I’ve interviewed many people about love and relationships over the past few years, and one of my favorite interviewees was a 30-something woman we’ll call Addison. When she was in her very early 20s, Addison met a man who was absolutely smitten with her — and he made sure that she knew it. He pursued her hard in the beginning, showering her with attention, praise, and adoration.
Addison’s suitor wanted to push things forward as fast as possible. Having grown up on Disney fairy tales, rom-coms, and books like The Rules, which hype relentless suitors who value women whom they have to chase to the ends of the earth, Addison just kind of went with it. She didn’t ask herself, “Is this what I really want?” Instead, she simply thought, “This is how it’s supposed to be.”
Despite lingering doubts, she ended up in a marriage by her mid-20s — with a husband whose enthusiasm was not, in fact, all it had seemed to be. It waned over time. He did not defend her in front of his family members, they fought constantly, he did not consider her feelings. By her late 20s, she was divorced, with a whole slew of different (and correct) thoughts about “how things should be” the next time around.
Addison isn’t alone in her previous beliefs about dating and relationships. Somewhere along the way, women were told, “You deserve to be pursued!” and, yeah, we just went with it. Through my research (and even among friends), I’ve met plenty of women who’ve literally gone their entire lives letting men sort themselves by early, most-evident interest.
Their “single girl” dating ritual is simple: Strongest pursuer wins. (Side note: This is a heteronormative exploration of dating rituals and for that reason a heteronormative article on said rituals.)
With a culture of ghosting, bread-crumbing, zombie-ing, and just flat-out constant shuffling, I get that things seem inherently fragile out there, and lots of people want to insulate against rejection. You want to invest in someone who’s going to stick around, so you set up parameters to try to weed out those who aren’t serious enough:
If he’s not texting you every day, right from the start, he’s not interested enough.
If he’s not setting up dates at least once or twice a week, cut him off.
If he’s not calling on the phone, then he’s o-u-t.
Of course, you do need to weed out prospects who just aren’t matches, which means you do need some filters — but “strength of pursuit” shouldn’t be one of them. Here are two reasons why strength of pursuit is a problem, and one very important way to choose a better partner.
1. It removes female agency.
Addison’s old-school story is still way too common today, and I hate that. Why? Because this storyline removes female agency from the equation. She didn’t actively choose the guy she dated and eventually married: She let him choose her. She didn’t take active steps forward in the relationship: He dragged her step by step through various phases of commitment. He was a little bit ahead of her, always, until he locked it down with a ring and there were no further steps to take.
Letting someone take you off the market, just because there seems to be a lot of interest there, is a defensive dating strategy that requires next to no vulnerability on your part. You think that high levels of obvious interest will keep you from getting hurt (which is not necessarily the case). It’s important to lay down the old narratives that proclaim your One True Love will pursue you no matter how many barriers you throw in his way, or if you put in zero effort yourself. That just isn’t today’s reality.
Instead, you need to ask yourself who you want to pursue a relationship with — and then put yourself out there and let that person know. Text him. Set up dates. Say you had a great time. Keep in touch. The best modern relationships aren’t built on one party driving all the interest, but rather on a “meet me halfway” dynamic.
2. Strength of pursuit doesn’t necessarily indicate strength of interest.
I’ve heard women recount some really promising early prospects. “He texts me all the time, all day!” Or, “He calls me every day!” Meanwhile, I’m on the sidelines thinking, “Eeeeek.” In these cases, the strength of pursuit is blinding, and these women stop thinking about chemistry and compatibility and focus solely on how intensely they’re being pursued. They let other prospects fall to the wayside because they don’t even have time to keep up with them.
I don’t want to condemn anyone for showing interest, because every situation is different. However, I do want to point out that bombarding a person with texts, emails, calls, and compliments immediately is an early dating tactic. It’s not the only dating tactic; it’s just one. And it’s not even necessarily authentic. It’s rare that you’d know a person well enough to be declaring love after a few dates.
There are tons of great guys who do not have time to text you all day; they have full-time jobs. There are tons of great guys who need a little encouragement to keep pursuing you, which is a wise strategy that indicates both parties’ desire to move the relationship forward. There are tons of great guys who you might be missing, because you’re blinded by someone’s strength of pursuit.
I am sad to report that this enthusiasm and communication frequency often wanes over time, much to many women’s dismay. Sometimes, a strong early pursuit is almost a game — and when you’re off the market, you’re won. Suddenly, new boyfriends don’t text every day, and those regular phone calls seem to fall off a cliff. If enthusiasm starts that strong, it’s likely got nowhere to go but down.
3. The best relationships today are equal and continue to grow.
Experts have consistently found that egalitarian marriages, where both parties are equal in all ways, are the happiest. They share duties inside and outside the home. They have equal bargaining power in the relationship. They both do the emotional work to keep the relationship afloat. And they both have the power to make key decisions.
This dynamic of equality starts right off the bat, as two halves of a potential couple meet each other halfway. You should both show interest. You should both be able to issue date invites. You should both be able to send texts and expect one in return. If you want a happy relationship, in which you both choose each other, the earliest interactions should settle in somewhere around 50-50.
Your enthusiasm, communication, and excitement should also continue to grow and expand over time in a way that feels natural. If a person is pursuing hard right out of the gate, that interest is not likely strong for the right reasons. I’m not saying you shouldn’t date the person, just that you need to keep carefully considering compatibility along the way. They’re likely following a script at best, and turning dating into a game at worst.
Never forget that they don’t really know you, not yet. They shouldn’t be “all in” after one date, and neither should you.
Trust me. You ultimately want a partner who thoughtfully considered whether you were a good match, and stepped up their interest accordingly, as they saw authentic potential for long-term growth and happiness. You do not want someone who was smitten with information they can glean from first glance, despite the weird fairytale narratives we were once taught to believe. Addison’s story crystallized that lesson for me.
Jenna Birch is a journalist, a dating coach, and author of The Love Gap (Grand Central Life & Style, January 2018). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Friday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “YAHOO QUESTION” in the subject line.
Read more from Yahoo Style + Beauty: