Is It Better to Ask for a Date or Wait to Be Asked?

The dating trade-off between choice and commitment

Posted Mar 31, 2018

Motortion Films/Shutterstock
Source: Motortion Films/Shutterstock

Previously, I discussed research that shows how simply asking for a date has a good chance of success. Further, although this effect is true for both men and women, it appears that women are particularly successful when they ask for a date. Nevertheless, even today, there remains some confusion around gender roles — and about who should ask (and pay) for a date.

Given that, I decided to do more research on the topic. I was particularly interested in the social and gender norms around being the pursuer versus being pursued in a dating context. I also wondered whether there were benefits (and costs) of taking a more active or passive role. Indeed, as I found out, there are:

Social Norms and Romantic Selectivity

In my searching, I found an article by Finkel and Eastwick (2009) exploring the topic of gender differences around who is approaching (or waiting to be approached by) a potential romantic partner, and how that impacts the larger dating dynamic. Specifically, the researchers evaluated heterosexual male and female participants in a series of speed-dating events. As is customary with speed-dating events, one set of partners stay seated at tables, while the other set rotates from table to table — thus ensuring everyone meets everyone. The researchers sometimes had their events structured such that the women stayed seated, and the men rotated and approached them (to evaluate a more “traditional” gender norm), while at other times the event was structured with the men staying seated, and the women approaching them (to test the opposite).

Finkel and Eastwick (2009) then questioned all participants about their experience — as well as their interest in the potential partners they met. In general, the researchers found the men more confident and attracted to the women, whereas the women were choosier about the men. Nevertheless, this difference was only true when the men were approaching the women. When the women approached the men, they became more confident and interested in those men — whereas the men became a bit less interested and more selective.

Overall then, these results indicate that there are some costs and benefits to being the pursuer versus the pursued dating partner. Those who are doing the approaching and asking feel more confident and get to actively pursue the partner they want (rather than waiting and hoping). Nevertheless, they are also investing more effort in the process, making them more interested and committed to the outcome.

In contrast, the partner being asked is more certain of the other person’s interest and commitment. They also don’t have to risk rejection themselves, can play hard-to-get, and choose whether to say yes or no. Nevertheless, it is a more passive role — and they have to wait for an appealing partner to ask (and hope they do).

Ask or Wait to Be Asked?

As we can see, there are pros and cons to asking versus being asked out. On one hand, if you are the pursuer, then you have a good chance of getting a date with the person you want and will feel more confident and attracted to them too. Nevertheless, you also have to put yourself out there and deal with the possibility of rejection.

On the other hand, if you wait to be pursued, then you know your partner will likely be more invested and committed — and you won’t have to risk as much yourself. Nonetheless, you will still have to do some work to try to attract them to you and hope that they ask you out too. Thus, that approach is less certain.

Given that, if you do the asking, here are some tips that can help: Try being curious about the other person to reduce anxiety. Find a comfortable way to break the ice and have a good conversation. Learn when and how to be rewarding. Find a way to ask for the date persuasively. If you are still shy or nervous, there are ways to indirectly ask for a date too.

If you are waiting to be asked, here are some tips for you as well: Pay attention to the various ways you can be most attractive and appealing to potential partners. Learn how to get the attention of potential partners too. Find ways to flirt and use your body language for maximum effect as well. Consider whether to play hard-to-get at times. If your potential partner is speaking to you, but still has not asked you out, you can always indirectly ask for a date too.

Whichever path you choose, I hope your dating and relating is successful — and that you find the love you want!

© 2018 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.


Finkel, E. J., & Eastwick, P. W. (2009). Arbitrary social norms influence sex differences in romantic selectivity. Psychological Science, 20(10), 1290-1295.