What a time to be alive as a woman. In this era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, more and more of us are speaking up and going after what we want in different areas of life. Well, except in dating, where we’re still largely stuck in the sidelines, hoping for some clueless boy to take a hint and ask us out.
To illustrate, let me tell you about this time I had a crush on a friend of mine we’ll call Jim. Jim and I would sometimes hang out with mutual friends, and in between those hangouts, we would chat online. Although I felt like we connected, I was fine with things being platonic because, as was characteristic of how I used to think, I figured that if it were meant to be, then it would happen. (How quaint.)
One time while we were out with our group, I heard from one of our friends that Jim had a crush on someone else. As if on cue, my heart stopped. My whole body went numb. I seriously wanted to throw up all over my shoes; hell, I wanted to throw up on Jim’s shoes. I managed to maintain a normal enough façade throughout the rest of the night to not let on that inside, I was throwing up on Jim’s shoes, but after that night, I just stopped: stopped messaging him, stopped hanging out with him, stopped trying to get on his radar. I was hurt, but I comforted myself by thinking, “At least you never made an effort, so you’ll never be humiliated! Never mind that you’ll never know now if the two of you could’ve worked out—at least you’ve preserved yourself! PRESERVE YOURSELF ABOVE ALL!!!”
This scenario was to replay itself a few more times in my adult life: I would like someone, think the feeling was mutual, wait for him to make a move, face some flimsy evidence to the contrary, and just bolt. And each time it happened, bolting always seemed like the right thing to do: Besides not wanting to get hurt, I had all my life subscribed to the traditional belief that men should make the first move while women should just wait patiently with their hands on their laps.
But see, it was all such a shame. I let these great guys slip through my fingers just because I didn’t want them to think I liked them unless they said they liked me first—which was stupid, seeing as I liked them without even knowing if they liked me back. I was scared, I was dishonest, and while I had always fashioned myself as a modern woman, when it came to dating, I was not.
When I hit my 30s still single, I decided that whimpering in a corner over some non-mind-reading boy not reading my mind just wouldn’t fly anymore. I would go after what I wanted, even if that meant I might get hurt or humiliated. I didn’t have to do something as extreme as showing up at a guy’s workplace with a bunch of flowers or standing with a boombox outside his bedroom window; it could be something as simple as messaging him first, or inviting him to hang out, or telling him that I liked him.
And you know what? Since I’ve gathered up this courage, it’s been fantastic. I’m sharing with you what I’ve learned from making the first move to encourage you to retire those gendered beliefs from your grandparents’ time and just get on out there, smiles bright and hearts bold. GO, YOU.
You feel empowered and in control.Sure, you’ll deal with some crippling anxiety in the lead-up to the first move, but once you’re past it, you’re going to feel so pumped, you’ll hear Bey’s “Run the World” ringing in your head. Even if he says no, you’ll know that you made it through a challenge like this, and you’ll be more willing to try it again.
In a 2011 study that sought to investigate the influence of feelings of control on men’s and women’s efforts to initiate a relationship, researchers from the University of Waterloo and Columbia University noted that women had developed passivity in initiating relationships due to societal expectations, but found that the greater personal control they felt, the more likely they were to do the initiating.
Making the first move is the gift that keeps on giving: The more you do it, the more empowered you feel. Cue Beyoncé.
Men fear rejection, too.We’ve been asking too much of men to always put themselves out there, without even caring how they feel. If you’re scared of rejection, imagine how much more rejection they have to face just because they’re expected to lead the way every damn time!
In fact, a 2016 survey conducted by Match.com reveals that 95% of men are into it if a woman asks for his digits, and 95% would love it if she led the first kiss. However, results show that only 13% of women would actually get a guy’s digits, and only 29% would go in for that first smooch. Those numbers have got to change.
They’re also just as clueless as you are, so give them a break and take charge once in a while.Case in point: The aforementioned Jim did end up asking me out a few months later, but by then I had convinced myself that he was a fool to pass up on me the first time—even though he was no mind-reader, and neither did I nudge him in the right direction—so I turned him down. What a pair of idiots we were.
You’re better able to weed out the duds and go for who you truly want.My romantic life before I started being more intentional about it consisted of me staying home on a Saturday night and screening hellos from strangers in my DMs. Now, I get to actually talk to someone I’m interested in instead of ignoring proposals from someone I’ve never met offering me a life and home in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. (True story.)
More reason to make the first move: A 2015 study by OkCupid found that, while straight women were 3.5 times less likely to send that first message than straight men in online dating, they were actually 2.5 times more likely to get a response than men if they initiated the messaging.
Moral of the story: Making the first move guarantees you date a guy you actually like instead of someone you’re just settling for because he was the first to message you “Sup?”
Once you’ve been open with someone from the start, it sets you up for more honesty along the way.Once you’ve shown a man that you’re a woman who knows what she wants and says it, it’s much easier to be honest about other things that need to be said, such as “I felt hurt when you did that,” or “I really like you and I want to know where this is going,” or “You’d look better in something other than cargo shorts.” Being dishonest serves no one, and those cargo shorts really need to go.
You also become more respectful of the men you reject.Because I had begun a habit of being honest, it spilled over to the men I turned down as well. I used to be a huge ghoster, which I regret now because it was disrespectful to the men who had made an effort with me—no wonder my friendship with them fizzled out. Now, instead of ghosting, I’m better able to turn them down nicely and stay friends with them, too. (At least, I hope we’re friends. They could have put a hex on me for all I know.)
He’s not going to think you’re an aggressive slut.I don’t know this for sure, since I didn’t go around asking, “Do you think I’m an aggressive slut for inviting you to catch a gig?” But I’ve never felt like I was looked down on by these men; if anything, I felt that they respected me more. And if the guy you invite to catch a gig does end up thinking you’re a slut for doing so, ditch him. He’s not someone you’d want to date.
If it doesn’t work out eventually, you’re able to move on faster.Just because you’re bolder doesn’t guarantee you the results you want, but being in control in your interactions (see #1) will make you feel less like spiraling into despair when you do get rejected. Happened to me once, but since I knew all along how much I was dishing out and how much I was leaving for myself, I was sad for a few days…then I was over it. I didn’t turn into the helpless bitch whining about her heartbreak on Tumblr that I used to be.
It makes you more assertive in other areas of your life.From the time I became more fearless in dating, I’ve also found myself speaking up more at work, standing up to regulation assholes more, and just generally taking up more space wherever I found myself. This empowerment had spread out into other areas of my life, which is why I feel fantastic even though I’m single.
Yes, I’m still single, even though I’ve been doing all this first-move stuff. At some point, it stopped being about me finding a partner and just became about me feeling good about myself. Because if you feel good about yourself, who cares, really, whether or not some clueless boy knows it?
Oh, and special shoutout to Jim: Let’s catch a gig sometime.