When we’re not bitching about the rain and snow, you can count on Vancouverites’ shared disdain for the city’s apparently cold, debilitating dating scene to bring us together. Few places is this more obvious than in the Georgia Straight’s online Confessions column, where, on any given day, you can find men and women—typically of the cis, heterosexual variety—venting anonymously about their love and relationship conundrums. In the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, however, we’ve noticed an uptick in posts and comments addressing the act—or lack thereof—of women approaching men around town.
“There’s been some talk of women needing to ask out men more often,” wrote one nameless user. “Does this only work if a girl is drop dead gorgeous?”
“I have been so used by guys,” shared another. “There is no fucking way I’m asking one out.”
“You will never know if he actually likes you if you ask him out ’cause he has done nothing in the beginning to show his interest in you,” someone else lamented.
All of the above comments were presumably written by women; meanwhile, users who appear to be men have penned posts and responses encouraging women to speak to them and, in one instance, to “take control”. It’s a fascinating incongruity: although, today, women are more educated and occupy more leadership positions in the professional sphere than ever before—“leaning in”, demanding seats at the table, and, hell, even bringing folding chairs despite still being vastly outnumbered by men in some industries—it seems that they continue to take on more submissive roles in the back-and-forth of heteronormative dating. Indeed, there are many strong, go-getting, and capable women out there who, when single and ready to mingle, refuse to even text a guy first.
The question here, then, isn’t whether women should be making the first move (it’s 2018: go for what you want!), but why more aren’t. Oh, and why they sure as hell should be. “I don’t think that women are necessarily passive,” Deanna Cobden, founder of local dating-consultation service Dateworks, says by phone. “Regardless of work, most people really want to have a relationship with that masculine-feminine energy and balance.”
A dating-and-relationship coach with over 15 years of experience in the industry, Cobden sees women’s reluctance to approach men as related to the complexities of mating in a perplexing, swipe-right era. “I think a lot of people are just really confused by modern dating,” she says. “They’re kind of paralyzed by their fears right now. ‘Oh, he only wants sex. Oh, I’m not good-looking enough.’ ”
Yue Qian, an assistant professor in UBC’s department of sociology who has conducted research on the evolution of gender roles, explains this “uneven gender revolution” in more theoretical terms. While women have transgressed traditional gender norms and willingly faced adversities to enter male-dominated fields of education and work, they’re less inclined to do so in the arena of heterosexual dating because the economic incentive here is not evident enough to offset the judgment that persists. “In the personal realm, men and women are still socially penalized for violating different norms,” Qian relays by phone.
The perks of defying these stereotypes, however, abound for both women and men. Making the first move can not only be empowering for women, but also help to dismantle performative gender roles—like men being the primary breadwinner—that may put strain on relationships in the long run. By vocalizing their intent and desires, women may also experience more freedom and sexual liberty, especially at a time when the public dialogue surrounding consent is at an all-time high. (Plus, the handful of men we talked to described being asked out by the opposite sex as “hot”, “flattering”, and “sexy”.)
“If society is more accepting of different relationship arrangements,” says Qian, “then those men and women can have less pressure to organize their relationships in a certain way.”
For Cobden, it’s simple: have confidence in your badass self, leave fears and insecurities at the door, and, if you’re getting good vibes after striking up a conversation—whether IRL or online—ask him out. Smiling, making eye contact, and flirting are all ways to express interest without outright proposing a date, too. “You don’t have to go up and say, ‘Hey, I really like you, let’s go for dinner.’ You wanna throw him a few crumbs, drop the handkerchief,” she suggests. “You can be flirtatious in a very nonaggressive, nonsexual way and let that person know ‘Hey, it’s okay to talk to me. I like you.’ ”
Above all, it’s about knowing what you want—and that you’re more than worthy of love and a fulfilling relationship—and going for it. (After all, the worst that can happen is they say no.) If anything, having both sexes behaving and interacting proactively could help to warm up Vancouver’s allegedly frosty dating climate. Not that Cobden subscribes to that narrow-minded view. “You can go out and meet people anywhere,” she states. “You have to be open; you have to be the common denominator in that situation.”