Kadath’s Sound Advice To The Lovelorn
When this first came up, I thought it was really outside the scope of my blog. But then I thought about all those stories you hear about women on tech campuses getting “glommed” by clueless nerd boys. I remembered dating catastrophes and tragicomedies from my own undergraduate days, a hundred years ago. And I thought, well, maybe there is a place for at least some brief commentary on this topic.
In the comments to this blog post, Anonymouse asked
Granted, a lot of the behaviors described elsewhere (tit-grazing, eg) are very much not appropriate, but how exactly DOES one go about the whole mating thing? From the beginning, and for both ‘sides’? (asketh one who, @22, still hasn’t figured out much at all of it – if any)
Dear readers, I am willing and able to pontificate on many, many things, but dating advice is not what I would usually consider to be one of my areas of expertise. You’ll see by my answer which follows Anonymouse’s comment that I was most likely not of much practical use to him. (Though the book I recommended there is a good one for anybody to take a look at.)
But fortunately for him, and for all you likewise desperate souls out there, kadath stepped into the breech with a reply so wonderful it deserved promotion into a post.
Hi, anonymous. I usually lurk, and I hope Zuska doesn’t mind me jumping in here, but I’ve answered your question for well-meaning but clueless guy friends of mine before, so I think I know what you’re getting at.
Yes, it’s unfair that the culture still expects men to do the initiating, but it sucks for women, too, so we mostly don’t appreciate the “it’s so hard for guys” pity-party that some men decide to throw themselves.
You may be lucky enough to attract the attention of a woman bold enough to ask you out, but otherwise…the one-step plan to not be a skeezy jerk when approaching women is:
Take “no” for an answer.
It’s not that simple, of course. You have to put yourself in the mindset of being willing to respect that “no,” first, whether it comes in verbal or non-verbal form. That’s where doing the work beforehand to confront your privilege comes in.
You need to be willing to do the unspoken emotional work and social barometer-reading that our culture expects women to do. If you are paying attention to the object of your affections as a person, and reading and responding to her with unfeigned respect for her feelings, you’re already most of the way to avoiding the jerk trap.
Here’re some quick tips (cribbed from the last time I answered this question):
Be aware of context, and which ones will automatically make your interest feel threatening, even if you’re the reincarnation of Galahad. (“Gallant hits on women he meets at house parties. Goofus hits on women when he’s alone with them in elevators.”)
Not everything will be clear-cut, but I’d hope you already know better than approach women in circumstances where they’ve been socialized to fear the rapists who are hiding behind every bush–which, as a rule, is when you’re strangers or near-strangers and alone, extra bonus points if you’re in the dark. (Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I have friends who check under my 8-inches-of-ground-clearance coupe when we’re in dark parking lots for the muggers who must be hiding under there.)
More generally, any interaction where you have the upper hand is a bad one to express sexual interest. So, women you supervise at work are RIGHT OUT. This is especially true of service jobs, like waitressing. (You can get to know that hottie barista outside of work if you’re head-over-heels, but you have to be a pleasant, friendly regular first and you have to be slow about it and give her room to say “no.”)
So! Assuming you’re in a reasonably-equitable social situation with the object of your affections, the next thing to do is be aware of body language, yours and hers.
Don’t use potentially threatening body language. Put yourself (especially if you’re a big guy) at or below her level, which avoids the “looming threat” problem. Be outside her bubble of personal space. A good rule of thumb is 6-8 inches farther back than you’d like to be–you’re interested, so your bubble is going to be smaller than hers is if she’s not. Don’t block off “escape routes.” If she’s standing in a corner, stand or lean next to her, not in front of her so she’s got walls on three sides and you on the fourth. Look at her face. Do not deliver your solicitation to her breasts. (I hope that one’s remedial.) And open body language in general will be helpful: face your whole torso toward her, don’t cross your arms, that sort of thing.
For her, you want to be alert for closed body language–turning or backing away from you, not making eye contact, folded arms, hunched up posture. These are all “I am not interested” signs at best. Abort!
If, despite all this, it turns out you’ve misjudged a situation, apologize and mean it, but don’t fawn. “I seem to have imposed/scared you/come off as a jerk. I’m terribly sorry.” Then be elsewhere, which will do more to prove you sincerely meant the apology than anything else. If you didn’t actually scare her, she can come after you to correct the miscommunication.
Some stuff I didn’t work in elsewhere:
Don’t instantly go from introduction to getting your mack on. Make small talk about the weather if you have to (granted, this works better in New England than, say, southern California.) This gives each of you time to get a read on the other.
Learn the different levels of compliments:
Things that are not intrinsic to her person, and that she has control over are safest: “That’s a great haircut.”
Things that are intrinsic to her and she has no control over need to wait until you’ve established that your attentions are welcome: “You have incredible eyes.”
Mixtures of the two are opening-volley flirts: “That haircut really brings out your eyes.” She can take that as a compliment to her haircut, and move to a conversation about her awesome stylist if she doesn’t want to flirt, or take it as a compliment to her eyes and flirt back.
Oh! The “hard to get” issue, perpetual whine of the man who doesn’t want to take no for an answer and is looking for a loophole: tough shit. Treat all “no”s as genuine. You may be missing out, but it’s much more likely that you’re instead not imposing. “Hard to get” is the artifact of a deeply fucked-up culture, the “good girls don’t” lie, and the sooner we stamp it out entirely, the better.
I hope this gives you a starting place. You could also ask your female friends what they like and don’t like in terms of being approached. Don’t couch it as “what do women want?” That’s crap. It assumes that Woman is a monolithic class, strange and unknowable. We’re just people…even if you’re socially awkward, if we get the vibe off you that you’re genuinely trying to respect our feelings, it doesn’t matter if you’re not the smoothest conversationalist ever.
Absolutely awesome advice!
Kadath’s commentary got me to thinking about when Mr. Zuska and I first met. We met at a music festival. I was alone. He’d gone there with his friends, but at the time we met, he was by himself. This was his first wise move: do not approach a woman in a mob of d00ds. The first thing he said to me was to ask if he could bum a cigarette from me. Warning: I totally do not recommend or approve of smoking; I quit years ago; I do not recommend you take up smoking as a way to pick up chicks. After this he stood next to me, but several feet away, both of us facing the band stage and listening to the music. Very important: he faced the stage, and did not stare at me. He left a fairly wide space between us, which was not threatening to me, yet stayed close enough in my vicinity that I had a clue he might be interested in more than a cigarette. After some interval of time, he ventured a comment about the group performing on stage. I said something back. This was a clue to him that I did not mind his presence and was willing to engage in conversation. It was only after my reply that he turned his body to face towards me, because I had already turned toward him. Very shortly, we were having a conversation about types of music we liked, bands we’d seen, etc. During this conversation he did not crowd into my physical space but let me decide how close I wanted to come to him. When the set ended, he asked if he could buy me a drink. This gave me the option of saying yes, which would let him know I wanted to spend more time with him, or no thanks, I’ve gotta go meet up with my (imaginary) girlfriend, which would let him know I did NOT want to spend more time with him. Of course, I answered yes and the rest is history. We spent the rest of the day together talking and listening to the bands and have been together ever since.
Note that when we met, Mr. Z did NOT come up to me and remark upon my physical appearance. Instead he engaged me in CONVERSATION about a mutual interest. This gave us both a chance to slowly figure out if we really wanted to spend more time getting to know each other.
You might wonder how I remember all this detail about a Sunday afternoon in May, 1994. I used to journal a lot back then, and I wrote down a lot of detail about that day. Warm fuzzies, folks – I’m feeling all happy just thinking about that day.
Does anyone else have a story they might like to share about meeting someone where things went really well? Or a cautionary tell about an attempt that was just doomed to fail? Let me hear ya in the comments!