As someone who wasted too much of my early twenties deliberating when to text back guys who didn't own a bed frame, playing hard to get led me to a series of month-long, barely-committal appetizer relationships that left me constantly unsatisfied. Acting distant—the very thing promised to attract only the most persistent of partners, only led me to date men who could not care less about me. Friends: "Playing hard to get" is a scam. It is the antithesis of what makes a good relationship, one that is built on trust, communication, and literally giving a sh*t about how your partner's day went.
It's not that playing hard to get never works—there are studies to support that, yes, people can be more attracted to less-attainable people. The question you need to answer for yourself is: what do you ultimately want out of this? Do you want a fast, casual fling, or a relationship? If all you're after is a hot hookup, sure, keep them waiting on that text. "Showing that you have other options suggests you are confident and have high mate value, which might make you seem more attractive, but likely only in the short term," says Dr. Mairi Macleod, an evolutionary biologist specializing in the science of attraction. When it comes to an actual relationship, though, actively holding out on affection or basic contact is incredibly dicey. One study shows that playing hard to get can increase wanting a person, but simultaneously make you dislike them (or, in some cases, just make you feel over all of it in general). Or, it can repel the exact type of person you want to attract. You probably want to date a securely-attached partner, which means they aren't afraid of intimacy. "They tend to hold out for the right partner, and they don’t play games—nor do they appreciate those who do," says Macleod. Basically, you overthinking and trying to lure in your crush can tragically backfire if you're looking for something serious.
But let's say the odds are in your favor and your calculated not-texting-back strategy results in a new relationship. The catch is: When you're invested in someone, it's really damn hard to act like you don't care when your boyfriend doesn't text back for three days. Dr. Macleod explains that those of us who aren't securely attached are insecurely attached, which means we are either anxiously-attached (constantly needing proof that we're loved) or avoidantly-attached (keeping a distance from partners). "Insecure women are slightly more likely to be anxious while insecure men are slightly more likely to be avoidant, which is partly what leads to the stereotype of women being clingy and men being commitment-phobes."
So what happens when you want to transition from back-and-forth playing-hard-to-get into something meaningful? "If you pretend that you are happy to be casual and unattainable, then you’ll most likely attract an avoidant person, and then when you decide you do want to reveal that you’d like a committed relationship, they'll be running fast in the other direction," says Macleod. All to say: Playing hard to get—and obsessing over the person that is hard to get—is a pattern rooted in dysfunction. Two healthy partners, regardless of gender, will regularly check in with each other, just to know how the other person's doing. Long-term relationships simply cannot survive when you feel like your partner is disinterested in you for literally just wanting to spend time with them.
The worst part, though, is the expectation that women alway play hard to get makes skeevy men you're adamantly not into think they're entitled to pursue you. One 2012 study on college consent found that men would often use deception to get consent for sex, and while men were seen as initiators of sex, women were the "gatekeepers." Moreover, not only was male pleasure viewed as more important than a woman's, but men could be more aggressive in approaching sex itself. In the wake of the #MeToo era, conversations about consent have become more ever-present and nuanced than ever. It's not women's fault that archaic gender roles and sexual assault so often blur together—but, if anything, we've reached a point where we can finally talk about this all on a much broader scale. Times are changing, and it's time to free ourselves from the dated, sexist belief that women have something to protect (i.e. virginity) which has led to so many problems, from unwanted sexual advances to lukewarm relationships dependent on posturing and avoidance. Playing hard to get is an illusion of confidence and control. The real thing is texting when you want, being honest about when you want to see someone, and ejecting anyone who calls you desperate or clingy out of your life and into the past where they belong.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.