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Playing Hard to Get

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"If you want to keep her interested, you have to act aloof, like you don't really care one way or the other."
Sokka, Avatar: The Last Airbender, "The Fortune Teller"

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 Laughs when a person actually isn't playing hard to get, but their Stalker with a Crush assumes they are. It can result in an Unwanted Harem or even a Love Dodecahedron for maximum hilarity. Of course, the Abhorrent Admirer tends to operate on this assumption as well, and not just because an Abhorrent Admirer and a Stalker with a Crush tend to have a lot in common.

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 worldview 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.

Playful Pursuit happens when the affection is clearly mutual and a character is eager to get "caught." Connected to Love at First Punch. Might explain why the Tsundere is popular. Compare Belligerent Sexual Tension when both are playing hard to get, yet still seem to become inevitably romantically connected.


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  • 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 & Manga 
  • 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.
  • Bleach: Despite the quote below, 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.
"You didn't have to give up so easily, Kurosaki-kun."
  • Mingyi in Goddess Creation System doesn't appreciate things he obtains easily, so Xiaxi stubbornly refuses all of his advances, favors and gifts while appearing to pine for his younger brother. She doesn't actually love him, but needs him to love her. Amusingly, she basically throws him away once she's done with him, just like he did to his conquests. At least he doesn't know she doesn't care about him.
  • In a male version of the trope, Kaguya-sama: Love Is War's Miyuki Shirogane decides to invoke this in order to grab his crush (the titular Kaguya)'s attention, after reading about the action in a magazine. All that resulted was that Kaguya thought the boy hated her now.
  • Kaitou Saint Tail has an unusual, more literal form of this with the Phantom Thief genre as a motif: Meimi starts becoming attracted to Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist Asuka Jr. after seeing how passionate he is about catching her as Saint Tail, especially his "eyes that look only at her", but starts getting mixed feelings at the idea that he'd be less interested in her (or even hate her) as "Meimi" and not Saint Tail, therefore getting her to channel all of her affection for him purely into the Saint Tail persona. What she doesn't realize is that after a certain incident, his motivation for catching Saint Tail had taken a very sharp turn and escalated far past its original Worthy Opponent status... because he's in love with Meimi and is suspecting Saint Tail might be her. A manga bonus chapter confirms that this stems from her lack of self-worth and need to feel "wanted"; even after the two start dating and everything is cleared up, Meimi is still so insecure about this that she ends up testing him by deliberately getting herself lost in a crowd and seeing whether he'd work as hard to come find her now that she's not Saint Tail anymore. He immediately calls her out for pulling this, but the way he goes about it is convincing enough for her that she finally accepts it.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Two of The Quintessential Quintuplets attempt this at different points with the male lead:
  • 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!"
  • In Sing "Yesterday" for Me, after previously telling Rikuo she wasn't interested in a relationship, Shinako tells him she wished he would pursue her a bit harder like Rou does. In her case, it's less that she's doing it as a deliberate strategy to entice Rikuo, but more that she is indecisive and passive and is hoping Rikuo will resolve her quandary for her.

    Comic Books 
  • The Sandman: Endless Nights: Kara hooks the man she's in love with by refusing his advances (unlike the other girls in the village) knowing that putting out would quench his desire for her. The two get married.

    Film — Live Action 
  • During Stanley's rock star wish in Bedazzled (1967), he drives the women in the audience with his musical plea for affection "Love Me." Then George takes the stage and drives them even wilder with the movie's Title Track, filled with lines like "you fill me with inertia".
  • 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.
  • French Kiss. Deconstructed as Luc details the poutiness of French women. He states they know how to say "no" when they mean "yes", and that it excites French men. Later, Kate defies the trope, saying she isn't capable of doing that:
    Kate: Happy - smile. Sad - frown. Use the corresponding face for the corresponding emotion!
  • Harry and the Butler: Gender-flipped. Igor is getting nowhere with lovely Magdalena. Walter—the titular butler, who's solving everyone's problems—advises Igor to treat Magdalena with indifference, saying that this will get her to pursue him. It works, and in the end, they get married.
  • No Man of Her Own: Connie (played by Carole Lombard) plays hard to get with Babe (Clark Gable).
    Connie: The girl who lands him will say no and put an anchor on it... But isn't it tough when all you can think of is yes?
  • 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.
  • A pretty disturbing one from 1932's What Price Hollywood? Finding out that Lonnie doesn't like blonde actresses and is a general snob, Mary ignores his earnest pursuit of her. Having stood him up, he gets so angry that he breaks down her window, gets into her house, takes her to his house while she’s still in her negligée, and forces her to eat the meal he prepared. We’re supposed to take this as romantic.

  • 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 "If you put in the effort, 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!
  • Planet of the Damned by Harry Harrison. Lea is frustrated that protagonist Brion is The Stoic, but a conversation on courtship differences between his planet and Earth eventually clues her as to why. On Brion's planet women are expected to choose their mates; he's actually attracted to her but for cultural reasons can't make the first move.
  • The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right advises women to use this technique.
    • Conversely, The Game (2005) 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 
  • 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. When he finally does get the point, she's able to play the trope straight.
  • In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca only starts to take Greg seriously as a prospect after he gives up on her, giving him the impression that she'll be turned off if he seems too eager. As a result, he tries to play hard to get, but that just ends up with him getting completely drunk and her finally getting together with Josh. After that, he gives up the charade and is honest about how he feels about her and she starts to consider him again.
  • A Different World. Whitley attempts this with Dwayne. During a summer while they're on opposite sides of the world, he writes letters to her. She doesn't respond, thinking this will heighten his interest. It backfires—Dwayne gives up, assuming she's not interested, and by the time they return to campus, he's dating someone else.
  • On Everybody Loves Raymond, the only time Debra — who can accurately be described as the All Women Are Prudes trope page made flesh — is shown to actually want sex with her husband is when he pretended not to want it.
  • 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!
  • 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.
    • Especially funny considering the last time this pair of actors worked together, on Farscape, her character played this trope throughout their season-spanning romantic arc.
  • Star Trek: Voyager
    • In "The Q and the Grey", 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.
    • In "Blood Fever", B'Elanna Torres is affected by the pon farr and tries to jump the bones of Casanova Wannabe Tom Paris, who fends off her advances knowing she's Not Herself. B'Elanna can't help laughing at the irony.
      B'Elanna: You've never been hard to get, Tom.
    • In "Distant Origin", two alien scientists are studying the Voyager crew and take note of the Belligerent Sexual Tension between Tom and B'Elanna.
      Gegen: Note how the female through the feigned antagonism encourages the male in his attempt to mate.
  • In Supergirl, Cat advises Kara to do this to get James' attention in one episode.
  • Subverted on The West Wing. During the fourth season, Toby Ziegler's ex-wife becomes pregnant with his twins through circumstances that are never made clear to the audience. Toby immediately proposes to Andy who rejects the idea. He convinces himself that she's doing this as "a punishment" for their prior marriage breaking up and will eventually agree to marry him again for the twins' sake. After Toby buys her dream house as a gift and tries to propose again Andy finally explains that while she cares for him, she truly does not want to be with him again.

  • Holly Dunn, a country music vocalist of the late 1980s and early 1990s, once released a song called "Maybe I Mean Yes," whose lyrics about enjoying the chase gained controversy after several women's groups claimed that the song endorsed date rape. "... Yes" stopped short of the top 40 of the country charts, and Dunn never had another hit single again.
  • Janie Fricke, a country music stalwart of the late 1970s through mid-1980s, had a hit song called ... "Playing Hard To Get." A top 20 country hit from January 1979, the song is about a young woman admitting that the game of "hard to get" is "... getting hard to play/but then I really didn't fit the part anyway."
  • "Why Didn't You Stop Me?" by Mitski is told from the perspective of a woman doing this because she is indecisive and uncertain of her emotions.
    "I know that I ended it
    But why won't you chase after me?
    You know me better than I do"
  • The Queen song "The Game" cautions against this: This is your life/Don't play hard to get/It's a free world/All you have to do is fall in love...

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In one strip of Beetle Bailey, Sgt. Louise 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.
  • In this 1950 strip of Nancy, the titular character tries what she has just read in a Charm Book:
    Lesson one —- Always play hard to get

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • In My Harem Heaven is Yandere Hell, Kanna notices that Yuuya isn't always Above the Influence, so she accuses him of trying to invoke this trope. (He's not.)
  • Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite!: When Hamtaro first meets Bijou in Acorn Shrine, she attempts this trope on him, forcing Hamtaro to chase her all over the level in order to get her to return to the Clubhouse.

  • Eerie Cuties: Layla invokes the trope by name, when her ex-boyfriend 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."
    That dude is definitely 21.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 (Ironically, she would have survived had she kept her implants).
  • 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.
  • Word of God states that Lila from Hey Arnold! was doing just this due to some unresolved sexual tension connected to her suppressed darker side.
  • Looney Tunes: Pepe Le Pew thinks this is what his crush is doing. She's actually just running away.
    • In one cartoon he decided to play hard to get himself. This consisted of him chasing Penelope around shouting "I am hard to get! You cannot get me!"
    • However it also varies from cartoon to cartoon. In many cases, the object of his affections does openly reciprocate, but only flees because of his smell. A very frequent ending in these cartoons is for Pepe's smell to be somehow eliminated (perfume, water, his love interest catches cold, etc.), and he runs away from an aggressively amorous pursuer.
  • In Rugrats, Angelica gets a crush on a new boy and while trying to get his attention, Angelica comes up with this idea by just coming up behind him and shouting, "You can't have me, you can't have me, you can't have me!" It doesn't work.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • This is a 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 especially true for very attractive women, as opposed to a guy who is open and forward about his feelings, in which case he will be taken for granted and any interest in him will quickly vanish.
    • Also goes to 'Girls want guys who do not need girls'.
  • Stand-up comedian Louis C.K. cited this in a bit where he almost had a one-night stand with a waitress, but she kept guiding his hands elsewhere. The next day, she asked him why he didn't just "Go for it", and said she enjoyed having a guy get frustrated and force himself on her, prompting him to criticize it as "What're you, out of your fucking mind?! You think I'm just going to rape you on the off-chance that, hopefully, you're into that shit?"
  • This can easily backfire, depending on who it's tried with. An intended pursuer with a serious enough degree of social anxiety or autism is likely to take such a strategy at face value as a flat rejection, while those with an INTP or INTJ personality may quickly recognize the technique for what it is, but simply not wish to waste their time on what they see as pointless or unnecessary mind games.
    • Even other personalities see this as immature. If you're not mature enough to just spit it out, you're certainly not mature enough for a serious relationship.
  • In the wake of the Me Too! movement, this tactic has become even harder to pull off as men are even less likely to even try to approach a woman, let alone continuing to pursue a woman who has already rejected them.


Video Example(s):


"I'm not that easy."

Indy flirts with Willie but they decide to play hard to get against each other.

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Main / PlayingHardToGet

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