Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Are They Not Interested, Or Are They Playing Hard To Get?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a young woman and I recently began working at a new job. Right from my first day working there, the confident popular co-worker, who is kind of a “bad boy”, (I’m going to call him C to make this quicker) showed interest in me. C was kind to me, flirted with me, always tried to touch me, and just did all the types of things you’d associate with attraction. I didn’t like him back though, if anything I kind of resented him for giving me all this extra attention when all I wanted to do was to be left alone. I can be quite shy and socially-awkward when I’m first meeting new people and am adjusting to a new environment.

However, as I continually showed zero interest in C, he persisted;  although his efforts became less and less, it never went away. Later on, C was going through some personal issues, and he became very withdrawn and quiet. Eventually, he snapped out of it, but when he did his feelings for me seem to have disappeared. Also, during this period I had become much more confident and comfortable with my surroundings.

Although he pays some special attention to me now (not much), it is nothing compared to how much he used to. Lately, I’ve been thinking I might have some feelings for C, I miss the way he used to treat me. Does C still like me and is just giving me a taste of my own medicine by playing hard to get? Or has he really just lost interest? Does he not like me anymore because I’ve become less shy?

What should I do?


Hunted Becomes The Hunter

DEAR HUNTED BECOMES THE HUNTER: So before I get to your letter HTH, I’m going to go on a bit of a rant here. Because frankly there’re few dating strategies that make me twitch uncontrollably more than “playing hard to get”.

Now there’s some legitimate science behind the strategy; obstacles in the path to fulfillment tend to make us crave it more. And, in fairness, using a little “want this? Can’t have it…” is a useful tool when it comes to flirting. Building rapport then breaking it is a way of building sexual tension and increasing excitement until you’ve both reached the bursting point. However, there quickly comes a point where it goes from a flirty tease to a pointless exercise in trying to maintain an air of artificial scarcity for ultimately bulls

t reasons. The infamous “Rules” for example, insisted that being too available — which is to say, wanting to see someone as much as they wanted to see you — would inevitably diminish men’s interest in women. Similarly, men get taught that showing interest in women they want to date or sleep with gives up some vital advantage, because “who cares less, has the power”.

Honestly, the older I get, the less time and patience I have with these sorts of games. While playful teasing and utilizing a push-pull dynamic during flirting can be a powerful and useful technique for building attraction, throwing up artificial barriers only serves to hinder communication and makes people miserable in the process. Folks who play hard to get tend to get very surprised when the people take “not interested” for an answer and move on.

Which brings us back around to your friend C. I don’t think he’s playing hard to get or giving you a taste of your own medicine; I think he — finally — took your lack of interest for an answer and decided to quit hitting on you.

I mean, for weeks you were giving him him negative feedback. You made it clear that you weren’t interested and likely were giving off some serious “knock it the f

k off/touch me again and you pull back a bloody stump” vibes. Even for someone who’s only flirting for fun, there’s inevitably going to come a point where they hear “p*ss off” and decide to take it seriously.

(There’s a discussion to be had about just how long C was hanging in there and the appropriateness of his behavior in a professional setting, but that’s another column entirely).

And just between you, me and everyone reading this: it’s a little unfair to turn around and say “wait, I don’t want the flirting to stop” after you spent all that time telling him you weren’t interested. I get that you take time to warm up to folks and needed to adjust to a new environment… but he doesn’t know that. He just knows that you haven’t appreciated his flirty behavior and he’s decided to dial it back. Maybe his personal crisis had something to do with it, maybe someone in HR had a very pointed conversation with him, who knows. The point is: if you want him to know that you kinda like the flirting now and want it to start up again… well, you’re gonna have to let him know. Think of it like a stand-offish cat letting its human that maybe it’s ready for some light head scratches; you want him to know that hey, you’re cool with a little flirting now.

How do you do that? Well, while you could signal that you’re cool with it by responding more positively to what flirting he does now… the better option is to simply use your words. You can let him know that you needed to acclimate to your new job and you’re the sort of person who needs to get comfortable before you’re able to handle a lot of attention. You can also let him know that hey, you’re actually ok with a little more flirting now and that you even miss it a little. Then you take a step back and let him decide what his next step is going to be. If it’s a case that he’s lost interest… well this is something that can be chalked up to unfortunate timing. But if he is still interested, then now he knows he has a green light for continuing and he can begin giving you attention in the ways you’re ready to receive.

But none of that can happen unless the two of you actually clear the air. Someone’s gonna have to make the first move here. Might as well be you.

Good luck.

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