I remember the day my mind changed about making the first move. I was at the beach alone. I’d called off of work for a desperately needed personal day.
School was back in session. The beach was practically empty. But there was a lone
, well-built stranger to my right. He’d been looking at me, and I’d been looking at him, each of us exchanging timid smiles, but neither of us had approached, much less said a word. This had been going on all day.
I came back from a dip in the water and saw he’d put his shirt on. He would be departing soon, and I’d be back to that familiar, empty feeling that comes after spotting an attractive man, making googly eyes across the room, or, er, sand in this case, then watching him leave without saying anything. I would spend the ride home wishing I had said something and wondering if I’d ever see him again.
But no matter how many cute guys I spotted, I never said anything, not unless a guy approached me first. I’m not sure where I got the idea that it was a man’s job to do the approaching. My mother, a staunch feminist in practice if not in name, would tell me, “if you see something, say something.” But the messages I got from everywhere else is that only desperate women made the first move, and men don’t like it when a woman plays “the man’s role.” My job was to show up and look as pretty as possible and an interested man would take it from there.
I could give you anecdotes about how backward that line of thinking is, but you’ll probably be more swayed by new research that says women making the first move is very good — at least online. According to a new survey by dating site OkCupid, women who make the first move increase their chances of dating more attractive men. The study found that when a woman contacts a man first, 30 percent of those messages turn into a conversation. Women are 2.5 times more likely to get a response than men are when they initiate contact.
I like those stats, but everything seems easier online. You see a cute guy, and send a message out into the ether. If he doesn’t respond, so be it. But an unanswered email is hardly the same as a live man who has the potential to reject you harshly. No one likes to be rejected.
The good news is: That’s not likely to happen. Guys in the real world like it when you make the first move. I know because I asked.
“I’ve always found myself attracted to women who are friendly enough to strike up conversation and confident enough to express interest,” says Miles Davis, a restaurateur in Washington. “When women make the first move, it helps create a much more fluid conversation.”
Rubin Keyser Carasco, a brand strategist in New York, agreed with him. “I respect any woman that goes after what she wants, and if she wants me, that makes her even more attractive.”
All the guys I asked felt similarly. And the better news was that all it required from women was a “hello,” maybe a compliment or engaging question. When I was single, my go-to was: “Nice shirt. Where’d you get it?” I learned that I could ask almost anything. As long as I smiled and looked friendly, the guy would engage me.
I told this to a guy friend, Jason Andrews, a speech pathologist in New York, who wasn’t the least surprised. “A man who actually likes a woman and is intrigued just needs a ‘hello,’” he said.
I also never had to make all the moves, just the first one. The guys — if remotely interested — would take it from there.
That part is important. “Show an intrigued guy attention and watch him move mountains to get to you,” said Enitan Bereola, a relationship expert in Florida and author of “Gentlewoman: Etiquette for a Lady, From A Gentleman.” “But make no mistake — you don’t want anyone who doesn’t desire you enough to pursue you back.”
Even if the exchange didn’t lead to an exchange of numbers or a date, I was never flatly rejected or embarrassed.
Not even that day on the beach. The guy I’d been eyeing all day passed near me, and I seized the moment, blurting out the first thing I could think of. “Hi.” I said it, probably a bit too chipper. After all, I was new to this. Making the first move requires practice and can be awkward at first.
He stopped. He said “hi” then walked closer and started chatting.
We exchanged numbers, and he called me — um, 20 or more times over the next couple days. I ended up blocking his number for obvious reasons.
The first lesson I learned about making the first move is that it’s effective and doesn’t require a lot. The second? You have to be careful about whom you work that magic on.