I was deep into a friendly game of Scrabble, waiting patiently for my opponent to
play. Long minutes ticked by, and nothing happened. Finally, I spoke up and
discovered that she had been biding her time with equal patience. We had each
been waiting for the other to make a move.
That mix-up resulted in a
rueful chuckle and continuation of the game; but it led me to think about
situations in the more serious game of life where two people may wait – perhaps
forever – each for the other to make a move.
The immediate association,
of course, is with the world of love and romance, and there is a poignant
episode from a novel – it may be one of Jane Austen’s, though I wouldn’t swear
to it – which has remained with me, despite my having read the book many years
A couple, well past the first flush of youth, had developed a strong
affection for one another which neither had been able to articulate owing to
shyness and social awkwardness. To complicate things, the mores of the era
dictated that he be the first to declare his feelings, to which she might then
Their story built up to a drawing-room scene during which he
invited her “to take a turn around the garden.” The novelist’s skill made it
clear that this was his great opportunity – and possibly the couple’s only
chance – for happiness.
The garden walk was duly undertaken; but,
somehow, the right moment either never arrived, or came and was missed. The
couple returned to the house and to their companions, leaving the reader
frustrated in the knowledge that the opportunity would probably not recur. The
relationship had subtly moved on, unfulfilled, and what might have been would
now never be.
TODAY’S MORES are very different from those of the late
18th century – indeed, it might be said that there aren’t really any mores at
all, and that “anything goes.”
Is it, therefore, a given that a woman who
is attracted to a man can legitimately make the first move? Does it signify who
asks who out on a date? “It’s like this,” a male friend once told me. “If I’m
really attracted to a woman and she calls me, I’m happy not to have to make all
the effort. It makes no difference to me that she was the one who took the
And yet for many people – surprisingly, even today – it does
make a considerable difference.
“Aren’t we in a period that welcomes
independent single mothers and women in high career positions?” asks Heidi
Muller, relationship correspondent for askmen.com. With all the social evolution
women have undergone, she surmises that “one would think they would be as
aggressive in their dating life as they are in every other aspect.”
concedes that there are aggressive women out there, “those that call the shots
in dating and can’t be messed around with, but they are rare and few. Despite
the aggression displayed in other facets [of their lives], women shy away from
being the initiators in dating.
When it comes to asking a woman out on a
date, that’s the man’s job.”
Comments one man on the site, echoing the
feelings of several other males: “I’ll tell you why women don’t make the first
move – they want the man to take all the risk of rejection.
want to daintily sit back, get showered with attention and compliments; have
their ego fed, and in the end do the rejecting, while men trip all over
themselves to please the woman.
“This is not rocket science.... It’s easy
to see why women like this unfair setup. Funny thing, I want it,
After this poster’s vehement critique of women’s attitude to
initiating contact, his final, throwaway comment comes as a surprise – seemingly
to himself as well. Does it indicate that, feminism’s significant advances
notwithstanding, nature is stronger than nurture and that, as Alfred Lord
Tennyson wrote two centuries ago: “Man is the hunter; and woman is his game”?
There are of course men who are shy, socially inept or, as the close friends of
one now happily married couple told me, “simply lazy.” The man in question, they
said, was “quite content to let her do the work. In fact, she pursued him
tirelessly – for years. It suited his laid-back nature very well to have a
ready-made relationship without too much effort on his part.”
feeling: There is much that is positive in a climate in which social strictures
have relaxed enough to allow people to express their wishes and personalities
without earning censure; a climate in which a confident and courageous woman
can, if she is attracted to a man, approach him without fear of being labeled
“cheap,” or worse.
There is something appealing about the idea of women
strong enough to deal with possible rejection and move on, their egos intact, to
more fruitful relationships. After all, why should men be the ones to step
forward repeatedly and risk the humiliation of being turned down, while women
“daintily sit back” and wait for suitors? And yet, there is a fine line between
women’s and men’s natures which cannot be erased. It is more easily sensed, I
think, than defined, and both sexes do well to stay on their side of
According to Steve Harvey, author of the best-selling Act Like a
Lady, Think Like a Man
, it doesn’t matter who makes the first move toward a
date. But what is essential is that a woman make it clear to a man what she
expects of him and from him.
Asked in an interview “whether it OK for a
woman to call a man, or should she sit by the phone and wait for him to call?”
he answered: “It is a new day and time. You’ve got text messaging, you have chat
lines, you have instant messaging on your computer, and you have cell
“Of course, women should call a guy – but have your requirements
“When a guy comes to win your affections, you know when he
is trying to win something from you. You are the one who determines what he
wins. A guy can’t hold your hand unless you let him. A guy can’t kiss you unless
you let him. We certainly can’t get in bed with you unless you okay it. So you
control all of that.
Knowing that you have that kind of power, there are
a lot of things you can get from a man.
“Chivalry is not dead,” Harvey
says. “It is just not required anymore” – which he deems a really unfortunate
“Don’t be a ‘chirp girl,’ he warns.
“You go out on a
date with a guy.
He has that clicker on his key chain [which goes ‘chirp,
chirp’]. He unlocks the door and you get in.... A man is supposed to open your
car door and then get in the car himself. That is what we are supposed to
“The key to a successful relationship is that the woman comes into
the relationship with standards and requirements.”
What Harvey seems to
be saying is that a woman who acts with self-respect and demands a certain level
of behavior from a man will win his respect. And everything else will flow from
ENOUGH ABOUT making the first move. What about making the last
move: proposing marriage? I believe it is not wrong to assert that, even today,
the overwhelming majority of women prefer that the man be the one to “pop the
One woman expressed it like this: “We had known for quite a
while that we wanted to be together and make our commitment official. We had
talked around the topic a number of times and felt it was right for
“But it was very important to me that he ask me, formally, to be his
wife; that he, as the man, be the one to declare his desire for that exclusive
bond, publicly forsaking all others.
“Besides,” she added, only
half-jokingly, “I wanted to avoid any possibility that, during an argument and
in the heat of the moment, he might declare: ‘Well, you were the one who pushed
to get married.
“Now that can’t happen.”