“Nice guys finish last.” This common phrase can often be heard coming from a guy who has been rejected by a girl to whom he was nothing but devoted. Whenever I hear someone say this, I assure him that being a nice guy is a good thing. I do believe that kindness should be encouraged and that these boys will find someone; however, there is something to be said for the fact that they tend to be less romantically successful than the “bad boys” of the dating world.
From my perspective, the labels of “nice guy” and “bad boy” are relatively unrelated to moral values and are instead connected to how much or how little someone plays hard to get. I think of the stereotypical bad boy as the player who keeps you guessing about how he feels about you, acts unavailable and strings you along without actually committing. In contrast, I think of a nice guy as someone who clearly exhibits his romantic interest and comes across as much easier to win over. It can go both ways, too — though females do not receive quite the same types of labels, some girls are openly enthusiastic about expressing their romantic interest, while others act more aloof.
Whether consciously or not, many people do try to play hard to get. You are doing it when you get a text from a crush and purposely do not respond immediately, or when you reply to a date proposition with “I might be free,” even though you know your schedule is open. So why do many of us do this, when it would be so much simpler if we all just made it clear when we are interested in someone?
I believe a marketing principle can be applied to this dating issue — specifically, a business pricing tactic called price-quality inference. When companies consider how to price their products, many factors go into the decision, such as competition, demand and production cost. A less clear-cut but important variable is how the price itself influences consumers’ perception of the product. People often make inferences about the quality of a good based on its price. If you see a $4 toothpaste next to a $20 toothpaste at the grocery store, you will most likely assume that the more expensive one is special and higher-quality in some way that justifies such a high price. You then choose your purchase accordingly, based on whether the higher quality is worth it to you.
In applying price-quality inference to dating, I am equating the price of a product with the costs associated with pursuing someone. Those costs include time, effort and emotional energy. Maybe the chase makes you anxious, causes you to sacrifice a potential relationship with someone else or even costs you actual money spent on trying to look good for this person. Whatever it may be, someone who plays hard to get is going to be more “expensive” than someone who acts very interested and feels easy to get. So why waste your time chasing after someone who costs you so much? Perhaps it is because you are subconsciously making the price-quality inference: If he is acting hard to get, it must be because he is worth the effort. Deep down you believe he must have a value that justifies his high price.
In business, price is often a realistic indicator of quality — a Rolex probably has superior craftsmanship compared to a $10 drugstore watch. But from what I have seen, this phenomenon does not always extend to people. People may play hard to get for a variety of reasons, many of which do not imply being higher-quality individuals. Maybe they are not looking for anything serious because they recently got out of a relationship, or feel bad about saying that they are just not into you. Or maybe they enjoy toying with people. Whatever it may be, none of these reasons guarantee that the individual you are chasing after is a particularly high-quality person.
Falling prey to the thrill of the chase and the lure of unattainability can be extremely tempting. However, playing this game and even succeeding at it is not necessarily the key to a happy love life. So when you feel yourself falling into the trap of pursuing someone who is playing hard to get, it may be beneficial to sit back and consider what actually makes that person worth the chase. In other words, be an informed consumer and objectively weigh the pros and cons of your purchasing decision. If we all start seeing through the ploy of playing hard to get, our choices about who to pursue may change significantly. In which case, maybe the nice guys will not finish last after all.
Zoe Epstein is a senior in the College. Dating Nerd appears every other Wednesday.