Picture the scene. I'm sitting in a bar in Sheffield, drinking vodka and Coke next to a guy I've known and fancied for two months. We came here in a group, yet one by one everyone has made their excuses and left. Now it's just us. Our hands have brushed a couple of times, awkwardly. He's avoiding eye contact. We're doing this odd little face-dance, where we almost lean in for a kiss, but pull away at the last moment. If I don't strike now, I could miss the opportunity.
So I kissed him. I said something excruciatingly embarrassing first like ‘Oh, come on’, and leaned in for our first ever kiss.
Three years down the line we're living together and couldn't be happier, and all because I did what many women find unthinkable and made the first move.
The out-dated notion that men should initiate a romantic relationship lives on. It's bizarre that in a culture where women fight for equality, many otherwise forward-thinking women believe that, when it comes to dating, they ought to take a back-seat to men. I am 24 years old – I grew up watching videos of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella waiting for their princes to arrive, but I no longer believe in those fairytale ideals. However, many women my age are still waiting for men to take the lead.
Yet research suggests that women who are coy in getting the message across may be missing out. A study called ‘Women's direct opening lines are perceived as most effective’ by Joel Wade et al, found men believe that the most effective form of chat-up line a woman can use is a direct one. Often, when women take a more coy approach, men simply can’t work out whether they’re interested or not.
‘For both sexes now the problem is how we play this,’ says relationship expert and counsellor Diana Parkinson. ‘It used to be very obvious. The woman used to be submissive and the man would be the protector. But we don't need to play those roles any more, and I think both sexes are still going through a period of adjustment and confusion.’
I was certainly confused when I first became interested in men. Nobody ever sat me down and explained what now seems so blatantly obvious – that men are just like women. In fact, a study in Wade's research found that men and women have a strikingly similar view of sex. Despite this, at times both genders are guilty of believing that dating is merely a game.
I spent my university years attempting to play men, believing that if I acted a certain way I'd trick a man into loving me. Unsurprisingly, this didn't work. So I hit the other extreme and was too fierce when it came to dating. I’d always need to get to the punchline first – telling guys exactly what I was looking for and leaving no room for their wants or needs. I thought that in doing this I'd protect myself from getting hurt. In actuality I scared off many a man this way and sometimes still ended up wounded regardless.
A common misconception, when it comes to dating, is that being direct is synonymous with being aggressive. ‘I think being direct means simply pointing out straightforwardly what one means or wants, whereas being aggressive is being pushy or forceful,’ says Wade, the lead researcher on the study.
‘When we are confident, we can be quite quiet and we don't need to be aggressive,’ adds Parkinson. ‘Any aggressive behaviour is borne out of a lack of confidence.’
In the study, examples of effective chat-up lines were those that established common ground or were straight to the point. Asking someone whether they'd like to have a drink with you is not an aggressive move. The study also ranked giving a man your phone number as highly effective. Overall, the key is showing a genuine interest in a man, rather than trying to present a false front around him or using ‘tricks’.
‘Talk to a man like an equal. Find out what he's interested in,’ advises Parkinson. ‘Sometimes we just have to take some initiative. The saddest thing is when I talk to people who had an opportunity 20, 30, years ago and didn't take it up. Go for it.’