Why This One Relationship Trick Always Makes You More Desirable, Says Psychologist

Crushing on someone? Don't tip your hand just yet.

Dating advice is a dime a dozen, but it's worth a whole lot more when it's backed by science.  That's why it's so exciting that social psychologists have finally gotten to the bottom of an age-old dating question: whether "playing hard to get" actually sends desire soaring, or puts potential partners off.  A new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests there's good reason to play it cool with your crush. By introducing an element of uncertainty and upping your perceived "mate value", you're more likely to be desired and pursued when you play hard to get. 

The team employed three different strategies to get their results. First, they analyzed online dating profiles to determine if people were more drawn to those that were considered harder to get or easier to attract. They found that people were often drawn to the more "selective" profiles.

In the subsequent two tests, the researchers coded different conversations to determine whether playing hard to get increased feelings of desire. They found that when the conversations included disagreement and resolution (rather than enthusiastic agreement up front) the test subjects were more invested in the other person. Because their validation was hard-won, they tended to value it more highly.  Those individuals were more likely to end the conversation by expressing romantic interest or seeking more time together, and rated their potential partners as more attractive than the control group.

"People who are too easy to attract may be perceived as more desperate," said Gurit Birnbaum, Ph.D., a social psychologist and co-author of the study. "That makes them seem less valuable and appealing than those who do not make their romantic interest apparent right away," she added.

But before you leave your potential partner on read, be aware that this method can also go awry. "If playing hard to get makes you seem disinterested or arrogant, it will backfire," cautioned Harry Reis, Ph.D., co-author of the study.

So, instead of playing relationship games, or letting your dating life devolve into a series of unhealthy power plays, view the findings as a new way to pace your relationships. Focus on building a gradual connection with the other person, where there's room to grow and new things to learn about one another over time. This genuine attempt to connect, paired with a sense of anticipation and mystery, should go a long way in building both desire and long term compatibility. And for more on dating, check out Two-Thirds of People Say This Is a Dating Deal Breaker.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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