Let women make the first move: what Mel Magazine gets wrong

The passive voice is inconsistent with initiating.

© Dave DuBay

Will women asking men out on dates further the goals of #MeToo? Mel Magazine thinks so. And while Tracy Moore may be on to something, the way she frames it is problematic.

Moore begins with a conditional statement: “If men took a sabbatical from making the first move…” But why men must take a sabbatical in order for women to initiate dating is unclear. A social norm where a person—regardless of gender—initiates a date if they’re attracted to someone makes more sense.

But Moore’s suggestion that men, by taking a sabbatical, initiate women’s initiation of asking for dates means women aren’t really taking the initiative.

If women want to take the initiative then the onus is on women to do so. To initiate is to take responsibility, but the very title of her piece is ambivalent toward women doing this. “Let women make the first move” presupposes that men are actors and women are acted upon.

This is a common feminist theme. In 2011 the Fatal Feminist wrote, “Get me off this damn pedestal.” One blogger pointed out the author’s passive voice: she appears to be a damsel in distress waiting for a white knight to rescue her. To say women need to take responsibility if they want to be the ones to initiate dates is to not put women on a pedestal. It treats women as equals. But to say men need to let women initiate is benevolent sexism.

Moore goes on to explain the benefits of women initiating dates. I’m in agreement here. When I was single I got asked out on average once a year. It’s flattering. But that some women have always chosen to ask men out shows that men are not preventing women from doing this. Women who don’t ask men out are preventing themselves from doing it.

Moore also points out that the experience of being asked out will enlighten men to women’s experiences and likely increase men’s empathy for women. This would be a good thing.

But while she notes that women also will experience rejection is a new way, her piece remains mostly female-centric with little awareness of the male gender role.

Women often think men have more power in the dating world. Feminism in general is reticent to acknowledge women’s power over men because it muddies the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy. In reality, both men and women have power and powerlessness when dating, but usually in different ways.

Twenty some odd years ago I was a recent college graduate who got a job working with people with AIDS. Gay bars often did fundraisers for us.

Being a twenty-three year old man in a gay bar is an enlightening experience. I’d walk into a gay bar and men would turn to look. It’s very ego boosting.

I didn’t think of myself as attractive before that mainly because as a shy guy I was mostly invisible to women. Both sexes experience invisibility, but I don’t think feminists have any clue that invisibility is far more common for men compared to women in the dating scene.

In a gay bar men would initiate conversations. Being shy, initiating conversations has always been a challenge, but I realized that if I were gay I’d have no problem finding a date. Yes, there were a few creeps. But most gay men were fine with me not playing for their team.

With asking for dates, however, women often have greater privilege than men. Asking women out on dates is not a choice for men—it’s an obligation. A man who doesn’t ask doesn’t date. Asking men out on dates is a choice for women, though. She’ll still date even if she doesn’t ask, though she might date more if she does ask. Going against social norms means she’ll face disparagement time to time. But having more options is better than having fewer options.

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Who Should Pay For Dinner?

A post recently appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. And again. And again.

It’s gone viral.

My first reaction was that a mother making her 6 year old boy take her on dates that the boy pays for – so he can learn how to be a gentleman – is reminiscent of dads taking their daughters to father/daughter proms to teach the girls how to be ladylike. But that’s not what I want to focus on.

For context, the original post is below. (The picture is of her 6 year old son taking money out of his wallet, but in the screenshot I cut most it because I don’t want to post a picture of a child without the parent’s permission.)

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 9.56.35 AM

There’s a flip side of this coin. One could ask if she’s also teaching her son that a gentleman doesn’t associate with a woman who isn’t ladylike, and being ladylike includes a woman showing proper deference toward a man.

I’m not advocating that. Teaching children manners and respect can be done just as easily in an egalitarian context.

As such I disagree with the way she equates traditional gender roles with respect. Don Draper from Mad Men has impeccable manners and always picks up the check. But he doesn’t treat women with respect. Alan Alda might split the check with his date, or take turns paying, but he also treats women as equals.

This leads headlong into the debate about who should pay for a date. One way to avoid the issue is saying that the person who asks for the date should pay. But we’re still firmly entrenched in traditional gender roles because men are required to ask for dates while it’s merely optional for women. That is, both asking for and paying for dates are traditionalist expectations women have of men.

This is where we need to inject some honesty:

Most of us want equality when it’s to our advantage but may argue that it’s not really about equality when equality isn’t to our advantage. This is true whether the issue is paying for dinner or doing the dishes. It comes down to self-interest.

But from the perspective of dating, equality, and who picks up the check I want to offer a solution based on game theory. I don’t mean game in the sense of pick-up artists. I’m talking about the “study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.”

In a nutshell, the most effective strategy is to start by cooperating, but don’t just give away the store. If the other person doesn’t reciprocate, however, then walk away (but don’t seek revenge).

For a man, a cooperative move on the first date means picking up the check when it arrives and being prepared to pay for the whole thing.

At that point a woman could do a few different things. She could reciprocate his cooperation by offering to pay half, and if she does then he should accept. Or she could reciprocate by picking up the tab (or at least half of it) on the next date. The ball is in her court at that point, so on this second date he should wait to see what she does instead of taking the check right away.

But because she might not reciprocate, he should still be prepared to pay for the entire second date. If that happens he shouldn’t make a big deal out of it, but he will need to decide if he’s okay with this one-sided dynamic, or whether he wants to end things. If he chooses to go forward then he should acknowledge that that’s his choice.

The Commitment Phobia Myth

It’s been almost six years since my divorce, but only recently have I prioritized my romantic future. I’m not alone in taking it slow. I know other men who got divorced in their 30s or 40s but didn’t remarry until over a decade later.

We’re told that men are afraid of commitment, but there’s not much evidence to back this up. Women and men first marry around the same age, and men are more likely than women to remarry after divorce.

One of the men who remarried a while back after being single for fifteen years told me that as a middle aged man with one divorce under his belt, he had very specific ideas about what he wanted in a life partner. And it was mostly about emotional health, particularly how conflict is handled. He dated several women before remarrying, but was very selective about whom he would commit to.

In my view he was taking commitment very seriously, though many of the women he dated before he met his wife might have thought he was commitment phobic.

Part of the problem is that there may be an assumption that because men tend to be less selective about whom they’ll have sex with, men also must be less selective about whom they’ll marry. If a woman wants a commitment, but he’s being more selective, then she might feel like he wasn’t taking things seriously.

And as we reach middle age the dynamics of dating shift. For one, divorced men are often cautious because they know the emotional and financial price they could pay. In divorce it’s more often the man who loses his home and his children.

As well, in Dataclysm OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder uses dating site analytics to show that a woman’s desirability peaks in her 20s, where it’s extremely high; but it declines thereafter, becoming steep after 40. A man’s desirability, however, is more moderate until it peaks around age 40.

In other words, young women typically have more choices than men of any age. By middle age, however, men who date women their own age can afford to be more selective.

But in the long run it’s the quality of the relationship matters most. Every man who stays married will one day be married to an older woman.

Besides, many women over 40 are only interested in dating but not relationships. They seem overrepresented online, that strange world where serious relationship seekers are typically disappointed by the plethora of men looking for hookups, and the large number of women who think someone better might email her tomorrow.

My philosophy is that it can’t hurt to have an online presence, and free sites are best because online dating really isn’t worth paying for. With online dating there’s a larger number of single women in one place, but it’s better to meet someone in the real world because in-person interactions have fewer incentives for either party to be shallow.

Though a cliché, it really is true that my number one relationship pattern is me, and your number one relationship pattern is you. That’s why men who blame women for their relationship failures are seen as immature and possibly misogynist.

Yet, it often goes unchallenged when a woman blames men for her relationship failures. Putting women on a pedestal, however, is passive-aggressive sexism because it treats women as unable to take adult responsibility for themselves. It’s also unfair to men because being blameless is necessary for women to stay on the pedestal, and being blameless means finding someone to blame.

Taking it as far as playing the damsel in distress is even more problematic because the knight in shining armor won’t be her hero for long. In the end he cannot solve her problems for her, and having thus failed he becomes the new villain. Then the cycle repeats.

Dating often feels like a guarded activity where I’m hopeful but on the lookout for red flags. Women usually avoid men who have negative attitudes toward women, but it’s just as important for men to avoid women who have a negative attitude toward men. Other common red flags include people who blame others and who won’t acknowledge their contributions to past relationship failures, people who try to change (i.e. control) others, and people around whom you feel like you must walk on eggshells.

But in the end, emotionally healthy people attract other emotionally healthy people. So one’s own emotional health is the necessary starting point.