When I was younger, I was resentful of the role men got to play in dating. Men got to ask women out. I had to wait around to be approached.
I told myself that men had it easier than women did. A guy got to be proactive. He got to act.
Me? I’d don some sparkly dress, making myself up like a fishing lure so I could “catch” a man’s attention. The skimpier the dress, the better. Whatever I had to do to attract a dude.
But if I didn’t, I went home alone.
It felt like giving up a certain power. Men had way too much control. Placed in the role of passive participant, I was left feeling needy and weak. Men got to make all the decisions. If I didn’t catch his eye, I ended up feeling helpless and grotesque. I was sick of that.
I decided to take it upon myself to ask a man out. Little did I know that I’d learn what men go through. I’d soon see that approaching someone to try to get them interested in you romantically wasn’t so easy—even for a woman. Never did I ever consider that I might actually get rejected by a man.
I had no idea how to attract a man’s attention.
I have to be honest. My decision to ask a man out had less to do with a desire to achieve gender equality than it did with my trouble with meeting men in general. Sure, it seemed sexist that each gender had to adopt a role. Why couldn’t we switch it up sometimes? Sometimes the woman got to be the one who approached the man.
There is a dance that occurs when a man and woman meet. He’s expected to lead this dance. However, she’s supposed to guide him. Her job is to dazzle and charm. If he’s the hunter, she’s the trapper.
I had trouble with that “trapping” part.
For one, I hated the whole “hunting” motif. I didn’t want to think of myself as being prey. But more, I had trouble reeling men in. Doing this gently like I was some kind of expert fisherwoman—it just wasn’t happening.
I’d tug on the line clumsily and lose my catch. Dudes weren’t into me. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. Men would approach me but I wouldn’t know what to say.
My problem was the batting the eyelashes part. I was reserved and introverted. It’s not like the men who approached me were terribly confident either.
It was a disaster waiting to happen. They needed a certain kind of beckoning from me to work up the gumption to talk to me. They also needed that to keep the conversation going. I was shy, an awkward wallflower. The art of the flirtation eluded me.
I resented this and even felt envious of men. Somehow making the first move seemed easier, more tangible, than the delicate task of beguiling with one’s “wiles.”
The grass is always greener, I guess. I don’t know why I thought that if I were playing the man’s role, I would suddenly have more courage. Maybe it was that I believed all it would take was force—meaning I’d force myself to muster up the courage, power through making a first move with my eyes closed.
I believed hunting didn’t require nuance. You pointed a gun at whatever you wanted and pulled the trigger. I hate to sound so savage but I didn’t invent this whole “man as hunter of women” thing. To me, the man’s job didn’t require elegance, but only psychological fortitude. I sincerely believed that if I could only make the first move, then I could hide my awkwardness behind my purpose.
All I knew was that I wasn’t having much success putting myself on supple display whenever I was in a social setting. I was tired of waiting around to be arrowed, a pretty doe. Heck, I wanted to be the chaser.
The time I asked a man out.
There was a guy who attended my college, whom I saw every day on campus when I left my Physical Science class. He was like me: he had bad posture but made up for his hunched shoulders with style. This was the ’90s so he was rocking the emo style with a vengeance, his dark hair pomaded and his corduroy jeans two sizes too big, shorn at the cuff. If his jeans were too big, his T-shirt was too small, and he wore a cute chain dog collar around his neck. My heart beat hard in my chest.
I used to see him every day, posing in his lanky stance on the quad in between classes, toying with the Walkman in his hands, maybe fast-forwarding through his mixtape to find just the right song he wanted to listen to. Maybe he wasn’t up for Massive Attack at that moment but wanted something noisier. My Bloody Valentine. No, nosier. Helmet. I was often in that mood, too. Oh, we’d have plenty to talk about. Music, the dank clubs we went to on the weekends, and how we hated our parents but still cashed the checks they sent us each month so we could restock our ramen supply.
He’d make the perfect guy for me to bring home to hang with my family on breaks. My folks would despise him and he and I could skulk around the suburb I’d grown up in, thinking how we didn’t belong in this sunny, carefully manicured place but somewhere else much rainier, darker, more depressing. Like we’d skitter off to perestroika Russia and live happily ever after.
Instead, we were stuck here in this city flooded with constant sunshine, attending that horrible state college that wasn’t far enough away from home to feel like we’d ever left, but far enough to justify living in the dorms on campus. Life sucked, but at least we’d have each other.
I had it all planned out so perfectly in my head. And so one day, I mustered up my resolve. I took action. I strode right up to the dude and said hello. I had to say it a couple of times because he had the volume turned up so high on his Walkman.
He removed his earphones so I could introduce myself. He said his name, Larry, and then I didn’t know what else to say, so I shocked myself by inviting him for a coffee. The coffee craze was just catching on back then so there was a place on campus that served up a good hot cup of Ethiopian.
I paid for our javas and Larry and I drank our coffees back on the quad. I became jittery. I can’t remember what we talked about but it wasn’t much. I was probably sweaty and nonsensical. I couldn’t hold my caffeine back then like I can now. I asked for his phone number, and then we went our separate ways.
I called him that night. We had a chat but I got the sense that he wasn’t all that into me. When I saw him again on campus, I didn’t approach him. I’d done all that work, breaking the ice. Now it was his turn to respond. He was supposed to beguile me, reel me in. He didn’t.
I chalked it up to experience—meaning that I’d had the experience of approaching a man and had ultimately gotten rejected. Then it dawned on me. I’d left out one important piece of the dating puzzle. Rejection is the rule.
Rejection is the rule.
As easy I always thought men had it because they got to be active in a dating sense, I never took into consideration that most of the time they were getting rejected by the women they approached. I had just experienced that reality firsthand. As advantageous as it might appear to be the one making the first move, I didn’t take into account that more often than not, a man was getting blown off by a gal.
It’s not like after a man made the first move he didn’t still have to dance that dance. Approaching a woman was only half the battle. A man had to make all the moves and still manage to keep her interested.
Women should have the right to ask out men if they want.
Over time, I changed. I grew into myself. I became more confident and became better at drawing in men. I got better at the dance. But still, I understood that as a female, I had a certain privilege: playing the passive role. Had I been male and decided to be passive, I never would have dated again.
But I was female. I could sit back and never ask out another man and still have an active dating life.
More, I was the one who was usually doing the rejecting. At least now I learned men didn’t have it so easy. I stopped resenting men and I no longer envied them. I realized it took a level of bravery and self-confidence to get rejected time and time again but still maintain one’s faith in oneself, that if they kept trying they’d finally be successful.
And yet, as a feminist, I believe women should still have the right to ask men out if she wants. She never has to assume an antiquated gender role, waiting around patiently for men to lead the dating dance. She can be the one making the first moves if she wants to.
However, if she does, she’ll just have to get used to the rejection. If we are to have equality between the genders, that means having an equal experience of being turned down by our romantic interests.
Photo by Nojan Namdar.