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Who Should Commit or Fall in Love First and Most?

Updated on June 15, 2010

Taking the Lead

My notions of romance and chivalry always lead me to believe it was the man who has to take the lead in every aspect of a relationship.

I was never misogynistic, that is, I always saw women as being equally capable of leading - often more - but when it comes to a relationship between a man and a woman, I believed it was a man's responsibility to show his love, character and respect by being the first to notice, the first to show interest, the one to ask for the date, pick up the phone and call, make the first move, fall in love, propose, say I do - and even fall asleep at night once they're married.

And, you know, a lot of people live their lives that way. I have seen many couple whose entire relationships lined up the way I just described. The man was the pursuer, the woman, his prize to win. If this sounds demeaning to women, please forgive me. The thing is I have known many women who truly wanted it to be this way.

A significant number of women wait for the man who will make her feel like "the prize", or it just comes to her, and she likes it. It makes her feel wanted, desirable and special. In a way, isn't this what Valentine's Day is all about? Or at least what it has become?

But I am not condemning this outlook. It's romantic, it has a place. If you kindle a romance when you're 19 or 22, chances are pretty good that the guy will be the initiator by and large. And most of us know, when that's not the case, the relationship isn't going to last for very long.

But is this male-initiator model good? And if so, why does it tend to change as people age?

The answer to the first question depends on many factors, first and foremost the personalities of the people involved. More traditional, conservative folks tend to need more traditional kinds of relationships. But even some who are much more contemporary and stylish in other ways want to resort to traditional modes when it comes to relationship.

Other factors matter too. Financial wherewithal can dictate that the person with the most buying power might take the lead in many ways in the relationship as well. Work-family balance issues also play a role. If a guy is a single Dad and with his kids regularly, and a woman is a business owner who has no children of her own, maybe she would take much of the initiative when it comes to the two adults.

A woman I asked this question said, "it's all about the sex drive! When a man wants it, he will pursue to the ends of the earth. If a woman finds a man very sexy, and his interest isn't so great, she will pursue and persist in ways many men find surprising - even intimidating." Sage words, I thought, but maybe not the whole story.

I think again of the age factor. In 50 year old relationships, it is much more common for the woman to take more initiative. But then again, some would say this goes back to the sex drive!

But these observations speak more to how it happens rather than whether it's good. But frankly, as nature runs its course, I am inclined to believe that where it is more common for the woman to lead, it's better, and where it's more common for the man to lead, it's probably better as well.

In both, however, there are problems. Lest I avoid any charge of sexism - I will now say what's really on my mind.

I would propose that the question of who should be leading is answered most simply by knowing where the woman is in the relationship. Or, in other words, focus on her, and you will get your answer. Why?

First of all, I find it overwhelmingly clear that women invest much more of their own psyche into the status of a relationship in their lives. For a man, if a relationship is new, he may be excited, even distracted. If it's going well, he is probably happy. If not, he may not even know! When he does know, he will be bummed, but in part just because he can't figure it out like other problems. When it ends, he may even get depressed. But the vast majority of the time, he will bounce back - soon and rather fully.

Women function in relationships differently. I won't pretend to understand it very well, I just don't, or can't. It is complex. Frankly, women are quite complex. Men are relatively simple. Not altogether programmed or uniform - by any means - but pretty simple.

Within a woman's complexity is her nature to shift her feelings within a relationship. Depending on her personality this can run the gamut from lvoe to hate, and it can happen over a long period of time or within a very few hours - or even minutes.

Now I will say to any guy any time, it is not your job to figure her out. And if she is making you feel that it is your job, or tells you as much, then you likely are not engaged in a relationship that is healthy for you. You can't figure her out. You will never know when her moods o patterns of thinking will change. She may not even know.

Instead, it is my opinion that as a man, it is wise and appropriate to ask her what she likes , and to take her at face value in what she says. Now, it is also not your job to simply please her. Her respect for you will die as soon as you act as if it is. On the other hand, she will likely find it irresistible for you to listen to her, and then take the lead in making a decision about simple, little things like where to eat dinner, what movie to see, etc.

This kind of leadership is generally very safe for a man.

But others often are not. A woman doesn't usually want a man to over-commit, or commit too soon. It probably scares her. Emotionally, at least, she usually wants to commit first. She likes to be ahead of a man in this way, and that is usually safe for a man too.

In fact, I think this is a point that should be driven home. If the woman qalks a few steps ahead of the man emotionally and in terms of commitment, she can feel safe in that, and he can feel safer too. Most guys are rather slow to fully commit - and there are good reasons why!

So the little things - default to the male with room for the female to take the lead when necessary.

With respect to emotional commitment, the relationship has a better chance for success where the woman is ahead of the man.

But then when it gets to the bedroom - it's funny, both sexes seem to prefer the man taking the lead, especially in the beginning. As the relationship ripens, however, opportunities for the woman to initiate are there and it stays "fun" if both people take the lead at different times.

By and large, however, women are as comfortable with men leading in this respect as men are. No, it's not likely to change the likelihood of success for the relationship.

In the end, the biggest predictor of success is likely to be what the parties go into the relationship expecting the other to do. The greatest risk comes when the idea of "commitment" to the relationship enters the picture. If the man jumps ahead on this one, key point - look out, The fireworks are likely to follow!

So what do you think? Who should be taking the lead?


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