Should You Play Hard to Get?

by Teela Hudak 9 months ago in advice

What impacts are there?

Should You Play Hard to Get?

Some people think that it's necessary to play hard to get. But what does that actually mean? When we are talking about dating and relationships, this usually refers to putting up some resistance to the attention given by another person. The attention may be their pursuit of a relationship or simply their interest in a casual sexual encounter. Either way, it's seen as someone offering up a fight but secretly wanting to give in to the desire and attention of the other person. The belief is that the person wants to be pursued. Sometimes this is also called token resistance because the resistance that they offer isn't really meant. So if they are going to consent, why do people play hard to get in the first place?

Why Do People Play Hard to Get?

There are a number of different reasons why people may play hard to get. Everyone has their own personal reasons for choosing to put up some resistance but research has narrowed down the three most common reasons people do it.

The first reason is based on concerns of reputation and appearance. Particularly for women, there is a fear of appearing promiscuous, slutty, and therefore not worthy of respect. Someone may wish very badly to enjoy themselves. The problem is that they can have very valid concerns about how that will make them look to their family, friends, or the rest of their community. Every person wants to be respected and valued for who they are. It's an understandable reaction to want to protect ourselves from scrutiny. Particularly for those who live in areas where sex is viewed negatively, this can be a really strong force of reason to play hard to get.

Another explanation for playing hard to get comes from moral beliefs. This ties into the last reason as well. When these beliefs are coupled with not wanting our reputations to be damaged with our peers, it can become a much stronger and driving force. Morality is heavily influenced by culture, religion and personal beliefs and it can vary widely in what is considered to be ethical and proper behavior. There are some communities, religions, and areas of the world where sex is considered bad or sinful. It is uncomfortable for most of us to consider ourselves bad people and when we are confronted with feelings contrary to our moral beliefs it can lead us to deny or rationalize our feelings. Token resistance can offer people a way to participate in something they want while reducing any negative emotions brought up by moral beliefs.

The last more common reason why people play hard to get comes up relates to power and control. The person who is putting up a "fight" is usually not the person who initiated the sexual contact. Many who believe in playing hard to get do not follow many of the principles that define consent and only see consent as blanket permission instead of an ongoing process. By employing this technique, a person can feel that they may have regained control over the situation and can have a say in what activities happen. It can give them a position to bargain from. If they had simply submitted to the initiation of contact, they may feel that they have lesser control over what happens next or at all for the remainder of the encounter.

How Many People Actually Play Hard to Get?

If we look at popular literature, film, and media then most people would guess that this is a pretty common thing that everyone is doing. It's often depicted as the sexy way to show someone you're interested. Men may also be more likely to believe that women are more interested in sex than they actually are and this belief ties into the notion that putting up some resistance is normal behavior.

While the idea that token resistance is something everyone engages in, different studies have shown that only up to 39% of women have reported using token resistance. That's less than half of women that will play hard to get. Less than half is a seriously far cry from something apparently everyone is thought to engage in. This makes it a dangerous misconception that can lead to a lot of miscommunication with some potential life-altering consequences.

There is nothing wrong with playing games to tease and delight and for some, putting up resistance can be fun. The important thing is to make sure everyone is actually playing. The idea that it is better to beg forgiveness than getting permission does not serve people well when talking about sex. Would you want to be thought of as a sexy rebel after discovering that you misread the situation and your partner feels completely violated? That you are responsible for emotionally scarring someone else? The rest of the world sincerely hopes that you would not. If two people enjoy playing the game and saying "no" is fun then that should be established. It should be a discussion. There should also be some other signal or word to stand in for the real meaning of "no." This ensures consent can still be respected if one person still wants to decline the activities.

Should I Play Hard to Get?

For those who are engaging in this behavior, you need to ask yourselves what you are really gaining from it. You may wish to examine the reasons why you feel it's necessary to do it. Do you find it fun? Are you concerned about what others might think of you? That they will fail to respect you if you agree immediately? Are you concerned about your reputation? Do you feel that this particular tryst is sinful? All these questions are things that you should be able to answer about each sexual liaison. They may also be reasons why engaging in sexual activity at that time may not be a good idea. If you are having second doubts about participating, then perhaps you are not ready to participate. Remember, sexual consent is about more than desire. We have a number of other important pillars to consider. If this is your only chance with someone, and you're still hedging, is it worth it? You may wish to consider just giving up the opportunity. It may not be the right time for you and it's better to commit enthusiastically than regret it later.

If you are enthusiastically consenting but still sending out those mixed signals, you need to be aware of the message you are sending. You are outright sending the message that the other person does not need to respect you or the words you say. You are giving away the power you have over your own body and solidifying the message that you are an object to be used for the enjoyment of someone else. If that idea holds appeal to you, there is a time and a place for those kinds of games and, once again, it's important to communicate clearly and ensure that everyone is playing. Without that communication, you risk sending the idea that this is true for every sexual encounter they have with you or even that your words and preferences are not important in other areas of life. If you mean "yes," say it. Be clear. No matter how you feel about it for yourself, consider how that impacts others.

When you engage in the culture of token resistance, you are teaching people that "no" means "yes." Token resistance helps create an atmosphere where people may not feel safe to enforce and stand by their refusal. The typical response when someone believes the other person is playfully resisting is to become more aggressive. To refuse to take "no" for an answer. The more a person resists, the more angry and aggressive the other person becomes. This is often portrayed as strong and sexy. The reality is it can be terrifying for the person who actually wants to walk away. They are not playing and just wish to get out of the situation. Their attempts at exits can quickly escalate into a situation where it may not be safe to walk away. They give in because it may become the only safe and perceivable option.

Preserve Consent When Playing Hard to Get

A common defense in rape cases is the accusation that the victim actually wanted it. That they really meant "yes" and many attackers have believed this. This type of victim blaming is a huge reason why many people are reluctant to come forward and report the assault. People can feel re-victimized by the system or come to believe that there's no use in reporting it because no one will believe they meant "no" anyways. All of these problems grow from the idea that "no" means "yes." The fact that a little less than half the population still believes in this idea perpetuates many of these issues. When you teach someone that your words don't need to be respected, you contribute to the culture that justifies rape. Your feigned resistance may be the lesson that leads to someone else's sexual assault. Create a safer space for everyone. Don't use token resistance. Don't be part of the problem. If you are not enough of an adult to use your words to say what you want, you are not enough of an adult to be having sex. Period.

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Teela Hudak
Teela Hudak
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Teela Hudak

Teela is a Vancouver-based Sex Educator & Relationship Expert. Learn more at:

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