Why playing hard to get doesn’t work for me


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I have never felt so personally attacked by a television commercial as I did when I came across an ad for the Bumble app’s new SuperSwipe feature.

Comparable to Tinder’s SuperLike button, the SuperSwipe allows Bumble users to “get someone’s attention” beyond a simple swipe-right. If you SuperSwipe someone, which costs 99 cents, when you show up in that person’s swipe deck, Bumble will tell them that you already like what you see — before a match has been made. The SuperSwipe recipient then has the option to swipe right if the feeling is mutual, or not.

According to the ad, the SuperSwipe is meant to project boldness and confidence “without a hint of thirst.” Thirst, in this case, meaning evidence of being a little too interested, too aggressive, too horny, or, as Bumble puts it, “actively and aggressively [seeking] external sources of validation.”

Another ad in the campaign has a user (played by an actor) explain that if the person is not into them, “I don’t sweat it. Because I’m 70 percent water, and 100 percent sure of myself.”

For an app that, by design, not only encourages but requires women to “make the first move,” Bumble seems to be forgetting that everyone who’s ever opened the app — or any dating app, for that matter — is thirsty by definition, which is normal and fine. However, the key to success, as the ads explain, is not to appear overeager but rather maintain an appearance of confidence, composure, and mystery, thirsty as you may on the inside. To keep a respectable distance and appear “hard to get,” even if, maybe, you’re really not. I’ve realized, though, that playing hard to get doesn’t work for me — and letting go of the pressure to follow this unspoken rule feels really, really good.

Anything aimed at women with an anti-thirst message feels just mean and slut-shamey. Still, Bumble isn’t completely wrong: To appear interesting, research suggests it’s important to appear unavailable, as reported recently by Vice. It cited research published in Psychological Science that said playing hard to get is effective — that is, uncertainty about another person’s feelings and a sense of perceived distance can make that person seem more attractive, more valuable and worth pursuing. Participants in the study reported thinking more about and being drawn to fellow students they weren’t sure were attracted to them, as compared to the classmates they knew were interested. If a potential partner is perceived to be too “needy,” that can be a turnoff, whereas someone who seems distant and disinterested may suggest that this person’s more of a hot commodity.

As someone who’s had their life nearly ruined by an average of three horrible unrequited crushes annually, I get it. Part of the appeal is that the other person has no idea I even exist and will probably never notice me, ever. That appeal, though, eventually wears off until I inevitably slide into my crush’s inbox because I am a deeply uncool, not-chill individual, and I am thirsty.

I am confident in my thirst and my desire to not play hard to get, and when this crush is also interested in me, I will be very, very easy to get. Complete, brutal honesty bordering on a total over-share doesn’t always work and isn’t always appropriate (don’t tell your boss or teacher or co-worker you have a crush on them). But being the “cool girl” who’s aggressively chill and apathetic is exhausting. If I’m going to be roundly rejected, I’d rather have it over with immediately than after months of an on-again, off-again situation with someone who refuses to speak to me during daylight hours. And when I want things, I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for them.

“I usually am about the texting first,” agrees Analyssa, an executive assistant in Los Angeles. “At least then you KNOW if they’re going to engage!”

Grace, an art student, animator and cartoonist in Los Angeles, tells me she favors taking a no-holds-barred approach to expressing interest: “I go in like an eagle furiously diving perpendicular to the ground at 60 mph for fish. It always works.”

For me, it works, too — sometimes. Sometimes it really, really does not work, and I’ve just sent a flirty message to someone who has zero interest in me at all. Sometimes being aggressively honest makes me look and feel like an idiot.

I’m okay with that, because playing cool and sexy and mysterious isn’t really an option for me. I’m a queer person and a bisexual woman and I am rarely, if ever, read as being not straight. Being direct about who I am and what I want isn’t just a matter of preference — it’s often the only way I can be visible. I don’t meet women a lot because many of us have been conditioned from a very young age to believe that men or the more masculine person should make the first move, but since neither of us is a man, we might both end up staring at our phones in silence unless one of us says something. I’d rather look overly interested and uncool than let a potential connection fade away because I wanted her to text me first.

I also live with depression, anxiety, and a chronic autoimmune disease that is currently attacking vital organs in my body right at this second. I spend massive amounts of my energy just trying to appear like a normal person who isn’t exhausted and sad and say things normal people say, and I don’t have enough energy left — or a desire, really — to look cool and unavailable. It’s not worth it, and it never works. Not for me.

Playing hard to get may be backed by science, but there’s still nothing more romantic or sexy to me than knowing exactly where I stand with someone. You’ll never know until you ask.

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