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How to ask a man (or a woman)

Your Leap Year guide to asking someone to dance, for their phone number, or for a date

by Janet Jacobsen

copyright 1996 Single Scene Newspaper Single Scene

It's Leap Year _ when they add a day to the calendar to keep it in sync with the sun.

And it has been the custom in Leap Year for women to feel free to propose marriage to men, a tradition going back at least to Scotland in 1288, when Scottish law made it official that any man who declined a proposal in Leap Year must pay a fine.

For many years we've run our "How to Ask a Man" series for Leap Year, but more recently I revised the articles to be helpful to whoever wants to do the asking.

After all, the process can be just as difficult for men as for women. And there really aren't social "rules for men" and "rules for women" any more _ good communication tools work for everyone.

I do occasionally meet women, still, who exclaim, "Oh, Janet, I couldn't possibly!" when it's suggested they be the one to ask the man to dance or for a date, but their number is declining. Meanwhile men are still thrilled when women share the risks of rejection, and many men are ruling out as prospective sweethearts any woman who expects him to carry the whole burden.

So here, in the spirit of Leap Year, we offer our suggestions on how to ask for a dance, a phone number, and a date.

Remember, we're all in this together. How to ask for a phone numberDon't bother to ask for a phone number you're not likely to use. Having a jam-packed little black book is no good if you've never called anyone in it. And getting the number and then not calling can make the person who gave you the number question your honesty, since asking for the number at least implies your intention to call.

At the same time, don't limit yourself to the phone numbers of potential Ms./Mr. Rights. There's enough stress in just learning to ask for numbers, so start with a quest for friends. You'd just naturally get the number of a potential same-sex friend.

It's just as natural to get a potential friend's number who also happens to be of the other sex.

Asking for the number

One "old-style" method women have used for getting a man's number is to say she's thinking of having a party and would like to invite him when the details are worked out. This is still a sure-fire method, and works as well with long-time acquaintances as with people you've just met.

A method I notice business people use in work situations is to ask, "Do you have a card? I'd like to call you sometime." The same approach works just fine with social contacts as well.

The time to ask for the number is when the conversation is rolling along well.

Don't wait until you're both looking at your watches and the evening (or whatever) is dwindling down. You might say, "I'm really enjoying talking to you. I'd love to be able to phone you sometime." Or "I think you'd be fun to talk to on the phone. Can I have your number?" Or, "If you'll give me your phone number, I'd like to call you sometime."

You get the idea.

You don't have to promise to invite them out or marry them tomorrow. You'd just like to be able to get in touch, to be able to talk again sometime.

Of course, there's the chance the person will say no. Be prepared for that; it's only fair, after all. And realize there are lots of reasons you might not give your number; the other person has lots of possible reasons too. Don't take it personally.

If you're not sure how the person will respond to being asked for their number, instead ask them how they feel about

___ (your sex) getting phone numbers from

___ (their sex).

If they start telling horror stories, change the subject. But if you're still interested, then give them your number and say, "I've enjoyed talking to you. I hope you'll call me sometime." At that point, it's your best shot. My brother was using the "give-your-number; don't-ask-for-their number" technique and complaining to me that "It doesn't work! Women never call!" But just a few days later one of the women did call, and now, several years later, they're still good friends.

Don't get them; exchange them I've noticed lately that some men when getting a woman's telephone number will shyly say, "And would you like mine?" Obviously if she says yes, he can take that as a "good sign" _ that she is interested in him and/or that she might even call him, both of which are a tremendous relief to him.

Actually, it's better to exchange numbers than to just give or get a number.

After all, if you're not interested enough to want their number, you probably shouldn't be giving them yours.

One of the easiest ways to give out your number is to have a personal card _ just like a business card, only it has your name and your phone number. (Leave off your address; you are giving this to strangers, after all.)

Even if your business card includes your home number, it's best to have a strictly "personal" card when meeting people. That way there's no question in their mind that your interest is personal, and that you really do want them to call you.

It's particularly important to have each other's numbers when making a date.

All sorts of things can happen: You could be delayed away from home; you could come down with Jungle Rot; they could be very late. The security of having the other person's number is immeasurable.

And there's an additional fringe benefit when you insist on getting the person's number when they've called you (or asked in person) for a date. If they refuse or avoid giving you a home number, odds are they're married or living with someone.

At that point the best strategy is to check it out by asking point blank.

Most likely you wouldn't hesitate to just walk up and start a conversation with a person you already know. Phone calls are just another way of resuming a conversation. Be courteous and considerate of the other person's time, and there's a good chance they'll always be glad to hear from you.

How to ask a person to dance

In my early years as a "grown up," I was what you'd call "traditional," meaning that I thought men were supposed to do all the asking. But after a couple years of that, I started asking men to dance because I love to dance and I was absolutely sick of sitting there trying to look sweet and interesting and whatever else it was you were supposed to look so a man would ask you to dance, because whatever it was, I didn't seem to have it.

I'm not much of a drinker but the first evening that I had decided This Was It_I Was Going to Ask Men To Dance, it took me two tequila sunrises to get up the courage. And I said to myself, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" The guy

could say no. And everybody in the place will notice, and think I'm a real yo-yo.

The possible no I couldn't avoid, but I could make the whole thing less obvious.

So I'd pick a "Likely Candidate" (more on how to do that later), go to the ladies room, and on the way back to my table I'd stop casually at his table and say something irresistible, like "Would you like to dance?" Now as far as anyone else knew, I could be telling him his deodorant wasn't working, so if he said no, I'd just proceed back to my table and nobody, almost, would know.

(Another workable technique, if you think you might be in for an ego-bruising, is to ask, "What would you say if I asked you to dance?" Then, if he says, "No," you don't ask!)

In my first dozen evenings out, I was turned down just once. The guy looked me up and down and said, "You've got to be kidding."

It gets easier. After awhile you no longer need the "returning from the bathroom" trick. Besides, after you've asked half the guys in the place to dance, the rest know what's going on.

How to spot a sure thing

One of the most important lessons I learned was how to spot a Sure Thing, meaning someone who would dance (not necessarily someone to marry). I don't know if men use these same criteria or not, but they should.

1. The person is not with a date. Maybe that's their brother, or their secretary, or their best friend, but it takes some practice to tell. Once I was out with several women friends and one male friend and a woman came over and asked him to dance. "I figured that since you were with all these women, you weren't with anyone," she said. The wording wasn't the best, but the logic was good.

2. They do not appear to be drunk.

3. They are paying attention to what's going on on the dance floor, especially if they are standing or sitting near the dancing. Those pointed toward the television or the bartender are almost a sure "No."

4. They indicate some sense of rhythm. Wild toe tapping, shoulder swinging, finger drumming, or appropriate arm waving are sure signs. Anyone who isn't responding to the music at all probably hates dancing. This is a very important test; if they pass this, there's a good chance they're a Sure Thing (won't turn you down when you ask them to dance).

5. There's one additional area where you are nearly 100% guaranteed a yes if you ask them to dance. That's when they've just asked someone else to dance, and been turned down. I let them get a few feet away from the scene of thecrime, on the off chance they won't realize I've been watching their every move. At this moment you become not only someone to dance with, but also the restorer of their bruised ego; they are probably going to adore you forever, so be prepared.

How to get off the dance floor

When I was doing the "traditional" role and waiting to be asked to dance, I always had a terrible time figuring out how to end the dance graciously, and often would dance with one person a lot longer than I meant to, because I thought I was being "polite." When I started asking, however, it was such a new experience for the men to be asked that after each song they would just sort of stand there wondering what would happen next and I discovered that since I asked, it seemed to be up to me to end it.

So I would either move to escort them back to where I got them, or say, "Would you like to dance one more?" or " . . . another one?" I've always resented men who assume you owe them the next twenty dances after accepting one, so I try not to do that to men. Escorting the person off the floor seems essential; women don't like being "dumped" at the end of a song, and I assume men don't like it either. Then I discovered that I could use the same system to get off the dance floor even when the man had asked me to dance. I just take them by the arm and lead them off and say, "Thanks for asking" or whatever else seems appropriate. Silly as it may sound to men, for me the learning how to end a dance was almost as liberating as learning how to ask for one.

My rejection rate

When I first started asking men to dance, my rejection rate in the bar scene was about 25%, meaning that about one in four said no when I asked them to dance. (At singles dances and events, of course, the rate is much smaller. People are there to dance and meet people, after all.)

But now it is many years later and I am a few years older, and my rejection rate is about one in three. My skills are better, but my age group is less in demand.

Ladies, if you think 25-33% sounds like a terrifying rejection rate, pity the poor guys. From what I've discovered through careful observation and prying, the average all-around boy-next-door type of nice guy gets rejected in the bar scene at least 75% of the time. (Less than that at singles events, of course.)

Most women claim they'd never leave the house if they had to face a 75% rejection rate.

Men ask me sometimes why I do the asking, since it seems to them that it would be so much easier to just sit and wait and turn down the people you aren't interested in. Which would be fine if all the people you were interested in just automatically asked you to dance. But that's not the way it works (at least not for me). And tough as it can be to face the rejection when someone says no to your request for a dance, waiting is worse.

I look back on the times I spent waiting, and waiting, and trying to look like the waiting was so much fun. And, fellas, spending a whole evening where no one asks you to dance feels like 100% rejection; it is emotionally much worse than any one person, or any number of people, saying no.

Don't just sit there _ ask someone to dance!

How to ask for a date

Women have always asked men "out." A standard female ploy has been to say you "just happen" to have two tickets to whatever and would he go? This, unfortunately, implies that he is somehow second choice, or going on charity of some kind; it would be a lot more honest to just invite him to the event straight out, rather than imply you are asking him only to avoid "wasting" the tickets.

But some women still cling to the tactic; I met one gal who'd already invited him using the "I have two tickets" strategy, and was now praying there were still tickets available.

Another traditional female move to make "dates" that I'm surprised more men don't use too is to give parties, where naturally you will have to invite people of the other sex. And by inviting your same sex friends to such parties, you obligate them to invite you to similar parties, where of course you get to meet more people.

Inviting him over for a "home-cooked meal" has been totally acceptable for probably as long as women have been doing the cooking. These days, though, I'd avoid asking in a way that implies he's incompetent in the kitchen; that's a pretty sexist assumption.

I understand men who cook are now getting pretty good mileage out of the same approach; just don't use it for a first date. Until she knows you better, she may assume you have some questionable motive for wanting to get her into your home. Both men and women should probably save such invitations til the third or even fourth date, unless you already know each other pretty well.

Another very safe strategy that women seem to have used more than men is to invite the person along to anything "a group of us" are doing. "A group of us are driving to the mountains to ski Sunday. Want to go?" For a first date, it should be a one-day or less event.

But still, women seem to be lagging notoriously behind in asking for a date. It's probably mostly cowardice, though some women claim that they don't ask because they can't afford to pay for dates the way men can. The logical response, of course, is that there are hundreds of inexpensive things to do in the world (see our annual "Great Dates" list), and who says it matters how much you spend. (I've never heard a man complain, "Oh, she's so cheap; all we ever do is go out for hamburgers.")

Men aren't expecting to be wined and dined lavishly, and women who expect that for themselves, on first dates particularly, are becoming less popular, in my observation. Men don't like to be thought of as a "wallet" (as I heard one man say), and they are definitely not going to judge a woman for inviting them on an inexpensive date.

The date to ask for

What's the best first date to ask for? For both men and women probably the best date is "coffee" _ the catch-phrase for spending time together in a restaurant partaking of a small whatever.

Whether you've met the person at an art gallery, or both attended a group discussion, or have been dancing at one of the dances or nightclubs, if you'd like to know more about them, invite them to coffee. "I'd love to buy you coffee right now," or "Let me take you out to coffee after the meeting," or "I'd like to keep this conversation going. Can I take you to coffee?" will do nicely.

Other fairly safe bets _ whether you invite them in person or on the phone _ are a lunch date, Sunday brunch, local hikes, or any sport you both do (jogging, tennis, bicycling). Dinner dates are "typical" first dates because there's a lot of time for conversation, but they can also be more expensive, and then we can get into worrying about who's feeling obligated and who's expecting what from whom. Consequently dinner dates are better as a first date when you already know the person fairly well, rather than with someone you've just met.

Who pays?

Janet's First Rule of Dating: Who asketh, payeth. The rule applies unless other arrangements are made, as in "I'd like to see the concert Saturday and I wondered how you'd feel about going together Dutch?" This raises an interesting development. One man I know told me that a woman had taken him out to dinner and now he was feeling, well, obligated. Not only do women begin to appreciate the fears and anxieties of men in making dates, but men begin to understand the subtle pressures of being on the receiving end.

And that, I think, is what all of this is about _ appreciating each other's positions, and consequently, understanding each other better.

Of course, in asking for a date, there's always the possibility you'll be rejected. Getting the practice is what counts. Great football players don't just show up for the games _ they're out there practicing all weeklong. First it gets easier, then you get better at it, then you become one of the leaders at bridging the understanding gap between men and women, a star at building honest, sharing relationships.

And aren't great relationships the best reason for dating?