies are working,' said Dr. Omri Gillath. 'We’re not saying it’s good or it’s bad, but for some people these strategies are working,' said Dr. Omri Gillath. (Photo: Masson / Shutterstock)

Does playing 'hard to get' work in relationships?

A new study found the age-old tactic works differently for men and women.

You finally met someone you might be interested in dating, but now you’re getting mixed signals. One day you text each other for hours, but the next day it seems like you don’t even know each other at all. At times you think the relationship is progressing, but then it seems like you’re right back where you started. Sound familiar? A new study shows you are not alone.

The dating tactic described above is commonly known as playing hard-to-get. It can be characterized by hot and cold behavior that leaves one person wondering where they stand in the relationship. New research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Personality and Individual Differences, examines the psychology behind why many people play “hard-to-get” in relationships.

“Hard-to-get behaviors seem to serve as strategies to self-protect and manage potential partners’ behaviors,” said Omri Gillath, an Israel-born professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, who co-wrote the paper that surveyed more than 900 participants. “Women, as we expected, are playing hard-to-get more, and men are pursuing them.”

Dr.Gillath, who received multiple degrees from the University of Haifa and Bar-Ilan University, has previously done research on our attachment to our Facebook friends as well as where our eyes wander when meeting people for the first time. For this new study, he teamed up with Jeffery Bowen of Johns Hopkins University to discover the connection between romantic tactics like playing hard-to-get and our “attachment style" – the psychological term for people’s way of thinking, feeling and behaving in close relationships.

Israeli professor Omri Gillath researched issues like 'breadcrumbing' and 'ghosting' in relationships. Israeli professor Omri Gillath researched issues like 'breadcrumbing' and 'ghosting' in relationships. (Photo: Dan Rentea / Shutterstock)

“According to evolutionary theories, women use various mating strategies – including playing hard-to-get to obtain a partner that will provide for them and their offspring. So playing or acting hard-to-get helps women filter potential mates,” explained Gillath. “They do it as a way to filter and verify they can find a supportive partner.”

Many people might be using such relationship tactics, but individual reasons for doing so vary. The rational for playing these games in relationships can range from a need to be in control to self protection.

“Different people may behave similarly, but for very different reasons," said Gillath. "Some people want to be in control, so they can prevent closeness or dependence, and others use it as a way to protect themselves from others who might take advantage of them.”

For many people, relationship strategies like playing hard-to-get are working. By playing hard-to-get a person is able to secure a relationship and filter out potential mates. But what are the consequences for using these tactics?

“We didn’t test for it in our studies, but if I had to speculate I’d say that playing with your relationship partners could have negative consequences down the line – such as leading to anger and frustration, inability to generate long-term committed relationships, etc,” said Gillath. “Being authentic and putting yourself out there, vulnerable, while scary, has higher chances of leading to a meaningful, successful, and satisfying relationships."

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Does playing 'hard to get' work in relationships?
A new study found the age-old tactic works differently for men and women.