Why do women (almost) never ask men on dates?

This is something I’ve asked a few of people about. It seems odd that in our modern, post-feminist age, it is almost always men who do the asking out. This is not so good for both men and women. For men, it puts a lot of pressure on them to make all of the moves. For women, I cite Roth and Sotomayor’s classic textbook on matching, which shows that, though the outcome from men always choosing partners is stable, it is the worst possible stable outcome for women. That is, women could get better guys to date if they made the moves.

I have a few hypotheses, but none of them seem particularly appealing:

1) Women aren’t as liberated as we think.

Pro: There doesn’t seem to be any point in history where this was any different, so this social practice may indeed be a holdover from the Stone Age (i.e. before 1960).

Con: If this is true, then it is a very bad social practice, and we should buck it! This is not a good reason to maintain it!

2) If a woman asks a man out, it reveals information about her. This could be a case of multiple equilibria. Suppose that a small percentage of “crazy types” of both men and women exists, and under no circumstances do you ever want to date one of them. The equilibrium in which we are is fully separating for women, where the “normal types” always wait for men to ask them out, while the “crazy types” ask men out. Since this is a perfect Bayesian equilibrium, men know that if they get asked out, the woman must be crazy, and so they reject. Knowing this, the “normal” women would never want to ask a man out, since it would involve the cost of effort/rejection with no chance of success.

Suppose the chance that someone is crazy is some very small \epsilon > 0. Consider the game tree:


Notice that the crazy women always want to ask the guy out, no matter what the beliefs of the guy are.

There are a few perfect Bayesian equilibria of this game, but I will highlight two. The first is that the normal women never ask guys out, and guys never accept. As \epsilon \rightarrow 0, this gives expected payoff to people of (0,0). No one wants to deviate, because only crazy women ask guys out, and so a guy would never accept an offer, as that would give payoff -10 instead of 0; knowing this, normal women will never ask men out, because that gives them payoff -1 instead of 0.

Another equilibrium is that all women ask men out, and men always accept. As \epsilon \rightarrow 0, the expected payoff vector is (2,2). Thus the former is a “bad” equilibrium, while the latter is a “good” one. In other words, we may be stuck in a bad equilibrium.

Pro: I think that there definitely some guys out there who think that women who would ask them out are “aggressive” or “desparate,” and so they wouldn’t go out with them.

Con: I don’t think the above sentiment is true in general, at least for guys worth dating! If a guy has that attitude, he’s probably an @$$#0!3 who’s not worth your time.

There may also be some elements of the problem with (1), but these would be harder to overcome, as the scenario here is an equilibrium.

Finally, while this might have some plausibility for people who don’t really know each other yet, I definitely don’t think this is true for people who know each other somewhat better, and therefore would already know whether the woman in question was crazy. That being said, I would expect it to be more likely that a woman who has known the man in question for longer to be proportionally more likely to ask him out (relative to the man), even if it is still less likely.

3) Women just aren’t as interested. If he’s willing to ask her out, then fine, she’ll go, but otherwise the cost outweighs the benefit.

Pro: It doesn’t have any glaring theoretical problems.

Con: I want you to look me in the eyes and tell me you think this is actually true.

4) They already do. At least, implicitly, that is. Women can signal interest by trying to spend significant amounts of time with men in whom they have interest, and eventually the guys will realize and ask them out.

Pro: This definitely happens.

Con: I’m not sure it’s sufficient to even out the scorecard. Also, this seems to beg the question: if they do that, why can’t they be explicit?

When I originally showed this to some friends, they liked most of these possibilities (especially (1) and (2)), but they had some additional suggestions:

5) Being asked out is self-validating. To quote my (female) friend who suggested this,

…many girls are insecure and being asked out is validation that you are pretty/interesting/generally awesome enough that someone is willing to go out on a limb and ask you out because they want you that badly. If, on the other hand, the girl makes the first move and the guy says yes it is much less clear to her how much the guy really likes her as opposed to is ambivalent or even pitying her.

ProThis is true of some women.

Con: Again to quote my friend, “There are lots of very secure, confident girls out there, so why aren’t they asking guys out?”

6) Utility from a relationship is correlated with interest, and women have a shorter window. This one is actually suggested by Marli:

 If asking someone out is a signal of interest level X > x, and higher interest level is correlated with higher longterm/serious relationship probability, then women might be interested in only dating people with high interest level because they have less time in which to date.

Pro: It is true, women are often conceived to have a shorter “window,” in that they are of child-bearing age (for those for whom that matters) for a shorter period.

Con: This doesn’t seem very plausible. Going on a date doesn’t take very long, at least in terms of opportunity cost relative to the length of the “window.” As a friend put it in response,

Obviously one date doesn’t take up much time; the point of screening for interest X > x is to prevent wasting a year or two with someone who wasn’t that into you after all. But then it would seem rational for (e.g.) her to ask him on one date, and then gauge his seriousness from how he acts after that. Other people’s liking of us is endogenous to our liking of them, it really seems silly to assume that “interest” is pre-determined and immutable.

So overall, it seems like there are reasons which explain how it happens, but no good reason why it should happen. I hope other people have better reasons in mind, with which they can enlighten me!


13 Comments on “Why do women (almost) never ask men on dates?”

  1. happenstance says:

    Stumbled upon this, really enjoyed!

  2. 1seattlegirl says:

    I never ask a guy out… ok, so I broke this rule a few months ago and it ended in exactly the way I assumed it would, which is why I have this rule for myself in the first place.

    I do not philosophically oppose women asking men out. But I know that I (and I think many women) are more likely to work hard to make a relationship last if we like someone. And I think if the guy isn’t into me enough to get over his fear of rejection and ask me out in the beginning – he’s not going to be into me enough to work on the eventual things that will inevitably pop up in the future.

    I don’t want to fall for someone who isn’t truly into me.

    • Yes, but this begs the question: why does this only happen with women, and not with men? Why is it that women don’t have to overcome fear of rejection, and that men don’t have to be worried about her being into him enough?

      • Lynn says:

        I’ve had plenty of rejection.

        I wish men would realize that women do get rejected. It’s not only men that experience this. If I go to a singles get together, and no guy approaches me or is friendly to me when I approach them, then this is rejection.

        You ask me out and I say yes. We go out on one date and we have a good time (at least I think you had a good time). Then I never hear from you again. I might call you and either don’t get an answer or if you do answer my call, you are vague about what is going on.

        I have seen men fall all over themselves to flirt and ask out a friend of mine who is gorgeous. So I know men, when really motivated by a super hot chick, will ask women out.

        By the way, I am still waiting for numerous men I had one date with to call me back. 🙂

    • dave says:

      1seattlegirl – I NEVER ask a woman out… ok, so I broke this rule once and it ended exactly like I assumed that it would,which is why I have this rule for myself in the first place.
      I do not philosophically oppose guys asking women out ( looks so desperate and needy),but I know that I (and I think many men) am more likely to work hard to make a relationship last if I like someone,And I think if the woman is not interested in me enough to get over HER fear of rejection and ask me out in the beginning– she is not going to be into
      me enough to work on the eventual things that will inevitably pop up in the future.
      I don’t want to fall for a woman who is not truly into ME.

    • DJ says:

      The same could be said for guys to girls. The girl asking the guy out means she’s interested and willing to make the relationship work. If a guy asks a girl out, it’s like being offered a piece of candy at the dentist’s office…you weren’t necessarily there for the candy, but you’ll take it just because.

  3. Nathan says:

    The glaring omission from this interesting article is: testosterone and its influence on the sex drive. There are different levels of testosterone between the sexes (although not uniform distribution) and It is a biological and not rational influence. Hence the stable historical pattern of dating obligations since “the stone age”.

    The Economist magazine had an interesting article on testosterone and male longevity recently. Turns out that eunuchs live 11 years longer. But what is the opportunity cost of those extra years?

  4. Marli Wang says:

    Nathan — I’m not totally clear on what the hypothesis is. Is it that men have such a high libido relative to women that they are driven to ask women out much more than women are driven to ask men out, and so the number of women asking men out is washed out by the number of men? Correct me if I’m wrong.

    I’m pretty certain that the difference in libido between men and women (if it exists at all) is not so great that the number of women asking men out would be negligible in comparison. Or alternatively: suppose that this hypothesis is true. Then we should observe that the only women who ask men out are those with high libido relative to other women. But, I don’t think that’s the case.

  5. Nathan says:

    Marli, good point and not what I meant to imply. Let me start by saying that I found the post interesting and subsequent comments are meant in the spirit it was written. Having said that, I would suggest that there are two key deficiencies in the model. They are the difference in payoffs arising from biological differences and exactly what is meant by ‘asking someone out’

    Neuroeconomist Paul Zack has done some interesting work on the influence of hormones and economic development (I briefly describe a subset of his work relating to trust, GDP and weddings here: http://www.nathantaylor.net.au/?p=441). The reference to testosterone was regarding its influence in risky decision making rather than the sex drive as such. This may change the payoffs so that men find the risks involved with being rejected less substantive and the gains greater.

    The ‘asking out’ component is also flawed. There is not a fixed point over which one gender puts forward a proposal and the other rejects/accepts it. Rather there is a social dance of connection that occurs during courtship. Who initiatives this dance and who controls the moves can change at any stage. Hence the interest in flirtation.

    Greater sexual equality allows women to actively control and own their part in this flirtation. However, there may be reluctance to change something as emotive and primitive as mating. If a small biological difference exists (libido or in terms of accepting risk) it may be enough for society to codify it into behavioural norms. Thereafter deviation from those social norms provides valuable information. Not that someone is crazy but that are a social deviant.

    As the social termites of the mammalian world, this is important information for either gender – particularly when it comes to something as basic as producing the next generation of termites.

    Check out this brutally honest, hysterical and insightful blog from Penelope Trunk (who suffers Aspergers http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2010/11/18/what-its-like-to-have-sex-with-someone-with-aspergers/). The ‘money quote’ is:

    “But the nonverbal cues you do to get to the sex really stress me out. It seems like a dance. When you date, there’s the official dance date you do, which I can handle. I’ve been dating enough to know you do dinner, talk, go to someone’s house, move close, kiss, lay down, get close to sex, go to bed. That’s the dance. I know where we are and what’s coming next.

    But if you’re married, there’s no dance. You are just there, in bed. So the dance becomes a micro dance. There are little cues you give the other person, a careful touch in a spot you don’t usually touch, a kiss that is a kiss that means this-is-not-a-goodnight-kiss, a pointed question like, did the kids fall asleep? These are tiny cues that have to come with other, tiny cues.”

  6. Dave says:

    There are many girls I do like quite a lot and do really want to ask them out. Here’s the main problems with myself. I was bullied for 7 straight years by girls and guys alike, it was very hurtful the way they teased me and rejected me. Since then and still to this day my self-esteem is about as rock bottom as you can get (and as to be expected). Now as much as I SO badly (not meaning to sound desperate) want to go out with a girl; is taking the risk of bitter cold rejection worth it. For me never ever in a million years. Most girls would not be so sweet as to simply say “I’m sorry, that’s so kind but I’m not interested, no it would be more to the effect of “Of course not you pathetic loser!” Now if ever in my life I get to a point where I can forgive bullies (very unlikely), I can try to be more comfortable with things like that. However, in the place I have always been with my own issues there is a 100% chance I will not ever ask out a girl.

  7. Perry says:

    I have stopped asking women out.

    If she wants to go out with me–ask!

    • dave says:

      Mr. Perry – You cannot say things like that out loud! Then you are called “whiny”, resentful of women and have no soul. Better watch what you say.

  8. […] NuclearChickenCollusion Blog, with a sweet game theory tree Psychology Today blog post by Jen Kim, which references the sentiments against women asking men out, then addresses the other side Psychology Today blog post by Michael Mills Ph.D. that looks into why women don’t ask Hello Beautiful (that’s the name of the site) The fact that this reddit thread exists Evan Marc Katz’s Blog Patti Knows Keller Dating The fact that this forum exists This Jewish Journal post that starts with the lady needing to overcome the traditional arrangement ideas […]

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