Not everybody’s built for meeting women at bars and clubs. But when you see story after story about douchebags harassing women in the street and all the times when you shouldn’t approach women, trying meeting women anywhere else can feel like you’re tap-dancing through a minefield. There’s the understandable desire to not be a creeper on top of the anxiety that comes with approaching a relative stranger. Fear of rejection, fear of being misunderstood, fear of making a fool out of yourself, feeling like everybody’s watching you – it’s enough to scare almost anyone off.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can meet amazing women during the day almost anywhere. You just need to learn how to recognize when women are open to – or would welcome – meeting somebody and when they’re not. Here’s how you can be that cool guy she happened to meet during the day instead of just another jerk.
Respect The Social Context
One of the most important parts of learning when to approach and when not to is learning to understand and respect the social context. Context changes everything about an interaction; what’s appropriate behavior in one specific place and time is wildly inappropriate at another. I can’t emphasize this enough. Recognizing and respecting the social contract is a major indicator of emotional and social intelligence. Someone whose behavior is at odds with the social context demonstrates that either they don’t understand the rules that govern acceptable behavior or – worse – that they don’t care.
This is one of the reasons why street approaches, for example, are generally a bad idea. The social context of a street is that people have things to do and people to see and are not interested in stopping to be chatted up by a stranger. Think of the number of times you’ve been approached by someone with a clipboard in the middle of your day; how charitable are you feeling to them? Now imagine that every day, you’re running a gauntlet of dudes with clipboards who all feel like they’re entitled to your time and attention and when you try to ignore them, they get angry. They may yell insults or even try to grab you as you go by to make you stop and talk to them.
The douchebags who cluster around areas like Eaton Center in Toronto and hit on every woman in sight – and who get pissy when women ignore them – are demonstrating that they see their desires as trumping women’s desires to be left alone. This behavior is a pretty strong indicator that they’ll feel free to ignore other boundaries too… like the ones surrounding consent.
Now this doesn’t mean that you can‘t approach people in the mall – when done right it can be a great place to meet people. However, you have to respect the social context, which doesn’t include behaving like a horny land shark. You have to work on your social calibration so that you can recognize the people who are open to talking to a cool new person and those who aren’t.
So what’s the first step? Well, I’m glad you asked, Convenient-Rhetorical-Device…
Recognize The Signs That Say You Shouldn’t Approach
You may have noticed that I talk a lot about the times you shouldn’t approach people. There’s a reason for that: if you approach people at the wrong time, it’s going to go badly. In and of itself, it’s rude and makes people feel profoundly uncomfortable. But setting aside basic empathy for others, there’s a practical aspect, too: the fact that somebody doesn’t want to be approached means that there is literally nothing you can do to change their mind. You’re not just starting from a baseline of zero, you’re now in the negatives in their eyes. I don’t care what movies have taught you: pissing someone off from the jump doesn’t get you laid. Yes, as with all things there will inevitably be exceptions. There will be somebody who’s managed to score a relationship that way. People also get struck by lightning and win the Powerball, and frankly both of those offer you better odds.
So if you want to approach someone – especially in a daytime venue like a coffee shop or a bookstore – you want to make sure you’re not shooting yourself in the foot by approaching someone who wants to be left alone. You want to watch for the following signs:
- They’ve got headphones on: Headphones are a universal “do not disturb” sign. A woman wearing headphones is a woman who is either trying to drown out the outside world or who at least wants to look like they are. They’re interested in listening to their Spotify playlists or the latest episode of Serial, not talking to people. You can bother them if they happen about to be caught in a sharknado, not because you’ve lost your number and hope they’ll give you theirs.
- They don’t make eye contact: Eye contact is an important part of communication. It’s a way of signaling interest – more on this in a second – as well as a way of signaling disinterest. As with the previous example, someone who’s looking straight ahead and not meeting anyone’s gaze is radiating “I don’t want to talk to you” like an especially pissy isotope. Putting barriers in front of one’s eyes is actually a way of preventing eye-contact; hoodies and sunglasses are both ways of obscuring where you’re looking so that you can’t make eye-contact by accident.
- Her body language says “Do Not Approach”: Crossed arms. A torso and legs angled away from you. Face angled down at her table or the street. Holding or positioning objects between her torso and other people. Seating herself in a booth or table in a corner. These are all ways she’s trying to tell the world that she’s not interested in talking to someone who isn’t there to take her order or bring her a refill on her coffee. If that’s not you? Back off and find somebody else who is interested.
- They’re busy with something else: One of the worst times you can bug somebody is when they’re in the middle of something else. Think of how many times you were working on a particularly troublesome bit of code or a research paper and just as you’re getting into the zone, your roommate is bugging you about his long and tedious thoughts about the oevure of Tom Waits and how he was influenced by Kerouac and now you’re distracted and Goddamn it Jeff what made you think I even give a shit about fucking Tom Wai…
(ahem)The point being: that’s exactly what you’re doing to the woman you’re interrupting as she’s studying at Starbucks. She’s not going to appreciate being interrupted in the middle of something that she obviously feels is far more important than the tingly feeling you get when you look at her. If they’re obviously taking a break, then it might be a good time to say hi. Otherwise, leave them alone.
- She’s acting like she’s looking for the Holy Grail: One of the worst times to try to introduce yourself to somebody is when they have a specific purpose they’re trying to achieve. Whether it’s finding a particular book they need for their class, getting things for dinner or trying to make it to the train on time, they’ve got a goal and talking to you isn’t it. Remember what I said about street approaches? This is part of why they don’t work. Somebody who’s walking with a purpose – eyes straight ahead, a steady pace, rigid body language – is someone who doesn’t have the time or inclination to talk to a stranger who isn’t currently on fire.
How To Tell When She Is Open To Being Approached
So, having covered all of the don’ts, let’s talk about some “do’s”. People who are interested in talking to someone – or are at least not opposed to the possibility – will have distinctly different behaviors than people who want to be left the hell alone. Their body language and posture will be completely different, their behavior will be slower, more relaxed – possibly even aimless. Some of the things to look for include:
- She’s making eye-contact and smiling: Remember how I said that avoiding eye-contact is a giant billboard that says “Piss Off”? This is the opposite. Someone who makes lingering eye-contact and smiles is giving what’s known as an “approach invitation” – she’s giving a non-verbal sign that she’s interested in that person. Notice very carefully how I said “lingering” eye contact; that’s important. Making brief eye-contact, smiling and looking away without looking back is simply a polite acknowledgement of another person’s existence. If eye contact lasts longer than a brief second or two – closer to five or ten – then yes, she is showing that she’s interested in talking and you should say “hi”.
- She’s looking for distractions: This is the opposite of someone who’s absorbed in their work. Somebody whose face is buried in her book or her phone doesn’t want to be disturbed. On the other hand, somebody who’s looking up and acknowledging passers-by with a smile or frequently looking away from what she’s doing to stare out into space isn’t focusing on her work and would likely appreciate someone charming to distract her from whatever it is she’s not getting accomplished.
Note that this is not the same as someone who’s angled their body away from everyone and is giving the thousand-yard stare out the window; that person’s not interested in talking, they’re lost in their own little world and won’t appreciate your coming to suck up the remaining oxygen.
- She has no particular place to go: There are people who are on a mission, and then there’re the people who are killing time, browsing casually or otherwise are enjoying some down time. The young woman who’s casually browsing through the stacks at the library or book store – checking out one book or another seemingly at random – is more likely to be finding something that interests her and might be up for a chat. Somebody window-shopping at the mall or moving slowly with no real purpose or direction most likely doesn’t have something that they need to get to and may be more open to talking to someone who’s cool and friendly.
- Her body language is relaxed and open: Just as someone who isn’t interested in talking to people will have closed off body language, someone who’s more open to meeting someone will have body language to match. Her posture will be looser and softer – shoulders back but not stiff, her spine less rigid and her torso open. If she’s sitting, she’ll be leaning back rather than hunched over. If she’s standing and walking, her movements will be smoother and softer rather than stiff and precise. She may stretch out and take up slightly more space than she would otherwise. Think of the difference between someone standing outside in the freezing cold and someone relaxing in the sunshine. If they seem like they’re happy and relaxed, then they’re more likely (but not guaranteed) to be interested in talking to someone cool… if they play their cards right.
Match Your Approach To The Context
Just as you want to recognize what the context says about what behavior is and isn’t appropriate to a location, you want your approach to match. The sort of “hey, you’re attractive and I want to meet you” opening that is appropriate for a bar isn’t going to work at Peet’s at 3 in the afternoon. You need to tailor how you approach somebody so that it’s natural and congruent to where you are. This is why, when you’re making cold approaches during the day, you want to prioritize what’s known as a “situational” opener. A situational opener is one where you start a conversation by making an observation or comment about your shared experience. It’s a way of establishing a commonality – something that the two of you share. So, if she’s staring out the window and makes a heavy sigh, you might say “That bad, huh?”. If she’s sketching and taking a break, you might ask “hey, is it alright if I see what you’re drawing?” or say that her drawing is cool and does she have any others?
Another way of getting the conversation started is asking for help or a favor; we tend to do favors for people we like, so getting someone to do a favor for you is a sneaky way of jumpstarting a friendly attitude. At a bookstore, asking “hey, have you read this? What did you think?” or “You know, I’m completely lost and I need something new; is there anything you’d recommend?” not only gets the conversation going but it also becomes a small, low-investment favor, as well as an opportunity for you to compliment their taste in literature. In fact, under the right circumstances, this can lead to an instant mini-date; if the two of you are hitting it off, browsing books together makes it only natural to go get some coffee at the cafe while you’re there.
There are times when it’s possible to go direct and say “You seem like you’re cool and I just really wanted to meet you,” but these work best if you’re more confident in your ability to make a cold approach. When in doubt: go indirect.
One important note: if she’s sitting down, you’ll want to sit down with her; otherwise, you’ll be looming over her and making her uncomfortable. If so, then ask permission before joining her. It doesn’t have to be a big production; a simple “Hey is it ok if I… *gestures to chair*” is all you need. When you do sit, give what’s known as a false time constraint: essentially a white lie along the lines of “I only have a minute…” or “I’ll have to go soon but…” By doing this, you’ll help her relax; after all, now she knows that you’re not going to be hogging all of her time and refusing to leave.
In fact, speaking of:
Recognize When It’s Time To Leave
One of the most important parts of approaching someone is knowing when to leave. Sometimes that moment will come early. You may be one or two sentences into a conversation when you realize she’s giving the “done now” signals. If you get those, then it’s time to go. Trying to extend the conversation is just going to annoy her at best and make you look like a douche at worst. Say “It was nice talking to you,” and peace out, cub scout. There will be other times and other approaches with people who are interested in you.
Even if the two of you are getting along like a house on fire at first, lingering past your welcome will bleed away any good feelings you’ve built up. Nobody appreciates somebody who doesn’t know when they’ve worn out their welcome, after all, and this is doubly so when they don’t know you. Thus, you’ll want to be on the look out for signs that the approach is reaching its natural end. If the conversation’s slowing down, for example, then you’ll want to wind things up and make your exit. The more awkward silences that crop up, the less likely it is that you’ll turn this approach into a phone number – or a date.
Similarly, if she starts showing signs of being distracted or starts checking her watch or her phone, those tend to be signs that she’s about to remember that she has something she needs to do – whether it’s real or not.
As a general rule, it’s better to leave early than it is to ride the interaction all the way into the ground. The old saw about “always leave them wanting more” is doubly true when it comes to approaching women. If at all possible, leave on an emotional high-note; not only does that make you both feel better than when you hit the awkward downward slope, but it also colors how she’ll remember the rest of the interaction.
When you do split, make it clear that you’d like to talk to her again. If at all possible, it’s best to suggest a date before you leave – people tend to be more likely to give you their number (and respond when you text or call) if you make plans. If not, make your intentions clear: you enjoyed yourself and you want to see her again. “Hey, I have to go, but I’d love to talk to you some more…” is a great all-purpose exit line and opens up the possibility of exchanging emails or phone numbers.
And don’t forget to seal the deal: a “hey, it was amazing meeting you,” text later that evening helps keep the lines of communication open and sets up opportunities to arrange another meeting… and an amazing first date.