Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The rules of playing 'hard to get'

Right at the end of December, I received an email from a guy asking me about the best places to meet other gay guys in London, and also asking about what the dating rules are in the UK. So I sent him a brief reply about the London gay scene, and I also asked him to write a bit more about exactly what his dating query was. The result was the following email:

Dear GB

Why do people play hard to get? I just can't wrap my mind around what seems to be such an unproductive habit. It might be redundant to say that I don't like playing hard to get and that I'm pretty frustrated with people who do. I recently met up with a guy I was introduced to about three months ago, we got along, we were mutually interested but we didn't hook up, although we did swap shirts (it was a pretty interesting party) and felt each other up underneath the dinner table after dessert. We kept in touch and chatted a bit online and all seemed to be cool, but now, having come to London to spend Christmas with some other friends I find him to be playing completely hard to get. I don't get the point. Either he is interested, in which case we hook up, or he's not and we can stop playing telephone tag. In general, wouldn't it be easier and more effective to be upfront, instead of circling round in a total stalemate? Or to put it another way, wouldn't it be better not to play hard to get, but rather to be decisive such as to maximize efficiency of investment in the libidinal economy of close interpersonal encounters?

His last sentence made me giggle so I readily agreed to do a blog post in response.

Just over a week later though, perhaps because I'd posted the title of this post in my Dear GB pending list, the following email arrived in my inbox:

Dear GB,

I'm a student at Cambridge in my final year and wish for some relationship advice. I had been in a relationship with a guy for the first year and a half of Uni, but then I decided to end the relationship because it wasn't working out. I hate the gay scene in Cambridge, which I find generally shallow and revolves around casual sex and a ghastly gay bar aptly named 'Thrust'. Since splitting up with the guy I mentioned I've quite liked several people, all who seem to like me, which leads to my next problem...

I seem to, whether mostly by intent or by nature, play hard to get to an extreme degree, such that even were a person I absolutely adore to show interest in me I won't ask them out, or only in the final instance. I suppose my tendency evolved from several hurtful episodes I had with other people before I went out with the guy I mentioned above, as a kind of protective mechanism to gauge who was genuinely interested in me. But still, I can't help thinking that I've missed lots of opportunities to form relationships with those who I like, and in particular, I feel that it is happening again more or less as we speak. The problem is, I play hard to get to the extreme of seeming slightly cold to the person I fancy. It's quite strange really, instead of being especially warm to the person I like I retract and shy away from contact with them. So I would like your advice, or the advice of people in this blog, as to whether my protective mechanism is somewhat self-defeating.

I would greatly appreciate a reply, yours,

These two emails from the different readers clearly show two guys on opposite sides of the hard-to-get behavioural trait, so it makes sense to try and answer both emails at the same time. How to go about looking for boyfriends is also quite topical for me at the moment, now that I've split up with ex-boyfriend P, so putting down a few thoughts here should help me sort out my ideas too.

In terms of playing hard to get, I recall a conversation with ex-boyfriend P last year when he suggested that I had no idea how to go about dating. He insisted that in the city where he lives there are "rules", such as not phoning a date back for three days after an enjoyable meeting, even if one is very keen on the other person. I guess the idea is that phoning back too quickly makes one look desperate. Of course, ex-boyfriend P is right that I don't know these rules, but in fact I'm glad that I don't know them. Intuitively I feel that following a set of rules when searching for a long term partner is ridiculous, because every situation is different, so each situation requires it's own response.

I think that the most important thing is to be honest, open and relaxed when looking for boyfriends, or to put it another way, to be cool. Any rules which exist for dating were perhaps invented to try and help inherently uncool people appear to be cool to the people that they're dating. However, it strikes me as being inherently uncool to following any set of dating rules. Similarly, in terms of playing hard-to-get, I'd say that it's also uncool to pretend that one doesn't like someone when one does!

For the reader who was upset because a guy he likes has been playing hard-to-get, I think the best advice is to try and understand what might be causing the other guy to behave like that. Indeed, as in all areas of life when one's interacting with other people, it's always sensible to try and work out what's going through the other peoples' mind. In this case, possible reasons for his behaviour include:
  • The guy has changed his mind and now isn't interested meeting the reader after all
  • The guy is following a pointless set of dating rules
  • The guy is interested in the reader, but is afraid of being hurt
  • The guy is interested in the reader, but has a self-esteem problem so he finds it hard to believe that anyone is really interested in him
  • The guy is dishonest, for example he's currently in a monogamous relationship, so he can only get in touch when his partner is away
This isn't an exhaustive list, however working out what's going on in the other guy's mind should help the reader plan his response. However if a guy never returns one's phone calls or emails, ultimately that's quite rude, so the only sensible course of action is to look elsewhere.

For the reader who has been playing hard-to-get, I think the answer to his question is "yes", his self-protective behaviour is somewhat self-defeating! Although one has to protect oneself to some extent, I don't think it makes sense to pretend that you don't like someone when you do like them. So perhaps a better solution in terms of protecting oneself is to take things very slowly when someone shows an interest? However I also believe that one shouldn't try and love anyone else until one loves oneself, so given that the reader described his own behaviour as extreme, I can't help wondering whether the reader has other issues that need to be addressed. For example, low self-esteem would also cause this behaviour.

Do any other readers have any thoughts on these issues?


Anonymous said...

I used to be exactly like the second reader when I was at Oxford. When I was young, I was extremely averse to getting hurt, but I've changed a lot since I started working. So I think the reader will also become more comfortable with himself and more confident as time goes by.

Sir Wobin said...

I'm sometimes moody and unsure of what I'm feeling. The Husband sees it and feels he's getting mixed signals from me even though we've been together a long time. It's not that I don't love him or that he's unsure if I love him. I'm just moody sometimes. At other times I'm sociable and really like being tactile with people I like. Some get the wrong impression and think that I want to have sex with them just because I'm physically comfortable with them. *shrug*

Human emotion and experience covers a very broad range.

For your first reader, consider this: if you met a few months ago he might have been available then, open and flirtatious. Since you met he's developed a romantic interest in someone with whom he's exploring a relationship. It's not sure yet and flirting is still fun but more is not possible. Ask him WTF is going on and tell him how you feel. It might just be a case of bad timing.

Hinting, flirting and "interpreting signals" gives huge scope for confusion. Be open and use words!

Anonymous said...

A small amount of restraint (or known here as playing hard-to-get) is acceptable but the Cambridge guy sounds very high-maintenance. I know very well his type because I have date not one but two of them, both times which I was the one who ended it. He's the suffocating kind who will squeeze out of you constant reassurances about everything and will give you grief for the slightest mishandling of his ego. All this after the strenuous process of earning his paranoically elusive trust. A-void.

I agree with the first guy, the one who mentioned the pointlessness of playing hard-to-get, but I understand it's part of some people's vetting process and perhaps part of the dating fun. Personally I would make it clear if I am having fun/interested and would call/email/leave a message within 48 hours after a meeting, although it usually happens within 24. I figure being an adult would attract other similarly matured individuals, and I have had plenty of success this way. It does not strike me as desperate at all if a guy is doing the same to me, in fact it leaves me with the exact opposite impression.

As an aside, I would like to share some university-specific experience I have gathered throughout my short dating life (I'm in my 20s). I have dated three Cantabrigians, all three of whom turned out to be complete weirdos. Three is obviously not big enough a sample size but sufficient to raise questions in my head. The first slept with probably half of East Anglia. I have casual sex too but this guy takes it to a whole different level. The second was gorgeous and intelligent but was very brusque and rude and the third thought he had the world at his feet and small grammatical errors would trigger very queeny fits of indignation. I have never been romantically involved with an Oxonian but the gay guys I know from there are very cool people. Ditto LSE. My favourite has got to be guys from Imperial. I dated five and had an actual relationship with one of them. All of them were very chilled out and a lot of fun to hang out with. Conversations could range from intellectual to silly but all was in good fun. Other universities are a mixed bag and have no real pattern in my experience.

Ken Skinner said...

Ugh... dating. Ugh...

I'm liking the sound of 'Thrust'! I can't remember what the bar was the last time I was in Cambridge, but it definitely wasn't that!

God, I see reflections of my younger self in most of the postings so far (and a few of my gracefully aging self, of course!)

When I first came out I remember being totally unable to go up and talk to someone I liked. I just didn't have the balls. That also made me seem unapproachable, I guess. Of course, if someone (anyone) did come up to me it made me much more receptive to advances than I would have been had I jumped on guys I really fancied.

Self-confidence and self-worth comes with age and/or experience. If it doesn't then SEEK HELP!!! (Joke!!!)

It's funny but when I was 'straight' I found it really easy to be friends with people I didn't fancy (not that I knew that's what was going on). I simply couldn't get emotionally close to people I thought were hot. What a twisted web we weave for ourselves, eh?

Now, as I rapidly sink towards 40 (and no, it's really not that bad :-)) and in a LTR I can pretty much talk to anyone I like, which often gets me in trouble as single guys think I'm flirting, when all I'm actually doing is showing interest in a conversation! After I've chatted with someone for an hour or so they often suggest we head off to bed somewhere and then are taken aback when that's not something I'm interested in!

Anonymous said...

Bristolgrad your too funny! Where is your blog? If you don't have one then start one. I shall be your first reader at hand.


Anonymous said...


With such an extensive dating portfolio, categorised by where they were educated, i'm sure many of us would love to see some sort of table perhaps ranking the boys from these institutions. I most definitely believe that there is some form of university identity which some people develop and espouse, and it would be cool to compare notes!

Besides, again, I'm sure that many of the readers here would benefit from your experience.

GB said...

Thanks for all the comments guys :-).

Now, here's a little puzzle which anyone can try and answer, but perhaps bristolgrad would be especially suited to find the solution. There's a lot of information about me in this blog, but I don't think I've ever divulged which university I attended, so was it:
*None of the above!
Of course, anyone who actually knows the answer can't play!

Incidently, although it doesn't get used much, I do have a Reader's stories posting category. Again, anyone is welcome to Email me things to post there, but bristolgrad would be especially to welcome given the interest that other readers have shown in his comment :-).

GB xxx

Ken Skinner said...

Puzzle... I'm pretty sure it wasn't LSE or Imperial (the line 'I've never been a student in London' kinda helped out.

First choice is 'none of the above'. I'm drawn to Warwick based on some banking advice given a while ago and the mention of it having a good maths background.

No doubt waaaay off the mark!

Anonymous said...

I think it must be either Imperial or Cambridge given the fact you have a PhD, no doubt in a science based subject....


Ken Skinner said...

Something occurred to me yesterday whilst at the gym.

In the gay world it's incredibly unattractive to play 'hard to get'... and yet if you play 'impossible to get', suddenly you're the hottest property on the block...

What does that say about the anatomy of desire?

Sir Wobin said...

Isn't there more to it Kenski? If they are drop dead sexy then then they're attractive whether they're easy, medium, hard to get or impossible. Their attractiveness for some people isn't influenced by their manner. Film stars probably fall into this category. If an average looking guy plays hard to get then they become too much effort relative to all the other average looking guys.

It's not whether 'hard to get' is attractive, it's about whether the rest of the package is appetising enough to merit the effort.

GB said...

Thanks for trying to answer the puzzle Kenski and Jay :-). I'm not going to divulge the answer publically, although since Kenski is a fellow blogger I have told him what the answer is by email!

GB xxx

Andi said...

probably hard to get is sometimes better than too easy to get. i remember my ex was far to easy to get, and i lost him as easy again, as he turned out to be quiet "easy".

Anonymous said...

Ok, so I am a gay guy, but am I the only one who doesnt want to "hook up." Just a clue for ya, if he's playing hard to get, he wants more than just a hook up. he's trying to see if thats all YOU want. I'm sick and tired of the majority of the guys i meet only want a hook up. to all the guys wanting hook ups, thats all you'll ever get.

african woman said...

Hi!thanks for posting this topic!
I am not a gay but I have a gay bestfriend. He fell inlove with a guy who is so stubborn and for him seems to be a hard to get one. So, he get challenged to chase him more.
In the end he don't get the man he truly desires because the guy has already a girlfriend.

So,from that experienced he learned that if someone is a hard to get type he needs to exert more effort!

For me, it's better to be a hard to get one rather than easy to get because a man who truly loves will chase you and will never give up until he will get you.

Lee4U said...

Playing hard to get is the typical Guy's attitude to us faggots..like "FUCK OFF FAGGOT.".Then They wonder, "Why do it myself if there's a fag around?.So They holler, "Yo fag boy, go get more drinks now bitch!".Bullying this fag is fun..Fag training started for me in High School..
Every day, after 2nd class I was told to meet the bully Master's in the unused locker room..I was trained to lick the soles of Their Sneakers spotless within 10 minutes, while They ignored me..When time was up They looked to Their Shoes..A Spit in my face meant "good job" but a strong kick was a sign to do better the next day..
All during the day different Guys taught me to suck Their Dicks wherever They could find a empty place to take me..But, I learnt to take Big Hard Dick fucking's down my throat..And never play hard to get..But always be ready for a horny Guys Load when He's ready..