Hello there! Michigan was awesome. I’m just getting back to email now, so I apologize to anyone who spent all weekend in the moderation queue wondering “What did I say?”
So, I swear I’m not turning this into a PUA site for people who want to date feminists, but this question came in right on the heels of the whole “How do I seduce women” thing so I thought I’d knock it out while we’re on the subject.
Dear Captain Awkward,
Also, I’m kind of shy and awkward, so I’m bad at flirting. It’s not that I’m creepy or anything, at least I don’t think. I don’t nakedly proposition, I don’t corner, I’m not lewd or graphic or anything. If anything, I’m more likely to have the opposite problem of someone doubting whether I’m asking them out on a date, as opposed to just hanging out as friends. When I was in college, I flirted so ineptly with a girl in my dorm that she nicknamed me Sketchy Greg, and that nickname stuck for the rest of the year, which traumatized me about flirting and hitting on people that I might have to encounter again. Basically, I already have a preexisting phobia about developing a bad reputation, but I’m extra worried about developing a specific kind of bad reputation that will undermine my work.
I don’t want to completely shut out the possibility of meeting someone this way; the fact that we’re both at an event to promote a particular cause suggests more compatibility than you’d find in a bar or online or something. But I also don’t want to put my own social needs above the needs of my organization. Is there a good way to navigate these pitfalls? Am I just being paranoid and insecure for worrying about this in the first place?
Awkward with Women
Dear Artist Formerly Known as “Sketchy Greg:”
Here are links to some stuff I’ve written about dating while feminist that cover the rules of dating:
- Dating While Feminist
- A Shy Guy Caught My Eye (a general guide for asking people out)
- How do I seduce women? (An eye-roll inducing question,but it reiterates the CA Dating Guide for Geeks)
Okay. It’s good that you’re volunteering with feminist organizations, and it’s good that you’re thinking about boundaries in using your work there as a springboard to jump start your dating life. Meeting people through common shared interests is a good way to meet people! And it’s good you’re trying not to be a douche about it. We’ll call that the good news.
The bad news is that your premise is faulty to begin with. I understand about being a nerd and wanting to do research and homework to find out The Correct Way to do things. But asking a woman “How do I interact with women?” is by its very nature unfeminist. There are approximately 3 and a half billion of us on the earth, so the answer to “What do women like?” or “How do I talk to women?” or “Where do I meet women?” is pretty much “I don’t fucking know, we are all different and also we are just people.” To be even more specific, just like men (who are also people), most of us have not fully unpacked how we would like to be approached. We know it when we see it. We know what we don’t like when we see something we don’t like. But there is no system or way that we’ve all agreed on at our LadySummits. As one commenter said recently, women are not the Boss level of a video game and there are no Lady Cheat Codes. There is some good basic stuff (including a reiteration of the above principles) at the Geek Feminism Wiki.
Saying “I’m awkward with women” tells me that you’re holding onto some sexist ideas about what it would mean for a man to be “good with women.” Those ideas are baked into the toxic cultural soup we were all raised in, so it’s not completely your fault, but if you want to be an activist and a feminist it would be good on all counts if you could shed the idea that there is a way to be “good with women” that’s separate from learning how to be more comfortable in your own skin and good with people. If you feel awkward around women, who are people, work on improving your social skills in general. Get better at talking to dudes, and you will also get better at talking to ladies, since both ladies and dudes are people. Do a little reading about stereotype threat, and leave the idea of “Sketchy Greg” behind. You’re out in the grown-up world working on activist causes you believe in, so you’re probably much better at talking to people and being cool than you think you are. Speak truthfully and directly about things that are important to you. Be kind. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Don’t invest any one interaction with too much meaning. Look for reciprocity in your interactions with other people. If you’re doing all the work of trying to impress someone, you’re performing instead of connecting, and it’s going to be weird and uncomfortable. This is basic good manners and will help you in any social situation.
I guess what would make me feel better about your question, Awkward With Women, is if you’d written to say “I work for this advocacy organzation, and I met this really cool woman and we’re always hanging out together late after the meetings and running into each other at fundraisers and stuff, and I want to ask her out but I don’t want to overstep some unwritten work/friendship boundaries, what do I do?” In that case I could help you. I’d say scan the local paper or free weekly for something cool and inexpensive to do that you think she’d like (because you’ve spent time together and have some idea of what she likes and where it matches up with stuff you also like), and then use a mad lib like “Hey, I plan to go to (music festival)(reading)(opening)(lecture)(art exhibit)(play)(try this new restaurant)(beer tasting) on (day/time)(next weekend)(later this month), would you like to join me?”
If she says “Are you asking me on a date?” the answer is “Yeah, is that cool?” Don’t try to deny that it’s a date, because THAT’S how you end up in creepytown where you’re all full of shame and lust but you said it wasn’t a date so now you are a weirdo if you try to stealthily turn it into a secret date - secret from her, that is until you hug her and she feels your pulsating boner against her thigh – after the fact.
She’ll either say yes (in which case firm up plans) or no, in which case say “Ok, just thought I’d ask” and then go back to normal interactions. If it ever gets brought up again she will be the one to bring it up.
This is a good time to actually expand on the concept of reciprocity, ie, the interactions involve a give and take with each person putting forth the same amount of effort. An example of reciprocity is you asking the woman you like to an event, and she says she can’t make it, but she lights up with a huge smile and suggests an alternate event you might go to another time. You have to trust that if someone is interested in you, or open to the idea of dating you, that she will make some effort to show her interest even if your first suggestion is not the right one. It’s easier to achieve reciprocity if you keep it light and don’t get too invested in the outcome. If she doesn’t show interest (huge smile, agreeing, making an alternate suggestion, saying “I’m busy this week, but can you ask me again later in the month?”, etc.), let it go. She’s either not interested, or too high-maintenance and hung up on old ideas about how men are supposed to “chase” women for you to want to get with her.
If the person you are interested in is also a geek it might take a few false starts to get there. For example, I am also terrible at flirting or noticing when someone is flirting with me, so someone I like might ask me out and it might take three days for it to dawn on me what just happened. During those three days you might feel really bummed out and embarrassed and wonder why I hate you, but on the 4th day if I was feeling it I’d probably call you and say “The other day when you asked me out? That was nice, and I’m sorry I behaved like such a dork. Can we try that again?”
None of this advice is really germane unless you have a specific person you’d like to go on a date with. I feel like you’re writing to me for some kind of blanket permission to mack on the women you work with and some kind of system to guarantee that it won’t go awry when they all find out about each other. That I can’t help you with. Of course you can and should ask out people that you want to go on dates with and have a ton in common with and who are part of your social circle. If there is someone you find yourself thinking about after you leave a meeting and hoping that you’ll run into at the next meeting, go for it! Slowly! And one at a time! You’re not stupid paranoid to worry about your reputation because people talk to each other, and will quickly figure it out if you ask out one woman after another after another. It gets back to the whole “women aren’t interchangeable” thing we started with.