Now that Nerdi Gras is over and we’re all coming back down from the sensory overload and What-The-Fuckery of all of the panels (Age of Ultron? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?), it’s time to get back to the business of improving your social life and meeting new people.
While there are many, many ways of doing this – online dating, joining an amateur sports team, taking continuing education classes or finding like-minded groups on meetup.com – there’s a truth that they all have in common: you’re going to have to learn the art of the cold approach. Cold approaches are when you’re meeting someone you have no social connection with; unlike with a warm approach, you’re meeting a complete and total stranger without even the “friend-of-a-friend” buffer to ease your way.
It can be intimidating. It can be ball-shrinkingly terrifying at times. You’re going to feel like you’re putting your entire self-worth into somebody else’s hands.
And it is totally worth it.
The Value of Mastering Cold Approach
So here are some tough truths about making cold approaches: they can be difficult, especially if you’re trying to hook up that night. You are essentially approaching a total stranger and trying to convince them that they would be interested in pursuing a relationship with you in a matter of hours. Warm approaches, on the other hand, involve meeting people you at least have some connection to, which can accelerate building rapport and lessen the chances of getting rejected or shot down right from the get-go. They’re demonstrably easier, especially if you’re even vaguely nervous about approaching people, because you’re already at least tangentially connected.
So you might reasonably ask: why even do cold approaches at all?
Well to start with: you’re not always going to have a social circle at the ready. If you’ve just moved to a new city, you’re not necessarily going to have that network of friends and friends-of-friends to introduce you to the people they know. In addition, your social circle may not be all that large or well connected; not everybody’s group of friends is going to be populated by super social extroverts who know dozens and dozens of people for you to meet.
For another, not everyone you’re going to be attracted to or want to meet is going to be within the expected six-degrees-of-separation that warm approaches bring. There will be plenty of times when you will find some hot stranger with no connection to your life – the girl who sits across from you in your Conversational Spanish class, the gorgeous woman with the pouty lips you see every week at Whole Foods, the cute bookworm browsing the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section of Barnes And Noble. Being able to go up and strike up a conversation with them means fewer missed opportunities to meet somebody awesome.
In addition, cold approaches are about more than just getting dates or trying to get laid. Being able to build relationships with strangers is a critical part of networking in general. To take a recent example: if you’re hoping to make professional connections at a convention, the place to do so isn’t on the con floor, it’s at the bars and parties after the con closes for the night. If you’re hoping to get Axel Alonso to read your pitch for a gritty reboot of Ultra The Multi-Alien, then you need to know how to start making friends with total strangers in a place where you have next to no social support.
Just as importantly, however, is the fact that mastering cold approaches makes every other approach easier. If you become skilled at building relationships with people you’ve never met before, imagine how much easier it’s going to be to charm the pants off (figuratively and literally) the cutie that your buddy’s been trying to introduce you to for months!
Step 1: The Opener
The opener is the simplest, yet most stress-inducing part of a cold-approach. It’s very simple: you are looking for a pretext to start a conversation. That’s it.
And yet this is the part that trips up people the most. Guys spend more time freaking out about what to say to women than almost any other aspect of the approach. I’ve lost track of the PUA forum threads, PDFs and books dedicated specifically to opening lines, looking for the “magical” opener that will “generate immediate intrigue and attraction in anyone you talk to”.
In general, openers are divided into two different types: indirect and direct.
The indirect opener is a way of starting the conversation without directly indicating that you’re interested in someone sexually or romantically. You are essentially coming up with a plausible excuse to talk to somebody besides the fact that you find them attractive. These tend to be somewhat easier for the shy or socially inexperienced; they’re lower-investment for both parties and allow for you to warm up to talking to somebody before moving the conversation towards a potential date. Indirect openers tend to be either the classic “opinion” opener – where you are soliciting a third-party’s opinion about a matter – or a situational or observational opener. These follow the same pattern: Question, rationale for asking, expanding on the story.
The most famous is the “jealous girlfriend” opener:
“Hey guys, my friends and I were arguing about something and we need an outside opinion: would you date somebody who’s still friends with their ex? [Pause for reply] Check this out, so my buddy is still pretty tight with his ex-girlfriend. Like, they’re still friends. And he’s got this box of little mementos and photos and crap – you know, like souvenirs from the past relationship. So one day his current girlfriend finds the box and just freaks out, she’s gotten crazy jealous about this. So now she’s demanding that he burn the box in front of her? Like, do you think that’s reasonable?”
Another popular one is the “bar fight” opener:
Hey guys, did you see the fight outside? [Pause for reply ] So check this out, these two dudes come barreling out the front door. I guess one of them hit on the other guy’s girlfriend or something because she’s on the street egging them on and shit? Like she’s really getting off on two guys fighting over her. Meanwhile, one of the guys is all “come at me, bro”, doing the whole chest-thumping pre-fight warm-up and – check this out – the other dude rolls up and just COLD-COCKS him. Drops him with one punch with people yelling “YOU GOT KNOCKED THE FUCK OUT” and shit. Does that sort of thing happen all the time here? Because I’m totally going to have to leave if it does, I’m not going back to jail1 …”
The potential problem with indirect openers is that… well, they’re indirect. You can easily spend a lot of time talking to someone who is otherwise unavailable but doesn’t bring it up because she thought you were just being friendly rather than actually trying to flirt with her.
The other problem is that it’s really easy to get stuck on the opener. If you’re already shy or dealing with approach anxiety, it can feel comfortable to stick with the conversation you already have going on instead of trying to shift gears… and as a result, your interaction ends up going nowhere. You have to be willing to cut a conversational thread and move on to an actual conversation if you go indirect.
Direct openers are exactly what it says on the tin: you’re being direct and upfront with someone about why you’re talking to them. These tend to be very simple: “Hi, I think you’re cool and I wanted to meet you. My name is…” and you move on from there. Personally, I’ve had the most success with “You seem like you’re cool… are you friendly? Cool, my name is…”. It’s short, simple and establishes early on that you’re interested in her specifically. It can be polarizing – after all, you’re basically asking her to make a judgement right away as to whether she wants to talk to you – but it also means you find out very quickly whether or not she’s available, which means you spend less time on metaphorical dead-ends. Speaking for myself, I prefer finding out early on whether or not someone I’m interested in dating or sleeping with is unavailable or uninterested; it means I’m not wasting my time trying to chase something that will never happen.
Now, here’s the dirty little secret about openers: what you say ultimately doesn’t matter. I have quite literally started a conversation with “You’re really tall! I point out the obvious, it’s kind of my thing,” and ended up taking that woman home that evening. 99.999% of the women I’ve slept with don’t remember the first words I said to them. It’s all about just starting a conversation and building from there.
Regardless of whether you go indirect or direct, you don’t want to linger on the opening; all you’re trying to do is get them interested in talking to you. If you take longer than 5 minutes, you’ve gotten hung up on the open and need to segue into actually talking to them.
Step 2: Build Rapport
Once you have the person’s attention, it’s time to start building interest and attraction. You want them to feel that spark, that ineffable sense of chemistry that gets them excited about you.
You do this by building rapport with them, finding the things you have in common while keeping a certain sense of playful fun in the interaction by flirting and bantering, even injecting a little sexual tension in as well; you want to communicate that you like them as a person but also that you’re interested in them sexually. It’s a fine balance; you want to develop an emotional connection with the person you’re flirting with as well as a physical or sexual one. Too much in one direction and you may be making a new best friend; this can be awesome, but if you’re looking for a sexual relationship, not immediately helpful. Too far in the other direction… well, at best, you’re going to be wearing somebody’s drink before the night’s over. At worst, you’re going to be seriously creepy.
Attraction is as much about emotions as it is about sexual chemistry. Even if somebody may think you’re hot buttered sex on toast, they’re not going to want to fuck you if you repulse them emotionally. Building rapport is a blend of sharing and teasing, telling stories and asking leading questions, giving a little and pulling it back just a bit. The trick is to not fall into interview mode, asking her the same 10 questions everybody asks: “what do you do, where are you from, what kind of music do you like?” You want to ask probing questions and share more than just the basics. You don’t want to just say “I like Black Sabbath,” you want to share why you like Black Sabbath – without being an asshole about it.
“I never really was in to metal, but my best friend in high-school was this total metal head. Long hair, hand-painted jean jacket with spikes, big-ass chunky boots, used to draw weird demon-pigs on his books just because it’d freak out our teachers. He was a really cool guy, just looked like the kind of person who’d burn the school down, y’know? But when my folks were getting divorced and I was having a hard time with it, he’d come over and we’d just go riding in his busted-ass car and he’d start playing all these old Ozzy Osborne tracks. We’d just be driving along going nowhere in particular and we’d be singing ‘Crazy Train’ at the top of our lungs because fuck it, we’re young and and we figured life sucked so why not? We drifted apart after I went to college, but these albums just remind me of that time when we could just go do whatever we wanted.”
At the same time, you don’t want to be a “yes man” and just agree with everything she says or be overly complimentary – you end up going past the point of being friendly and into giving signs of being needy. Someone who is overly effusive in his praise or can’t bring himself to disagree – or even argue – with an attractive woman is sub-communicating that he’s desperate to be liked and hopes that sucking up to her will make her like him. You want to be willing to disagree – even be playful about it.
“Your favorite band is Mumford and Sons? It’s a good thing you’re fun to talk to because man I dunno if we’re music compatible.”
Remember: you’re being silly and teasing; it should be immediately obvious that you’re not judging her or telling her she’s stupid, silly or otherwise insulting her. If she can’t tell that you’re not serious, then not only are you doing it wrong, you’re being kind of an asshole.
My flirtation with Reverse Cowgirl is one example of building rapport with a little sexual tension – we we genuinely bonded over a love of art while we’d tease a little back and forth about my lame jokes and make little sexual innuendoes at each other.
Watch Her Interest
As you’re building rapport, you’re going to want to be periodically checking in on occasion to see whether or not she’s starting to dig you. It’s one thing if she’s excited to talk to you or spend time with you. It’s another if she’s feeling stuck and is desperately looking for a way out of the conversation without being rude.
The signs that she’s actually interested in you – as opposed to being polite – are fairly obvious if you stop to look for them.
- How is she responding to you? Is she responding with interest to your questions and giving long and engaged answers, or is she giving short, curt responses? Is she volunteering information, or are you having to draw answers out of her like you’re pulling teeth? Someone who’s really interested in you will give longer and more emotionally involved answers, often volunteering more personal information as a way of trying to connect with you.
- Just as importantly, is she asking you questions? Does she seem to be actually paying attention to what you have to say, or is she just waiting for her turn to talk?
- Watch her eyes. Is she making strong eye-contact with you, or are her eyes darting around the room? Is she focusing on you or is she constantly checking her watch or her phone? These are all signs that she’s looking for an excuse to get away from you. Looking around often means that she’s hoping to see a friend and give a silent “SAVE ME ALREADY” sign. Checking her watch is a way of saying “How long do I have to deal with this guy before he goes away?”
- Touch is an important way of conveying interest. If you’re touching her (and you should be) and you take your hand away, does she touch you back? I’ve had great success with the “side hug” – an arm across the shoulders during an emotional high-point like an awesome story or being told a funny joke. Does she lean in or put her arm around you in return? These are signs that she’s increasingly interested in you.
- Is she willing to follow you some place? One way of checking interest is to say “Hey, I’m going to the bar. How about you come keep me company?” Someone who’s interested in you will want to keep the conversation going. Someone who’s not as invested in the interaction will be more likely to say “That’s OK, I’ll catch up to you later.” Pro tip: buy her a drink, even if it’s just water or soda. It’s the least you can do to thank her for fighting her way to the bar with you.
If you’re not seeing signs of interest, it’s time to consider how far along you are in the interaction. If you’ve been talking to her for 20 minutes or longer and you’re not getting much feedback from her then the odds are she’s not interested in you. It’s better to say your good-byes and move on. It’s better to cut things short than to linger for too long in the conversation; in a worst case scenario, you can always talk to her again later.
Step 3: Qualification
Once she’s emotionally invested in talking to you, then it’s time to take things a little deeper. You want to find out more about her – beyond the surface issues and more into what really makes her tick. This is why you want to start using qualifications. Qualifications serve two purposes. First: it enables you to screen for specific personality types – if you’re the outdoorsy type who likes to go hiking and mountain biking, you don’t want to date a homebody who gets killer cedar-fever as soon as they set foot outside. Second, it’s a way of intensifying the connection. You’re looking for reasons why they’re awesome… and having them explain why they’re awesome and then agreeing with them that yes, that makes them awesome. It’s creating a feedback loop; they’re telling you why you should like them, and you’re saying “you’re right, I should like you because you do $COOL_THING”. It’s a way of intensifying the rapport between you two… and it works both ways.
They start off with a simple question: “Do you like to travel?” for example. Then you expand on it. “That’s really cool; I love travelers, they’re always the ones who’re looking to find new adventures and take risks trying new experiences. Do you like staying to the popular places, or do you like going a little off the beaten path?” From here you have a number of ways you can go: look for more commonalities by comparing travel stores, dig a little deeper into who they are or even take it in a flirty, sexy direction by making a tease about their being into foreign men. You’re screening for a trait you like (traveling in this case) by asking what’s awesome about them, reinforcing that this makes them awesome and why (they like taking risks and trying new things) and expanding on it (what kind of traveling do you like do do? Have we been to the same places? What sort of person are you, someone who plays it safe or someone who likes a little edge?)
It’s a very powerful technique when done well. Proper use of qualification is a way of building emotional intimacy and familiarity quickly; it builds to that sense of “we’ve only just met but I feel like I’ve known him forever” that is incredibly appealing.
Step 4: Make Your Move
If things have been going well, then it’s time to make your move.
It’s not a time to get cocky; you can do everything right and still screw up if you don’t stick the landing. So you want to take care not to blow all the hard work you’ve put into this.
A lot of guys – PUAs especially – focus on getting the kiss or the same-night lay. And while getting a kiss or a make-out with someone you’ve just met can feel impressive… it’s actually not as meaningful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not to say that kisses mean nothing, but they’re highly contextual. Getting a kiss or making out with someone at a club doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s into you or you’re going to be taking her home; she may be willing to make-out with someone she met that night but not interested in actually seeing him outside of the club. That being said: if that’s what you want, then hey, go for it! Just don’t assume it means more than she’s willing to kiss you at that particular place and time.
If you’re interested in going for the kiss, you want to look for signs that she’s interested in being kissed… assuming she doesn’t kiss you first. The classic sign is the triangle-gaze, looking from eye to lip to eye. How much space is she giving you? Someone who’s interested in being kissed is going to be comfortable being up in your personal space. If you’re holding her hand2 , give it a squeeze; if she squeezes back, she’s much more likely to be interested in kissing you than if she doesn’t respond.
But even if you’re interested in sloppy make-outs, presumably you’re hoping to actually see her again outside of wherever you met her… so you’re going to have to get her number. If she gives you her number, then you’re golden; she’s already telling you that she’s excited to see you again. Asking her for her number is no guarantee that she’ll actually respond when you call; in an age of caller-ID, cellphones and voice mail, it’s incredibly easy to avoid the calls from someone you’d rather not talk to.
As a general rule of thumb, if the two of you have been talking and vibing for 20 minutes or so, she’s going to be interested in talking to you later; you’re fairly safe to ask for her number. A lot of guys will choke at this point, worrying about whether or not they’re being too interested by asking for her number instead of hoping that she’ll volunteer it. They’re usually overthinking it. the script for asking is very simple.
Hey, I’m really enjoying talking to you, but I’ve got to go meet up with my friends and I’d like to do this again some time. What’s the best way for me to reach you?
Short, simple and to the point; it also leaves the method of contact in her court. Some people really don’t like talking on the phone and prefer to communicate over Facebook or texting; pushing for a phone number from them is only going to be counterproductive.
Personally though, if things have been going well, I prefer to actually make plans for an actual date, rather than talking at some nebulous point in the future. This help cement you in her mind as someone she’s planning to see again, as opposed to some other random guy she’s met over the course of the day. I like to seed the idea of a date early on in the interaction – talking up something cool I’m planning on doing that weekend anyway, whether it’s a gallery show, a concert or an awesome bar I’m planning on going to with friends. Then at the end of the interaction, bring it up again: “Hey, you know what? I’d bet you’d love $COOL_ACTIVITY; you should come with me! Here, why don’t you give me your number?” and then have them punch it into my phone. I’ll usually call or text them immediately afterwards to give them my number.
Don’t forget: screw the “don’t call for X days” rule. If I’ve been getting along well with someone, then I’d want to continue the conversation sooner rather than later. Depending on the time (and the tone of our interaction) I may text them that night; texting can be a powerful flirting tool when you do it right. In general however, I’ll text the next day; it helps maintain the emotional momentum.
Now that you have the basics… get out there and practice some cold approaches. And check back on Friday for how to apply these techniques to meeting people during the day time…