· Both sexes know men prefer a direct approach from woman, but is it just because men can’t read the signs?
Men and women’s attitudes to relationships have become remarkably similar — when dating women are now much more likely to make the first move.
It will come as no surprise that research finds men prefer this first move to be direct. But do men and women agree on what a direct approach is and why such directness is necessary in the first place?
These questions are addressed in a new study published recently in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (Wade et al., 2009). Forty women aged between 19 and 22 were asked to list the types of opening lines they might use to signal their interest in dating a man.
Researchers sorted these into 10 categories, then 40 men and women rated them in order of perceived directness. Here are the 10 categories (with examples) from most to least direct:
- Directly ask out on a date: Want to go get dinner?
- Ask if single: Do you have a girlfriend?
- Give out phone number, or ask for a call: You should call me.
- Give a compliment: I like your hair.
- Ask about shared interests: Do you watch The Wire?
- Indirectly hint at a date: What are you doing later this weekend?
- Say something funny/sexual humour: Wanna make out?
- Suggest familiarity: Have we met before?
- Personal interest questions: How was your weekend?
- Subtle hello: Hey, what’s your name?
Then men were asked which lines they thought would be most effective for women to use on them. They pretty much put the chat-up lines in order of directness, with the most direct also perceived as the most effective.
When women were asked to do the same they produced a similar list with one exception. Women didn’t rate as highly giving out phone numbers or asking for a call. Overall, though, women clearly understand that men prefer the direct approach.
The only surprise is the low ranking of funny or sexual humour. Men don’t seem to appreciate the lewd come-ons suggested by gender stereotypes. This relatively low rating for a jokey approach is another thing shared by both sexes. Previous work by Bale et al. (2006) found that women weren’t particularly impressed with men trying to be funny, despite what we are often told. It seems opening lines are a serious business for both sexes.
The interesting question, although it may seem easy to answer, is why do men prefer a direct approach? Two obvious answers are men’s purported inability to read body language or an assumed distaste for reading situational subtleties (in other words: too stupid or can’t be bothered).
But researchers in Germany provide us with evidence for an alternative explanation. Grammer et al. (2000) videotaped opposite sex pairs meeting for the first time to catch the nuances of body language in the first 10 minutes of an interaction. Afterwards women were asked how much interest they had in the man they’d been talking to. The researchers revealed two counter-intuitive results:
- In the first minute women behaved no differently to men they fancied than those they didn’t. They sent many positive nonverbal signals to all the men and hardly any negative signals.
- It is only between the 4th and 10th minute that any correlation was seen between an increased sending of positive nonverbal behaviours and wanting to date the man. But even then the difference was only between some positive signals and slightly more positive signals. Again negative signals were very rare.
The reason men prefer a direct approach becomes clearer. Women may think they are sending out all the right nonverbal signals and may blame men for failing to pick up on them. But from a man’s perspective there may often be little to pick up on because women, being polite, are always sending positive nonverbal signals.
While it’s not good practice to generalise too much from one relatively small study of 45 participants whose age ranged from 18 to 23, the results accord with what men say anecdotally: they often can’t tell if women are interested or not because the signals are too ambiguous.
So subtlety is out and it’s back to the age-old problem for both men and women: who has the guts to risk rejection with the direct approach?
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.