There’s a beloved story in my family lore about how some of my ancestors met and fell in love. I think it reveals something interesting about relationships.
Over one hundred years ago, my great-great-aunt had a crush on a handsome, ambitious young man. She’d never met him but had attended a graduation ceremony at the local Jesuit boys’ school and heard him speak as valedictorian. He was thoughtful and well-spoken, and she was smitten.
The next day, she was out boating with her sister when she saw the very same young man walking on the beach with a mutual friend. She jumped out of the boat, swam to shore, and strolled up to the two of them so that the mutual friend could introduce her to him.
To him it seemed like a chance encounter, but she had very much intended it. They were married a few years later.
My family history is full of similar stories. I bet yours is, too.
One of the women in my family asked a mutual friend to invite the guy she liked to a party she was attending. Another would walk slowly on her way home from work so that she would “accidentally” run into a certain young man when he got off the train. I myself walked up to a group of guys at a happy hour event and introduced myself, never imagining that one of them would become my husband!
I’ve heard so many takes on the question of whether women should “make the first move.” One of my favorite takes comes from life coach Matthew Hussey, who explained in a viral video that a girl can be “old-fashioned” and still “make the first move.”
Women would say to me, “I don’t feel like I should make the move, I feel like he should make the move, because I’m old-fashioned.” I then say, “Then you have no idea what old-fashioned really is.”
‘Cause old-fashioned was, a hundred years ago, a guy standing there that you liked, a woman walking past him, seeing that she was attracted, and then dropping her handkerchief. She would keep walking, the guy would see the handkerchief, he’d pick it up and think, “This is an extraordinary opportunity to be a man.” He brought the handkerchief over, and he’d say, “Madam, you dropped this.” And she’d say, “Did I?”
In a time of much stricter social rules, subtle moves like dropping a handkerchief were an alternative to asking a man on a date outright. Hussey encourages modern women to find their own ways to “drop the handkerchief.”
They now have a conversation, a conversation that he thought was his idea, but it wasn’t his idea. She chose him. I’m not asking you to go and do all of the work for the guy. I’m just asking you to learn how to drop the handkerchief.
According to Hussey, “dropping the handkerchief” in the modern world could mean asking a man to do a small favor for you, like passing you the menu or holding your jacket while you take coffees to your friends. There are a few more ideas over here at The Culture Project.
In my great-great-aunt’s case, jumping out of a boat to walk up to a cute guy on the beach was her “first move,” her way of “dropping the handkerchief.”
But honestly, you shouldn’t even worry about whether or not it’s okay to “make a move.” Just worry about getting to know the person in front of you and what they’re like.
The heart of the matter is that each person, relationship, and situation is different. Following a predetermined set of “rules” for relationships is misguided, because it ignores the individual reality of the person in front of you.
One guy might not like it if you make the first move. Another guy might love it. Whether or not your move is successful has everything to do with whether the guy is into you in the first place, and not whether or not it’s “okay to make the first move.”
If you don’t believe me, take it from a group of great guys I used to know. I’ve never forgotten a conversation I had with some guy friends when I was in college and this exact question came up.
Picture a roomful of put-together, ambitious young men, all practicing Catholics. They were just the kind of guys an “old-fashioned” girl would be delighted to meet.
“What do you think?” I asked them. “Would you be put off if a girl walked up to you and introduced herself?”
There was a silence for a moment and then one of them spoke up, almost incredulous. “Are you kidding?” He said. “That would be awesome.”
All of them unanimously agreed that they would be delighted to have a girl introduce herself instead of her waiting for them to “make a move.”
That says it all. So whether you choose to “drop the handkerchief” or introduce yourself at a party, go ahead, ladies. At worst, he’s not interested; at best, you just met the love of your life.