I wanted to share a couple of similar experiences with you as I’m trying to learn from them.
A little background about me. I’ve started my journey when I graduated college in 2018. I really started focusing on my dating journey back in 2019. I was having trouble with the whole “just be yourself” vs “if you done this tactic, she would’ve liked you.” so at that time, I was more focused on what nuances I should pay attention to during my approaches. That means even though they felt a little forced, I ended up cold approaching whenever I can, one because I want to meet her and another reason is that even if I don’t get her, I’ll try and improve my game. Sometimes, it also results in anxiety because I just have no idea if she just doesn’t fancy me or if I done something wrong.
Ever since the pandemic started, I started realizing there were certain key moments in approaching that body language was present yet I wasn’t able to pick up on that. Now what I’m trying to do is I still plan on doing cold approaches, but I’m trying to utilize body language to ensure I don’t end up approaching girls who don’t want to be approach. Considering I don’t see much active signals thrown at my way, I also look for open signals (I call it that to describe signs a woman is not really looking at me yet she is open to talking.) I have two recent stories I wanted to share.
These two stories are pretty similar. They’re both about a girl and her friend enjoying a picnic together.
Scenario 1: I was just walking around a park in my old neighborhood and I see a couple of girls just sitting on the hill having a picnic. They don’t see to be looking into a crowd, but their body language seemed relaxed as if they’re just having a fun conversation. It didn’t seem like they were too focused on talking to each other otherwise their body language would have them leaning closer instead of backwards. This was my initial assessment and I decided to go up and talk to them. The conversation went pretty good, I made a few jokes that got her laughing. I think where I messed up is I let my nerves get the best of me to immediately asking for her number when back then I would’ve just build rapport and repartee (this was at a time where I was thinking in my head to remember to do this and that, whereas this one I was letting my body somewhat take over to not be too technical with this.). Ultimately she told me she was seeing someone, so I took that as a rejection and told her to have a great day. I took it as a win because I was able to have a good back and forth conversation with them.
Scenario 2: I was at another park and I see a couple of women also sitting down having a picnic. However, this one felt very different to me. Even though both of their body language was facing outside and not each other, they were also hunching their backs down and payed attention to their food. I also took the location of their spot into account, they’re away from people. I wasn’t sure if these were girls that didn’t want to be bothered or if I was just psyching myself out. What I did is I walked over there and looked around, and tried to make eye contact and she looked back at me a little bit but she went back to her friend. I walked past them. I was wondering if she was continually checking me out even if I wasn’t looking. So I looked back and caught her looking at me, but immediately turned my attention away. I think she gave me eye contact as she was looking out if I was gonna approach her or not as if she’s getting ready to deal with that. I didn’t see any other signs of interest nor disinterest after that. At the end of the day when I decided to go home, I was walking back to my bike and they were still at that same spot. I could tell that she wasn’t trying to move her face towards me, but was side eyeing me to see what’s going on if I was gonna do anything. My conclusion with this is that these girls didn’t really want to be approached by a guy at all, they just wanted to enjoy each other’s company. Of course me coming near could shake that sense of security they want to have so it may have made it worse.
My conclusion is since Scenario 1 they seemed to be having fun and open with their body language, it was okay for me to approach. However, scenario 2 is the exact same setup as Scenario 1 but the body language and context there suggested that they just want to be left alone. I wanted to share this experience but I didn’t want someone giving me pickup jargon i.e “you should’ve just gone up and talk to her” without risking harassment. I’ve read your articles and you seem to break it down for a lot of readers, so I’d like to know your perspectives on my situation.
I would like to get better at reading situations before making the approach to ensure I’m approaching at the right times and not at the worst possible times.
Alright LD, congratulations for wanting to get better at meeting people. And right off the bat: yes, you read scenario 2 correctly. They were just having a picnic and wanting to spend time on their own. They were facing each other — clearly interacting with one another — and set away from everyone else because, in all likelihood, they didn’t want to be bothered. They were likely watching you as you walked past because they were wondering what exactly you were going to do. You made eye-contact and were kind of lingering, so now they were asking themselves “ok, is this guy going to come over and start talking, or is he going to keep walking and let us enjoy our lunch?”
In scenario one, they were likely having a similar situation; they were enjoying a picnic when you came and talked to them. But I don’t think that was ever going to go anywhere…
In fact, with that in mind, I’m going to use your letter as a bit of a digression, LD, because this is something that comes up a lot.
One of the things that comes up a lot around here is the idea of “where do you meet women”? The problem is that a lot of dudes focus on making what are known as “cold approaches”; that is, approaching strangers that they have no pre-existing social connection with. As a result there is a lot of emphasis on either approaching women at bars or clubs or approaching women during the day as they’re going about their business. And, in fairness, I’ve written a lot about cold approaches, so I’ve definitely contributed to this. But as time has passed, my approach (er… as it were) to the concept has evolved, as has the way I recommend that people pursue them.
The problem that keeps cropping up is that people latch onto cold approaches as the ne plus ultra of meeting potential partners — whether they’re looking for a relationship or to find someone to hook up with. And that actually ends up being counterproductive.
One of the biggest issues with this “approach every stranger you see” is that nine times out of ten, it’s going to feel like you’re trying to pick them up, and that’s going to work against you. Just about every woman you know in your life has multiple stories about how dudes treat them existing in public space as a sign that those women are there for guys to hit on. And honestly that can get exhausting for the people who’re on the receiving end of it. Think of it like this: you’re hanging out with a friend or walking down a street and someone with a clipboard comes up and starts soliciting… something. Signatures for their petition, donations for their charity, whatever. And as soon as you convince that person that no, you’re not signing, you’re not interested in donating or what-have-you — and they are determined to keep talking until, like demons of old, you have denied them three times — another one comes along with a similar spiel.
Now imagine that happening to you for the next four hours.
Cold approaches in general — especially the way most people go about them — are very goddamn difficult. You are, for all intents and purposes, trying to persuade someone you have literally just met to start a romantic or sexual relationship with you… usually within the span of 20 minutes to an hour. To be perfectly blunt… that’s not how most people start relationships. The vast majority of people meet their partners either through mutual friends, shared activities or dating apps. While the meet-cute cold approach makes for a romantic story… it’s not really the most effective way of meeting people, and focusing on it has a tendency to make most of your interactions with people mechanical and not terribly enjoyable for everyone.
But just as importantly is what I said earlier: you inevitably feel like you’re trying to pick them up and under the best of circumstances, that’s likely to make people uncomfortable. They’re not interested in being picked up, especially by someone who knows nothing about them. That’s going to work against you at times and places where “hooking up with a stranger” isn’t part of the social context.
Now notice that I said 9 times out of 10. The remaining 10%, things feel smoother and more organic because you weren’t trying to pick them up, you were just talking. The cold approaches that are the most successful, especially in the daytime, tend to be the ones that are the least like approaches. These are the times when you find an opportunity to just start a conversation with somebody and things proceed from there. These work best at times when the conversation feels organic, something that occurs naturally, instead of feeling like a dude who’s hitting on them. Getting hit on by randos isn’t as much fun as you’d think. But an encounter with a fascinating stranger who’s fun to talk to and — critically — isn’t there to hit on you is an enjoyable experience that can lead to more. Think of it this way: which makes a better “here’s how we met” story: you rolled up on ’em to pick one of ’em up, or a chance remark started a conversation that lead to your inviting them to a shindig you were throwing that night?
Most folks — especially the ones you’re likely to be hitting on, would prefer the latter.
So, for example, using an open observation about something around you — the song on the in-store music system, the dude who just biffed straight into the door on the way out, whatever — can be a start to a conversation at, say, your local coffeeshop. Similarly, sitting at the counter at a diner or the bar and chatting with the bartender or the folks next to you can likewise lead to a more personal conversation. I’ve had success when I’ve started conversations with folks I’ve seen sketching at bars or coffeehouses — I was legitimately interested in what they were working on and focused more on just chatting and building rapport, than trying to pick them up. That particular mindset — this person is doing cool stuff, I’d like to know more about them vs. this person is hot and I want to bang ’em — makes all the difference. I’m showing interest in them as a person, but I don’t have an agenda other than a decent conversation and then going my way. If things click and we catch a vibe then hey, great! If not… well, that’s cool too, and I’m off to go do my own thing.
And the curiosity about them vs. trying to pick them up likewise changes the tone of the interaction. I don’t even know anything about them other than how they look, so going in with a mind towards getting a date is going to make them feel like an object. And while sometimes you’ll meet folks who are likewise open to getting picked up, especially at particular bars or clubs, not everyone is. Coming to the interaction with a mindset of “you seem like you’re interesting and I just want a nice conversation” means that everyone relaxes, everyone can enjoy the interaction for its own sake and anything else that happens is a bonus. You’re getting to know them and then deciding if you’d be interested in more, based on more than just what they look like. They may be hot enough to make a bishop kick in a stained glass window, but that’s not enough to decide whether or not they’re worth trying to hook up with. Hot is nice, but hotness goes away when you find out that they like eating live kittens or whatever.
And for that matter, even folks who are hot like to be appreciated for more than what they look like. As the saying goes: compliment the beautiful for their intelligence. Showing that you dig them for themselves and not their looks makes you infinitely more charismatic.
Now this isn’t to say that cold approaches are bad. It’s a very useful skill to cultivate, especially when you’re in an area where you don’t have a pre-existing social network. But relying them to exclusion as a way to meet potential dates is likely to make life harder for you and much more frustrating.
So my overall suggestion is that you dial back the “looking for opportunities to practice cold approaches” and simply take more opportunities to have conversations — ones that occur naturally and more organically than approaching a couple girls having a picnic. You have far more opportunities for casual conversations than you realize, and with more people than just women you find attractive. Becoming comfortable with talking to anyone — men, women, everyone — means that you’ll be naturally more charismatic and fun to talk to, and you won’t have the vibe of only being interested in talking to the hot chicks. It’ll help put your anxiety at ease, because all of your interactions will be much more enjoyable and fulfilling. You’ll be in a headspace to enjoy them for their own sake instead of worrying so much about signs, signals and tactics or doing everything perfectly so that they’ll like you.
Plus: if you’re comfortable with talking with everyone, you’ll be in a much better position to take full advantage of those organic opportunities when they do arise… even when you weren’t actively looking for them.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
Last year I wrote to you via the priority email service over a crush on a guy at my gym. Quite rightly, you advised me to gather my courage and ask him out. This was tough because we had multiple lockdowns in my country, and it took me several aborted attempts – but I did it! He was really enthusiastic, gushed over my bravery and how flattered he was, and asked for my number. For that first few days, I was geared up to write a “relationship win” email for you.
But then he never called. I waited a week, and nothing. When I ran into him the next weekend, he told me that he’d just started seeing someone (something about it being ‘early days’ and how he ‘just got out of a relationship a year ago’ – he was kind of cagey about it and I didn’t want to pry). He asked if we could still be friends, and although I said yes, I’ve barely been back since, and the one time I did go, we politely ignored each other.
I’d hate for him to think I’m mad at him, but the truth is I am absolutely heartbroken. I spent the best part of a year trying to build up, questioning my feelings, doubting myself. Last summer I couldn’t even make eye contact with him, but I persevered, and hearing that initial “yes” felt like a turning point in my life. I never thought I would get there. And then, finding that I had actually missed my window has just destroyed me. It’s been 3 months now, and barely a day goes by where I don’t find myself crying over him.
This is kind of sad, I know. I’m 36 years old, but this dumb crush really has rattled me to my core. You correctly identified in your private message that I’m on the asexual spectrum (I identify as grey-ace/-aro) and I had to completely reassess my sense of my own sexuality in order to even acknowledge the possibility of these feelings. I rarely experience attraction, so this really did feel like a “one and only chance” kind of a deal. My relationships are usually more like friendships with sex bolted on, and I find it hard to connect with others in a romantic sense. Most of the time, I’m just not all that attracted to my partners. I’ve never been on a proper date, not had any sort of romantic or sexual interest in 8 years now, and the few truly passionate relationships I’ve had were deeply unhealthy. When I do fall, I fall bad. I respond really intensely to intermittent reinforcement, probably because it gives me the space to develop a real interest, and then I ultimately end up neglected and discarded. Over recent years, I have mostly accepted that romantic partnership is not for me. I have built a stable life with my best friend, and was happy with that – until now.
The truth is I miss the feeling of excitement I got from being around my crush. I miss the anticipation of getting up in the morning and going to the gym knowing I was going to see him, thinking about what I was going to say, coming away feeling exhilarated when he complimented me or shared something meaningful. I had started taking better care of my skin, bought new clothes, rediscovered a side of myself that I had neglected for many years. Now, all that has gone. I don’t want to do those things anymore. Maybe I never really did? Maybe it was all performative femininity because I wanted to ‘get a man’. I don’t know.
But the worst part is that I don’t even enjoy going to the gym now. Fitness has been a big part of my life for the past 7 years and is how I manage my mental health, boost my self-esteem and get my endorphins. Now, everything related to it reminds me of him. I even changed gyms, but found myself sitting on the bench crying because even being in that environment was enough to set me off. I just want my zeal back. I want to reclaim this thing for myself, if nothing else, but it’s like he was a drug, and now I’m in withdrawal. I hate that I’ve lost that fire and that motivation, but it feels like every time I push myself to go, something happens that makes me feel crappy (a song plays that reminds me of him, a guy makes a gross comment) and then I want to go even less.
My rational brain knows that all this really makes no difference in the long run. I was always going to be ok without a romantic partner, and I know deep down that I will be ok now. But by opening up to the possibility, even for a short while, I feel like I’ve opened up an old wound. I feel sad that I’ve never had that romantic evening with someone I felt excitement for, that I’ve never really desired anybody who hasn’t treated me like garbage; I’m frustrated that the one time I felt that mystical ‘spark’ that everybody talks about, it turned out it was all in my head (or worse still, possibly just a matter of bad timing).
This experience has made me resent my asexuality for the first time since my teens. I’m jealous that other people seem to get that feeling of excitement all the time! I keep looking around at people constantly, trying to force some sort of attraction, hoping it might happen again. I tried online dating, but everyone came on way too strong. To make matters worse, I’ve had a case of Texts From The Ex (apparently a common occurrence in the pandemic) and although I distrust him greatly, I’m engaging with him more and more as a distraction from my crush.
So where do I go from here? I really want to get my motivation back, but I don’t know how. I wish I could go back to my old gym and see him, but I don’t think he’ll even talk to me now. He probably thinks avoiding him, as I had been driving across town a couple of times a week just to see him, and now of course I am not. If I do go, I worry that I’ll only be hanging around hoping he’ll talk to me, wondering if he’ll be free again and might change his mind, and I know that’s deeply unhealthy, and that nobody wants to date a whiney stalker chick who can’t handle a polite rejection. How do I readjust to life where I /don’t/ have that starry-eyed adoration lighting a fire under my ass? I feel like he took 90% of my motivation with him, and now the thought of doing all those things I used to enjoy just makes me feel depressed and lonely, because I had been imagining doing them with him.
How can I overcome this setback and return to contented singledom? I’m tired of crying, tired of feeling jealous and listless, tired of missing out on things that used to bring me quiet, solitary joy. I know I can’t change the way my sexuality works, but how can I go about rebuilding myself?
Ace in a Hole (36, she/her)
Ok, this is going to sound like a complete digression AiaH, but stick with me for a second.
One of my favorite TV series’ back in college was Babylon 5, in no small part because of how many times they had these fascinating side stories focusing on background characters. One in particular stands out — an episode that focused, in part, on a man named Jinxo who had been a survivor of all of the previous Babylon space stations. Whether the station was destroyed in an enemy attack, blew up because of an industrial accident or just straight-up vanished, it always occurred when Jinxo left the station. As a result, people had begun to believe that he was cursed; if he left the station, then the station was doomed.
However, a recent traveler to Babylon 5 points out that Jinxo was looking at things from the wrong perspective. After all, he managed to escape disaster four separate times; by all rights, he should be called “Lucky” instead. His leaving the stations before the worst happened wasn’t what caused the disaster, he was surviving each time. That’s not a curse, but a blessing; he was just seeing things in an incredibly negative light.
That’s the issue you’re having right now AiaH: it’s not that you failed or waited too long or whatever. You did something you have previously struggled to do: you talked to your crush! You opened your mouth, words fell out, everything went well and there was no earth-shattering kaboom. You summoned your courage and took your shot! Even though you were terrified, your knees were shaking and your voice quavered, you did it anyway. That is something to be celebrated! Yes, it didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, but honestly, the fact that you made your move is the most important thing here!
And here’s the thing: the fact that you’ve done this once means that you can do it again. You’ve proven to yourself that you have this power within you, and you’ve had it all along. While this time didn’t work out, you now know that when you do develop a crush on someone new, you’re capable of doing something about it. And having struggled through the first time, now you’re better able to do so when the opportunity presents itself instead of having to build up to it over days or weeks. And that means that, in the future, you’ll be less likely to miss any particular window.
The other thing to keep in mind: just because you and he didn’t hit it off doesn’t mean that you have to avoid him. In fact, avoiding him is actually part of what makes things harder; avoidance actually just increases the anxiety and stress of it all. Seeing him will sting — possibly a lot — but like ripping off a bandage, that sting will fade faster than it would if you just try to peel it off one millimeter at a time. And while you and he may never be a couple, he could very well be a great and important friend. And just importantly: it’s a reminder that the worst can happen — he had a girlfriend — but the world didn’t end. It sucked, but you survived and you recovered. That’s an important lesson to learn.
Now all that joie de vivre and excitement you were feeling about taking care of yourself, dressing well, etc? You can get that back. But the key here is, again, to change your perspective. Instead of doing it as a form of “performative femininity” or “to get a man”, consider doing it for yourself, because it makes you feel awesome. Dressing up sharp can feel amazing when you do it just for yourself, rather than for the sake of others. The same with exercise, skin care and so on — doing things because it makes your body work and feel better is an excellent reason to keep at it. The side-benefits — it may make you more attractive to others — are just that: a bonus. A side-effect of the joy of taking care of yourself and keeping your body as a well-oiled, high-performance machine.
Focusing on the joy of movement, the pride of taking care of yourself, the simple pleasures of dressing well because they make you feel good will help you reconnect with that part of yourself. Treating yourself well will remind you that you deserve good things and that, while life can be difficult… it can be great too. And doing so will also help you maintain the confidence and courage to make your move the next time the stars align and you find another crush.
Because here is a truth: this guy was just one person that happened to hit your buttons in this particular way. And while guys like that may be few and far between for you… there are more. All of this was you learning that you’re capable of far more than you ever gave yourself credit for.
This wasn’t the end. This wasn’t even the beginning of the end for you. This was merely the end of the beginning.