When I was in 4th grade, it was a leap year. The teachers in my Catholic school decided the best way to celebrate that was to give us a Sadie Hawkins Day dance. None of us knew what that meant, not having been cognizant of it the last time we had a leap year.
They explained to us that it was the one day that girls were allowed to ask boys to dance. It never struck me as odd that anyone had to generate a holiday around a blip in the calendar. It also didn’t occur to me that it’s even odder on a grander scale: this holiday meant that as a people, we were given only one day, only one opportunity, only once every four years to step out of our traditional courtship roles.
But of course, I’d just turned 10 at the time. And at that age, the whole concept was alien to begin with, so you can just imagine the outcome: our Sadie Hawkins Day dance was a farce. In typical fashion, the girls clustered together on one side of the gym, decorated earnestly with the Valentine decorations the teachers bought at half price while the boys loomed on the opposite side. Both groups were posturing and gesturing in an exaggerated way that suggested an overt, but fearful, interest in the other group. It was obvious that each group was performing for the other.
The boys appeared to be play-fighting, checking out of the corner of their eyes if the girls were watching. Meanwhile the girls primped and whispered, pointing at one boy or another. The really interesting part, though, was when some brave soul decided to cross over to the other side.
Despite the whole point of Sadie Hawkins Day, the bold pioneer was always a boy. He was pushed and prodded by his cluster of friends and after stumbling away, he’d smooth his hair and walk the long, lonely route to the Land Of The Girls, staring down at the gym floor the whole time.
Once the girls detected a pioneer breaking from the crowd of boys, there would be a collective gasp and a sudden flurry of activity. Our whispers and giggles got louder, eyes opened wider, and gestures got bigger. What I remember most vividly, though, was the collective effort of every last girl to back away from him as quickly as possible. We would scurry towards the wall or duck behind each other as the boy drew closer.
In retrospect, I have no idea where that boy got his bravery from. Girls were visibly retreating from him in a crazed panic; it looked like a scene from a 1950s monster movie.
The funniest part? He was not some giant lizard or space turtle. He was the same boy we had played kickball with during recess that day. But that made little difference to us girls — especially the girl he ended up asking to dance. She’d gasp at him in horror and shake her head violently. If she had a string of pearls, she’d have been clutching them tightly, backing up in a near-faint. The girls would then gather around her while she inhaled her invisible smelling salts, interrogating her with needless questions and pelting her with inane advice.
That poor kid, meanwhile, would retreat to the boy’s side of the gym, his lizard tail between his legs. He’d get teased mercilessly by the other boys for 10 or 15 minutes until the next one worked up enough nerve to ask another girl to dance. Advance, scurry, clutch pearls, retreat: This sequence repeated with military accuracy until one of the teachers turned off the radio and told us to get our coats.
I’m sure we all have similar memories. And I’m sure we’d all like to think we’ve come a long way from those days. But I read some threads in CatholicMatch’s forums and it’s that 4th grade dance all over again. I’m seeing the same overt, fearful interest there. I can hear the collective gasp every time someone posts a “Flirt Alert.” I detect a lot of pearl-clutching and retreating, and I read an awful lot of advice-pelting.
If there’s one complaint I hear consistently about the dating scene on CatholicMatch it’s that, well, there just isn’t much of one, People — both men and women — don’t reach out enough. Profiles go un-browsed for days, even weeks. If one sends out emotes or emails, there’s no response. The rare times initial contact is made, it lags online for far too long. The explanation seems fairly straightforward to me: We’ve managed to re-create that two-sided gym and are staring at an empty dance floor.
It seems, going by discussions in the forums, that the prevailing expectation on CatholicMatch is for men to make the first move. Some women do not want to be the first to send an emote or email. Many won’t even browse a man’s profile unless he browsed them first. Many more won’t accept a chat request if the man hadn’t made successful prior contact. Lots of women refuse to give men their offline contact information. Some ladies won’t reply at all if an emote or email has typos, a quirky joke or a question they deem awkward. And a vast number of women won’t click on a profile that has no picture.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that the women are the sole bearers of the onus here. And I’m also obviously not suggesting that we should all recklessly give our phone numbers out to everyone who browses us, or make contact with every last man on the site. But what I am suggesting is that in the interest of prudent caution, we ladies might just be clutching our pearls a little too tightly and backing up against the wall a bit too often. I’m suggesting we might be remiss in thinking that the man should do all the work all the time and that when he does make an effort we suddenly need to protect ourselves from monsters.
The possibility exists that the mysterious photo-less profile just might belong to a giant lizard or a space turtle. But the more plausible reality is that the average man on here essentially joined CatholicMatch to ask someone to dance. Why do they have to be the ones to make that lonely trek across the gym? Are we really so rigid in our gender roles that we can’t send out a measly emote or click on a photo-less profile? Is there really so much harm in accepting a chat request? Do we really need them to always make the first move? Why are we scurrying away and hiding behind our friends when they do?
It just so happens that we’re in a leap year. That means tomorrow is Sadie Hawkins Day. I’m challenging my beloved Pinkies to make the first contact with somebody sometime this week. Maybe you’ve waited four years; here is your one chance to be brave. Who knows what could happen? It just might be that the man you reach out to is the same boy you played kickball with at recess and not a giant turtle from outer space.
Jessica Zimanske made the first move and now she has a wonderful CatholicMatch boyfriend. She shared her reason for proposing a face-to-face get together, writing: “If we’re both on an online dating site, I thought to myself, shouldn’t we, in fact, date?” Read the full post here.