I had just sat down at my desk in one of my classes when I couldn’t help but turn my ear to the conversation going on behind me. What I picked up on was something like this:

“So, has she gone out with you yet?”
“No, not yet.”
Heavy sigh. “Jeez, dude, what’s taking you so long?”
“I don’t know—she doesn’t text me back. She’s not talking to me as much anymore.”
A pause. “So what are you going to do, just stop talking to her?”
“I mean—”
“But you like this girl a lot, don’t you?”
“Well, yeah—”
“I know what she’s doing. She’s playing hard to get. A lot of girls do that. You know, they ignore you so you chase after them harder.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah, dude, I know so. Girls pull that crap all the time.”

It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It did to me. Most, if not all of us, are vaguely familiar with the phrase “playing hard to get.” You know - when someone doesn’t respond to your texts much, or “makes excuses” as to why why he or she can’t go out with you, or keeps conversations short whenever you bump into them.

Culture screams, “They’re just playing hard to get! They’re interested in you! Keep chasing!”

Or, in reality, it could be the opposite. Maybe this individual playing the “hard to get” game is actually screaming, “I’m not into you! Sorry! Please leave me alone!”

It can be heartbreaking, really. You fall in love with Janice from gym class, and at first she’s totally into you - twirling her hair, laughing at your jokes, smiling every time she sees you. Then, a couple weeks later, she’s giving you the cold shoulder. It can and will hurt. I think almost everyone can say with firsthand experience that rejection stings.

Million Dollar Matchmaker reality TV star Patti Stanger couldn’t have said it better: “We’re all scared of rejection.”

Maybe that’s why our culture has created the illusion that dating has become this mind game where you can never really tell if a person is interested in you. When someone has decided they’re not into you, we call it “hard to get” and keep chasing. It softens that gut-wrenching punch that rejection typically comes with.

The mentality of playing this “hard to get” game is dangerous, and here’s why: the dictionary definition of playing hard to get is to “pretend to be inaccessible or uninterested.” On the other hand, harassment is defined as “the act of unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group.”

With that said, let’s say you’re into someone, and he or she is giving you the cold shoulder. “They’re just playing hard to get!” your friend tells you - so you continue the chase. Meanwhile, the individual you’re chasing is actually not playing hard to get; he or she is actually not into you. In fact, he or she is starting to get really annoyed by your stubborn advances. However, you continue, and eventually you’re going to be crossing the line into harassment territory.

Harassment can turn into sexual harassment which can turn into assault…it’s a dangerous downward spiral from there, and let’s face it: that’s never good for anyone. It’s actually really damaging, especially to the person being harassed.  

So, what can we do about it? Let’s replay the conversation from the beginning again:

“So, has she gone out with you yet?”
“No, not yet.”
Heavy sigh. “Jeez, dude, what’s taking you so long?”
“I don’t know—she doesn’t text me back. She’s not talking to me as much anymore.”
A pause. “Oh. Sorry, man. Maybe she’s not interested anymore. That happens.”
“I mean—”
“But you like this girl a lot, don’t you?”
“Well, yeah—”
“Don’t worry. There are plenty of people out there; you’ll find someone. It just takes time.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah, dude, I know so.”

And scene.