I have been reading Pride and Prejudice lately and I got to the part where Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth. Elizabeth politely and promptly refuses his request for her hand in matters of matrimony with the utmost eloquence. Mr. Collins replies that he believes her goal in refusing him is to make him ever more so interested in her so that when she does accept his hand he is even more smitten. He fully expects her to accept him on his second humble request. Indeed he does not begrudge her such antics as it is quite expected among ladies of such a well established background. Despite Elizabeth’s profuse and insistent efforts to dissuade Mr. Collins, her efforts only affirm to Mr. Collins that she is indeed playing “hard to get.” The situation is rather ridiculous and humorous to the extent of a hearty mental “har har har har….”
I don’t think many people believe that playing hard to get is very effective these days. At least not once they get past 8th grade. Perhaps it is effective but the window of effectiveness is very small and therefore very few people actually manage to hit that target successfully. The consequences of missing that target are quite high.
Let’s consider the situation portrayed in the book (at least from Mr. Collins point of view). A suitor is outwardly interested in a lady. The lady is inwardly interested in her suitor but doesn’t show it and thinks that she can increase his level of interest. This would make the relationship more beneficial to her (and him for that matter) later on when they get together. So she concocts a plan to increase her suitor’s amorous desire by leading him along on a string with a hook attached to his nose. She plays disinterested and lets her suitor use his imagination to create an image of her that is even more love stricken. The result is when she does accept his hand he is properly wrapped around her finger and life is ever so much happier than if she had initially accepted his advances.
The theory seems to make sense. I have not yet devised an experiment to test the results of such efforts. However I go back to my small target theory. I posit that it is possible that playing hard to get can be a fruitful tactic. I also posit that the window of success is so small and the risk of failure so large that the efforts are almost certainly bound to fail.
If a girl doesn’t play hard to get long enough then there will be no positive effect and it will possibly even hurt her chances because the guy is going to suffer an initial blow to his interest level due to rejection. So she will have been worse off. Then the guy will start to think about her more often and perhaps his interest will start to increase. Then the window of opportunity will open for the girl. His interest will surpass his initial level of interest and the girl finds some way to encourage him that there might be a chance and he takes it. But since the girl has no idea when this time is, she will probably miss it.
Then there are two more phases. The guy starts to idolize the girl beyond what she really is. If the girl manages to pull him back he will then be disappointed and his interest level will drop even more. Now she is worse off. If she doesn’t rope him in at that point then he will lose interest completely and move on. So now she has no guy at all. She lost that dangerous game.
When I started thinking about this blog I thought, you know I haven’t done an econ related blog in quite some time. It’s too bad that this one doesn’t work out. Well it turns out that it does. However this blog is getting rather long so I’ll leave the rest for another entry.