Playing Hard to Get

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"You didn't have to give up so easy, Kurosaki-kun."
Orihime, Bleach

This is the old idea that the best way to attract romantic interest is by "playing hard to get" because of course "the chase" is an important part of romance. Traditionally used by women to attract men, and "let them think they are in control."

However, it can also be reversed, and probably is connected to why All Girls Want Bad Boys and Nice Guys Finish Last. Dogged Nice Guys in particular suffer from having violated this trope.

Often played for comedy when a person actually isn't Playing Hard to Get, but their Stalker with a Crush assumes they are just Playing Hard to Get and are thus actually interested in them. (Mr. Collins in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice gives a wonderful example of this). Can result in an Unwanted Harem or even a Love Dodecahedron for maximum hilarity.

Another fun twist on this is when the Dogged Nice Guy or another unwanted Love Interest finally decides to give up, and suddenly their former target is shaken in their world view, and begins pursuing the former Stalker with a Crush, seeking to regain their affection.

Sometimes this results in an inversion of the previous situation, leading the former Stalker with a Crush to realize how annoying their romantic pursuit was (don't expect them to get much sympathy from the other characters). Other times this will actually lead to a Happily Ever After (or The Masochism Tango) relationship. More often the former Stalker with a Crush will excitedly return the romantic feelings at which point the target will suddenly lose all interest resulting in a Snap Back. This has Unfortunate Implications. Occasionally it will turn out that the Stalker with a Crush was actually attempting to invoke this trope, in this case a Snap Back is almost certain once the target learns of it.

Connected to Love At First Punch. Might explain why the Tsundere is popular. See Belligerent Sexual Tension when both are playing hard to get, yet still seem to become inevitably romantically connected.

Examples of Playing Hard to Get include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Despite the quote above, Orihime didn't mean to play hard to get. When Ichigo offered to walk her home, she was surprised and told him it wasn't necessary. As the quote reveals, he let it go. She regretted the event right away.
  • Ranma One Half: Shampoo does this to Ranma in The Reversal Jewel segment (though this is due to said reversal jewel and not any planning on Shampoo's part). Ranma falls for it, not because of the lure of the chase, but rather because his massive ego can't stand the thought of losing part of his harem, even though the harem is most definitely unwanted and eliminating Shampoo as a suitor would simplify his Love Dodecahedron. Fortunately, Akane engineers a Snap Back before anything serious happens.
    • In the Sleep Incense arc of the manga, Akane has a dream where she's a princess and Ranma is a knight. After he rescues her from the Unwanted Harem and pledges his loyalty to her, he pulls her down for some passionate love-making. Smiling widely, she socks him in the face, then tells him, "Oh, Sir Ranma. You must not be so forward!"
  • Kyoko of Maison Ikkoku seems to attract men this way, (unintentionally), as she is still grieving for her dead husband, yet the men in her life insist on turning down other attractive and willing women for the opportunity to be rejected again and again.
    • Happens to her two suiters as well, Shun Mitaka attracts Asuna (and Akemi to some extent) while Godai attracts Kuzme and Yagami. Of course, they are both really after Kyoko.
  • Maj. Motoko "likes to jump off buildings" Kusanagi does this to Batou, partly because she is The Stoic and highly professional in her work. What? You're not following the subtle romantic subplot in Ghost in the Shell? Didn't you catch it when it came up, uh, twice over 26 episodes?
  • In Ah! My Goddess, Aoshima says Belldandy is doing this when she refuses his sexual advances and says that he thought she wanted him. She tells him she never meant that which causes him to get angry and attempt to rape her. Thankfully, she manages to get away.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In Eat Drink Man Woman, Jia-Ning's friend takes tangible glee in tormenting her boyfriend Guo Lun with this trope. It backfires when Jia-Ning misunderstood her intentions and starts dating Guo Lun herself.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Several Jane Austen heroines find themselves dealing with a suitor who thinks "No, I wouldn't marry you if you were the last man on Earth!" translates to "Yes":
    • Catherine Morland with John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey
    • Elizabeth Bennett with Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice
    • Fanny Price with Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, and not just Crawford but everyone from his sister to Fanny's uncle believes she must just be playing hard to get!
  • The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right advises women to use this technique.
    • Conversely, The Game recommends the same thing to men (see real life entry below).
  • In The Shadow of His Wings, Rui Ravenstone tells Lukan Barra there's a shore bird in her native land whose courtship behavior involves a tug of war. Lukan realizes what she's hinting, but says he's not willing to "pull" because he has more important concerns just then. Later, she announces she's giving up on him ... but then comes back to rescue him, and whispers between kisses, "Why'd you have to pull so hard?" A subversion, really, because Lukan genuinely didn't think he was playing at all, "hard to get" or otherwise.

Live Action Television[edit | hide]

  • Subverted in Ink: Donna tried to attract a guy she liked by playing hard to get, but that just made him quickly lose interest. They got together when she was forward with him.
  • In a non-romantic example, Vala in Stargate SG-1 suggested Mitchell play "hard to get" when he's trying to convince the ex-members of SG-1 to rejoin. Mitchell's response? "'Look who's talking!" It does eventually work, though.
  • In Friends, Rachel plays hard to get with Joshua and with Danny. When Danny misinterprets this and introduces her to one of his friends, she thinks he's Playing Hard to Get.
    • Joey suggests this to Ross when they find out Emily is interested in someone else.

Ross: She already lives in London.
Joey: ...So you go to Tokyo!

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Oghren in Dragon Age: Origins uses it in a sidequest in which he tries to rekindle an old love, if he succeeds he excuses himself after his target offers him a drink.

Oghren: Don't you know anything about women? You must play hard to get! Make her want more!

Web Comics[edit | hide]

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Masterfully demonstrated here:

"Something strange happened. After calling once, he didn’t call again. And every day without him calling her, her opinion of him swayed ever so slightly. By about day 3 she was talking about how “maybe he wasn’t so bad after all.” On day 4 he was suddenly cute. On day 5 my roommate wanted to f*ck him."

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Pepe Le Pew thinks this is what his crush is doing. She's actually just running away.
  • In an episode of American Dad, a Carmen Electra Expy ends up pursuing Steve because he's actually making her work for it (insisting on seeing her medical records, making her remove her breast implants). She gets killed in a freak accident before anything can happen.
  • Word of God states that Lila from Hey Arnold! was doing just this due to to some unresolved sexual tension connected to her suppressed darker side.
  • In the Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy episode "A Twist Of Ed" while the Eds are practicing reverse psychology on the Kankers Eddy demands that they quit playing hard to get.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Cornerstone of the "Seduction Community" tips and tactics they give to men that want to be more successful with women, the argument most commonly used is "Women want guys who pose a challenge", and they claim that this is specially true for very attractive women, as opposed to a guy who is open and forward about his feelings which in case will be taken for granted and any interest in him will quickly vanish. How effective are these tactics is open to debate, and that's all what is going to be said about it here.