The False Time Constraint
One thing that I’ve used many times with great success is what’s known in PUA lingo as the “false time constraint”. As I would use it, it was an artificial limit on how long I could be talking to the person or people I approached. My usual phrasing was to pick a moment early on in the interaction and say “Hey, I’ve only got a little bit before I…” and then inserted an appropriate reason why I couldn’t stay: “I have to get back to my friends”, “I have to get back to work”, “I have to go meet up with some people…” before segueing into a question or a story. Did I have to leave? Sometimes yes, sometimes no… but I used it regularly regardless.
To start with, it reassured whomever I talked to that even if I were a crushing boor, she would only have to put up with me for a few minutes before I left her alone. It also had the benefit of giving her an escape clause; if I were overstaying my welcome and ignoring her subtler hints that I should leave, “Didn’t you say you had to go do something?” is a fairly unambiguous sign that it’s time to go.
It also meant that if things weren’t going well – I decided I wasn’t interested in her, I could tell that she wasn’t interested in me – I had an easy, socially acceptable out. “Hey, like I said, I gotta run, it was great meeting you!” If things were going well, but I could feel the interaction running out of steam – as many of them do – it was an opportunity to leave on an emotional high note rather than hanging in until all conversation (and attraction, for that matter) ran dry. Leaving on an emotional high note (leaving ’em wanting more, as it were) made it much more likely that when I’d ask for their number, I’d get it… and that they’d pick up when I’d call.
Bantering, Flirting and Chemistry
I like antagonistic flirting; I enjoy the back and forth of giving playful shit to someone I’m interested in and the sting of a witty reposte. In a lot of ways, this is how I would pre-screen the women I would flirt with; if they weren’t the type to banter back and forth with me, the odds were good that we weren’t going to be a good match. The trick to decent banter is the tease – saying something mean while meaning something nice. Proper bantering means being willing to break out of your shell and be willing to treat the woman you’re interested in almost as though she were an annoying little sister rather than someone so cute you’re almost intimidated by her. You don’t want to be actively mean – after all, calling someone you just met a filthy pirate whore is more likely to get a drink thrown on you even if she were teasing you about your hair – but some playful needling can keep things interesting.
Now admittedly, it can be difficult, especially if you tend to be more reserved and less demonstrative and if you’re new to flirting, it’s very easy to cross a line by accident. When you’re starting out, keep it friendly, the way that you might tease a friend. When in doubt, keep up a push-pull dynamic; follow a tease up with a compliment, or a compliment with a tease.
The area where you do have to be careful is sex. Trying to build sexual tension can be tricky and I don’t necessarily advise it for a relative beginner who’s just approached someone. This doesn’t mean that sex is completely off the table – some people will naturally have a sense of humor that runs toward the ribald or may be more sexual in general – but trying to push the topic when it’s not wanted is a bona-fide creeper move. If the person you’re flirting with seems like someone whom might be interested in the topic, it’s best to feel your way forward1 with a slightly more naughty joke than usual.
For example: in the Anatomy Lesson about how I met April, I joked “hey, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” when she asked about my artwork. She laughed, which meant that I would feel more confident making another, more overtly sexual joke later – in this case, about calling her Reverse Cowgirl. Her initial response: “Is that the best you got?” could be taken as either a warning or a challenge; unless you’re exceptionally well socially calibrated, it’s safer to assume that you should back down. Her joke afterwards – about riding bareback – told me what I needed to know: yes, she’s cool with a certain level of sexual humor and is even willing to throw it back at me. It can be a risky move, but sometimes risk is rewarded and we learn more from our mistakes than we do our successes.
But What If You Screw up?
So let’s just say that something goes wrong. You moved in a little too close, touched her just a little too long or said something that sounded way less inappropriate in your head. You’ve accidentally started to creep her out… what do you do now?
Well that’s simple. You take a step back (sometimes literally) and apologize. “Hey, I’m sorry, that really came out wrong,” or “Woah, sorry about that, I totally didn’t mean to crowd you there,” or even “Hey, I think I may have started to creep you out a bit and I’m really sorry about that.”
Never underestimate the power of a sincere apology, especially when you’re still relatively uncalibrated, socially.
It’s a hard truth that we learn the most from when we make mistakes rather than when we succeed. Sometimes the best way to learn is to give yourself permission to fuck up, occasionally badly. It’s hard to avoid crossing a line if you don’t know where the line is, and there will be times that the only way you’ll find it is to stumble over it in the first place.
Sometimes an apology and a show of good faith on your part will be all it takes to salvage the situation. Sometimes there just isn’t anything you can do except to chalk the whole thing up to a learning experience and resolve not to make the same mistake twice.
The difference between someone being creepy and an honest mistake is how you handle it. A creeper isn’t going to notice (or, for that matter, care) that he’s made the person he’s talking to uncomfortable; in fact, some of the more predatory creepers will actively test women’s boundaries before escalating to even worse behavior. A good guy, will stop whatever it is he’s doing as soon as he’s aware of it and make a point of not doing it again.
Leave On A High Note
When things are going well, it can be tempting to want to stay for as long as you possibly can. At times when it’s not going well and the conversation is starting to peter out… well, it can be tempting to want to stay for longer too, in the hopes that if you just keep her talking long enough you can jump-start that spark that you had earlier on.
As a general rule, it’s better to leave sooner rather than later. Trying to stay in a conversation with someone well past it’s natural expiration date is not the sign of someone with high social intelligence and can come across as offputting, if not a little creepy. Leaving when things are going well on the other hand, means that the last impression that she’ll have of you is a positive one; you’ll be the guy they were having fun wish that she wishes had stuck around just a little longer instead of the dude who kept hanging around all night and wouldn’t leave her alone.
Once again, this is where the false time constraint I mentioned above comes in handy. You have to leave… but you’re having such a great time with her that you need to see her again. This is not when you ask for her number however. This is when you make plans. You say “Hey listen, I have to go do X but I would really like to see you again. There’s this pub quiz this Saturday at my favorite bar. You should come with me, I promise nothing but a good time and great conversation.” When she agrees, then you ask for her number.
Just try not to do a little victory dance until after you’re out of eyesight.
- fnar [↩]