I still remember a visit I took to Tijuana, Mexico, that taught me more about human behavior than a month of college work. In a market, I approached booths to look over some brightly colored items for sale. As is the custom in many foreign countries, I began to bargain with the vendors. When they hemmed and hawed, refusing my offer as impossibly low, I walked away, sometimes while they were still protesting.
I didn't do it for drama. I was simply in a hurry. In an effort to maximize my time, I was quickly trying to figure out who would start with a lower number so I could spend less time haggling. The result? Amazing. People ran after me, dropping their prices to the bottom line and thrusting the wares into my arms. I bought my souvenirs at great prices and in a short amount of time.
What was I doing? In a phrase, I was playing hard to get. There is a reason people want what seems elusive or just out of their reach more than what is easily obtained. I've noticed it in marriages. People begin to work harder at the relationship once their partner moves out, or even after they've filed for divorce.
I've seen it in friendship, when one of the pair develops a fuller life and begins meeting new people, the tried and true friend may become a little jealous and ask for more time together. And of course it's been used in the dating game for decades to snag a longed for beau or beauty.
Some may think the practice is outdated, or a bit manipulative. Why not proclaim your feelings to the world instead of keeping them hidden? That sometimes does the trick, but we must admit, playing hard to get often works better.
I remember watching an episode of "Little House on the Prairie" in which Laura Ingalls had her first crush. She tried in so many indirect ways to get her friend's attention, but he was smitten by Mary, her older sister, who couldn't have cared less about him. I also remember years ago watching a woman try to sweet talk her stepdaughter into liking her by almost groveling behind her, catering to her every whim and need. Meanwhile the step daughter kept a haughty and disinterested distance from her stepmom.
I wanted to take the woman aside and suggest she play hard to get for a while. Not in a mean way, but just enough to shake things up a bit. That would have won the stepdaughter over much faster than her own exhausting technique.
It's not that outright expression of our thoughts and feelings is never acceptable, because it is. Timing is probably the key, however. The psychology of being (and playing) hard to get is that we tend to value what we have to put effort into to attain. Things like a college degree, a trip to a foreign country, a business investment, or a relationship.
In relationships especially, stepping back just far enough to allow a person to reach out to us actually can benefit both parties. It adds mystery and intrigue. The other person begins to see you in a new way, and you get to discover how valuable you actually are to them. After that, express away.
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc is a therapist at CBI Counseling Center and founder of www.chattanoogacounselor.com, a local self-help website. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.