Dating Science: Does It Matter Who Makes the First Move?

Cristen Conger

Romantic pursuit brings out the selective side in men and women alike. (H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images)

Even though men and women have played the mating game for eons, we're somehow still scratching our heads about certain formalities. For instance, when it comes to dating, does it matter who makes the first move? More specifically, does it matter if a woman bends the social rules a bit and approaches a man who strikes her fancy?* If high-minded cultural touchstones like He's Just Not That Into You are to be believed, the answer is 'yes' -- except for certain out-of-the-blue situations, women looking for love are mostly at the mercy of men. Chalk it up to men's evolutionary hunter-gatherer past, or whatever.

But that's all rubbish today, according to an online dating site I stumbled on. HerWay flips the script on the guy-meets-girl standard by restricting the search and contact options solely to the site's female members. That way, women hold all of the cards in terms of seeking out a potential date and asking him out. But men supposedly benefit from the arrangement as well, since the site claims that it's "5 times more likely you'll actually meet her when she makes the first move."

So does the dating gimmick hold any water? Has HerWay opened up a magical women-led dating portal that will lead to happily ever after with the man of our initial choosing?

Not likely. A pair of psychologists from Northwestern University tested how the dating dynamics change with the gender of who makes the first move. They set up a series of speed dating scenarios and compared the compatibility results of when men made the rounds to when women had to actively circulate. Now, while women might feel socially restricted from boldly pursing men, we're actually the choosier gender in terms of mate selection. But in the speed dating study, when it was the women's turns to approach men, the roles reversed. As the more passive participants, men became the choosier sex while women expressed more self-confidence and attraction toward their speed dating targets.

That means that HerWay might actually do exactly the opposite of what it advertises. That pool of passive men being fawned over by random women might be more inclined to turn down potential dates. For those of us attempting dating in the real world, the study results also imply that active/passive role playing might influence the odds of a successful first move more than gender. In other words, with dating pursuit comes the risk of rejection for men and women alike.

*What about women approaching women or men approaching men, right? I'm on the lookout for similar research about homosexual dating and attraction, so any related study/article links would be much appreciated!

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