The eternal question

by on October 6, 2006 at 9:22 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

Should a woman ask a man out?

Megan from Sacramento offers an update:

I stopped by a café yesterday on my way home.  Sitting outside was a guy I’ve seen at Pub Quiz a number of times.  Dave told me that Petra saw that guy’s profile on some dating site.  He’s an English professor* and around our age.  So I walked over to his table and introduced myself; we chatted about Pub Quiz for a while…

The chatting went well and he has bluer eyes than I expected.  He asked a couple times if I would be at Pub Quiz this weekend. (No, I’ll be at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and are you sure you don’t want to hang out for dinner one night?)  But he didn’t ask for my number or anything.  I see him around town a fair amount.  I’m sure I’ll see him again.  Should I be even more forward than walking up to his table and introducing myself?  Or with that kind of opening, should I expect that he would ask me out if he were single and interested?

Her readers, some of whom are our readers, run through the usual litany of arguments in the comments.

What is the downside from asking him out?  A rejection is soon forgotten.  Nor would I fear that Megan marries him, yet sadly ends up with a non-aggressive wimp who is one day unable to use a shot gun to protect his family from rampaging terrorists.

No, the risk is that, dating profile and all, his relationship status is ambiguous.  He wants Megan to ask him out, but he would feel guilty doing the asking himself.  In that case Megan could ask if and only if she is able to walk away from such situations quickly and decisively.

An alternative scenario is that Megan is being queued behind another woman.  This guy will promote her in the queue, but only if she shows real interest.  Otherwise the mere act of his asking her out would disrupt his emotional equilibrium vis-a-vis the other woman (women?) in the queue and demote them, in his eyes, prematurely.

In general I believe (unlike my wife) that women should be willing to ask men out.  However flawed the strategy may be, it only has to pay off once to be worth it.  But I am suspicious of English professors when the relationship between processes and outcomes is so fragile.

Would any of you like to ponder the difference between a Dutch and an English auction, and how it applies to dating strategy?

Fred Reece October 6, 2006 at 9:37 am

Should she ask him out? No. She should indicate that she enjoys talking with him and that she feels comfortable around him (ie flirt)whenever they bump into each other. If he’s interested and available, he’ll suggest that they go get a cup of coffee (the classic, innocuous, reply) and they’ll get a cup of coffe and then they will eventually make arrangements to “get together again.” Woemn often think that men they are attracted to are “shy” “mysterious” “enigmatic” “elusive” “afraid of commitment” “emotionally guarded” and so forth. Nope, if he’s attracted and available and you indicate that you are attracted and available (every woman knows how to do this) he’ll ask.

Xmas October 6, 2006 at 9:53 am

You know, nothing stops her from giving him her number.

Karl Smith October 6, 2006 at 10:09 am

An alternative scenario is that Megan is being queued behind another woman. This guy will promote her in the queue, but only if she shows real interest.

This happens, a lot.

If you ask one girl out then you have to start playing your hand there. You may not be finished seeing where it is going to go with the other girl. You are likely to make a mistake with the new girl because she is not yet #1.

However, if she shows real interest and you are still unsure about the first girl then she can jump to the front.

I think I have experienced this with women before from the other side. As such I think it is always to your advantage to politely show someone you’re interested in, that you are interested in them. “Games of Love” aside people dislike uncertainty even in the dating world.

eddie October 6, 2006 at 10:32 am

Would any of you like to ponder the difference between a Dutch and an English auction, and how it applies to dating strategy?

In England it’s illegal to use an auction strategy for dating. In Amsterdam they have an entire marketplace for just such activity.

josh October 6, 2006 at 10:43 am

It’s hard to ask a woman out. Just ask. If he’s interested he’ll say yes. It’s much less ambiguous than assuming he’d ask.

dj superflat October 6, 2006 at 11:23 am

i think most of the comments are ridiculous. we’re long past time the time when a woman seems easy because she asks a man out (any of you all seen sex and the city?). and the signals she thinks are so clear likely aren’t nearly so clear to him. further, woman often are attracted to men who do not want to seem like they are louts who hit on any woman who gives them a shot, so they guy may be trying to prove that he’s a decent guy by not asking her out at the first (seeming) opportunity (generally a bad strategy as you can slip into the dreaded friend category). at base, he gave her the perfect opportunity to ask him out. why didn’t she? any other way of looking at the question is very 1950s (and would likely seem so to younger folk).

Knut October 6, 2006 at 12:04 pm

Tyler thinks it is OK. His wife doesn’t. My conjecture is that this gender pattern
would hold at the population level, too. The question is why? Any one have a hypothesis
or, better yet, some data?

The person who said, “if he likes you, he’ll ask” is completely clueless. Moreover, I would
say that the speed in which a man asks out a woman is inversely related to his quality as a
relationship partner (ie., the faster he asks, the more of a problem he will be), though
women have different preferences for what they are looking for, of course.

Economister October 6, 2006 at 12:52 pm

It is all about signaling attraction. When asking a woman out, most men could use some signal that a woman will not reject them if asked out. However, that signal has to be somewhat subtle (i.e. flirting). When a woman asks a man out, the signal might be interpreted as if saying “I am desperate”, saying “I am easy” (hey, us men are hopeless…) or “I am interested”.

The problem with the first is that no (desirable) man finds a desperate woman to be atractive. So this might have an adverse selection problem: If interpreted as desperate, attraction might be put off or she might be considered a simple entertainment for the man. The later would probably be the case if the signal is interpreted as “I am easy”.

The key question are:
1) How costly is it for a woman to have her signals misinterpreted?
2) What are the relative frequencies at which (desirable vs non-desirable) men misinterpret the signals?

(Disclaimer growing up in the macho-culture of Latin America may have altered my view on the interpretation content of the signal of being asked out by a woman)

triticale October 6, 2006 at 1:17 pm

So asking an English professor for a date is an English auction and the strategy would be different if he were a Dutch professor? There was, as a matter of fact, an author of Harlequin romances wherein all the male leads were Dutch professors.

Jacqueline October 6, 2006 at 2:47 pm

“In general I believe (unlike my wife) that women should be willing to ask men out.”

But Tyler, it’s obvious that your wife is the one who’s actually the expert on how to marry a great guy. ;)

noto October 6, 2006 at 4:06 pm

What if the English professor reads her blog? Perhaps this is just a really transparent way to signal that she fancies him. Then if he’s like me, that information will help him overcome his shyness.

RSaunders October 6, 2006 at 4:36 pm

Concurring with marginallyinteresting, though differing slightly: he may actually perceive the flirting. However, for some of us academics, this in itself is a sufficient victory. “Oh my god a woman just talked to me, and I think she was flirting with me.” That will put plenty of bounce in your step.

You see, some women are flirtatious and don’t mean anything by it, it’s just their nature; other women are flirtatious and mean something by it. If he’s risk-averse, he won’t want to ruin his good feeling by pressing his luck and asking her out–and feeling like a fool because he can’t distinguish the two types of women, which for academics is a problem b/c looking like a fool is the absolute worst thing in the world–because he’ll deprive himself of that little bit of joy. He gets all of the joy of imagining that she was interested with none of the disappointment of rejection or the self-loathing that comes with (still) being unable to distinguish the two types of women and (insert negative voice) “believing that someone like her could’ve been interested in somebody like me.”

fling93 October 6, 2006 at 5:43 pm

You see, some women are flirtatious and don’t mean anything by it, it’s just their nature; other women are flirtatious and mean something by it. If he’s risk-averse, he won’t want to ruin his good feeling by pressing his luck and asking her out

This is, actually, one of the reasons flirting is ambiguous. To be able to withdraw gracefully under the pretext that you were “just flirting” and didn’t mean anything by it.

So I think his best strategy is to flirt back and see how she responds. If the flirting escalates beyond a certain point, asking her out isn’t all that risky anymore.

gundryggia October 6, 2006 at 7:01 pm

If she prefers relationships with men invested in traditional gender roles, she shouldn’t ask him out.

If she has a strong preference against such men, asking guys out filters out men she wouldn’t want to date long anyway.

Peter October 6, 2006 at 7:47 pm

The idea that women have all the power in the dating market is absurd, as any high-quality man will tell you.

“High quality” are the key words. Men who don’t happen to be Alpha, and especially those who are even a slight bit nerdy, would beg to disagree.

Jacqueline October 6, 2006 at 7:53 pm

I’m sick of whiny, passive men blaming women for their inability to get a date, when it’s actually their whiny, passive personalities that are at fault.

Jason Briggeman October 6, 2006 at 8:56 pm

“High quality” are the key words.

I try only to include the key words.

Men who don’t happen to be Alpha, and especially those who are even a slight bit nerdy, would beg to disagree.

“Beg” is the right word for it, yes.

Keith October 7, 2006 at 12:09 am

“The idea that women have all the power in the dating market is absurd, as any high-quality man will tell you.”

So, Jason, when is a high-quality man gonna show up and tell us?:)

ModalHubby October 7, 2006 at 9:17 am

He asked a couple times if I would be at Pub Quiz this weekend. (No, I’ll be at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and are you sure you don’t want to hang out for dinner one night?)

This “no” response is a BIG mistake in a tremendously advantageous situation; it would get a “??” (blunder) annotation if it were a chess game. Better is (little semi-circle, for Informant subscribers)

“No, this weekend I’ll be at ‘Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.’ But I’d love to get together and talk more after Pub Quiz NEXT weekend…”

Note what’s happening here. She’s subtly escalating the situation (he asked whether she’d be at Pub Quiz, and she’s optimistically replying to the implicit question “Would you like to get together and talk more after Pub Quiz this weekend?”) and acting as if it’s obvious to her that he’s flattered her by asking her out (which, in my mind, he has.)

It’s certainly a plausible inference on her part; her reply takes for granted that he wants to spend more time with her (which, if he doesn’t, makes the whole interchange moot) and gives him an encouraging signal. Only a true cad would sniff and say “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound as if I were asking you out” after this!

Also, if he DIDN’T actually intend to ask her out, he can hardly be mortified by this response when she “misinterprets” his gambit and says ‘no’ for this weekend but ‘yes’ for next; her friendly “I’d like to” reply will make him seriously consider the prospect that more overt overtures would be welcomed, or at the very least not stingingly rebuffed in an ego-crushing manner.

I lost track of the number of times this worked (before I met the ModalWife, of course) in starting a casual relationship. Simply by “optimistically interpreting” and responding positively, I was able to convey casual interest, which led to a date 80% of the time. As a result, I was always the guy with a full social schedule among my INTJ friends who had a really tough time getting that first date.

By the way, you folks (Megan Non-McArdle included) should really participate in “The Geek’s Guide to Girls” project:
http://www.theslackdaily.com/2006/08/the_slackmistre.html.

Megan October 7, 2006 at 1:16 pm

Thanks for all your advice, guys. I was smiley and friendly when I talked to him. Next time I see him, I’ll be just as friendly and I’ll ask him out.

I don’t want to have a strategy for meeting men or anyone and I certainly don’t want to rate people on anything other than how well we interact. I want to be sincere from the start. I am interested and I want him to know that. There’s potential for getting hurt that way, but having a relationship based on open, sincere attraction from the start is entirely worth the risk.

Jonathan Wilde October 8, 2006 at 9:23 pm

In lieu of trackback, my co-blogger Patri Friedman’s response

Cyrus October 9, 2006 at 9:47 am

The professor did take initiative, although at a very low risk level: he asked whether Megan would be at the same pub this weekend. My interpretation: he is interested in spending time with Megan, but is cautious, and would prefer at this point to spend that time in a very public setting. He is disappointed that Megan will not be at his hangout this weekend, but at the time was unwilling to take initiative at a higher level than asking about her weekend plans. He would be pleased to encounter Megan again. If Megan does encounter him again, and similarly have a good time talking with him, she would be reaonable to expect him, if interested, to escalate his initiative. At the moment, however, since he did clearly indicate what he would like to do next, and did not try to renegotiate when it became clear that wasn’t going to work out, she was probably correct in not formally asking him out, because he, while clearly expressing his interest, did not wish to express it at that level of formality.

Shannon October 12, 2006 at 11:58 pm

Ah, the ripe old question.

“Is it proper for a woman to ask a man out?”

I say sure, why not?

Some guys actually are quite turned on by the fact that some women step up to the plate and go for what they want, instead of those who constantly wait for the man to come to them.

I have to admit, I’ve been a waiter and a pursuer.

Sitting around waiting for the man MIGHT take longer than expected in some cases, but most likely, it’ll eventually happen.

When I have taken chances on making the first move, it has almost always worked in my favor.

This issue will always be just that. An issue.

To me, it doesn’t really matter who makes the move.

It just matters whether or not you’re happy.

acacacabc November 10, 2006 at 9:14 am

I agree. The idea that every man would ask out any woman they fancy is cloud cuckoo land. I have never met any man like that in my life. People like that mix in different circle. Unreserved types.

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