Not too long ago, I was out with a few friends, having an impromptu guys’ night and enjoying a few drinks. We were having a good time sitting at the bar, keeping to ourselves, but after bumping elbows I ended up chatting with the woman seated on the stool to my right. She wasn’t quite my type, but she was engaging, leading things off right away with a smile and a joke. Since I was with the guys and not really out looking to meet anyone, I was just talking to her without any ulterior motives or pretense of interest beyond friendliness. Inevitably the conversation petered out, I turned back to my buddies, and after a few more minutes we decided to jump ship for a different bar around the block.
As I pushed back my stool and stood, I felt a hand on my arm. “Hold on for a sec if you’re leaving,” said the woman next to me, looking me square in the eye once I turned to face her. “Let’s go out sometime. Can I have your number?”
I was taken aback. Sure, women have initiated conversations before and made their interest in me glaringly obvious at times (especially after a few drinks), but I had never experienced such a blatant role reversal in the typical social convention of the bar courtship ritual, in which the man takes the lead and asks for the woman’s number.
I was speechless for a full beat before finally sputtering, “Oh, um, no thanks, I’m sorry. Hope you have a great night.”
“OK, cool, you too,” she said, looking a little embarrassed herself. We had to wallow in the awkwardness while I settled my tab before I could give her a quick parting nod and escape. I wasn’t quite sure what to think — I just felt like I could have handled myself far better if I weren’t so surprised that she had been so direct and actually asked me out.
The Culture Shift
But why was that so surprising? It’s 2016 after all, and while we still have quite a way to go for true gender equality, the tides are shifting in the dating world.
One of the most obvious ways that women are flipping age-old conventions is with Bumble, the “feminist Tinder” dating app that puts the woman in the driver’s seat from the get-go. For the past eight months or so, I’ve been an active Bumble user. I appreciate the agency it gives the woman in the interaction, the decreased pressure on me to aggressively take the lead at all times, and the quality of the women I’ve connected with through the platform. That said, in almost every case (I’ve met thirteen women from Bumble IRL), once the woman has instigated the interaction they have stepped down and made it clear it was up to me to dictate the terms of our getting together.
The Guy's Take
But everyone has their own unique experience. With that in mind, I asked a few people for their perspectives on Bumble and women taking the reins in the dating game.
“A girl has directly asked me out in real life once,” says Matt, a buddy of mine. “I thought I was just having a conversation and she offered a number. I took it, but it wasn’t worth pursuing.”
Matt also uses Bumble. He’s been on the app for about four months and has met 15 women. By his count, five of them have been the first to offer their actual phone number to him without his asking (the “next step” in the dating app world) and two or three have been forward enough to actually ask him out and drive the interaction to a real world date. “One girl invited herself over for a cuddle session with my dog at 9 a.m. one morning and was there by 11 — that’s the most forward experience,” he says. “I’m not sure if Bumble itself is making women in the real world more likely to go ahead and ask you out, but it’s certainly changing the dating app culturein that direction.”
The Girls' Take
To dig deeper, I reconnected with the two most forward women I’ve connected with on Bumble. Jamie and Amelia both asked me out to meet them in the first conversation we had on the app, ditching any and all rapport building and digital foreplay that I had grown used to from other girls.
“I asked you out was because you didn't ask me out and we had already become involved in a long text exchange that logically (considering we met on a dating app) would result in a date,” says Jamie, immediately displaying the moxie that she showed in our first interaction, during which she asked me to meet up for a drink later that night (I went). “I basically just became impatient.”
But that doesn’t mean she’s always turning the tables. “I rarely ask guys out,” she says. “I definitely expect men to take the initiative. But if they don’t or I feel I need to ‘direct’ or ‘guide’ the person, I will — but it takes some of the seduction out of it. There's something old-world and sexy about men who pursue women but also have an independent nature. It creates the illusion at least that the woman being pursued is being preferred over others. It's not as sexy for me to have to clamor for someone's attention and actively pursue them. I will just lose interest.”
Amelia takes a slightly different tack. “I was definitely brought up in a traditional way and when I was less comfortable in my own skin I would tend to lean on that ‘men initiate things’ construct for why I didn’t have dates at times, but now I think it’s bullsh*t,” she says. “The last two significant relationships I’ve been in I initiated completely. It doesn’t matter. It’s more like, ‘You’re hot, I like you, let’s do this.’”
She does bring up an important factor in what might be giving women more confidence to make the first move on dating apps than in real life: the relative anonymity of an online profile. “I do think things like Bumble and Tinder have changed the dynamic. It might be because you don’t have to get out of your chair and worry about looking cute in the moment and you can think about your responses. It helps you test the waters of pushing that social convention.”
How To Play It
So now that women are moving to change the status quo, guys need to be ready to react when they’re propositioned, whether on an app or in a bar, so they don’t wind up looking like a fool like me. Amelia probably put it best: “Just make sure you don’t humiliate the poor girl,” she says. “It takes balls to ask somebody out, especially as a woman. Whether it’s a yes or a no, react how you’d want someone to respond to you if you were the one asking.”