Why Dating Is Better For Everyone When Women Make the First Move

"When a person is threatened by a woman making the first move, it may be an indicator of personal insecurities."

Asking out someone you like can be nerve-wracking. And if you’ve been socialized as a woman, you might find making that first move especially scary. A lot of us have been taught that it’s “unladylike” to be the initiator, or that our love interests want the “thrill of the chase.”

“If women were expected to take a backseat in education, politics, sports, and business, it’s no shock then that society also expected them to behave like the weaker sex when it came to dating and relationships,” says Jon Birger, author of Make Your Move: The New Science of Dating and Why Women Are in Charge.

However, in his new book, Birger shows that doing the opposite pays off: Women willing to put themselves out there and initiate relationships have more success than those who wait for their someone to find them.

The dating site OkCupid, for example, found that message threads initiated by women are much more likely to turn into long conversations, and women who send the first message end up with more attractive partners than those who wait for someone else to message them. And according to a 2018 study in Personality and Individual Differences, women have better sexual experiences when they make the first move.

“It’s okay to ask someone out on a first date,” says Birger. “It’s okay to propose, too. Not only is it okay, but it’s actually advantageous.”

The advantages to women going after what they want aren’t even limited to dating. “Studies show that when it comes to standard types of matching—dating, hiring, school admissions, etc.—the party that initiates the match generally achieves a better outcome than the one on the receiving end,” says Birger.

When it comes to dating, though, this happens because a woman who’s willing to approach someone has the option to approach her first-choice person, Birger explains. But if she waits to be pursued, that person may never even find out that she likes them. 

“It’s so important that women know what they value in a partner and that they unapologetically look for those qualities when dating,” agrees therapist and author Dr. Lauren Cook. Rather than wait for someone else to make the first move, women should consciously seek out the right person, she says.

Women, particularly those who date men, may have been told that this kind of proactiveness is a turn-off, but there’s research suggesting the opposite. In a 2005 study in the Journal of Sex Research, 72% of men said they preferred that women make the first move. A 2017 survey by the dating app Match similarly found that 95 percent of men wanted women to initiate the first kiss, and just as many wanted women to ask for their numbers. 

Sure, there may be some people who might have an issue with women being the initiators. But if you’re looking for someone who cares about gender equality, making the first move may be a way to weed out those who don’t believe in it. 

“When a person values a woman making the first move, it shows that they appreciate a woman’s confidence, the sureness of herself, and initiative,” says Cook. “It’s healthy to have a partner that celebrates us when we are living with clarity and courage. When a person is threatened by a woman making the first move, it may be an indicator of personal insecurities or some ingrained traditional beliefs.”

Don’t be afraid to directly tell someone you like them, says Birger. Research has found that a lot of people don’t know when someone’s flirting with them. Most people appreciate this kind of communication, as long as you’re not badgering someone who isn’t showing interest. 

That said, if being the initiator just doesn’t feel like you and you prefer being pursued (and it’s working for you), there’s no need to change what you’re doing. “What matters is that you’re assured in how you like to engage in dating and that it’s a conscious choice that comes from a place of security,” says Cook. “You’re just as worthy of being chased or chasing—either way is fine so long as it’s coming from an intentional space.”

There are also ways to pursue a partner and be pursued as well. “You can absolutely be pursued by being clear about what you want,” says Cook. “There’s a difference between playing games and feeling desired by your partner. Your partner should make you feel wanted and appreciated, rather than confused and frustrated.” Cook recommends thinking of dating like a tennis game: you hit the ball, your partner hits it back, and you get into a rally.

“It can be as simple as sliding into someone’s DMs, asking a person out for a drink, or inviting a person to a 15-minute Zoom get-to-know-you,” says Cook. “If the person shows interest, excellent. If not, move right along to that next person who is able to meet you where you’re at.”

So, if you want to show someone you’re interested but are scared it’ll backfire, consider this permission to go for it. After all, you’ll never know opportunities might be in front of you until you take that risk.