February 16, 2019

The Real Reason why Women Rarely make the First Move with Love.


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*A psychological and sociological perspective on “Why Women Rarely make the First Move with Love.” In short, a rebuttal.

Firstly, this perspective is coming from someone who identifies as a heteronormative, male-bodied individual.

The topics I speak to are in reference to some of the normative traits of heterosexual dating culture. It is common practice for a man to ask a woman out; for a man to open the dialogue between himself and a woman.

Often, that man may be rejected. And what is he to do but try again (perhaps after spending some time licking his wounded heart). Is this—this trait of being the one who starts things off, and the ability to recover and move on afterward—a sign of a healthy ego?

That is not really a question one can answer, as the question itself is flawed.

First of all, what we call a “healthy ego” is a highly subjective concept. The ego, as it were, has numerous definitions. There is, in psychology alone, the psychodynamic ego, as well as the developmental ego. And do not even get me started with what the ego means in Buddhism (fun fact, there isn’t one).

So, instead of talking about healthy or unhealthy egos, let’s use clearer jargon.

As boys (who have been socialized to be heteronormative), we develop what is known as masculine identity structures. This development is part and parcel to how we will react with the world as we grow up (in essence, the ways we learn and are taught to develop our gender identities often dictate how we show up in the world). For a boy such as this, chances are they will have had either a father—or a father figure of some sort—with certain views of what it means to be “a man.”

Are they true or false? Not really. They are just what is considered normative.

Now, it is absolutely correct to say that men are expected to be decisive and outgoing (not to mention our culture has taught, for a long time, how men ought to act with women). So, from this perspective, yes, perhaps the man who starts conversations with women is in fact playing out a “healthy” version of what he was taught. Is it the best practice? That is not for me to say.

What I would like to touch on is a study in which middle school children were asked their greatest fear. By and large, the boys’ greatest fear was being embarrassed or ostracized by their peers. The girls’ greatest fear? Being physically assaulted.

This is an important point to take into account when we know that at least one in three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. It is a nonstarter to say that women should know how to take care of themselves. To let a friend know where they are. To be careful who they invite into their homes. And so on and so forth.

If there were not so many instances of physical assault from men toward women, then women would not need to worry about such things. And yet, this is not the world we live in.

We also know from studies that men tend to react differently when they are around women, versus groups of other men. One study pointed out that college-aged men in fraternities more often showcased what we call hypermasculinity when around a group of their peers. What, pray tell, was it that men were so afraid of being seen as by other men? It was the fear of being seen as feminine.

It is important also to point out that common normative masculine identity structures happen to focus little on any actual definitions of what masculinity is. Too often, instead, masculinity is defined as what femininity is not. It has been said that masculine identity is not the raising up of masculinity, but rather the pushing down of femininity.

So by and large, men make the first move. And women have the comfort of saying either yes, or no. And yet, man’s only real danger in this scenario is that of emotional pain; of having to learn how to deal with rejection.

And this is not actually easy for most men, or anyone really. It hurts to be rejected—plain and simple. Yet it is a part of our lives. We will all be rejected in some way, at some point.

What we, for the most part, do not need to worry about is being physically attacked or hurt (which is not to say that it does not happen, only that there is a far smaller chance of it happening for us men). Being rejected, for the normative man, is in fact a seeming attack on these masculine identity structures we have learnt to build our personality around.

We have been led to believe that we are entitled somehow to get whatever it is we go after (often because we actually do tend to get those things). History tells us so. Our masculine figures growing up tell us so.

Sadly, this also tends to create quite a fragile phenomenon (what we call fragile masculine syndrome). We do not know how to deal with rejection (let alone being told that what we are doing is toxic). And when we are faced with the possibility that we have done something wrong (as in the case of toxic masculine practices around common dating culture), then what actually happens is that we feel as though our very identity structures are being attacked (which they are, and which I am not necessarily against the practice of).

It is no simple feat to begin deconstructing the very identities we were raised to understand ourselves through. This is an incredibly tedious journey, and one would probably benefit from having a psychotherapist to work with along the way. Interestingly, it is the direction we men are being asked to go toward more and more.

And it makes perfect sense that we would fight such a thing (both because we have been taught that we must fight to uphold our beliefs, and also because it feels like a direct attack on the underlying person we have spent all of our lives developing).

So yes, it may be a nice thought for a man to ask that women begin taking responsibility for their own agency as equals to us. For women to ask more men out, or to take the initiative in our current dating culture. But it is not up to any man to dictate the ways in which women ought to be going about any such thing. 

It is not actually the man’s job to tell women how they should behave. What they are doing wrong. Doing so not only elicits the same behaviour that has created this concept of toxic masculinity in the first place, it also plays into what we call enlightened sexism—a term that came about when people in academia realized how most of the professors lauded and receiving acclaim in the field of feminist and gender studies had not necessarily done anything to earn such status apart from happening to be, well, men.

From this perspective, one has to wonder why I am writing this in the first place.

Change tends to begin with us. Ourselves. And it is far easier to ask a thing of someone else, rather than to ask ourselves of a thing.

If we men are unhappy with current ideas of how our normative masculine structures are being perceived, perhaps we ought to question why this phenomenon is taking hold, and not to so quickly condemn the women who are asking it of us.


author: Zeri Wieder

Image: @ecofolks/Instagram

Image: He's Just Not That Into You/IMDB

Editor: Naomi Boshari


Relephant Bonus:

Art & Sexual Assault/Rape with Claire Salvo of Me:We.

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Vasumathi M Feb 22, 2019 1:45am

Thanks for writing a genuine, gentle and non passive aggressive response. Much to learn from you. I also think that these things are cultural and changes with the times. It also depends from person to person. I know women who think nothing of expressing their feelings first. I also know men who aren’t comfortable with being approached. They prefer to make the first move. In my case, back when me and my husband were friends and I knew what his feelings were, I went ahead and asked him about it. I was excited and felt comfortable enough to broach the topic. Later, he would jokingly reproach that I never gave him the chance to ask me out and do the whole proposal routine:). There are loads of shy people out there. There are outgoing and assertive ones. So it does have many other shades to it other than gender politics.

mx5er75007 Feb 19, 2019 7:54am

Thank you for the thought provoking article. I need to go back and re-read it, because I am not sure I got a clear answer to the question the title suggested. Regardless, based on the comments here, I’d like to share what is working for me, a twice divorced 54 year old man. 1) Ditch the ego – then rejection will have no place to attach and fester. (This is not an easy one. I suggest listening to tons of YES music!!) 2) Have ED. (Or purposely refuse to use it for the first few hours of lovemaking.) You would be amazed to find out what a truly incredible, attentive and generous lover you can be, when you can not always depend on Mr. Happy. There are many other ways to please. It’s actually a blessing. …which leads to 3) Allow yourself to learn and experience the satisfaction of giving, rather than receiving. Completely. As if you don’t need to be pleased and it is all about her. This applies to all things, not just physical intimacy. (Things will work out and you will be completely satisfied, but not necessarily in the way you used to expect.) 4) Be her servant-love. Chances are if you do, she will make you her King.

Katelyn Kent Feb 19, 2019 7:53am

The title is inappropriate because although your article is thought provolking and could arguably be “A” reason women don’t make the first move……it isn’t “THE” reason. Yours is a well known trick among on-line relationship coaches and writers. Make people notice your name and your article. Invite people to click on it even if the body of the article has little to do with the title. OK I understand. Your view has merit, but it is a bit immature and narrow in scope. One of your commenters said the answer is in biology and anatomy. That is closer to the truth. Yey Merrylake12! But as a long time relationship coach myself, the door is opened by anatomy and biology, but what is underneath — energetic frequency and something I like to call spiritual DNA. We are patterned and programmed creatures no more no less. We have each taken on our own little individual twist on that patterning from the beginning of our family lineage and we pass bits of it on in our downline. Each of us is slightly different, and some of us are much more distorted than others….meaning some of us have traveled further off course. Women are more alike and men more alike and in truth our patterning is influenced by our anatomy and biology but it isn’t just that. Those patterns, combined with biology combined with cultural and environmental influences have taught us how we should be if we are going to be successful in relationship with the opposite sex. If left to biology and if we were aware or conscious enough to understand our energetic frequencies and how they guide us, we’d get it right. But we have all of the distortions also given to us by our upline or ancestors plus cultural influences to cloud the issues. Some of us have a genetic predisposition for abuse lets say. That influences how we interact and who we are attracted to. I don’t expect you to understand all of it in one quick response, but I want you to think bigger. Think deeper. Modern culture or what we read and are taught is pc or unpc or right or wrong for the way we are supposed to act is just a series of man or woman-made judgements that serve to screw us up even further depending on the culture we come from. What is OK in the USA might be ghastly in India lets say….its meant to control- just like politics or religion…and I’m not going down either road. What I like about Elephant Journal is it encourages people to wake up or become more aware and enlightened. To notice what you notice and then notice what you notice about that. I am not saying you are completely off base here, because you aren’t. You do get it…one part of it. Now go deeper!

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Zeri Wieder

Zeri Wieder, a writer and possibly other things, practices and writes about relationships and spirituality through the lens of what he calls radical, contemplative, and integral psychology. The word radical come from the Latin, radix; literally of, or pertaining to, the root. Very few have soared, without first having found their footing. A strong, grounded foundation. Self-care routines, learning healthy boundaries, building resilience to face life’s little adversities. Raised in the Tibetan Vajrayanic tradition of Buddhism, contemplative, mindful practice will forever be a part of his psychological and spiritual reasoning. But Zeri also loves the Existentials, and finds such philosophical dilemmas to be quite helpful in the process of self-enquiry. Radical, authentic, and genuine honesty, with a tinge of contemplative, mindful responsibility. Finally, in the practice of integration, we learn to bring it all together; to individuate whilst integrating. To bring personal agency, self-spirituality, the somatic, and the intellectual all into one comfortable, likable, and lovable container. That’s the elevator pitch, anyway. Author of the hopefully forthcoming book, Not Buddhism. Not Psychology. Follow Zeri on Instagram and Facebook.