Why women should make the first move — and how to do it

Jenna Birch
Contributing Writer
Why women should make the first move. (Photo: Getty Images)

I’m a pretty assertive person in most facets of my life. I like to plan and execute. I would rather be proactive than reactive. I also don’t shy away from taking smart risks where the upsides definitely outweigh the downsides. However, when it comes to dating, I’m like the majority of other hetero women I know: I don’t like making the first move on a guy. Ever.

In fact, whenever someone even suggests I make the first move, I frequently balk and revert to my shy 5-year-old self. (“Me? First move?” [Immediately hides under table.])

My reluctance might be cute as a kindergartener’s, but it’s not doing my 20-something incarnation any favors. Here’s the truth: Women everywhere need to make the first move more often; it’s a very good idea for your dating life. To see why, let’s place this old-school gender-dynamic thing under a microscope for a minute.

I can’t ever remember watching a woman make the first move and things going badly. Like so many connections in life, it often goes nowhere. But very seldom, if ever, does it go badly. Just a few weeks ago, my good friend made a move on a guy at a bar. He was coupled (sigh), but he was so enthusiastic and encouraging of her efforts: “Keep doing that!”

There are probably reasons for this. Overall, men are less used to entertaining interest from women than vice versa. So when a woman breaks the mold and makes a first move, it actually stands out quite a lot. Women are more selective in nature and also get more attention overall — these days, both in person and online. For instance, men swipe right on Tinder almost half the time, whereas women swipe right just 14 percent of the time.

Attraction for women is also frequently more layered and unique than it is for guys. For example, in a study from Wake Forest University, researchers showed 4,000 participants photos of 18-to-25-year-old men and women, where they’d quantified potential facets of attractiveness including confidence, body type, sensitivity, style, traditional, class, grooming, and upbeat nature.

Men’s attraction was largely physical, based primarily on appearance and, to some degree, confidence. However, women’s preferences were different and varied. Looks mattered some to the group, but overall they simply did not agree on which characteristics were attractive. Opinions were all over the map.

Last but not least, men may be wired to pick up on female interest. Research from the journal Evolutionary Psychology has shown that straight guys typically overperceive female interest, whereas straight women tend to underperceive how much a man is into them.

What does all this mean for you, as a woman?

  • Men seem to find more women attractive than vice versa.
  • The average guy is getting less interest in general, so making a first move stands out — not to mention, you reduce the rejection risk for him, when it’s already lower for you.
  • You can select for the traits you find attractive if you make a first move (i.e., you like his sense of humor, passion, sensitive side, etc.).
  • In the scariest, in-person contexts, you’re still probably not going to need to hit him over the head with an “I like you” sign. If you make a reasonable effort to show interest, he’ll pick it up.

I understand how nerve-wracking it can be to put yourself out there, but the odds really are in your favor. Also, among the women I know, those who are the most romantically proactive are currently in the best, longest-lasting relationships. I’ve seen it work. You should try it.

With all that in mind, consider pulling the trigger and making that first move. Here’s how to do it right.

In person, someone you know
This is probably the situation in which you want to play it safest, but it’s also the situation in which you have the most information about the person you want to make a first move on. Avoid explicit language about a “date.” If you know the person pretty well, propose something very obvious that “you two” could do together that is also mutually interesting — like a wine tasting, a movie, a concert of an indie band only you guys like. This strategy can also be employed over text, for the more faint of heart.

If you know the person only on an acquaintance level, it’s OK to be slightly more obvious. (There is probably no friendship to lose here anyway, right?) As you’re wrapping up a fabulous conversation, just say, “You know, we should really hang out sometime! What are your plans next week?” If he starts planning on the spot, yay. If he says, “Let me get back to you,” then let him take it from there.

In person, someone you don’t know
This situation is one that a lot of people shy away from in the moment, but please keep in mind: You don’t know this person, and there’s absolutely nothing lost if it goes south or the person is taken. Bar none, the best strategy is to ask a question. (“What are you drinking?” “Can you watch my jacket and coffee while I run to the bathroom?” “How do you like that book?” All appropriate.)

See if you can get a conversation rolling. An interested party will chat with you. An uninterested person will probably be polite but shut down the talk almost as quickly as it started. If you’re really on the shy side, don’t open the conversation until you’re in the position to leave the premises at any time. That way, you can make a swift exit — hopefully after you’ve exchanged numbers, but either way.

Apps or online; someone you don’t know
This is very low risk, and the guy will probably be more inclined to ask you out if you simply talk to him first. One of my good guy friends put it to me bluntly eons ago: “You have nothing to lose here,” he said. “For a lot of guys, you have to realize that you could be his one match all day on an app.” Since then, I’ve checked a lot of my male friends’ dating app queues; he wasn’t lying. Guys do not get nearly the matches women get, on the whole. Therefore, I always send a message to guys who seem most interesting to me. Always.

The best part of this strategy is that you get to control the conversation from the get-go. (And who doesn’t like control?) If a guy’s profile is witty, I usually just open with something amusing and get the banter going. If his profile has some unique interest that I want to know more about, I start with that. If I’m intrigued about what is going on in some random photo, I ask. But I get to decide what I want to say and thus control the vibe of the conversation right off the bat. Often, this leads to the best outcomes.

It’s that easy! I’ll take my own advice if you will. Do we have a deal?

Jenna Birch is a journalist, a dating coach, and the author of The Love Gap (Grand Central Life & Style, January 2018). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to jen.birch@sbcglobal.net with “YAHOO QUESTION” in the subject line.

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