On Monday, we broke down the basics of a cold approach – the opening, building rapport, qualifying and making the move. This is going to be the outline of most of your attempts at meeting people, whether you’re looking for a potential date, a potential sex partner, a new friend or a networking possibility.
The next step is to learn how to tailor your approach to fit the circumstances. After all: most of us don’t meet people exclusively at bars and clubs. The basic cold approach is good for large, active social settings – parties, bars, nightclubs, gallery openings, street fairs, concerts, etc. – but less so when you’re dealing with day to day interactions. If you approach someone in the grocery store the way you’d approach them at a party, the odds of getting weird looks, uncomfortable silence and the occasional rutabaga upside the head are fairly high. Similarly, a long indirect opener that might work at the bar is going to seem weird as hell at the bookstore. If you’re hoping to get a phone number, you don’t want to roll up on somebody at a coffee shop like the Big Bad Wolf.
So if you want to meet someone during your daily routine or outside of the traditional meat markets, then you have to change how you go about your business.
The Differences Between Nighttime and Daytime Approaches
We’re a diurnal species, and for the majority of our existence, our lives have revolved around the sun. We lack night-vision and other keen senses that most predators have, which meant that as soon as the sun went down, we were confined to the safety of our little communities. When we developed agriculture, we established a pattern of behavior that’s continued up until the invention of artificial lighting: daytime means work, while night time is communal.
The social rules that apply during the day change radically when the sun goes down. During the day, we’re usually pressed for time – the hectic pace of the traditional 9-to-5 lifestyle means that we’re usually rushing to and fro with little time to stop and chat with a stranger. It’s difficult to actually engage someone in a conversation; most of the time there are considerable time-constraints involved that preclude having a long and meaningful conversation, especially when that other person is trying to cram half of their to-do list into the 45 minutes they get for lunch.
At night however, everything slows down. It’s more accepted to approach someone in a social situation at night than during the day; more often than not, we’re at places where the social contract states that we expect to meet new people. When you’re hanging out in a bar with friends or at a concert, you’re in a venue where not only is it considered more permissible to talk to strangers but it can be assumed that this was your intention in the first place.
This, incidentally, is why so much of pick-up focuses on meeting women at bars and clubs: these are places where the social rules state that everyone there is at least open to meeting someone new.
The operative phrase for daytime approaches is “low key”. The social expectations during the day are completely different than at night and rolling up on someone with the high energy of a club-goer is going to just seem weird. Similarly, you want to avoid getting touchy with girls you approach during the day and dial back the overt sexual banter. At a singles bar it’s understood that you’re there to flirt, maybe pick someone up and have some fun sexytimes. Obviously this isn’t the case when you’re checking on the pineapple at the grocery store.
If you wouldn’t do it to your friends, then don’t do it to the cutie browsing the blu-rays at Barnes and Noble.
So let’s look at the specifics of tailoring an approach to the daytime.
In general, you want to have a playful, friendly and non-aggressive vibe; daytime approaches are much more about starting a conversation than about trying to pick someone up. You can be a little jokey and low-key flirty, but you don’t want to be as forward in your approach. Daytime approaches are about the slow burn and getting someone interested in a date, not about taking somebody home.
The next thing that you need to understand is that you’re going to be dealing with a time-crunch. People aren’t necessarily going to be able to hang out and talk for 30 minutes, so you’re going to have to be prepared to streamline your whole approach. This means that longer time-sinks like opinion openers are not good ideas – not only do they tend to be more involved or elaborate, it’s just odd for someone to come up and ask your opinion about who lies more or if they can remember who sang some pop song in the 80’s.
Your two best options are to go direct or to be situational.
Direct openers are a good bet during the day – they’re short, they’re straight to the point and make it easy to tell quickly whether or not the person will want to talk to you at all. They can also be a little disconcerting; after all, most of us don’t expect a stranger to come up and tell us that they really wanted to meet us because we’re cute or seem cool.
The best way to disarm the awkwardness is to acknowledge it.
Hey, I know this is random, but I saw you and I thought you looked like you’re cool and I really wanted to meet you. Hi, my name’s…
Some people will acknowledge their attraction right away. This can be effective if done well and – critically – giving some space so that you’re not giving a threatening vibe.
Hey, this is going to be completely random and I don’t normally do this, but I think you’re cute and I’m going to kick myself if I don’t at least say ‘hello’. So… hello! I’m $NAME.
(Yes “I don’t normally do this” is a bit of a lie. Don’t sweat it.)
I’ve seen people pay non-physical compliments like “I just want to say: I love your style,” as well. I’m not as enamored of them, but if it works with your personality, then go for it. Just remember: it’s about them as a person (her sense of style, in this example), not her looks or something about her body.
IMPORTANT TIP: Do not start off with a command like “Smile!” It seems harmless – you think that you’re telling someone that they’re pretty when they smile – but in practice, you’re telling her “Your facial expression should be pleasing to me at all times.” It’s rude and nearly every woman resents it when guys do this. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot right off the bat, ‘kay?
If you are going to go indirect, you’re better off going with a situational observation; these tend to make natural conversation starters. When I met April, the Reverse Cowgirl, I started the conversation by asking about her sketchbook. In fact, this has been my go-to approach whenever I’ve seen someone cute with a sketchbook; beyond the fact that yes, I’m interested in getting a date with them, I genuinely like seeing people’s sketches… almost more so than the finished art. It appeals to the failed artist in me. You can also ask about the book she’s reading (“Hey, I don’t want to bother you, but I noticed you were reading $TITLE. I was wondering: how are you liking it?”) or even something about the music (“Hey, do you recognize this? Shazam’s not picking it up and I’m really digging it”)
It’s also good to tailor the observation to where you are. When I would see a woman I wanted to approach at Whole Foods, I would pick an item off the shelf near her (quinoa in this case…) , look at it for a moment, then turn and said “Hey, I know this is random but… do you have any idea how to cook this?” From there, I would either riff a little (“Really? OK cool, you’re totally going to have to be my cooking instructor, because I’m hopeless in the kitchen. Nah, just kidding, I’m trying to expand my horizons a bit, y’know, get away from the Bachelor Chow and actually cook like an adult…”) or just say “actually, I have no idea what this is, I just wanted an excuse to say ‘hi’. My name’s Harris.”
Book stores are especially good for this; asking for a recommendation or the person’s opinion on a specific book is a good way of not only starting the conversation but showing that you’ve already got one interest in common.
One thing that I’ve found works well at coffee shops is the “pre-opening” – that is, starting up an interaction before you start the conversation. Since I spend a good deal of time working in coffee shops1, I’ve usually got my laptop and assorted gear with me. A quick “Hey, would you mind watching my stuff for a minute?” while I go to the counter or the bathroom has worked to give the pretext to a conversation as soon as I return. It provides an instant and natural opening to talk. “Thanks, I appreciate that. Hey, is that a Kindle Paperwhite? How are you liking those? I’m an analog book guy but…”
Building Rapport And Qualification
Much as with nighttime approaches, you want to build that connection. The difference is that where as at night, you’re going to be focusing on physical chemistry as much as finding commonalities, during the day you want to focus on the emotional engagement. This means not trying to build sexual tension – you can save that for the date – and focusing on building comfort with her instead. The more comfortable she feels with you, the more likely she is to be interested in meeting up with you later on.
Qualification is actually even more important during the daytime because trying to build physical attraction is off the table… and in some ways it can be more powerful for it. You’re building a strong emotional connection with a relative stranger and it’s going to seem incredible. The feeling of “I’ve just met and I feel like I’ve known you for years” or “I can talk to you about anything” is very attractive; I can always tell when several of my female friends are getting into a guy because “they had the most amazing conversation…” Remember: you want to make this about getting to know her, so you want to be asking leading questions, even something as simple as “So, what’s the story with….” or my personal favorite “So, what’re you passionate about?” If she’s interested, she’ll let you know; one of the surest signs is that she’ll be asking you just as many questions.
Speaking for myself, I also dial back the antagonistic flirting… not all the way – it’s part of who I am – but considerably less than if I’d met someone at Kung Fu Saloon instead of the mall. A little banter back and forth is good, especially for deliberately breaking rapport before building it again, but too much and you’re going to come off as an asshole.
Go On An Instant Date
One benefit of doing approaches in the daytime: you have the opportunity to go on an “instant date” – a quick side-trip to a coffee shop or a nearby café to keep the conversation going. These are intended to be short – likely only 15 minutes or so – but have more implied intimacy than hanging around the iPhones at the Apple Store or the Graphic Novels section of the bookstore. This is part of why malls and bookstores are often excellent places to meet women – they offer the opportunity for an instant date without any effort. Almost every mall and bookseller these days has a coffee shop or a cafe in it.
It’s a very simple segue to invite someone on a mini-date:
Listen, I’m having a good time talking do you, and I’ve got a little time before I have to run… want to grab a coffee at the cafe/Coffee Bean/Starbucks?
If you’re already at a coffee shop, then just offer to buy her a refill (or possibly even a beer; Austin coffee shops are awesome).
The nice thing about the mini-dates is that it’s a chance to get to know her – and form those emotional connections – under a more relaxed atmosphere. It’s also a good spot to end on.
Getting Her Number
The goal of a daytime approach is to get a solid phone number, maybe a date. Some women may be more comfortable with a friend request on Facebook; that’s fine too. It allows for you to keep in contact easily, as well as letting her check you out a little and reassure herself that you’re not The Starbucks Strangler. Regardless, you want to end on an emotional high note rather than lingering too long or taking up too much of her time and making her have to rush off. By leaving first, you’re ensuring that there’s actually enough time for you to get her number instead of a hurried goodbye and hoping that you have the good luck to run into her again.
Asking her for her number is much the same as it is during a nighttime approach:
Hey, I’ve got to run and meet up with my friends/talk to my boss/deliver a baby/close the Hellmouth, but I’ve really been enjoying talking to you and I’d like to do it again sometime. What’s the best way to reach you?
I generally will have her punch her number into my phone and then call or text my number back to her, and then make my exit. I’ll frequently text her later, usually with some form of callback humor to something we talked about earlier. Remember: daytime approaches are lower-key; getting flirty right away over text is a bad idea. Save it until after you’ve actually landed a date.
When Don’t You Want To Approach?
A big part of social success is the fine art of social calibration. Being socially calibrated means understanding not just the accepted rules of an interaction but being aware of – and avoiding- potential faux pas. When it comes to making cold approaches, it means understanding the potential interpretations and social context of your interaction; are you acting in a manner that indicates that you are ignorant or uncaring of the other person’s comfort or security, for example? Ignoring obvious and accepted “DO NOT TALK TO ME” signals and body language, for example, would be a sign of poor social calibration and will ruin any potential interaction you might have. After all, the last thing you want to do is creep someone out by accident; therefore it’s wise to remember that are certain times when it’s generally inadvisable to approach someone during the day, especially a stranger.
On Public Transit:
It would take me all day to tally up the number of public transit horror stories I’ve heard from women over the years. Bars, for example are usually fairly sizable and allow for convenient entry and exit; if somebody’s bugging you at a bar, it’s not difficult to leave the scene if necessary. Public transit on the other hand, whether a bus, a subway, or commuter rail, are closed systems. They’re narrow, enclosed spaces, and there’s usually only one or two non-emergency exits. This means that there isn’t an easy way for someone to avoid a creeper or a crazy; it’s incredibly easy to box someone in and make them feel trapped, even when you have the purest of intentions.
Airplanes are even worse places to try and pick someone up. You could, in theory, get off a subway or a bus in order to avoid the creeper; there’s no such option on a plane. You’re stuck there with Creepy McHanderson until the plane lands and you disembark.
On The Street:
So, a word about street approaches. We all love the romcom idea of the meet-cute in a busy city street. Maybe you collide into each other and have an amusing moment as you try to shuffle your papers back together and realize that you’re kindred spirits! Maybe you share a moment with an attractive stranger waiting outside the subway entrance. Maybe you see someone who’s just so drop-dead gorgeous that you know you have to talk to them or you’ll regret it forever.
Except life isn’t the movies and most of the time, approaching a stranger on a busy street is a good way to get their guard up immediately. In a large city, your average pedestrian is already aware of the mugging statistics and the number of panhandlers trying to hustle money out of them – they’re going to be far less receptive to striking up a conversation then than they would be damn near anywhere else. Beyond that, most people are on their way to something with very little time to spare on someone they don’t know, which means that even if you do get someone to stop and talk to you, you’re going to have to win them over in record time.
This isn’t to say that it’s impossible. I’ve seen it done, and done successfully… but it’s very much a varsity-level skill and the effort-vs-return ratio usually isn’t worth it.
When She’s Giving “Don’t Talk To Me” Signals:
Not every woman is going to be interested in being approached by a strange man at all times, especially if she’s in the middle of something. You want to be watching for the not-terribly-subtle signals that the person you’re interested doesn’t want to be bothered. The most common is simply wearing headphones. By blocking out ambient outside sound and (presumably) concentrating on her music, she’s sending an unambiguous signal that she’s not interested in random chitchat. This goes doubly true if she’s wearing headphones while reading, sunbathing or working on her laptop/iPad.
Other signs include hunched body language, especially if she’s hovering over something she’s working on, turning her back to the room, closed off body language and not making eye-contact or looking up from whatever she’s doing.
Does this mean that you should never talk to someone with headphones on, or someone on the subway or on the street? No. But at the same time, you need to recognize that these are times when someone most likely doesn’t want to be bothered. Yes, there are and will always be exceptions… but you can’t count on being the exception. Unless you’re getting some serious indications that she’s interested in (or at least open to) talking to someone, you’re better off to pass on and try someone else at a better time.
Watch For Signs Of Interest… But Don’t Be Restricted By Them
So having just filled you with all the times when you shouldn’t talk to someone, let’s look at some signs that an individual is interested in talking to someone.
Watch the eyes and body language. If she’s focusing on a book, her laptop, or the newspaper with laser focus, then odds are she’s wrapped up in whatever it is that she’s doing. If she’s looking at her watch, her phone and/or the door, she’s most likely waiting for someone who’s late. If she’s got a far-away look or is taking moments to lean back and just look around the room, then odds are good that she’s more open to talking to somebody. If she puts her book down (or turns it over) and just starts staring into space, odds are she’s not going to mind someone talking to her. If she noticeably perks up or straightens up when she notices you noticing her, she’s likely at least a little interested.
Of course, if you get eye contact and a smile, then you’re golden. The classic “come talk to me” signal is the “make eye-contact, look away, look back and smile”; if you see this, then shut up and go over and talk to her.
If you’re not getting explicit or obvious indicators that someone wants you to approach her, but she’s not exhibiting “don’t talk to me” vibes, then proceed with caution. A person isn’t creepy or offensive merely for trying to strike up a conversation, it’s how they go about doing it. If you try talking to someone who ignores you, is curt or is otherwise not engaging with you, say your goodbyes quickly (a “Cool. I’m going to leave you alone now, nice talking to you!” will do) and walk away. It’s when you linger where you’re not wanted (or do something especially invasive like try to take her earphones off…) that you’re bordering into creeper-zone.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Remember: approaching people is a skill and it’s difficult. It’s going to take practice to get the hang of it and you’re going to make approaches that don’t go well at first. You need to accept that you’re learning and not let early failures discourage you. The cool thing about making daytime approaches is that because they’re so short, it’s easy to fit in a few when you have the chance. Spend some quality time building up your skill and soon you’ll realize that there are always new opportunities to meet someone amazing.
- Yup, writer using a coffee shop as his office. I’m such a cliche… [↩]