I met a boy (let’s call him Jack) at a Halloween party through a mutual friend. I went home with a slight crush that night. The following morning I texted him and we’ve been texting non-stop ever since (we go to different schools and live on the opposite sides of town). I asked him if he wanted to watch the new Star Wars with me and we went together, but I specifically said it wouldn’t be a date as at that time, I wasn’t sure if I liked him enough to date him.
I’m a feminist, and I was the one who made the first move, asked him out first, and called him first. I know he likes me because we’ve told each other that, but I’m confused. As much as I don’t mind being the initiator of big things in any relationship, I don’t know if we’re IN a relationship. I want to be the one who asks him out on a proper date as a potential love interest for the first time, but I’m also tired of making the first move. After I asked him to go to the movies with me, he asked me out twice more, and after I called him for the first time, he now calls more than I do, and that’s great. I just want him to do something that defines our relationship, and be the initiator—like introduce me to his friends before I introduce him to mine, or hold my hand before I hold his.
Does that mean I’m becoming less of a feminist? Losing my sense of emotional independence? Feminism is my defining characteristic. When my friends (male or female) face any inequality they come to me for me to confront anyone and set the record straight, so for me to be so hesitant about a situation like this isn’t like me at all.
Jack’s making me doubt my independence. Is he making me less of a feminist by making me not want to make the first move?
Oh, geez, Sparkler. Of course not! That’s not how any of this works. Being a feminist is about believing in equality and autonomy for women as a group, not about judging individual dames for how they conduct their intimate relationships—and it’s a good thing, too, because if feminism demanded a cult-like commitment to the cause at the expense of everything else, nobody would want any part of it. So you want to be wanted, and pursued, by the person you’re pursuing yourself? There’s nothing un-feminist about that! Everyone wants that!
On the other hand, there’s something pretty profoundly un-feminist about refusing to take responsibility for your feelings and instead trying to frame your desire for a more passive role in your relationship as something the guy is “making” you do. Which is why, if you truly believe that women have just as much agency as men in all things—up to and including the part where you, as a woman, are the boss of your own choices and impulses—you’re gonna need to stop that.
But that’s also why I want to gently suggest that you rethink your choice to use feminism as the single most important lens for interpreting your own identity, your personal choices, and your relationships with other people. Because as you might have figured out by now, it’s… uh, kinda not great for that. Particularly in romantic relationships, where it adds a whole extra layer of angst and ambiguity to a process that is more than angsty enough on its own. Falling for someone makes you vulnerable! And do you sacrifice a degree of emotional autonomy when you yearn for your crush to call you, ask you out, or hold your hand? Damn right, you do—because you’re supposed to! That’s the whole point, kiddo. You can’t sit on All By Myself Island in the Magical Kingdom of Don’t-Give-a-Damn, while also enjoying the excitement and chemistry of a nascent relationship at the same time. Caring about other people means caring about other people. ‘Tis a curse.
Except when it’s awesome, of course—and it frequently is.
But as long as you’re counting beans like this, tallying up phone calls and hand-holds and friend introductions, trying to stay aloof for the sake of feminism while also yearning to connect at the same time, you’re not going to get to enjoy that awesomeness. You’re just going to make yourself crazy, and miss out on a lot of good stuff to boot! And that includes this budding relationship, where there’s so much promising interest being shown on both sides that it doesn’t even make sense to obsess about which one of you has taken more initiative, more times. (I mean, this guy calls you, texts you constantly, has asked you out at least twice, and has explicitly told you he likes you. After all that, who cares who meets whose friends first?!)
That’s why I hope you’ll take this moment to reflect on the differences between ideology and identity, and to understand the limits of the former as a framework for your most intimate dealings with other people. “Feminist” is a useful label to describe how you view a certain set of issues, but it’s only a label. If you scratch its surface, you’ll find yourself underneath—and so will the people who love you, if you let them. I hope you’ll let them. And if you want to make things official with this guy, I hope you’ll tell him so, or at least make it so obvious that he realizes he should go ahead and ask. And if you guys become an Official Couple and spend the rest of your lives slow dancing together in a field of daisies, I hope you’ll write back and tell us all about it, because we live for happily-ever-after updates around here.
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