I have spent the majority of my dating life waiting for someone else to initiate everything, whether it be dates, first kisses, or conversations. As a straight woman, this meant sitting around and hoping that the guy I was interested in would make a move. I never questioned this until I started really dating during my sophomore year of college, at which point I met three guys who changed my perception of my role in relationships.
I went on three dates with a friend of a friend, Turner*, and he took the lead on everything. He texted me first, invited me into New York City for our first date, and set up our second date at his place. In between seeing each other, I spent my time wanting him to reach out. I was aware that I really liked him, and I wanted him to know this. However, I never felt like I had the power to voice these feelings. The entirety of our one-month whatever-it-was consisted of me waiting. And when things ended, I felt terrible. I knew the lopsidedness of it all was definitely a part of why it didn’t work out. I did a little — okay, a lot — of analysis in the month following. I had worked very hard over the previous summer to come back to college with greater self-confidence, and I realized that it wasn’t bleeding over to my dating life. I now recognize how silly it was to take a backseat. But I knew nothing else.
In all of the romantic comedies that my friends and I watch, the girl keeps her feelings to herself. She waits for the handsome male lead to come up to her on the street or approach her in class. Even Lara Jean from “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” writes love letters that are accidentally sent out instead of making the conscious choice to act on her emotions.
I can’t express how much time my girlfriends and I have wasted analyzing the minute actions of our crushes. And analysis is all it was. We never devised plans or encouraged each other to go up and talk to them. Instead, we debated if a nonchalant wave was a sign of infatuation or mere politeness.
So, once I was really ready to start dating, it was natural for me to wait around. Even when I signed up for Tinder, I almost never reached out to a match with a simple “hey :).” I had no ties to these guys and nothing to lose, but the learned social expectations of my role in relationships translated into online interactions, too.
In college especially, the culture of online and in-person dating puts so much pressure on the guy to act. Many of my male friends have expressed facing this — they feel they need to take the reins and fill an assigned role that they don’t necessarily want to play. Both men and women compromise their actual identities to meet these unhealthy, archaic stereotypes.
My relationship with Turner was the breaking point. I was sick of letting another person control such an intimate part of my life. So, over the past five months, I’ve worked hard to build up my self-confidence, this time as it applies to my love life. I decided to introduce myself to anyone in my classes who I found attractive and to make dozens of first moves. It may have been a little excessive, but every “hello” was a challenge that I overcame.
As a result, I began talking to Chris*, who I matched with on Tinder. We discussed politics, and he asked me questions about my life and interests. It turned out we had some friends in common. And after a few days, he suggested that we meet up to get food on campus. I agreed, and the conversation moved on. I recognized that I had fallen into my old habit by waiting for him to suggest the plan, despite being eager to meet him. Post internal swearing and a brief motivational speech, I got out my planner, found a time that worked for both us, and turned his suggestion into an actual date. Things with Chris didn’t last long, but I’m happy knowing I initiated something. I realized it wasn’t so hard, and I was surprised how good it felt. I vowed to fully embrace making the first move. If I liked someone, I was going to talk to them, goddamnit.
Tyler* and I were in the same political science class last fall, but we didn’t know each other. In December, he came into class late and sat down in the only empty seat, which was next to me. During our break, I went up to him and asked his name. Granted, we were already three months into the course, and it was a little weird that I didn’t know it, but I didn’t care. At the end of the semester, we attended a dinner at our professor’s house off campus, and he offered to drive me back to my dorm. I spent the last 20 minutes of the drive trying to get my previously nonexistent nerves under control. When we arrived, I thanked him for the ride. Then, after taking a quick breath, I said, “I had a lot of fun riding back with you. I’m going to be here over January break, so we should definitely hang out. Here’s my number.” I walked out of the car feeling amazing. My nerves had abated, and I was giddy. Tyler and I began texting that night. He later told me that he appreciated my forwardness.
Making the first move shows that someone is aware of their feelings and, more importantly, that they recognize their validity. It is giving yourself the power to take risks and be assertive. From experience, I understand that fear of rejection naturally comes with being assertive. But the sting of rejection is brief in comparison to the time spent ruminating on unvoiced feelings.
College is a time for growth. We should be breaking down stereotypes instead of subscribing to them. Feelings are not gender-specific, and neither is acting upon them. So approach that person who catches your eye. Introduce yourself. Give them your number. Ask for theirs. Take the initiative to set up a date. If you want something, you have to make that shit happen.