Casually used phrases like “playing hard to get” reduce women’s choices to a game.
We are a wasteful people when it comes to words. We throw away words without a thought, expect them to leave no trace upon the places we’ve been and move on to say them in other places because, really, what does it matter? Words to us are carbon footprint-free. They’re soon-to-dissipated puffs of dust to only settle later in a different arrangement. Say what you want and, gleefully, words can be deleted or forgotten or pretended to have never been spoken. If you disagree with how shifty words can be, I urge you to look no further than any recent presidential debate for further proof.
As Harry G. Frankfort astutely observed about our propensity to dispense words as if they grew on trees, he wrote, “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.”
Even when you say something unsavory, which is easy enough to do—be honest, I’ve done it and you’ve done it, too—we don’t always consider the meaning when it comes to the people those throw-away words might impact. Words are only words, and yet they’re not only words. Some of the words we say drag behind them a heavier meaning than we might not have ever intended.
Because of the unexpected gravity of words, we must think twice about what we say. Given the value of speech, and since these sophisticated sounds are primarily how we like to communicate, a man will likely use them to try to talk to a woman. For better or worse, you’ve likely even had occasion to hear a man say of a woman, “Oh, she’s just playing hard to get.”
In case we weren’t clear: every word you set loose from your lips should be respected like a bullet. It might be a blank, it might be hot with gunpowder; regardless, it will hit somebody nearby with some manner of impact whether you intend it or not.
According to various slang dictionaries, the phrase “play hard to get” seems to have appeared around the 1920s and typically refers to women who are coy or play around with the sexual flirtations of the opposite sex in the interest of holding out on their own carnal desires. The Cassell Dictionary of Slang places the phrase’s appearance in the American lexicon in the 1920s, whereas A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English narrows the phrase’s arrival to 1925. Variously, the phrase always connotes a woman who is not willing to immediately indulge the sexual whims of a man. While the phrase may have begun circulating around street urchin newsboy gangs nearly 80 years ago, it’s managed to survive to the present era where, nowadays, if you so much as stand downwind of a college bar you’ll likely hear some unseemly dude describe a woman as playing hard to get.
However, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase in question axed of the word “play.” She simply now is hard to get. Instead of the verbified use, she’s no longer doing this thing; rather, she is this thing.
Let’s start there then. Describing anything as hard to get, be it a person, food, or a job promotion, suggests an object difficult to obtain that only can become available after one—in this case, a heterosexual male pursuing a woman—has unlocked that achievement after completing certain tasks. If a woman is not receptive to his advances, she’s immediately perceived as difficult.
What is really meant by saying a woman is hard to get? That she didn’t respond the way you wanted her to? You suspect you didn’t say the right keyword so now you feel locked out of her interest until you can try a different combination? You think she’s merely couching away her attention only to spite you?
Rethink this choice of words before using them to describe a woman who isn’t receptive to your uninvited amorous advances. Peeling back that onion, saying she’s hard to get is less about her and, honestly, more about you. It’s more about your own security as a man. It’s about accepting the fact that, yes, you’re not omni-attractive.
Talking to women you don’t know can sometimes feel like a game, sure. Dating in general could, in some respects, be described as such. In the end, you’re essentially vying for a chance to get into the winner’s circle and come back tomorrow to see Pat Sajak again. I get that. (Well, not the going on dates with Sajak, but in general terms, I get date-as-game thing.)
Being able to make conversation with a woman is one thing, and going further to have agreeable chemistry is another. Regardless, eventually you’ll likely find yourself in a situation where a woman may not care for your company anymore, whether it’s later in the night or sometime next week. Sometimes, them’s the breaks. For what it’s worth, statistically, and this fact really won’t keep you warm at night, most of your dates won’t amount to anything. Sorry, but that’s the penalty for being alive and partner-searching.
In the meantime, do yourself a favor: accept the disagreeable conclusion of a woman perhaps not being interested in you. If you have to justify yourself to your friends or even to yourself when you go home alone at the end of the night or don’t hear back from a woman after a second date, please, do yourself a favor and do not defend yourself by saying that the woman you pursued was simply hard to get. For the love of all you hold dear, consider what you’re about to actually say when those word-bullets slide into the chamber of your throat. Think about your own quality before you dismiss the choice of another person.
Because, really, it has nothing to do with her. It’s more about how you deal with rejection.
Traveling to the other end of this phrase, though, what is the opposite of being hard to get, of being difficult? Yeah, exactly: easy. If you’re reading the content on this website, I’m going to presume I don’t have to school you on why you should never describe a woman as easy. Yet by describing her as “hard to get,” the implication is made that she’s not easy. You put her in an either/or dilemma that, regardless of how she chooses, places her in an unenviable position. How can she win at this point?
Oh, women, that you put up with us. Scorned if you’re easy, treated like a tenth-level goal on a video game if you’re not easy. I can’t express my sympathies enough.
Ultimately, dismissing a woman as “hard to get” creates a situation that robs her of agency over her own body. She’s no longer a person at this point, but a toll booth that mediates the sexuality of men and must therefore decide whether to permit men access to her body or to redirect them. However, you have to understand that it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re George Clooney in a ferris wheel car, she’s going to make her own choice whether or not you seem like a fun guy. More, if a woman is the only mitigating factor of men’s sexual pursuit, what’s that say about her? The suggestion basically time-shutes her to the Dark Age concept of being the gatekeeper of masculine sexuality. To say a woman is hard to get, you’re essentially saying that, without a her monitor to say go or no-go, you’d basically be fucking any woman that wasn’t hard to get. Do you men really want to accede to being that out of control of your sexual impulses?
As if saying a woman is “hard to get” wasn’t bad enough, there is an attempt to mollify the description into less aggressive terms, which goes back to the way in which the phrase had been historically documented in the English language (according to slang dictionaries, at least). So here comes the worst part, and by worst I mean my favorite part: the affixation of the verb “play.”
She is now playing hard to get. Again with the games.
What an insidious way to attack a woman’s choice. So you think she’s playing with, do you? Again, I’ll refer back to my previous point of women being the arbitrators of male sexuality but more than that I’d like you to think about yourself for the moment. Do you really think women have nothing better to do than play with your whimsical social hard-ons? Be she behind a register or next to you at a bar, she likely has a hundred different things on her mind before you approach her so if she doesn’t respond with even a shade of how you’d like for her to respond, don’t hold it against her. If she’s not interested in letting you play dick-tetris on her bod, that’s not her fault. She is her own person, after all.
Additionally, applying the verb “play” allows men to save face out of sexual rejection so that they don’t have to tell their friends—or, more dreadfully, accept the fact—that a woman doesn’t care for his attention. It’s always much easier to blame the other person when the other person isn’t in any capacity to defend herself. Upon rejection of whatever slobbering advances might have been made, a man can conclude a woman was playing hard to get as a pride-preserving mechanism, which leads to only more troubling behavior. By saying as such, you can either dismiss her as trivia or become emboldened by the so-called game and continue with your unwanted advances at the risk of crossing bothersome or even harassing territories.
In the end, don’t do any of it. Just go on with your life. In truth, she’s not really playing hard to get at all. She’s just not that into you.
Read more on Sex & Relationships.
Image credit: tpower1978/Flickr