I’d like to clear up an issue that – going by the comments both here and on the Facebook page – a lot of guys are having.
A lot of guys seem to have hit a sort of information overload when it comes to worrying about coming across as creepy. They may have read about behaviors that often come off as creepy or articles like Schrodinger’s Rapist and inadvertently took away all the wrong lessons. They’ve become so overwhelmed by the worry that they’re going to come across as a creeper – and thus, destroy any chances of getting a date – that they tend to freeze up or become even more anxious about meeting new women than they had been before. Where they were nervous before, now they’re practically crippled by approach anxiety, assuming that to approach any woman without an engraved invitation is tantamount to creeper behavior.
The underlying issue here is a common one, especially amongst folks who are a little less experienced or adept at dating: they’re coming at it from the wrong mental model. They’re approaching dating as though it were safe-cracking or bomb-disposal; one teeny-tiny mistake and BOOM!! Everything is ruined foreverrrrrr.
In fact, dating – much like sex – is more akin to a musical performance; a jam session amongst friends or improv between jazz musicians. Yes, there will be times when you hit a discordant note or you fail to harmonize with your partner, but that doesn’t necessarily ruin the whole experience. As one professional musician has told me: if you start strong and finish strong, people will forgive the occasional wrong note.
In other words: it ain’t the mistake you make, it’s how you follow it up.
The key is learning to tell that you’ve made a mistake and learning how to avoid making them in the first place.
This is the process by which we achieve social calibration.
What Is Social Calibration?
The easiest way to describe social calibration is “the ability to correctly read and negotiate social situations”. Social calibration means being able to read social cues and respond to them appropriately. It means being able to make people react in the way that you want them to, whether it’s to put them at ease and make them comfortable or to make them excited or aroused. Someone who is socially well-calibrated is more at ease with dealing with people because he or she understands what to expect from them and how to interact and influence with them.
Side note: extroversion or introversion is an entirely different matter from social calibration. One can not deal well with large groups but still be socially successful in a one-on-one situation, just as one can be great at working a room but lousy when dealing with people on an individual basis.
It means being able to find an individual’s boundaries – the better to not cross them or to come as close as possible without going over them. It means knowing how to recover if you do end up causing offense or distress.
When you accidentally upset someone, how do you react? Do you smooth things over or do you try to explain why it’s not fair for them to be upset? Are you able to keep your head, apologize and explain your intent, or do you freak out and end up making things worse?
Social calibration also means knowing what works for you. One mistake I see people make on a regular basis is trying to imitate someone without regard to how well that person’s style or personality meshes with their own, not realizing that what works for one person doesn’t work for another. My friend Rubio from the second episode of the Dr. NerdLove podcast, for example, may be able to get away with using astoundingly offensive humor when flirting with a woman and make her not only laugh but appreciate him for being offensive because his use of humor is part of is personality. If I were to try to say something similar1 to a woman then I’d likely end up slapped or wearing her drink or both2. He is also incredibly well calibrated, socially; he knows exactly where the line is and just how close to it he can get without going over.
So how do we become more socially calibrated?
Understand The Context
Being able to read the context of a situation and understand how to adapt to it is an important part of proper social calibration and part of how we avoid awkwardness. It’s a means of displaying that, yes, we understand the implied social contract and are willing to follow it.
Context ultimately colors how we interpret everything; telling a raunchy joke at a rowdy bar is socially acceptable. Telling the exact same joke at a Catholic baptism, on the other hand, is not. Similarly, approaching a woman alone at night will be interpreted differently than if you approach the same woman in the same location and in the exact same manner at high noon instead.
The social context of a situation dictates the expectations of the participants and thus affects the rules of what’s socially acceptable; you can get away with being more overtly sexual in your flirting at a nightclub, for example, than you could at a coffeeshop. Similarly, many bars are considered locations where it is not only socially acceptable to meet people but an expected part of the social contract; if someone is at a bar that caters to a more socially active crowd – a DJ, open floorspace for mingling, mixed drink specials – it can generally be assumed that they are open to meeting new people.
On the other hand, a bookstore would require a different approach. Where a nightclub or a bar is a vibrant, high-energy location, bookstores are calm, soothing places.
Trying to approach a woman browsing the mystery section of Barnes and Noble the same way you would approach her when you see her ordering a Cosmo at a rowdy singles bar is going to get you some very odd looks at best and make her feel uncomfortable; it’s completely out of keeping with the accepted social context. In a club, you’re expected to be more energetic and outgoing. In a bookstore, maintaining that same level of energy would make you seem as though you did too much crank and just got done disassembling your stereo.