Across the internet, I’ve seen a question that is often asked, but rarely answered to anyone’s satisfaction: “Why don’t women ask out men?” The subtext of the question is, “If women want equality, why don’t they accept the less pleasant parts and face rejection like men do?”
This is a complicated question. To start, let’s look at some basic numbers. Women do ask out men – just not as often as men would like. A recent study by Michael Mills, Ph.D., quoted in Psychology Today, asked straight men and women in the U.S. whether they preferred to ask people out, or to be asked out. It further asked which the participants had done in the last year. Only 16% of men said they prefer the woman to make the first move – but only 6% of women had actually done so in the last year. As the Dr. Mills points out, this suggests that at least 10% of men are waiting for a first overture from a woman that will be a long time in coming.
If American women are so liberated, why don’t they initiate more relationships? There are three main reasons for this (not counting biological determinism, which is not widely accepted as an explanation for human behavior.)
The first is that if a woman is interested in a man, we don’t want to scare him off by seeming unfeminine. We don’t want to be seen as aggressive, desperate or easy (none of which we would automatically assume from a man showing his interest.) The same study shows that the majority of men, 84%, prefer to initiate relationships; a significant number of these men will be offended or downright rude if we take the lead. We risk, as women, not only being rejected, but being rejected ONLY because we made the overture.
Women feel that by giving clear flirtatious signals, we are giving an invitation in the most acceptable way we can, while men (who are less subtle) wish they would just say what they’re thinking. A common male complaint is, “I’m not a mind reader.” While the woman is thinking, “I’m smiling, paying attention to his stories, and playing with the necklace in my cleavage – how much more obvious can I be?” Women have trouble understanding that this indirect communication is not always effective.
The second factor is that women are not as assertive in general about pursuing what they want. The same behavior that leads to shy men with hurt feelings also means that women are less likely to get raises and promotions. The recent book Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock explains that women often miss out on opportunities by not being aggressive enough about their needs. So it’s reasonable to believe that the girl who seemed to be attracted to you actually was, and just had no concept of taking the initiative.
The final biggest factor is that women falsely believe that men love “the chase” or are only interested in what they can’t have. Thus women must make men pursue them if they don’t want to be seen as boring and ultimately left alone. In most cases, this is bull – men are happy when the women they like show honest interest in return. Women also think that playing “hard to get” makes them seem more trustworthy as a mate, in that they are not easily won and therefore would not be likely to be unfaithful. They also don’t want to emasculate their potential partner by depriving him of his role as the “hunter.”
So if you’re a man who is shy or otherwise wants a woman to make the first move, what can you do? Treat others as you wish to be treated – in this case, by dropping a very obvious and un-subtle hint. Some good things to try are, “You seem very confident. I like women who are like that, who do stuff like ask guys out.” Or, “My best friend has been in a relationship for ___ years. His girlfriend originally asked him out, isn’t that awesome?” Or be even more direct, and say, “You’re pretty. If you asked me out, I would probably say yes.”
Or if all else fails, bite the bullet and ask for her number. (Giving her yours is not effective, as calling a man for the first time presents the same problems as asking him out.) From that point on you can leave the initiative up to her: “Where would you like to take me on our first date?” It’s safe to assume that if she gave you a real number she’s agreed to a first date. If your potential date can’t or won’t take the lead, it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a deal-breaker. Is it worth it to wait longer to find someone, for the sake of being with a woman who will take charge of the relationship?
It’s good to remember that single women are also sitting around wondering why men aren’t asking them out. So most single women are not just waiting for you to ask so they can reject you. Also, keep in mind that lesbians somehow manage to ask each other out, so obviously women are capable of doing so. We just need the encouragement that it’s socially acceptable, and we’ll catch up.