In this era of egalitarian relationships, it’s surprising how closely we still follow traditional gender roles in dating. Men are still generally expected to pick up the check (and still prefer to do so).
We also expect men to be the first to express interest by asking a woman out on a date. However, men don’t prefer to carry all the responsibility in this area – surveys frequently reveal that a high percentage of men would like a woman to ask them out. Yet fewer than 10% of women have ever initiated with a guy.
Women can meet new people and improve their dating lives if they are prepared to signal attraction to the men they like.
Men Risk Rejection and Women Decide
The primary dynamic in human mating is an initial display of interest and qualifications by the male, enabling the female to select a mate from among their best options. This reflects the female’s assuming most of the risk associated with actual reproduction. Within each sex, some people will have more opportunities for mating than others, but the “eggs expensive, sperm cheap” reality holds in any case.
When a woman upends that dynamic by displaying a high level of interest – especially sexual interest – she is assuming the additional risk of rejection or being treated poorly after sex. The sexually unrestricted woman who is not seeking a long-term connection may have little to lose in this scenario, but a woman seeking a traditional long-term relationship usually feels more comfortable sticking with the traditional script.
Men have pointed out that when a woman asks them out, they don’t feel limited to selecting someone special from among their best options, as we would. Many men assume a “Why not?” attitude even if they’re not interested in the woman, because they consider the possibility that the date will result in sex. In fact, many men interpret female expressions of interest as invitations to sex. For these reasons, many women wind up disappointed after they ask a guy out, even if he says yes.
The Strategy of Signaling Attraction
Instead of auditioning for a date, there’s a lot women can do to offer encouragement to the men they find attractive. There are several ways women can express interest without assuming the risk of being rejected or misused. It’s more of an art than a science, though research has revealed some interesting findings in this area.
Keep in mind that these strategies are only as good as the quality of the men you’re aiming for. If you flirt with cads, you’ve just made the riskiest, most senseless mating decision possible. On the other hand, the best guys are the ones who will enjoy and appreciate some encouragement without seeking ways to take advantage of you.
Strategy #1: Be Direct
“The present research implemented three studies in order to ascertain whether or not women are likely to approach a man to initiate/signal romantic interest and to determine which opening lines used by women are perceived as most effective, and most direct by men and women.
…Opening lines that directly indicate an interest in dating were perceived as most effective and most direct by both men and women. Women were indeed likely to approach men and opening lines that directly signal interest were perceived as most effective and most direct by both sexes.”
Source: “Women’s direct opening lines are perceived as most effective” from Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 47, Issue 2, July 2009, Pages 145-149
Strategy #2: Be Playful
Expressing interest shouldn’t be torture – this is all about having fun and meeting new people. Years ago I read Steve Santagati’s book The MANual: A True Bad Boy Explains How Men Think, Date, and Mate–and What Women Can Do to Come Out on Top. There’s one particular story I’ve always remembered. Steve was walking down the street one day in Capetown, South Africa, when a passing woman grinned and said, “You’re a biscuit!” (He had no idea what she meant – turns out biscuit means cutie.) He was charmed by her confidence and her smile, so he ran after her and introduced himself. They developed a serious relationship.
While a move like that may seem bold, it carried zero risk. Even if he hadn’t chased her down, she would have continued on her merry way, smiling and probably feeling a bit sassy. Throwing a compliment his way was all upside.
Strategy #3: Smile and Make Eye Contact
I’ve read that the threshold for communicating attraction with eye contact is three seconds. If someone holds eye contact with you for that long, they’re interested. Yet eye contact alone doesn’t always get the job done. In one study, researchers found that when women wanted men to approach them in a bar, eye contact alone resulted in an approach 20% of the time. When the women smiled while making eye contact, the number jumped to 60%.
Even if you’re not looking to pick up a random in a bar, the act of smiling and making eye contact is a powerful mix and can be used in almost any situation.
Strategy #4: Tease Him
Teasing someone – in a good-humored way – is a great ice breaker. When you tease someone, you invite them to take up a challenge. It’s another way of being playful. I’m not talking about obnoxious negging here – don’t tease a guy about his receding hairline!
I’ll share an example. When I was single I went to a block party with some friends. There was a cute guy there I knew very slightly but not well enough to start chatting up comfortably. I grabbed a bottle of beer, walked up to him and said, “Hey, you look like the kind of guy that would have a bottle opener on his keychain.” He cracked up, pulled out his keychain, which was indeed a bottle opener, and popped off the cap. We had a great conversation and dated for a while. I’m fairly certain we would have never crossed paths had I not approached him.
Strategy #5: Compliment Him
Compliments must be meaningful and true in order to have a positive effect. Reader ArtAMiss once shared her most effective strategies to attract men. Here’s what she said about giving compliments:
“My compliments were judicious. I waited until I had something to say that:
a) the recipient would care about
b) I meant wholeheartedly
c) could be delivered effectively
Some people like public compliments and some find them embarrassing. Some people always hear about how smart they are, but never get told when they’re wearing a color that really brings out their eyes or makes their skin glow. Some people don’t care about appearances or smarts, but you’ll make their week by noticing how they showed grace under pressure.”
When you want to show interest in a man you know, ArtAMiss’ approach is gold.
Strategy #6: Touch Him
Research has found that touching someone lightly on the upper arm makes you much more persuasive. It works in any situation where you hope to get something from the other person, and it works for both sexes. In a dating context, it can effectively get you more attention. From one study:
“In the nightclub, women accepted the offer of a dance 43 percent of the time when not being touched on the arm and 65 percent after even the briefest of touches.
In the street, the research team obtained telephone numbers from 10 percent of women no physical contact and almost 20 percent when touching. In both cases a brief touch dramatically increased success.”
Strategy #7: Start a Conversation
People hate making small talk but you’ve got to start somewhere. There are lots of ways to begin talking with a stranger:
- Can you do me a favor? Hold my place while I look to see if my friend has arrived?
- Bride or groom?
- Do you know this brewery well? Can you recommend something light, not too hoppy?
There are a million ways to strike up a conversation without resorting to “Do you come here often?” or “Are you from around here?” There is never a good reason to ask someone “How’s it goin’?”
Strategy #8: Offer Your Assistance
This applies to guys you already know and are crushing on. Being generous with your time and effort shows that you care about others. With some creativity you can make it clear that you’re interested in him specifically. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to be helpful – be a good friend. Friendship is an excellent way of beginning a romantic relationship, because you can get to know one another and figure out if you’re compatible without pressure around sex.
Strategy #9: Include Him In a Group Plan
Invite him to a party or some group outing. Say you think he’d enjoy your crew and have a good time. This isn’t foolproof – I once had a guy enthusiastically accept my invitation and then show up with his serious girlfriend. But it’s a great way of getting better acquainted without risking embarrassment. (When Russ showed up with Laura, of course I acted thrilled to meet her and introduced them around. Whatta ya gonna do?)
Strategy #10: “Act As If”
Becca Brown is a successful female entrepreneur. She attributes her success to advice she was given as an undergraduate:
“Act as if.”
“It’s a mentality, a state of mind, a perspective. Things are not always going to go your way in business, in your career, and in life. There will be setbacks and disappointments, and you may be tempted to get down on yourself, but you have to act as if — as if it didn’t happen. As if it didn’t faze you. As if things had gone your way.”
Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know call confidence “life’s great enabler.”
Both men and women rate confidence very highly as a trait they want in a partner. Self-confidence is a useful metric because it serves as a shortcut of sorts – if a person is confident, we believe they have high mate value, which they know via success with the opposite sex.
Manifesting confidence is not only a powerful way to attract men, it’s pretty much a prerequisite for all of the strategies listed here. “Acting as if” can serve as a bridge to get you there when you’re feeling vulnerable.
Expressing interest in a man requires walking a fine line. Men tend to overestimate women’s sexual interest in them, so it’s important to keep things friendly and flirty without veering into sexual aggression. “You’re a biscuit!” is a lot more charming – and a lot less risky – than “You’re hot!”
This isn’t really about turning the tables or catching up to modern relationships – women have always found ways to invite men to audition for their attention. You’ve got plenty of room to maneuver without actually being the one to ask the guy out and assume additional risk.