Last week I served as an expert panelist for The Great Love Debate in Nashville, TN. A crowd of men and women filled the room with one thing on their minds: why are they still single? I was there to help them and answer questions, but as always in my job, I managed to learn a little something too. For example, what is really bothering people who want to date?
Interestingly, what was most on people’s minds were two related things how to make the first move, and who makes it. How do you approach someone you are interested in while dealing with normal feelings of insecurity? The biggest fear, of course, is rejection. Based on my observations that night, men seem to fear rejection even more than women—but that is probably because they feel the burden of those societal norms that have had us in a stranglehold for as long as anyone can remember. They think it’s their job to make the first move.
Well, it isn’t.
A quick review of male privilege (bear with me): The same system that generally works in guys’ favor has some downsides too. That old system makes it a little bit more challenging for today’s men—especially decent men who believe in equality and respect women—to make overtures. They, and much of society, are still under the misguided impression that only men can be pursuers. Because they are “strong” and women are “weak?” Well that theory’s been blown out of the water. Because men are “in charge” and women need to be “under control?” I assume no one reading this blog thinks that way. So why allow yourself to be hogtied by an outdated system that puts the entire burden on the men and dis-empowers women?
Another thing I learned from the gathering at The Great Love Debate is that women today are increasingly comfortable making the first move, and most men who have been approached by a woman first…LOVED IT. They typically found it flattering, and a blessed relief.
I hope you feel a little better about the question of “who can initiate contact?” (Let’s review: anyone). Now on to the next question … how to initiate contact? What can you (whatever gender you are) do?
Below are some helpful guidelines.
Start with your inner game. This is the stuff you work on within yourself as you prepare to reach out and find love.
1. Build self-confidence.
How do you go from “not so confident” to self-confident? Believe me, you can enhance your self-confidence. Here are the essentials:
- What are you good at? You should know! Write it all down. See? Wow, you are impressive.
- Set and meet easily attained goals. Go out and meet people. Say nice things about yourself instead of putting yourself down. Do one thing a month outside your comfort zone (go skiing, write a poem and post it on-line, go on a solo road trip).
- Take care of yourself. The more tended and healthy you are, the better you feel about yourself.
- Live in the moment. This includes avoiding perfectionism. Breathe.
- Accept yourself “as is.” Once you do that, you can begin the journey of growth and change. But you’ll be fine with who you are now, and that, my friend, is called confidence.
- Practice gratitude. If you don’t try to control outcomes, if you learn from misfortune, if you meet the challenges you set for yourself… you will be able to feel gratitude for your life and that is a sure-fire sign of a self-confident person.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: confidence is sexy. If you are cool with who you are at this moment, it will show. It does not mean you are arrogant or self-aggrandizing, just happy with yourself. For a full how-to, see my blog Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence PART 2 – How to improve Self-confidence.
2. Stop fearing rejection.
Easy for me to say, right? The thing is, rejection, critical assessment, and vulnerability are natural and vital parts of the dating process. And not just for you. Everyone—even that eligible person who looks so confident and sure—has to face these things. And yes, you can be confident and like yourself and still feel nervous about rejection, but you gotta go for it. Without dating, and seeing what’s out there, you won’t find your true love.
Think about it. You don’t buy shoes without trying them on. If you put the shoes back and don’t buy them, the shoes say, “I guess we were a bad fit.” They don’t jump off a cliff feeling worthless and rejected, and no one is judging you for buying different shoes you like better. It is important for you to be as philosophical as you can about the “thanks but no thanks” responses that you will get. And who wants to invest hope, time, and money in something that is not going to work out? Saying “no thanks” when someone asks for your number and you know you are not interested is KIND. It avoids a much more painful path. So when it happens to you, move on and do not take it personally. Maybe there was no spark. Or it was too soon after a breakup. Or the person is just not interested in a relationship now. Or he or she is weird because why would someone not like you, but that is not your fault. Get it?
Now turn to your outer game. This is the stuff that helps you make a good impression and have a better chance of success when you make the first move.
1. Body language.
Test your body language IQ by studying people (discreetly) next time you are out, in a bar, coffee shop, or standing in line at the movies. Can you “hear” what people are saying with their bodies? Most people can, to some extent. Non-verbal communication, which comprises more than 80% of what people learn about each other, includes both face and body. Best bet when you want to make the first move: open body posture. Stand tall, head high, arms relaxed. Lean forward just a bit. You want to appear confident, but not arrogant. You are saying, “I’m interested.”
How do you present yourself physically? This does not mean everyone has to look like Brad or Angelina, before or after the airbrushing. It means, how you maintain yourself. Does your inside (self-respect, self-care, confidence) reflect on the outside? This includes clothing, grooming, hair, and skin. There are no rules—and personal style is great because it reflects the true you. But, you know, heading to a bar in your PJ bottoms and a faded, ice-cream-stained hockey jersey is probably not the best idea.
Flirting is fun. If you are not sure how to play, there are some things you can do to get the hang of it.
- Smile. A smile is a sure-fire winner. You’d be surprised how many people forget to smile. Their nerves, or their hidden conviction that dark and angsty is what gets dates, get in the way. (P.S. dark and angsty does not really get you dates. So try the smile.)
- Touch. Don’t overdo it. You don’t need to grab someone by the arm or yank them into the chair next to you. I’m talking about a hand on an arm, briefly, or the touch of a hand resting on a table between you. Powerful. Sexy too.
- Talk. Not cheesy pick-up lines. Not a recitation of your résumé. Not a discourse on your last relationship. Remember, this is flirting. Keep it light, but real. Ask open ended questions (“What do you think of the band?”) or tell an amusing anecdote about something that happened today. And listening is part of talking!
- Show your confidence. This is enticing and sexy. Arrogance is not, so be sure you know the difference!
- Be sincere. (See above re. pick-up lines.) A sincere compliment can be very special. Non-sincere (even if true): “You’re hot,” or “You’re the most awesome person I’ve ever met in my whole life.” Sincere: “Your sweater brings out the beautiful green of your eyes,” or “You have such nice hands,” or “Gosh, you’re funny!”
If flirting is fun for you, it will be fun for the other person as well. When the act of flirting is desirable, so, by extension, are you!
You’ll know if your flirtatious overtures are hitting home. If they aren’t, bow out gracefully. But if your flirting gets results, you are on safe ground. Check out these blogs for much more on the outer game: Get Your Flirt On, Do You Speak Body Language, and First Impressions.
It’s time. You are confident, you understand that rejection is not about you, and you are getting good at your outer game. Go ahead and make the first move! “Would you like to have coffee?” or “I go to the park with my dog on Saturdays. Would you like to take a walk with us?”
There… that wasn’t so hard, was it?