PICTURE in your mind's eye a book on dating or relationships... and there's a very good chance you've conjured up images of pink jackets, clinking cosmos and stiletto heels. Of the $4bn spent on the dating industry worldwide every year, women are more likely to be the ones brushing up on their technique or looking for pearls of dating wisdom.
They are showing no shortage of initiative when it comes to finding a plus one. So why is it that even now, women are still taking their lead romantically from men?
Women may make the dating world go round, but make no mistake, men are still very much in the driving seat.
When it comes to the all-important approach, much as they would hate to admit it, women are still waiting for men to make the initial leap.
Even in the glamorous world of celebrity, it appears men are in the driving seat, with One Direction's Harry Styles (18) seemingly successfully chasing a string of older women, including The Xtra Factor's Caroline Flack (32), while stunning actress Cameron Diaz is still single at 39 after a string of relationships with high-profile men.
"In most cases, men make the first move," agrees Emre Iklme, dating coach and director of dating consultancy Kama Lifestyles. "Women have been taught by society, both by people in their immediate surroundings and through popular media and traditional literature, that men should make the first move.
"Think of the stories we grow up with: Cinderella and Snow White didn't go out to find Prince Charming. They waited for him to arrive and sweep them off their feet. Of course, when men don't approach women, they're seen as weak and unworthy of attention. This places extra pressure on men, especially those who are shy or less confident."
"Usually, men are much more laid back about dating, especially as we get older," agrees Sharon Kenny, MD of Takes 2 Dating. "Women like men to phone or text them first. Every woman wants an Alpha Male, even though they say time and time again that they want someone sincere and sweet and quiet. There's a lot of women who subscribe to the 'treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen' approach.
"Coming across as too needy and giving chase is part of the game," she adds. "A guy loves a good chase. The harder you play and the more effort he has to make, the more attractive you are to him. If you hand yourself over on a plate and the chase is over too quickly, a guy is likely to lose interest."
Even now, women are hesitant to take the romantic lead; is it because they are worried they'll be seen in a certain light by others?
"Once again, it's all down to social programming," says Emre. "Most women would like to have the freedom to approach any guy they fancy, but this kind of behaviour could leave them branded as sluts by their friends and peers. Some men find this behaviour pushy, demanding and desperate. Women are taught that their real sexual desires should remain hidden from others, and that they shouldn't act on what they feel.
"Even though a great deal has been done to level the field, women still suffer from prejudice stemming from social conditioning," he adds. "This will only change when people realise that they're judging women based on what they've been taught from childhood, and that these beliefs need to be challenged."
Alas, this approach can work out to be detrimental to women. With many of us hesitating to make a move, pickings tend to be slim. Little wonder that some women end up in relationships with men they might not necessarily have considered until the man shows an interest in them.
Of course, this isn't scientifically proven, but I floated this theory with some friends. One said: "There is something pretty attractive about a guy who is only too happy to bolster your ego. Loads of people settle if they've been dating for ages. And, even if he's not the kind of guy you ever saw yourself with, someone who is genuinely into you is flattering."
Another offered a different posit: "It's definitely better to be with someone who is more into you than vice versa."
But isn't that the most unwelcome of dating scenarios . . . the dreaded concept of 'settling'?
"It's definitely settling," says Sharon. "I've had many clients cry down the phone, depressed about where to go to meet people. But make no mistake, in every single relationship, there is always someone who is more attracted to the other person. It's never completely equal.
"We encourage clients never to settle, but it does happen, and I've seen it among my friends. It happens more down the country where there aren't a lot of guys. Options to date are not as open as in the cities, especially when you get to your 30s and 40s."
So far, so depressing . . . but on the flipside, approaching the gilded jungle of dating with an open mind and open heart can only yield good results.
Emre agrees: "Sometimes people surprise us and we realise that there's more to them than we thought at first," he reasons. "We're all guilty of judging people within seconds of seeing or talking to them, but sometimes our first impressions are flawed. This can be a negative thing too, though.
"People with low self-esteem might end up in relationships they didn't really want to get involved in the first place because they think they can't do any better. We encourage our clients to think carefully about what they need and what they want from a relationship, pursuing someone only when they're sure that they want to be in a relationship with the person."
In fact, it soon becomes apparent that being open-minded enough to start a relationship with someone one might not be attracted to straightaway has its many upsides. The relationship may stand a better chance of survival than the ones that started with the spark of a passionate crush.
"Most women realise that you can't always see the great qualities in a person within seconds, and most agree that personality, confidence and inner strength are far more important than good looks or money," says Emre.
"Most men and women are searching for direct, honest communication and an intimate connection that goes beyond friendship. Women know that they sometimes find these qualities in surprising places."