Taking the Initiative


by Randall S. Frederick

Q: I went out with a girl on a third date recently and thought it went really well. Really liked her and we talked about watching TV at my place. Then, a week later said she needed to take a break from dating for a while [which] really hurt. I like your bag/tag thought. I sometimes think I don’t pursue hard enough but this is a reminder the girl should be in pursuit too. It seems like every girl wants the guy to “take the initiative.” What do you think is going on with that?

A: Wow, I really wish she hadn’t done that. Getting dumped sucks.

One of the things that women tell me when they are “taking a break from dating” is that it’s never the guy. It’s their own stuff. Which still sucks, but it’s not necessarily you, personally. It feels personal, but setting feelings to the side, there’s a good chance that it is not personal and it’s important to remind yourself of that right now.

It sounds like there’s more to your question than just that last bit about women wanting men to take the initiative, so I’m going to come at this from a few angles.

First, I know that “it’s not you, it’s them” sounds like a cop out. You’re smart enough to know that, hey, this person is trying to be nice and excuse themselves because it has everything to do with you. But when people say that – men or women – it’s typically because something is going on in their life or because they are noticing a pattern in their dating life and need to take a break to assess it. It’s really about passion.

When a woman doesn’t want to see you, she will generally do one of three things: 1) ghost on you and not return calls or texts, 2) tell you she’s busy doing something else, or 3) straight-up tell you “Hey, this isn’t working out.” Whatever their excuse reason, it’s like that famous saying attributed to Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them. The first time.”

Still – and I think this is important – when someone goes out with you three times, this means they’re enjoying themselves. I have literally gotten up in the middle of a first date, told a woman “This won’t work. I’m not going to waste my time here,” paid the bill and walked out because I wasn’t enjoying the date at all. Three dates tells me she was either interested or was giving you a really good shot. Maybe that’s why it hurts so much, yeah? You feel like you invested time and energy into something and this person shut it down. Meanwhile, you got invested and are left wondering what the hell just happened. Not getting a second date? You can shrug that off – you still don’t even know each another! But a shutdown after Number Three? Well that leaves a sting. Studies show that Date Three is the make-or-break point. That’s when people decide whether to continue or break up and she broke.

Second, I’m glad you appreciated my “bag/tag” reference. For readers who are wondering what you are referring to, when we originally spoke, I used that metaphor to communicate that when someone likes you, you’ll know it.

I’m an owner of a furniture store outside of New Orleans and will occasionally do decorating work, finding just the right piece for someone. I like to say that I’m a “lifestyle matchmaker” of sorts and I can tell you that when customers see something they like, they will go nuts for it. There are repeat customers who will buy things right off the moving truck for a premium because it’s exactly what they want. Price is unimportant to them – what matters is having this piece.

I love working with those kinds of customers because they get so excited that they will tell all of their friends how much they love this piece, how it makes their home nicer, how amazing it is, and how happy they are to have it as part of their lifestyle. It’s the best kind of marketing for my store – they won’t shut up about how happy they are! Everybody in town knows I was a “matchmaker” decorator for them and so I will get new customers streaming in.

The same is true for dating. I really hate that I’m using this metaphor to talk about relationships, but the fact of the matter is that when you meet someone you really like, you don’t want anyone else out there to have them. You’ll do whatever it takes to make them a part of your life – to “bag and tag” them.You’ll jump at the chance to be with them! You will “take the initiative” and find a way to get to know them, to show them who you are instead of hiding who you are by playing it loose.

The trouble begins when this person doesn’t share your feelings, which might be where you are at right now. That’s when you will wind up getting disappointed, even hurt because the feelings are not reciprocated.

This might sound ridiculous, but she gave you a strong, solid “out.” I don’t believe you should continue dating anyone who isn’t crazy about you. When someone starts acting flaky or “isn’t feeling it” or needs to take a break from dating, they are doing you a favor. They are saying, “I’m not enthusiastic about my life or this relationship right now.” The best thing is to accept this as a gift. Try to not take it personally; step back and allow them the space to go work on themselves while you move on. They are not a terrible person. They are not an asshole. They are an adult trying to figure it out. Maybe she made a mistake dropping you, maybe she didn’t. But get back out there and find someone who is crazy about you. In other words, find someone with passion in their life who directs some of that passion towards you. More on that in a second.

Third – and let’s get real here – you need to work on yourself as well. If you feel she was “just being nice” and letting you down gently, then do an honest inventory of what just happened. Don’t overthink it. That’s the key here. Don’t get lost wondering about how you screwed it up, whether it was the way your jaw clicks when you chew or what shows you watch (Seriously, you watch CSI? What are you, my grandma? Jesus!). Do an honest inventory of moments that were good and moments where things were strained or awkward. What happened in those moments? How can you learn from them?

Tonight, I went out with a woman and we didn’t have chemistry. I felt that she liked my sense of humor. I’m a good listener. She had never been to that restaurant. All good things here. But we didn’t have chemistry – that’s what it comes down to. And I think that was really my fault, not hers. Right now, I’m at a place in life where I’m not impressed with people in general. The key screw-up tonight was that when she told me she was a nurse, I said, “Oh, you’re a nurse. That’s cool,” with no follow-up questions. I wasn’t impressed with her job, I wasn’t impressed that she bought a house two years ago and has a dog, and I didn’t want to hear her tell me the same kind of story I’ve heard a dozen times already about her week in the E.R. While I recognize she’s a great person, very fun, very friendly, very “cool”, I will have to really sit and think about where I’m at and how I can get over this “unimpressed” slump I’m in.

At the end of the night, I told her I enjoyed meeting up with her (true), I think she’s a great woman (true) but that I didn’t really want to waste her time because I didn’t feel a connection “and I’m generally not one to ‘be friends’ with someone I just met” (also true). Then I asked for feedback and permission to discuss the date in an article like this, knowing I was going to write this article.

Her response was telling:

“I didn’t feel like you were really here tonight. You didn’t seem interested and then you started texting your friend, and I felt like you had somewhere else you wanted to be. Maybe you were bored? Anyway, I think I’m great, so it’s your loss.”

She said it perfectly! Oh my gosh! So true. Time to get to work and figure out what’s going on with my internal life, why I’m a bored/boring date, and find some passion in my life!

Sky Blossoms says that the three worst things a man can do are 1) be the “average” guy, 2) be “Mr. Right”, or 3) be a “validation junkie.” Those make sense – one is about being so unspecific that nothing sets you apart, one is about doing everything perfectly (which sends the message that she is imperfect and can’t be with you), and the third is about needing a woman’s approval. None of these has inherent passion.

Fourth – and I really hate to say this – we’re not living lives with the romance of our grandparents. Life at the turn of the century was fraught with all kinds of challenges like war, severe and sudden economic fluctuations, racism and ethnocentrism, systemic poverty, housing… oh wait… maybe we’re not that different?

“Taking the initiative” means cutting through cultural crap. One of the big differences from our grands is that we have become apathetic towards romance. It’s “cool” to pull back from showing how you feel. You “have the upper hand” if you don’t return a call or text right away, if you can drag people’s feelings around and keep a few dates on rotation.

You asked about women who want a man to “take the initiative” and consistently, I feel like is not about gender. Men want the same thing. It’s not just about women wanting a guy to take the initiative. I think everyone wants someone who is over the moon for them, who feels passionate about them (in a safe and healthy way, of course; not the horrifying stalker kind of passion), and who can communicate that through words, actions, and intentions. Everyone wants someone to pop that bubble and say, “Hi. I see you. Please see me.”

Passion is mercurial, though. It takes many forms. Passion can be “too intense” and scary, sure. But it can show up in other ways. Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist with Rutgers University, concluded that 42% of women will break up with a man if he is a virgin. At face value, that might sound cruel but it makes sense – yes, women want sex but that means they also want passion and a man who knows how to express and embody that passion. They want a man who isn’t going to be nervous or pretend. It’s been my experience that women can detect that very quickly. They don’t want “the show”, they want the real you. And they want that “real you” to be passionate about something, even if it’s your job or your hobbies. Again, that’s not just a female thing. No matter who you are or what else you’ve got going on in your life, having something you are passionate about sets you apart. For example, my little brother has Autism and knows – kid you not – every thing there is to know about superhero movies. He was recently asked to Homecoming and the girl who asked him out asked her to be her “Superhero.” She knew what he was passionate about, went right for it, and he loved it! They’re going out in a few weeks.

But being passionate isn’t about who you are when you are away from that person – you also need to direct that passion towards your dating life. That might me you direct towards this person, or towards using your resources and imagination to create a really amazing date, or something else entirely. The point is to show some “get up and go”, some “initiative” and make a good impression.

I think your question is really great, and there are so many ways to chop this up and discuss it. This experience hurts. But it also releases you to find someone else who is passionate about you. That’s what you really want.

Hope this helps. There’s only so much I can contain in one article, so feel free to write back and redirect me if it feels like there are lingering points to discuss.

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