Playing Hard to Get

"You didn't have to give up so easily, 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 and are thus actually interested in them. It 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. This leads to Unrequited Love Switcheroo.

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 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. Occasionally it will turn out that the Stalker with a Crush was 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.


  • An Israeli commercial for an upscale hotel in The '90s featured a man trying to get his girlfriend to marry him, but she keeps telling him to ‘make an effort’. He buys her a large bouquet, then gradually ups the ante, finally getting her a car, before getting them both a vacation in the advertised hotel. She is pleased and asks him to marry her, but then he tells her to ‘make an effort’.

Anime and Manga
  • Bleach: 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 ˝:
    • 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 suitors as well, Shun Mitaka attracts Asuna (and Akemi to some extent) while Godai attracts Kozue and Yagami. Of course, they are both really after Kyoko.
  • 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.
  • Phantom Quest Corp.: Ayaka is well aware of Karino's feelings for her and knows he's a good guy at heart. Even so, she doesn't make it easy for him and switches from flirting one moment, to ignoring him the next. Still, she almost confesses her feelings for him at the end... until Karino blew it by staring at her boobs when her top popped open, due to Clothing Damage from her duel with Mukyo.

  • 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.
  • Streets of Fire: McCoy, a tough ladette, tells Cody that he's not her type. After spending the night on the couch instead of Cody's bed, McCoy tells Cody's surprised sister, "Sometimes it helps a guy out if you don't make it so easy." The last line in the film is McCoy telling Cody again that he's not her type. Apparently she's playing a really long game.

  • 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 TV
  • 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!
  • Star Trek: Voyager. Q is trying to seduce Captain Janeway, but for some reason this scrawny human biped is resisting his natural awesomeness.
    Q: Oh I see! This is one of those silly human rituals. You're playing hard to get!
    Janeway: As far as you're concerned, I'm impossible to get.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy plays it cool a couple of times when Angel asks her out for coffee, but then has to explain what she's doing as, being a vampire, it's been several centuries since he last dated a girl.

Newspaper Comics
  • In one strip of Beetle Bailey, Sgt. Louis Lugg despairs at catching Sgt. Snorkel's romantic attention. Somebody advises her to "play hard-to-get". Lugg decides the best way to do this is to call enticingly to Snorkel from the top of a barracks roof.

Video Games
  • 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!
  • An ECHO recording made by Lilith in Borderlands 2 reveals she tried this on her ex-boyfriend Roland in an attempt to rekindle their relationship. The target being who he is, it didn't work.
  • Alpha Protocol gives a rare gender inversion, where playing hard to get is the best way to boost your reputation with SIE who will get bored if you flirt with her.

Web Comics
  • Eerie Cuties: Layla invokes the trope by name, when her ex-boyfriend, Kade, tries coaxing her into a make-out session in the janitor's closet.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court the trope is discussed in the "Annie in the forest" arc (originally print-only) as a way of telling Annie how to snag someone she likes. Annie later (in-universe chronologically, said strip was published earlier) tries pulling the routine on Jack, only to have it backfire when the person takes her rather blunt dismissal at face value and reveals a romantic interest in someone else.

Web Original
  • 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
  • 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 immediately after she and Steve are about to get together.
  • 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.
  • In the Tom and Jerry episode "Flirty Birdy" Tom dresses up as a female eagle so he can capture Jerry from a male eagle and pretends to act like this to entice the male eagle.
  • In the Schoolhouse Rock song "Interjections!", Geraldine does this to resist the advances of Geraldo. The lyrics even use this phrase almost word-for-word. Geraldine eventually does take a shining to Geraldo, only to see him turn into a frog.

Real Life
  • 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, let alone coldly manipulative, these tactics are is open to debate, and that's all what is going to be said about it here.