The Latest Study Says You Should Stop Playing ‘Hard-to-Get’ to get where you want to be

Our editors delve into Curiosity’s top stories every day on a podcast that’s shorter than your commute. Click here to listen and learn — in just a few minutes!

Playing hard to get can be, well … be f… hard. You’d love to talk to that cutie you met at the bar, but your friends say you aren’t supposed to call or text for at least a few days. And even then, you should come off as cool and indifferent, right? It turns out that the whole “playing it cool” act was never rooted in science in the first place. New research has even more good news: Playing hard-to-get might make your would-be boo less attracted to you. Finally, we can all relax!

This Situation Leads to Agitation

A team of researchers from Israel and Rochester, New York looked at the relationship between uncertainty and sexual desirability over the course of six related studies. The first study looked at single heterosexuals aged 19 to 31 from a university in Israel, including 50 men and 51 women. They were each shown a photograph of an opposite-sex individual (the same photograph, for control purposes) and told they would be chatting online with that person. At the end of their chat, the participants were told they could send a final message to their partner. Once they were done, the researcher told them to check their messages: Some got a final message from their chat partner, creating certainty that the person was into them, while the others didn’t, creating uncertainty.

Next, participants were asked to rate the sexual desirability of their chat partner from 1 to 5. The people who received a final message gave their partner a significantly higher score than those who didn’t. They were also more interested in future interactions with that person. That certainty and security of knowing where you stand with someone really can make a difference when it comes to how much desire you feel for them.

Shields Up

So what’s wrong with having a little mystery in your love life? “People may protect themselves from the possibility of a painful rejection by distancing themselves from potentially rejecting partners,” Professor Harry Reis, one of the co-authors of the study, said in a press release. “People experience higher levels of sexual desire when they feel confident about a partner’s interest and acceptance.”

Social psychologist and lead author Gurit Birnbaum added that based on the results of the study, sexual desire may “serve as a gut-feeling indicator of mate suitability that motivates people to pursue romantic relationships with a reliable and valuable partner,” while “inhibiting desire may serve as a mechanism aimed at protecting the self from investing in a relationship in which the future is f…… uncertain.”

A 2012 study published in the European Journal of Personality supported the idea that playing hard-to-get is the wrong tactic to use, particularly for people looking for a short-term fling. But not all research agrees that uncertainty is necessarily a bad thing; a 2010 study published in Psychological Science concluded that uncertainty can increase a woman’s romantic attraction towards a man.

The jury is still out on whether playing hard to get is worth the effort, but research seems to be leaning towards honesty being the best policy. Either way, though, it’s good to know that being straightforward and honest doesn’t automatically mean you’re shooting yourself in the foot.


Henry Sapiecha

This simple trait in men attracts women to them like a magnet

Salman Rushdie with former wife, Padma Lakshmi image

Spin a good yarn?
Salman Rushdie with former wife, Padma Lakshmi.

Seduce my mind and you can have my body, wrote M.D Waters in her novel, Archetype.

Turns out there is truth to this – for women, at least.


A new study by psychology researchers from the University of North Carolina has found that the ability to spin a good yarn makes men more attractive. It also improves their status, in the eyes of women.

Conversely, women’s storytelling abilities did not affect the men’s perception of her attractiveness as a potential partner.

“Telling stories is a universal human activity, and effective storytellers can bring about comfort, joy, and excitement to their audiences,” wrote lead researcher, John Donahue.

It was this ability to evoke positive states in others that makes storytelling an attractive quality, Donahue explained.

In three separate studies, men who were supposedly good storytellers were rated as being more attractive short and long-term mates. Participants also rated good storytellers as having positive personality traits, including intelligence, prestige, ambition, dominance and sense of humour.

Good female storytellers were considered more intelligent but were not rated as more physically attractive or a more appealing partner.



“Evolutionary psychologists generally follow a distinction in women’s attraction to men between the traits that indicate ‘good genes’ and the traits of a ‘good dad’ – the latter was suggested as the basis for storytelling ability being a positive evolutionary trait,” Donahue hypothesised.

“The fact that storytelling ability was not valued for both men and women, but only for women alone and primarily for long-term relationships, suggested that women desire a “good dad” and that storytelling ability reflects a man’s having the potential to gain resources.

“Beyond the idea that women are attracted to a man who is a ‘good dad’ (one who can provide tangible resources) the results… may imply that women actually instead prefer a man of high status (who presumably could gain resources through his talents or position).”

Donahue says that further studies needs to be done to understand whether other skills (like cooking or artistic talent) also make for a more attractive partner, but his findings adds to a body of research that has found that looks are less important to women than other qualities.


Henry Sapiecha


How to keep your relationship alive

couple in love image

Tips for building a lasting relationship. 

Though we wish it wasn’t so, relationships aren’t like they seem in the movies.

Instead, they are often hard. They require work and are sometimes messy.

Love is a fundamental part of staying together but, relationship specialist Christina Spaccavento says it “isn’t the only factor that keeps a relationship healthy.”

Here’s seven tips from the experts for keeping your relationship alive.



The saying communication is key, is popular advice for a reason: because it works.

Spaccavento says, “Poor communication skills can destroy a relationship and it is often due to misunderstanding.”

Individuals have their own style of communicating and Gary Chapman’s, The 5 Love Languages is a great place to start understanding your partner’s communication style.

Avoid the blame game

It might be great having your partner as a scapegoat to blame all of your problems on, but Spaccavento doesn’t recommend it.

“Once we enter into a union with someone, it is essential to understand that we have entered a dynamic. So each person is likely to trigger the other one’s stuff,” she said.

“By owning and working through your own stuff you remove blame from your partner as well as improve your own ability to accept the differences of your partner.”

Invest in your relationship

Similar to sex, relationships should be viewed like you would anything else you are interested in such as a “mutual hobby”.

Spaccavento said, “Invest in your relationship like you would anything else you are passionate about and interested in.

“This means seeing it as a living, breathing organism that needs your time, energy and nurturing for it to flourish.”

Celebrating your wins together

Celebrating the positives together is a really important aspect of keeping a relationship alive.

In her book, For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed, New York Times writer Tara Parker-Pope wrote: “It’s not enough that your partner knows that you take pride in his or her accomplishments. You have to show it. Making a fuss over the small, good things that happen every day can boost the health of your marriage.”

Similarly, Spaccavento says, “When you get together with someone, you become a team, so sharing your wins is a beautiful way to include your partner and share your joy together.”


Be mindful of the role technology plays in your relationship

Phubbing: the act of snubbing someone in favour of a mobile phone. It’s so common, there’s even a website created to spread awareness about the act. New research published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found more than 46 per cent of participants had been phubbed by their partner.

Study co-author James A. Roberts told Yahoo Health, “We found that the ones that reported higher partner phubbing fought more with their partner and were less satisfied with their relationship than those who reported less phubbing.”

Taking into consideration your technology use and the impact it has on your partner is essential. “Having some ground rules around duration and location of technology usage is a great idea so that both partners can stay present and connected with each other,” says Spaccavento.

Don’t expect your spouse to make you happy

The only person responsible for your happiness is you.

“It sounds cheesy,” says Spaccavento. “But happiness really does come from within.”

For anyone struggling to find happiness, she recommends working with a qualified therapist to resolve any “happiness blockers.”


Don’t take your partner for granted

As a result of busy lives, whether it’s because of kids, extended family or your career, partners can sometimes take a back seat.

Trained couples and family therapist for Relationship Australia Matt Garrett says, “Acknowledging the commitment you’ve made to the other person and why” is important.

“You can do that on your own, but it really is about letting the other person know that they are in your mind.”

For busy couples Garrett suggests “carving out time” together. “It doesn’t happen automatically so you have to sit down and work out when that time is with no distractions where you prioritise that relationship.”


Henry Sapiecha