Once we meet the ones we want, how do we get to the point of clear communication?
Alison, I’d love to get your thoughts on the issue of men meeting women and how that can best be handled by men. My experience is that there are conflicting messages that create confusion for men trying to meet and potentially create relationships with women.
First, we may believe that responsibility for initiating relationships should be equal between men and women. In other words, we can think that a woman should be just as empowered and just as likely to ask a man out as the other way around.
While we may wish it was that way, that isn’t the case in our society as it currently is. I often tell men that while it may be unfair, if a guy wants a date then he’d better learn how to ask a woman out.
If a guy waits to be asked out, the odds are that he is unlikely to have a date.
So, let’s set aside what should be and discuss how guys should navigate what current reality is.
When I hear from women I often get what appears to be, at least on the surface, conflicting viewpoints that can make it challenging for a guy to know what to do. For example, I’ve had women complain to me that guys won’t initiate conversation. They may sit in a coffee shop and make lots of eye contact but never come over and say hi.
On the other hand, I have other women say they are tired of “constantly being hit on.” I’ve asked some of them what being hit on means. The responses are varied. Some give examples of guys overtly asking for sex. These seem pretty clear. But others say it is a simple as guys trying to make conversation with them. And they don’t like it.
It gets confusing when men are told they should like women for more than their looks yet they get feedback that starting conversation with a woman feels invasive or bad in some way.
What advice do you have for guys who are interested in meeting a woman “out in the wild” as I call it? By that I mean not on a dating site or maybe even away from known meeting places such as bars.
Is it disrespectful to start a conversation with someone who catches your attention? Does it matter if it is because the person is attractive or looks interesting versus being interested by the book they are reading? And what differentiates starting a conversation and hitting on someone?
Clarify this mess for us in 500 words or less, please…
Once upon a time I was in a coffee shop out of town. A fellow came up to me and said, “Do you come here often?” I explained that I don’t live nearby, so no, I didn’t. It sounded like a line. He said, “You look familiar, I feel like I know you from somewhere.” This was sounding more and more like a pickup situation. I explained that I didn’t live nearby and thought that would end the conversation. But it didn’t.
It turns out he did know me after all! With common ground established, we had a great chat over coffee. He asked me out for dinner that day but I was already dating someone.
I recognized how much courage it took to approach me like that and I felt like a jerk. Yes, he did want to date me and yes he was attracted to me, but he legitimately did know me from somewhere and he was truly trying to figure out where.
You see, most of the time when I’m out “in the wild” I feel pretty invisible and I don’t always know how to approach things. Sometimes I don’t even recognize when someone is trying to ask me out which is more embarrassing than not knowing how to respond. This is why I always used online dating. I have trouble gauging interest, which is likely a confidence thing. I generally assume men aren’t interested so I don’t always know how to handle it when they are.
For example—once upon a time, I let the postman upstairs in my building to deliver a package. He thanked me effusively and I laughed and said, “Now don’t go stalking me just because you know where I live.” He said, “How can I stalk you, I don’t even know your name?” This was a cue to introduce myself. What did I do? Smile stupidly because I cannot take a hint. I realized about three days later what he was getting at and felt very stupid.
I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s not just hard for men—it’s hard for women too. We don’t always know what you want or we might make the wrong assumption. Communication is hard.
My advice for men trying to meet a woman “in the wild” which is very common sense (and applicable to both genders):
- Be yourself. Being phony won’t get you anywhere.
- Be friendly, not creepy. Start with a smile and a hello.
- Observe body language. Is she closed off, distracted or otherwise sending “approach with caution” signals? Your intentions might be honorable but she might not be in the right headspace to receive them.
As a woman, when you deal with catcalling and communication from random strangers that is not respectful, it can be wearing. When someone approaches, you get nervous that it’s just another one of those situations. It can be a safety issue. I read a story the other day about a woman who was killed for rebuffing a man’s advances.
There’s vulnerability in trying to handle unwanted attention with grace and dignity. As much as men are pressured not to reveal feelings, so are women. We are trained to “be nice” even when people make us uncomfortable.
It’s not just about meeting someone, it’s about meeting in the middle when you both have a lifetime of socialization to overcome.
Alison, great points. Most people want connection. Finding it can be difficult and it takes a lot of courage for both people – to ask and to say yes or no. There may be room for improvement of style and technique yet it all boils down to an attempt to find connection. That’s something we should be able to all respect, even if we don’t want the same thing.