Editor’s Note: This article is part of a campaign titled #JustNotInterested, run jointly by Feminism in India and Tinder, to unpack and understand consent, disinterest and expectations in relationships. The campaign curates conversations on Instagram stories on various facts of modern relationships. This article is based on one of those conversations.
How many Bollywood movies can you name that show the guy going after the girl, chasing her relentlessly, her initially hating him, and then falling madly in love later? DDLJ remains a classic example of Raj chasing Simran, tricks her into believing they had sex when they didn’t, and pursues her until she marries him. We’re all aware of how these movies fuel toxic masculinity.
But doesn’t it also affect the other party involved? Just as men grew up being taught that a woman likes him even if she says ‘no’ initially, women grew up learning that the chase is the ultimate form of romance. We asked women on the FII’s Instagram chat if they had been conditioned to play hard to get, and the answers were nothing but interesting.
Even though this can be traced back to the age-old tradition of the man choosing who he wants to be with, and the women being lucky to have someone who wants to be with her: Why do we, as 21st-century women, still go by it? “We have been conditioned to think that it’s a guy’s job to make the first move, even if the girl likes the guy, she will act like she doesn’t,” said one respondent.
Just as men grew up being taught that a woman likes him even if she says ‘no’ initially, women grew up learning that the chase is the ultimate form of romance.
The corollary of this is that a ‘no’ then loses its value, thereby detracting from consent culture and encouraging persistence, and ‘no’ not being taken as a final answer. “I’ve heard a lot of stories of girls who aren’t interested and they’re still constantly pestered because they think that the women are ‘playing hard to get’, which is harmful because it gets to the point of harassment,” said a respondent, encapsulating exactly where the problem lies.
In all honesty, I have to admit that I’m guilty of playing hard to get. As a high-schooler, I would deliberately take longer to reply and did not show much interest initially. It was somehow more attractive to build the mystery. This worked the other way round as well: I was automatically more interested in someone who’d show minimal interest in me. As one of our Instagram followers pointed out, it is a psychological phenomenon. Scarcity is the psychological bias that makes us place a higher value on things that are scarce than those in abundance. A person who shows minimal interest in you would appeal to you more because of the humans’ innate want to achieve.
One Instagram user pointed out that playing hard to get doesn’t necessarily have to be equated with a lack of consent. “The idea of what ‘playing hard to get’ means has been ruined by its horrible representation. What it actually means is a game of flirtation, where there’s sexual/romantic tension, and you don’t very easily confess your feelings instead, you just let it simmer and let the excitement brew. This, clearly, is very different from someone just not being interested. We tend to confuse the two. Saying no is not playing hard to get, and if we do that, then it just takes the weight of the word no away.”
However, outright expressions of disinterest that are understood as the game of flirtation – i.e., how playing ‘hard to get’ is popularly understood – raises a lot of questions about the mechanisms of consent in love. The chase still has a lot to do with the idea of gender roles ingrained in the minds of women. There is something very attractive about a man trying to pursue you. So much so, that if your friends see it, they’d ask you to give in because the guy is trying so hard. But due to this culture of the man having to try hard, have women stopped trying?
It is often considered ‘desperate’ to text first. This sort of ideology comes from peers and media as young women. More often than not, women don’t make the first move even if they are interested. “We are tuned to believe that men like meek women, society wants our expression to be subdued too! Expressing attraction is considered courageous and not expected out of women,” a user pointed out.
As pointed out during the chats, it is almost an unspoken rule that the male has to be the one to woo her. The male’s peers too often push him to try harder. I, as a woman, am guilty of it as well. As a teenager, I’ve told my brother to keep trying. Humorously enough, even if the guy tries to stop, he is considered weak. It’s very common for a guy to keep pestering to seem ‘cool’ in front of his friends.
But why does playing hard to get have to blur the lines of consent? “A ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ is to be accepted as it is, in the very first experience. Anything else, otherwise, is just emotional manipulation and guilt enabling the other person to be pressurised into saying yes,” said another respondent, hitting the nail on the head. Flirtation and dating are supposed to be playful, and consensual!. It is up to us to devise a language of flirtation that we can have our fun with and does not dilute the word, ‘no’.
Featured Image Source: The Dating Truth