DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Due to some mental and physical health reasons I moved from my home to San Francisco where I am currently attending college. I have had little to no success with dating outside of a relationship I was in through OkCupid that ended about a year ago. I also used to do approaches at my old school with some friends of mine and we had some minor successes.
I saw your video on when and when not to flirt and I found it both informative and troubling. When I did used to do approaches I would almost exclusively do it at school, but since you said that doing that is normally seen as rude or bothersome I have been hesitant to try it here. The thing is when I’m at school is the only time I am around women on a daily basis. I can only go to bars once every two weeks or so because of my poor college kid financial situation. This has been taking a toll on my mental state in terms of provoking feelings of depression and self-hatred when I see a girl I find particularly attractive. I feel powerless and alone.
TL;DR: I wanna approach girls, because it feels like it’s the only thing I am doing that might work, and everything else I’ve been doing doesn’t. It is making me unhealthily sad. Please help.
DEAR GO, NO GO: It’s not that there are very specific places where you can meet women and these are the ONLY times that you can approach them, it’s that you should understand the context that controls social expectations and respond accordingly. Certain bars, for example, are explicitly set up for people to meet and hook up. Because flirting with strangers is considered to be part of the point of being there, it’s acceptable to go to these locations and approach many women over the course of an evening.
On the other hand, trying to hit on someone on the bus, subway or other form of mass transit is a bad idea; most people are just trying to get through their commute without being bothered.
This doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. People HAVE gotten dates from someone they’ve met on the subway or on the bus or on a plane. However, it requires extremely strong social calibration, a great deal of experience and a careful sensitivity to the other person’s interest and comfort level. This isn’t even for someone with varsity level social skills, it’s for someone with pro-level skills.
But there are also liminal spaces out there, spaces that aren’t explicitly for meeting and mating but are still social. Classes, for example, are one of those spaces. College is an explicitly social space; you don’t just go to your lectures and then go home, careful to never say a word or make eye-contact with your fellow undergrads. It’s expected that you’re going to talk to your classmates and fellow students. In fact, college is one of the last times when socializing and making new friends will be as simple and effortless. However, this requires a different approach than when you’re meeting people at a single’s bar. You don’t want to be the guy who glides through school like a horny shark. While you can flirt with many, many women over the course of an evening at a bar, doing the same on campus is going to be weird – especially if it’s a small school.
So by all means, feel free to strike up a conversation with someone attractive that you see on campus. This is an expected part of the college experience. Just don’t treat it like you’re at the club. You can’t be as aggressive — especially physically or sexually aggressive – as you could be at the bar, nor should you have the same energy level. Take it down a notch or two and start with a conversation and see how things go. If the two of you click off the bat, then by all means, see about a brief date, even an instant date to get coffee or something. If there’s some chemistry there but not quite enough for an immediate “hey, do you want to go get coffee?”, then let it build over a couple of days or weeks before you ask someone out on an explicit date. And it should be a date; not to “hang out”, not to “get together”, but an unmistakable date.
Just, for the love of God, don’t be like the would-be PUAs who line major thoroughfares like Eaton Center in Toronto that make the act of walking down the street akin to running a gauntlet of aggressive douchebags. The social contract at college doesn’t allow for that.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have this problem. After years of social anxiety, having been called creepy before (and not really knowing why), and reading so many things on the Internet about women complaining about men approaching them and being a nuisance, reading so much about signs that you shouldn’t approach (and next to nothing about signs you should approach), I always just assume now that whenever I see a woman, she doesn’t want me to talk to her or anything, unless I see proof she does want to (and my definition of proof is very, very strict). Even if I’m at a setting where talking to other people is normal. Even if I’m actually acquainted with her or we’re in a group together, and in the latter case, I pretty much only talk if I need to, or if she says something to me first.
So my question is, how do I break out of this mindset?
Not So Strong, Silent Type
DEAR NOT SO STRONG, SILENT TYPE: the first thing you need to recognize is that women venting about rude, excessively aggressive men isn’t the same thing as them condemning the entire gender. The problem isn’t men, it’s men who don’t understand things like the social context or that a woman who’s got her Murder Face on and is walking like she’s searching for the Holy Grail doesn’t want to be hit on by strangers. If you’re able to recognize “thanks, but no thanks” as the refusal that it is instead of a sign to try harder, then you’re ahead of the curve. The problem here is not recognizing the context of who was saying what, the context of it all and recognizing that some opinions are explicitly more radical than normal society would call for.
The next thing you need to realize is that, as I just said to Go, No-Go, there are places where approaching strangers is accepted as par for the course, places where basic socialization is acceptable and times when it’s just a plain bad idea. Now this doesn’t mean that any social contact is a horrible idea outside of these areas; it just means that you adjust your approach to your circumstances. The social contract varies depending on things like the venue and the time of day. Behavior that’s acceptable at a rowdy bar at 11:30 at night is going to be incongruous at best, disruptive at worst at 11:30 AM at Whole Foods. Similarly, behavior that’s fairly common during the day on a busy street could be seen as being threatening at night when there’re far fewer people around.
Learning to recognize and adapt to the context and circumstances is a big part of developing your social calibration. And to be honest: it’s not that hard. If you can understand that you should be quiet at the library and the movie theater, then you’ve got a fairly solid grasp of how social calibration works.
The next thing is to understand that there are differences in both approaches but also acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know isn’t automatically like cat-calling a stranger in the street, and next to no reasonable people are going to equate the two. The guys who’re following women yelling “yo, you should smile more” and the guys who’re planting themselves in front of women to force them to stop and talk to them are very different from the guy who starts to talk to the person in line in front of them at Starbucks. While there’re certainly folks who feel that talking to them before their coffee is a capital offense, that’s hardly the same as the guys chasing women down Ocean Drive in Miami, trying to get their number.
It’s the difference between the guy who says “hello” to someone on the street and the guy with the clipboard who refuses to take silence and being ignored as an answer.
And then there’s the fact that women will let you know if they’re interested in talking to you. And, contrary to popular belief, these signs really aren’t that subtle. The most common example is what’s known as the “plausibly deniable conversation starter”. If you’ve ever said something loud enough for others to overhear and respond to, then you know exactly what this is: somebody making an observation or statement that’s intended specifically to prompt a conversation. An observational opener – something like “man, this line’s taking forever”- is a classic example of a conversation starter that she can pretend was just muttering out loud if nobody bites.
But even if you’re afraid of starting a conversation in places where conversation and socializing is explicitly permitted, then you may want to consider going to events or meet-ups where conversation isn’t just encouraged, but almost required. Team-based activities – from skee-ball leagues to amateur sports teams to pub quizzes – make socialization necessary. You have to work together as a team, and unless one of you is secretly an omega-level telepath, this requires actually talking to each other. Other events like board game nights at your local game shop or singles mixers are other great places to go where you’re expected to talk and share and mix and mingle with people you haven’t met yet.
And honestly? If you feel that you can’t talk to people you already know, or in explicitly social settings or that talking to people in those settings is going to make people feel weird? Then one of the best things you can do is talk to a counselor. That’s a pretty good indicator that you’ve got some emotional scarring that you need to unpack and work through. It sucks that you got called a creeper, my dude, but if you’re letting one incident through you for that much of a loop – especially if this was in, say, high-school – then you need to learn how to let go of the past and move forward.
At the end of the day, your wanting to be social isn’t a burden on other people. It’s part of how the world works. All you need to do is work within the social context of the situation and just be aware of the other person’s interest and comfort. And believe me: it’s not that hard… especially if you spend some time working on your social calibration.
There’re women out there who would love to talk with you, my dude. You just have to trust yourself enough to open up to them.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)