Dater X: Making The First Move

I remember watching Dan stroll into Chemistry 101. He had on a blue hoodie and was dancing to the DiscMan he held in his right hand. He sat down at a table across the room from me, not bothering to put his music away, even though the bell was about to ring. He turned around and scanned the room, and we made eye contact. I was instantly drawn to his gorgeous turquoise eyes and devil-may-care attitude. I realized I only had a second to make a move. Even though I’d been in my seat for more than five minutes, I jammed my binder in my backpack and high-tailed it across the room, lest anyone beat me to the seat next to him.

“Hey,” I said, slipping into the chair just as the bell sounded. “Want to be my lab partner?”

“Cool,” he replied.

A week later, he gave me a Smiths mix CD and asked if I’d be his girlfriend. We lasted for a month—which is the equivalent of a year in high school time.

Midway through our conversation, it occurred to me that if it were me today locking eyes with Dan across that Chemistry classroom, I don’t know that I would’ve gotten out of my seat and asked him to be my lab partner.

I’ve never been the kind of girl to wait for a guy to approach me. In many (most?) of my relationships, I’ve made the first move. I initiated my first kiss in third grade. And when I say “initiated,” I mean that I grabbed Stephen behind the neck on the playground, like I’d seen in movies, and planted one on him. I asked Brad to the junior prom. A few weeks later, I ran into Jason, a college guy whom I’d worked with at my after-school bookstore job until he quit in a huff, calling our boss a “toad.” I casually said to him, “We should go see a movie sometime.” We were together for the next four years. My second long-term relationship began when I grabbed a cute guy at a party a few years after college and asked if he’d accompany me on a run for more beer. We were inseparable for four years, too.

But at some point more recently, I’ve become more gun-shy about approaching guys. I think this happened for a lot of reasons. First of all, I got older and we all get a little less bold with age. While I used to love roller coasters, I now avoid trips to Six Flags because they freak me out. Same thing with dating. Rejection used to roll off of me like water on a greased watermelon—on those occasions when the guy I was macking on said he had a girlfriend or, gasp, just wasn’t interested, it just didn’t phase me. But now that I’ve been in the dating world for a while, have encountered some rejections that hurt, and feel a touch sensitive at being single at 31, it feels like the stakes are higher. It’s hard to have that same carefree attitude I used to.

The second reason I’ve gotten shy about approaching guys: I started listening to other people’s advice. The prevailing dating wisdom of our time is to let the guy come to you. This sentiment is all around us. The Rules told us that if you like someone, avoid interacting with him. Don’t make any moves at all—keep him chasing you. (I’ve never read the book, so am not exactly sure how I know this, but somehow it has trickled into my consciousness.) The “He’s Just Not That Into You” mantra dictates that if he likes you, he’ll initiate contact. In other words, if you have to do any work, you are barking up the wrong tree. Even guy friends have doled out similar advice. One whom I had a heart-to-heart with maybe two years ago diagnosed my dating issues as, “You need to play hard to get.” Another male friend urged me not to call a guy I liked and suggest a plan for the weekend. “Let him be the man,” he said. “Wait it out.” After all, as Patti Stanger always tells us, guys are supposed to “hunt and fish.”

I’m not saying that this advice is wrong, per se. But I don’t know why I’ve taken it for absolute fact when we’re talking about love—where anything can happen, in any way, in any direction, at any time.

Earlier this week, I got a phone call from Dan, who is now a lawyer in California and still a good friend.

Midway through our conversation, it occurred to me that if it were me today locking eyes with Dan across that Chemistry classroom, I don’t know that I would’ve gotten out of my seat and asked him to be my lab partner.

I probably would have thought, He already saw me sitting here. I don’t want him to think I’m desperate/uppity/too into him. Or, We made eye contact, if he wants to talk to me, he’ll come over here. Or, He’s so cute—he probably has a girlfriend or is gay. I would have stayed in my seat and felt defeated when we didn’t interact.

During that month when we were boyfriend/girlfriend in high school, I asked Dan if that first glance had registered on his radar. “Absolutely,” he said. “I was relieved when you came over. I never would have said anything to you myself.”

I have to wonder how many of my relationships wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t made the first move. Sometimes, it even took me making the second.

I am in a bit of a dating slump at the moment. And I’m thinking that to get out of it, I want to embrace the boldness of my high school self. I want to walk up to guys who catch my eye and start up a conversation. I want to look through online dating profiles, and send some emails to guys I think I’d like. For those guys in my life with whom I think there could be something there, I should just ask them if they want to hang out sometime soon. Hey, I was proud I did that with Brown Eyes, even though I don’t think he’s my green zebra.

I’m not talking about throwing myself at anyone, because I do want someone who thinks I’m amazing and will expend energy to be with me. But I don’t mind taking someone to water and giving them the option to drink.