Does Playing Hard To Get Really Work? Research Findings You Need To Know [EP034]

In this episode, you’ll learn what science has to say about whether playing hard to get really works, AND the single most desired quality in a prospective partner by men and women of all ages! These two pieces of research have the power to transform your dating life, in the best possible ways. Don’t miss this!

Episode Table of Contents

Episode Introduction: Playing Hard to Get

Does playing hard to get actually work? And if it doesn’t, what does? And what is the single quality people are most looking for in their search for love? Stay tuned to the deeper dating podcast to find out.

Hello and welcome to The Deeper Dating Podcast. I’m Ken Page, and today I’m going to be sharing two research findings that truly have the power to transform the way you think about your search for love. Every week, I’m going to share the greatest tools I know to help you find love and keep it flourishing, while healing your life in the process because the skills of dating are nothing more than the skills of love, and the skills of love are the most important skills of all.

If you want to learn more about the deeper dating approach, and how it can speed and ease your path to finding love, just go to If you sign up for my mailing list, you’ll get a free gift of the first two chapters of my bestselling book, Deeper Dating, which will teach you how to discover your own core intimacy gifts.

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You’ll also learn more about the work that I’m doing, and the work that other people are doing that I find inspiring. You’ll be able to get a transcript of this and every other episode. Also, everything I share in this podcast is educational in nature. It’s not medical or psychiatric advice, or treatment. If you’re experiencing any serious psychological conditions, please seek professional help.

Finally, if you like what you’re learning here, it would be a fabulous thank you if you subscribed on Apple Podcast or elsewhere, and left me your review. Thank you to all the people who’ve left such beautiful reviews, I truly appreciate it.

The Real Stuff

The Real Stuff
Photographer: DJ Johnson | Source: Unsplash

I love really good research that tells us in concrete ways about what we should be doing and not doing, what works and what doesn’t work, what matters and what doesn’t matter. As I’ve often said, it seems like so much dating advice has been created by just some group of anxious adolescents. So, we want the real stuff. We want the science. I’ve got two pieces of scientific research that will teach powerful, powerful things.

They’re going to teach about the single quality that people are most looking for in a partner, and they’re going to teach US, “does playing hard to get actually really work?” Does it or doesn’t it? If it doesn’t, what does work better? So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. I’m going to start out with a piece of research that I just adore, that says worlds about how love is truly found, how love is truly kept, and why so much dating advice we get doesn’t help us. It actually leads us subtly and indirectly away from the kind of love that we’re looking for.

The first finding is from an evolutionary psychologist whose name is David Buss. Buss did a huge study and a very extensive study, and it was across genders. It was across ages, it was across locations to a very large degree. It was an extensive study of the qualities that people are most looking for in a relationship. There were all of these people that had to rate what they thought was absolutely number one on their list, if they were going to really be able to find someone that they wanted to be with.

What Tops the List

His finding was really clear, and here’s the deal. It was not looks, it was not success, it was not intelligence. Those things were certainly toward the top of the list, but they were not number one. What was number one? Kindness and understanding. Now, obviously it’s not that looks don’t matter, it’s not that success doesn’t matter, that intelligence doesn’t matter, that all these other things don’t matter. The bottom line is that that is what makes the biggest difference of all.

In fact, research strongly suggests that people who are extremely, attractive, like those absolute knockout folks, actually are no more likely to find lasting love than people who are of average attractiveness. In fact, people who are of average attractiveness often find it easier to find real live love than those stunning, gorgeous folks.

Everyone can find love.

The main point is that you can be stunningly gorgeous, you could be average looking. You could be unique looking and different looking in different ways and still find love, because it’s not about what we’ve been taught. It’s a fascinating thing to know that people who are traumatically attractive have absolutely no better luck, and maybe even worse luck than people who are of average attractiveness.

Also it’s really powerful news, because here’s what it means. It means that less important than your glutes, less important than your age, less important than your abs, are your capacity to be kind and understanding. I’m going to add in a second piece here, because there really is an important second piece. If you exhibit your kindness and understanding, and you get stepped on again and again or you get taken advantage of again and again, you’re going to be no closer to finding love and this is part two.

The Golden Path

As you come to dignify and honor your qualities of kindness and understanding, your world changes.

It becomes happier. It becomes kinder, it has more understanding in it. When you’re out there dating, if you’ve made the choice to dignify and honor that part of you, to really give it the respect that it deserves, you’re going to be more likely to know this incredibly important key, which is that you only want to look for people who also have a really powerful capacity for kindness and understanding.

The research shows that those attributes are not only the most important for people who are looking for love, they are the most important attributes that forecast a long and healthy, and sustainable and beautiful relationship. Kindness and understanding. This is how wiser dating heals our life in the process. Why is it then that, I mean it’s an obvious answer, but why is it then that every magazine cover doesn’t tout kindness and understanding as the number one thing that everybody has to work on?

Why is that then not the number one trick in every dating book and every dating lecture? Well, I guess because it doesn’t sell, because it’s not sexy enough. We just resonate more with the fact that we have to make ourselves look sexier, prettier, more handsome, more attractive, more confident, that that just rings more true than we have to be more kind and understanding.

This is of course the golden path to the happiest life possible. It’s to cultivate our kindness and our understanding, and to choose only to be extravagantly choosy in terms of who we spend our time with, based on most particularly those two qualities. Those two qualities first. That’s the golden path to a happy life.

The X Marks

That is like the beginning of X marks the spot for where you want to build your home in the world. Now obviously you have to be sexually and romantically attracted to somebody. Obviously they need to check certain boxes, whatever those boxes are, but this one’s first. It’s first in healing our lives. It’s first in changing our lives.

As a psychotherapist and a coach who has worked with a huge number of people on these issues, I truly believe that the treasuring of your kindness and your understanding, the cultivating of your kindness and your understanding and the making the choice to only, only, only choose a partner who radiates those qualities too is the simplest, quickest and most powerful path to happiness.

One of the stories that I share in my book, Deeper Dating, is of a woman named Wendy, who was like a New York girl and she dated guys who were really smart, and maybe a little bit arrogant even, but really quick, really successful. That kind of really smart guy, that’s who she dated. She met this guy and he was from the Midwest. He did not have that New York city edge to him. So she thought he was a nice guy, but she wasn’t really interested.

They went out on a date and it was raining and she had a hoodie. She put on her hood and the first thing he did, the first thing that this guy did is he swiped his MetroCard for her. She was like, “Oh my God, that is really sweet. I am so not used to a guy doing that.” So that’s the first thing he did. Anyway, she put on her hood, and he just touched the top of her head really gently.

The Aphrodisiacs of Real Love

The Aphrodisiacs to Real Love
Photographer: Ivan Jevtic | Source: Unsplash

That moment of sweetness, that was the moment that she realized that this person who became her husband, who she’s really happy with now. It was in that moment, this completely unexpected gesture of tenderness that her heart melted. I love that story because it’s in those moments in our dating life when we go the extra mile for someone, when we stop and really listen to someone, when we do something that’s a little bit extra kind.

Kindness is an aphrodisiac.

Neediness is not an aphrodisiac. Being all over someone or using kindness to get them to like you, those are not aphrodisiacs. A burst of an impulse of kindness, goodness, sweetness, that’s an aphrodisiac for the right person. We need to think this whole journey, we need to rethink this whole journey in a new way.

We need to think, “am I practicing and cultivating kindness and understanding? Am I looking for people who have also worked, and are working to cultivate kindness and understanding” because I can promise you that is the simplest, simplest way to change your life, to change your attractions, and to change your entire understanding of what this whole dating journey is supposed to be.

Okay, now for the second research finding, and I’m going to be sharing lots more in future episodes as well. I’m going to start with a quote that I adore from one of my favorite authors, James Baldwin. Here’s what it is.

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without, and know we cannot live within.”

The Big, Old Mask

We’re taught to put on a big old mask in our dating life, and that mask is playing hard to get. That mask is not showing our enthusiasm fully for the next person. That mask is playing it cool, and that’s the old map that we’ve been given toward love, that playing hard to get will make you more desirable to someone. That showing your enthusiasm, your warmth, your affection, your excitement about this new relationship to soon is going to make that person flee.

We’ve all heard that countless times that you have to play hard to get, that for every two of his texts, you only give one text or leave your phone in the other room for three hours at a time so that you’re not jumping on the persons texts to respond to them, or leave them hanging. Act a little cool, act a little cold.

So these are some of the things that we’re taught that are primitive understandings of how attraction works. Playing hard to get absolutely can be a great way to temporarily hook somebody, especially somebody who is uncomfortable with intimacy, if that’s what you’re looking for. The truth is that this myth that we’re supposed to play it cool, has kept many potential relationships from ever being born.

Really most of us, it’s like been burned into us. Most of us err on the side of believing that we have to play it too cool, and if we don’t, we feel ashamed. We feel like we screwed up, like we were too childlike, too needy, too demanding.The truth is though, that if you’re too good at playing it cool, that is probably the sign of a problem.

Bubbling Enthusiasm

If you have been upset at yourself because you have not been skilled enough in this art of playing hard to get, I say three cheers. Your inner enthusiasm has been unable to be domesticated. Three cheers for you. If you’re not like one of those people, that is totally great at playing hard to get, what’s probably going to happen as you get more excited and more connected to the person is that you’re going to be white knuckling your desire more and more and more until it pops out.

You can’t handle it any longer, and then you let it out at a moment that you would least want to be letting it out in. This has certainly happened to me so many times, because I learned. To this day, even in a wonderful marriage, wrestle with the part of me that shows don’t show too much of this bubbling enthusiasm.

What does the research actually say about this? Well, Eli Finkel, a very, very well-respected researcher and a professor of psychology at Northwestern University actually did his research at speed dating events. He was using those events as vehicles to study romantic attraction. His research proved that playing hard to get is not the way to go. That in fact, what it does, a few things that it does is that it might temporarily make somebody desire you more, but it’s going to make them like you less.

So that what his research showed is that a key to sparking romantic attraction is actually to show somebody that you are interested in them in particular, not because of this generalized sense of neediness that you’re looking for someone and here’s that someone, but because of who they are. This is what that means folks.

The Backfire

When you start dating in a way that you’re going to look for the qualities like kindness and understanding that matter the most to you, when you see somebody who exhibits those qualities, you will be thrilled, you will be overjoyed. You can let the person know what it is that you appreciate about them. In fact, Eli Finkel said in a conversation with me, he explained the kind of thing that maybe you could give off instead, which is something, a message, that is something like you are awesome, and I am so excited to be getting to have this time with you.

Also somehow conveying the message that you’re like a pretty, you know what you’re looking for and you’re looking for qualities like the kind of qualities this person has. That is an aphrodisiac. The other thing is that when you hold in your enthusiasm, it turns into need. When you hold in your desire for connection, it turns into neediness. It backfires on you.

The degree to which you take pleasure in your own enthusiasm and share it as a gift to that degree the other person doesn’t experience it as a burden, because there’s not an embedded message of “give back to me the same.” I’m doing this so that you respond in a certain kind of way. It’s just like a natural quality of enthusiasm and of giving, which brings up another point.

When you’re feeling a need for someone and you feel like you want to just text them all the time, even though they’re not texting you as much, but you’re feeling this sense of like, yes, enthusiasm, excitement, affection, but a sense also that they’re not responding fully or in the same way.

Playing Hard To Get versus Giving Space

Playing Hard To Get versus Giving Space
Photographer: Natchaya Shw | Source: Unsplash

You want to be able to hold your enthusiasm, but you do want to be able to give them space. They may need more time, they may need more space, and that’s a tremendous gift you can give them. If they’re unavailable, that needs to be honored and respected, too. That is a dignifying of self, and it exists on another access than the access of just showing joy, affection, kindness, understanding and excitement.

So yes, you do want to give the other person space. That’s a gift that you give them, but that’s different than playing hard to get. Playing hard to get is playing, and making yourself act hard to get. That’s different than thinking, how much space does it feel like this person needs? I’m going to honor that, versus I’m going to pull away so the other person gets insecure and desires me more.

God knows it’s easy to think that we should do this, but God knows it doesn’t help. There’s a vast difference between giving someone space, and playing hard to get. One last thought here. Your enthusiasm is a tremendous gift. Your enthusiasm for someone who excites you, who you just meet, is a precious, wonderful thing. Don’t try to squash it. Do not try to squash it because if you do, it’s going to pop up. It’s going to turn into neediness.

It’s going to turn into resentment, it’s going to turn into insecurity, and it will stop being this beautiful natural quality of generosity. How much you share at a given time also needs to respect who the other person is, and the kind of messages you’re getting from them.

A Certain Degree of Space

Here’s what I want to say. If you’re with someone and they’re showing enthusiasm and affection and they’re brave enough to show that, and you’re feeling the same thing, don’t think you need to play hard to get. Mirror them, match them, show your enthusiasm right back. It’s the greatest gift you can give. So many new relationships, something happens where one person is brave enough to show their enthusiasm.

The other person, and I have been there, the other person feels like, oh my God, I’m really excited. This is just what I wanted, but I can’t show it because if I show it, the other person’s going to run. So they don’t show it, and what happens? The other person feels deflated, because they’ve gone out on a limb, but you’re not going out on the limb to match them. So that’s another piece that I want to encourage here.

You want to be with someone with whom when you have a burst of affection and enthusiasm and excitement, you can share that without being shamed or rejected. That’s the kind of person you’re looking for. If your partner has some time, some kind of waves of fear that come up now and then, well, so will you. When that happens, you just allow a certain degree of space, but you don’t degrade.

You don’t disdain your enthusiasm ever, because if you do, that’ll bite you in the butt.

So three cheers for not forcing yourself to play hard to get. Three cheers for giving the other person’s space, and three cheers for allowing and embracing and enjoying your enthusiasm.

Let’s Hear Your Story

I’d love to hear your experiences trying these things in your own dating life, and you can go to Sign up for my mailing list or just click the Ask Ken button and report there about what you experienced or any questions that you have along the way, and I’ll try to answer them in this podcast. Thank you so much for listening, and I look forward to seeing you next week on the Deeper Dating Podcast.