Dear Dr. NerdLove: I saw this video on TikTok and am now trying to figure something out.
@monstersincooperatedReply to @crypticcorvus #fy #foryou #dating #lgbtq #confused #reply #SoFiMoneyMoves
My understanding was that generally, women would rather not be approached by men in just any public setting because they view us always as a potential threat, which I think is totally 100% fair. And I always took that as meaning we should avoid talking to women unless we’re in an appropriate time or place, which is somewhere more social than a coffee shop. I have social anxiety so I’ve never been comfortable talking with anybody of any gender, but I’ve always kept that in mind if I ever decide to break out of my shell.
But I’m getting from this video and the replies to her comments (If you don’t have TikTok, I don’t know if you can see the comments) that anyone who got that message from women are misinterpreting what they’ve been saying about harassment and boundaries and that you don’t have to worry about coming across as a creep if you’re not a creep.
So is there any truth to what I’ve heard before? And is it possible she just has a unique experience? I should mention that I’ve never made acquaintances in person any place where I wasn’t obligated to meet people, like school or family gatherings, so how people meet other people in public is a mystery to me. Can also count the number of times in one hand I’ve been inside a coffee shop.
Not A Coffeeshop Creep
For those who can’t watch the video, the short version is that TikTok user Monstersincooperated is responding to a comment from user CrypticCorvus about how TikTok is like Starbucks and how uncomfortable they would be if someone came up and started hitting on them. Monstersincooperated is apparently perplexed by this because — as she puts it — how did they think people functioned before the Internet and that it’s normal for folks to meet their partners while out living their lives.
(Apparently I can’t read the comments on this because I don’t have a TikTok account as I am, as I have said before, an Old Man of the Internet, and there’re only so many social media accounts I’m willing to have if I’m running them all as a one-man show.)
So with all that out of the way, I have to agree with Cooper on this: yes, it’s normal to talk to people during your day to day, out-and-about life. In fact, I’m pretty firmly on the record that more people should be cultivating those in-person social skills. I’m also fairly firmly on the record that a lot of guys — especially shy, socially inexperienced guys — vastly overestimate how creepy they’re being, misinterpret what folks are saying about creepers online and don’t quite get why one person is creepy and the other isn’t. They also tend to overstate how “bad” things are when they mess-up; they tend to fall into the Worst Superpower Ever: Worst Case Scenario Vision, where what starts with “hi, how are you?” ends with them having to get plastic surgery, change their name and leave the state, never to return again.
The issue that folks tend to have isn’t about the concept of talking to strangers or flirting with people they meet and are attracted to, it’s the way that people treat them. The single biggest reason why a lot of people — mostly, but not limited to, women and femme-presenting people — have issues with strangers coming up and talking to them is because the folks rolling up on them don’t spend a moment’s consideration about their interest. The folks who are approaching them haven’t gauged the social context of the situation, they haven’t considered whether the person they’re approaching wants to talk to someone, nor are they concerned about that person’s comfort or or even whether they have time to talk to someone.
As an example, a lot of PUAs will make a big deal out of doing what they call ‘street approaches’ — that is, trying to stop women who are going about their day. Leaving aside that this isn’t how the vast majority of people meet their partners, this sort of approach is both painfully inefficient and incredibly annoying for the folks being approached. Consider, if you will, what it’s like when you have to run a gauntlet of folks trying to get you to donate money or sign their petition or take their mix CDs. Now imagine that with strangers who are just flinging dick at you and trying to convince you to date them.
There’s a similar issue when guys try to talk to women wearing headphones, who are reading or who are otherwise busy. They’re ignoring multiple “not interested in talking to people” signs — the book, the headphones, etc. — and have, instead, decided that their desire to talk to her overrides her “Do Not Disturb” message. It doesn’t matter if the person trying to talk to them is Brad Pitt, Idris Elba or Machine Gun Kelly; folks who persist in trying to get your attention when you want to be left alone are sending a message, and that message is “your desires and boundaries mean nothing to me.”
Now the issues that guys like you, NACC, who are well-meaning but shy or inexperienced get hung up on is the concept of “the approach”. The mistake a lot of folks make is that they treat this as somehow different or separate from just, y’know, talking to people. This actually causes problems on a number of levels. When you see “making an approach” as being inherently different from other interactions, it changes your outlook, your behavior, even your body language. You can sometimes see when guys shift from social mode to “ok, going to go hit on this person” mode, which… well, unless you’ve had a lot of practice, it can really put people off. The person doing the approach is usually not as smooth or behaving authentically, and that can feel a little weird. Plus, it’s usually pretty obvious that they’re getting ready to hit on someone, and that puts other folks on their guard, especially during the day. It also encourages a counterproductive mindset in the person doing the approaching. A lot of the time, they feel like they have to “prove themselves” to the person they’re hitting on, despite the fact that they don’t know anything about that person other than they’re attractive. So not only are you hitting on them, but you’re doing so from an almost comedically insecure place.
But the issue isn’t the “going to talking to strangers” part, it’s the “I’m going to go hit on this person” part. The vibe they’re putting off is “I want to convince this stranger to start a romantic or sexual relationship with me, despite having known me for less than an hour.” Not only is this offputting at, say, a Starbucks, but it’s goddamn difficult to do under the best of circumstances. That’s just not how most folks roll.
There is, however, a vast difference between trying to hit on a person you just met and just starting a conversation with them. It may seem like these are just two different faces of the same coin, but they come from entirely different places. A person who’s angling to get someone’s phone number (or connect on WhatsApp or Snapchat or what-have-you) has a different vibe and behavior from someone who’s just being social. Someone who’s just making conversation is usually much more relaxed, goal-agnostic and shows genuine interest in the other person. That’s a very different feeling — one that’s far less likely to put someone on their guard.
Think of it as the difference between someone making casual small-talk with you while you’re waiting for your morning latte and that same person trying to convince you to go on a date with them.
Through my years of study and practice, I’ve found that just being willing to be social and talk to people without an agenda goes a long, long way towards making you more successful at dating. I’ve started multiple relationships — at coffeeshops, even — just by striking up conversations with women I met that day. The key was that I was genuinely interested in knowing more about them — if they were drawing, I was curious to see what they were working on, for example — and focused more on being in the moment than on anything else. This meant that our interaction was more genuine, more authentic and not angled towards getting something from them. If we vibed, then great! I would at least offer to stay in contact and talk later, when it might be more appropriate to ask them out on a date. If not, hey, as the sage once said: “sharing tea with a fascinating stranger is one of life’s great pleasures”.
Now to be sure: part of being social and talking to strangers means working on your social calibration. You want to make sure you’re talking to folks who are interested in talking, not people who are determined to get work done or who want to be left alone. Someone idly browsing the shelves at your local bookstore is more likely to be willing to talk books with someone than if you came across that same person head down over their laptop. However, it’s possible to get a conversation going, even if someone cute is working at the next table over from you at the coffeeshop. “Hey, could you watch my laptop while I run to the bathroom/get a refill/ place an order” is normal, even expected behavior; it’s part of the coffeeshop code of behavior, really. From there, when you get back, you can say thanks and introduce yourself. At that point, either they’ll indicate that they’re interested in talking to you, or that they want to get back to work.
If you want to get over your fear of being an accidental creeper, then do yourself a favor and look for opportunities to practice being social. You have chances to have brief, non-important conversations with folks all over the place, from standing in line for coffee to posting up at the counter at your local diner and making small talk with the folks around you. The more comfortable you get with just being social — without an agenda — then the easier it is to have those conversations with folks when it “counts”… no matter where you are.
I would like to be able to approach women in hobby group, especially since I’m told repeatedly that it is basically the end-all-be-all way to meet women. This always comes with the caveat that you can’t just go there and ask women out right away, or ask every woman there out, or else they’ll think I’m creepy, desperate, I only see the place as a meat market, etc. If I go to hobby groups and I enjoy them, I would also like to be able to show my face there and keep doing it if I ask out a woman and she’s not into me, and not be seen as the creepy guy. So my questions are:
1. How much time is good enough between starting to go to the hobby and asking a woman I’m interested in there out?
2. How many women can I ask out there before I look like a desperate weirdo?
3. How much time between asking women out is enough?
4. How much time is enough time between a new woman I’m attracted to joining a group and me asking her out and she’ll still feel welcome in the group and not creeped out on?
Creeper No Creeping
Before I get too into your question CNC, I want you to take a look at what I wrote to Not A Coffeeshop Creep above you. As I told NACC: the thing that makes guys creepy in cases like this tends to be the attitude of “I’m here to get my dick wet, everyone else’s interests don’t matter.” In hobby groups, Meetups and the like, the biggest issue isn’t whether folks ask someone out on a date, it’s dudes who try to treat it like a Sex ATM. If you are, say, at a yoga class, you can be fairly assured that pretty much all the women there are there to do yoga, not be hit on by dudes… and yet there’s always a surfeit of men who are there specifically to try to pick up chicks for a little Salute to the Sun if you know what I mean.
Now, I’m a big proponent of meeting people by leveraging your passions. It’s much easier to make friends and increase your social circle when you find your people — the folks who share your interests and hobbies and have the same (or compatible) passions and drives. Not only does this increase the likelihood of your having deeper and more meaningful commonalities than just a mutual interest in, say, tabletop gaming, but those shared interests are an instant ice breaker and conversation starter. However, this doesn’t work if you show up at your local gaming store’s RPG night, circling like a horny shark. Nor, for that matter, does it work if you’re the guy who hits on the new folks when they arrive, before they’ve had a chance to be warned about that particular missing stair.
So with that in mind, I want to point out a miscalculation in your thinking. You’re looking for rules about timing and hard numbers that would make certain behaviors acceptable, and that’s a mistake. There isn’t going to be a universally applicable amount of time that will make behavior non-creepy, nor a number you can’t go over. The thing that makes someone creepy isn’t whether they wait for the cooldown to end before they fire off their next Jealous Girlfriend opener, it’s what their behavior is communicating to others.
If we go back to the yoga class I mentioned earlier, a dude who is going from woman to woman asking her out, he’s communicating two things. First: that he’s there to get laid, not to do yoga — which is already a problem in those classes. Second, however, is that by hitting on woman after woman, what he’s telling folks is that he’s not interested in them as people, he’s interested in them as things he can fuck. Maybe the “getting to know them as a person” will come while he’s trying to get into her Lululemons, but in that moment, she’s a warm body first and a person second.
Now, if, at that same class, we have a guy who’s there to do yoga, who makes smalltalk with folks before and after class and generally gets to know folks and — in the course of chit-chatting with people — catches a vibe from someone who seems cool and is into him too? Then it’s perfectly natural to say “hey, I’m really enjoying talking to you. I’m going to $COOL_THING next week; I think you’d really enjoy it and I’d love to take you.” That’s not being weird or creepy; that’s someone who, while practicing his hobby, has met someone he gets along with and is seeing if there’s some mutual chemistry and mutual interest.
Of course, if that guy where to then ask out someone else at the next class… well, again, we’re back to “dude is looking for a warm body to stick himself into” territory.
This is why, rather than looking at this as running out the clock or trying to go by hard numbers, you want to focus on enjoying whatever the group is for and getting to know people. When you’re first meeting people at whatever interest group you join, you don’t know anything about them other than they like the same stuff you do. Yes, they may be attractive… but that, in and of itself, doesn’t mean anything. You don’t know if you two are compatible, if you like talking to her or even whether she’s worth your time. And rolling up on her to get a date when you barely know her signals that you’re really there to get laid.
So rather than worry about numbers, focus simply on meeting people, making connections and friendships and see where things go. If you and someone get along and you’re getting hints of mutual chemistry and interest, then sure, ask them out on a date. If they say no, take their “no” with good grace and continue to be the same cool, friendly and social guy you were before. If you were to then go and immediately ask someone else out… well, that’s where you could start getting into trouble. But, again, if you realize later on that someone else you find fun and interesting is also giving you “would like to go on a date with me” vibes, then that’s not weird or creepy. That’s just a natural progression of interest.
It’s not creepy to ask someone out, nor does being turned down mean that you can no longer show your face any more. What is creepy is when you end up making it clear that you’ve got a hole marked “girlfriend” that you’re trying to fill with any available person or an empty spot in your bed and you aren’t particular with who goes in it. Hitting on everyone in the group is going to make folks uncomfortable. So will bouncing back and forth between folks like a hornt up pinball. But if you’re making friends and connections with people and finding that things are progressing in a flirty or romantic direction, then that’s natural and normal.
I realize that having absolute numbers can be reassuring by giving you a sense of control. But at the end of the day, people aren’t computer programs. There will be folks who’re ok with being asked out two weeks after you’d been turned down by someone else, and there will be folks who think that’s weird. Focus more on enjoying the group for what it is and making genuine connections with people, rather than finding a girlfriend right away. Not only will everyone be much more comfortable, but those relationships — if any — will be authentic, natural and far more satisfying than just shotgunning your way through and hoping that if you throw enough lead in the air that you’ll hit something.