Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Can Men Look For Casual Sex Without Being Creepy?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My question is, honestly, is it truly possible for men to actively seek out casual sex or hookups without being creepy? Now, let me clarify some things about this question. Theoretically, of course, the answer is obviously “yes”, but practically? How does a man even bring up the idea without ever creeping out a woman? Many women seem to be repulsed by the idea. Some may like it, but only with certain men. Of course, it’s impossible to know if a woman would like hooking up with you, or even if she wouldn’t be utterly repulsed by you asking, without asking in the first place, so even finding out that vital part of the equation seems impossible to do without creeping a woman out, unless you’re ungodly lucky and every single woman you happen to ask just happens to not be repulsed by you asking.

Another thing is even approaching. Ask on Reddit about it, every single possible venue has its detractors.

“Don’t ask me at the store, I’m just there to shop.”

“Don’t ask me at class, I’m there to learn.”

“Don’t ask me at salsa lessons, I’m there to dance salsa, and I’d be uncomfortable dancing with guys who ask me.”

“Don’t ask me at the coffee shop, I’m there to read/work.”

“Don’t ask me at the bar, I’m just there to drink with friends.”

“Don’t ask me at the club, I’m just there to dance with friends.”

It would be one thing if these were just framed as personal preference, but these always carry the implication that any guy who would do this is probably predatory. And God help you if you DARE ask any follow-up questions about any of these. If you do, it’s obviously because you want to invalidate her opinion or you think you’re entitled to women’s time. Just about the only uncontroversial venue is Tinder. But for many men, that’s just a self-esteem destroyer, of constant one-sided swiping and ghosting.

Some may say that the best thing to do is through social circles or activity groups. But because of everything else I mentioned, I REALLY do not want to do that. If I creep out a stranger, that sucks, but there’s likely no more negative consequences than that. The fact that she even would meet me again is slim to none. But if I creep out a friend or a friend or someone else in an activity group, that’s just terrible. She could tell others about how I creeped her out, my already existing friends would be more suspicious of me, any future interaction with any female member of the group would be tainted, I might even get shunned from the group. That makes me never want to look to friends or activity groups.

So basically, how is it even possible for a man to look for hookups without being creepy? It sounds like he’d need ungodly luck. First, the woman has to not be offended by a simple approach. Then, she has to not be repulsed by the idea of hooking up, and then, to not be repulsed by the idea of hooking up with him. None of those are knowable without asking in the first place. But to ask requires approaching in the first place. And then if he asks, she would then know he thinks of her like that…

Seeking Something Casual

DEAR SEEKING SOMETHING CASUAL: As is so often the case, SSC, the problem you have isn’t the problem that you think you have.

People — guys, gals and non-binary pals — regularly find folks who are looking for one night stands, friends with benefits and partners who are just looking for sex without the strings or complications of a committed relationship. And no, it’s not just about hots finding thots, nor is it about the Mythical 20% of Twitter exercising droit du seigneur over 80% of the women. They’re just people, same as everyone else, putting themselves out there, shooting their shot and finding people who are of like-minded interests.

Despite what folks would tell you, women are as interested in sex as men, including an interest in casual sex and no-strings hook-ups. Barrier that folks frequently run into is that women who sleep with men face disproportionate levels of risk than men do, the sex that they find — or are offered — is often not that good, and a lot of times, the men they hook up with prove themselves to have a nasty case of Crouching Nice Guy, Hidden Douchebag afterwards. When guys try to get someone to f--k them and then turn around and shame women for doing exactly what they were asking for, that tends to disincentivize women from being as up front or open about wanting to bang.

But when you mitigate the risks, including post-coital slut-shaming, women are emphatically down for it.

The issue that you are having, SSC, is that you’re coming at this from the angle that women don’t like sex or find casual sex repulsive, that men’s — or rather your — sexual interest is inherently unwelcome or intrusive and that the only way to find a sex partner is to creep on women until someone says “ok sure”.

Some of this is ignorance, some of it is inexperience and a whole lot of it is a combination of low self-esteem, listening to the wrong people and a heaping helping of confirmation bias.

So, let’s take this in reverse order.

Part of why you’re struggling with this is that you’re coming to this discussion under the assumption that casual sex is, by definition, mostly unwanted, unwelcome and hard to find. When you start from a base of “I want this but there’s no way to find it without being a creep,” it’s very easy for confirmation bias to seep in and cause you to give far too much credence to random people. Seeing folks on Reddit say “ewwww, no” seems more impactful because it already lines up with what you believe; you’re much more likely to take what they say as gospel, rather than seeing it as one person’s opinion.

(This is, in fact, a common issue on Reddit, where non-representative samples are regularly held up as proof of random bulls--t…)

Despite the seeming size and authoritative nature of r/relationships or what-have-you, subreddits aren’t a meaningful sample of the population at large. You’re seeing individual people’s opinions about specific circumstances. Even if those get massive upvotes, that’s still opinions, not facts, nor are they universally held.

And to be clear: they’re very circumstantial. While I’m certainly not going to claim that there’s a Brad Pitt exception or something, there are going to be plenty of folks who will say “well, that’s how I met MY FWB”, and they’ll be telling the God’s honest truth. They did what they weren’t “supposed” to do according to your sample and yet still found success.

Which is actually leads us to the next issue: a lack of experience. Your interpretation of this seems to be predicated on the idea that finding a FWB or casual hook-up is primarily a meet-someone-and-hit-on-them scenario that leads to them going home with you that very night. And while this does happen, it’s not the most common occurrence. This is more how people tend to think it works, rather than how it actually plays out. That’s part of why you’re finding (and overvaluing) the resistance to this idea.

Here’s part of why so many of the women you bring up are very much against dudes asking them out at whatever venue: because they’re picturing the typical “nice shoes, want to f--k” approach that some folks seem to think will get them laid. It would be tempting to say this is an unfair stereotype or straw man if it weren’t for the fact that lots of dudes legitimately and literally act like this — both on dating apps and in person. But this goes back to why women frequently aren’t (openly) into casual sex: because the guys who are offering it the most often have all the social calibration and awareness of a brick. A particularly horny brick.

The issue with a lot of the examples that you listed is that approaching women for sex goes against the social contract. One doesn’t generally go to the gym, the grocery store or class in order to hook up or even expecting to. Now, you’re far more likely to meet someone who’s at least open to meeting and talking to strangers at a club or a bar; the social contract of being in those places is that this is a venue where people frequently go to socialize and meet new people.

(This does, admittedly, depend on the type of bar. A singles bar in the entertainment district is gonna be very different from the local watering hole or an Applebee’s.)

Now just being in those venues doesn’t mean that someone’s interested in being approached by all and sundry. It just means that you’re far more likely to find like-minded folks.

With that being said, let’s get back to social calibration and experience. There are ways that it’s possible to meet and even hook up with people in all of the theoretical situations you bring up. What it requires is being aware of not just the social norms, but paying attention and knowing how to read social signals. Someone who is at a bar to drink or dance with her friends is going to be giving off far different vibes than somebody who’s open to talking to people. The same is true of folks at the coffee shop, at the book store or in class. You want to give your attention (and time) to folks who are open to or actively interested in talking.  Somebody at Starbucks who’s got their headphones on and is staring intently at their laptop is giving off the nigh-universal “don’t talk to me” signal. On the other hand, if you and they are both waiting around for your orders, it’s very easy to use a general observation or comment to start a conversation.

The same is true for someone at a bar. If she’s oriented herself towards the room, you and she make eye-contact and she gives you the look-away-look-back-and-smile or other indications of interest, then she’s signaling that yes, she would like to talk to you. On the other hand, if she’s in a group of friends and they’re all standing around in an inward-facing cluster, then she’s going to be far less receptive to somebody rolling up on her.

By that same token: nobody appreciates a guy who treats a MeetUp or a dance class like a singles bar. Dudes who cruise those like horny sharks make the experience a misery for everyone. However, folks will frequently talk with other regulars that they see often; those are the folks who’ve demonstrated that they’re not there to hit on people. They’ve built up trust and social capital and — critically — they aren’t just hitting on folks. And while they may start flirting with someone or ask somebody on a date, that is far more often the culmination of previous interactions and conversations, not necessarily the first time they’ve ever spoken.

So no, you wouldn’t just hit on somebody in the middle of your conversational Spanish class. But you might go up to them afterwards — especially if they’re not rushing off to another class — and ask them about the reading. And if you and they have more than a five word conversation, it might lead to asking them if they’re free and would they like to grab a quick coffee at the Student Union? And as you and they talk, you may find that you both have a lot in common, you find that you’re laughing and joking and having a good time… and this may lead to your asking them for a date. Or it may lead to getting dinner, drinks or even eventually going back to your place or theirs’.

Yeah, the women in the examples you bring up probably don’t want a dude who just asks them if they’d like to f--k. But if you were to ask them if they would be open to talking to somebody who was nice and funny or charming and warm… they would very likely say “ok, in that case, maybe.”

(Obvious disclaimer is obvious: this is not the same as “all women would be down for this type of approach”.)

The difference here is that the guy who has the most success isn’t shotgunning an approach at everyone who he finds vaguely attractive. He’s paying attention to the people who are most open or interested in talking to somebody. He’s not hitting on her, he’s having a conversation. There’s flirting, yes, but it’s flirting with an eye towards whether she’s interested in flirting; if she isn’t, then he dials it back. By paying attention, being appropriate to the moment and the location and being mindful of her interest and comfort, he doesn’t have to worry about being creepy.

This same approach applies to people in your social circle too. You don’t start from a position of “hey wanna f--k,” you start from a position of paying attention to folks, seeing who is or isn’t attracted to you and might be interested in more. You talk, you flirt, and if there’s mutual interest, see about a date.

“But what if they’re not interested?” I hear you cry. “Wouldn’t that lead to everyone getting weird and destroying your friendships?”

I’m glad you asked, convenient rhetorical device. The answer is “no, not if you don’t make it weird first”. If you and a friend were vibing, and you were to say “hey, I really enjoy what we have, but I’m curious to see if there’s more. If you’re interested — and it’s absolutely cool if you’re not — I’d love to take you on a date,” that’s not a friendship killer in and of itself. If they were to say “thank you, but I’d really rather be friends” and you respond with “I totally understand, not a problem,” and continue to act like a friend? Then things are gonna be fine. It’s only going to be weird or uncomfortable if you don’t take “no” with good grace or make your entire friendship about “BUT WHYYYYY WON’T YOU F--k ME?”

And, incidentally, the same approach applies to dating apps. First and foremost: much of why dudes have less success on dating apps is completely down to how people use those apps — bad pictures and profiles, engaging in behavior that downgrades them in the algorithm, poor messaging behaviors and treating each potential match as the end-all-be-all of dating. But even when you do match with people, you don’t want to lead with “so who’s up for a little f--ky-f--ky” — which, I hate to say, isn’t an exaggeration. Even women who are actively looking for NSA sex don’t appreciate being treated like a foregone conclusion or a human Fleshlight. You come to that first meeting with an attitude of “let’s start by seeing if we have chemistry in person”, not “it’s all done but the squishy noises”. Meet up for 15 minutes for coffee or ice cream and see if you have as much of a connection in person as you do over text. From there plan an actual date and see where it goes from there.

Just as importantly though: you need to be willing to own your interest and what you’re looking for. If what you want is a casual relationship without an expectation of commitment, then you have to be willing to put that out there. Yes, people who aren’t into this will say “thank you but no”. That’s good. That’s what you want. You want people who are on the same page as you. Pretending that you might be open to a relationship or looking for something long term just to avoid chasing people away will only lead to heartache and annoyance. It also means that you stop casting your interest as something unfortunate or to be hidden or that makes you undesirable. That outlook will make it next to impossible for you to actually find a partner because nobody appreciates an offer of “um, I know this is going to disgust you and you’re probably going to say no anyway but if you can stand it, would you very much mind having sex?” Not only will you not be able to act with confidence, but you’ll be seeing the world through a filter of “nobody could possibly want this” — which means that you’ll miss the folks who are interested in what you have to offer.

Now, I’ve written a lot about casual sex, about flirting, what women look for in a casual hook-up relationship, how to approach women… I suggest that you check out my books or go through the archives and read up.

But here’s the thing: all of the reading and study in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t put it into practice. This is where ignorance and inexperience comes into play. The only way you can actually succeed is to get in the game in the first place. There is no reward without risk, nor is there any way of getting what you want without taking a chance at being rejected. The way you learn is through trying, making mistakes, learning, trying again and succeeding and learning from that, too. If you’re going to spend all your time looking for a way to get a 100% guarantee of success… you’re going to be looking for a long, long time.

As I’ve said: don’t come at this from a place of trying to get laid off the bat. That is unquestionably part of why this freaks you out. Take it step by step, not trying to get a place on the varsity team on your very first time on the field. Come at this from a place of having conversations and getting to know people. If there’s a vibe, then go on a date. The more experiences you have, the more your skills will develop. The more you develop those skills, the more success you will have.

And seriously, stop looking at subreddits as proof of anything but the opinion of that person on that subreddit… and half the time, not even as that.

Good luck.

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