Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wella, wella, yesterday’s post definitely brought ya’ll out of the woodwork, didn’t it?

I’m seeing that for the guys, there seems to be two camps about telling a strange woman, in public, that she’s beautiful. (Or some similar remark.) One camp says: I’m not hitting on her, I just want to pay her a compliment. The other camp admits that when they say that, they’d like to get to know the lady better.

On the other side of the fence, a lot of the women seemed agree that a strange guy coming up to you in public can be startling, and make one uncomfortable.

As I said yesterday, it’s not that you can never speak to a strange woman in public, ever. As with most any social interaction, there’s a little dance to be done here, there are signals to give and to observe. That’s why I think the 3-Step Process is crucial. Let me elaborate.

We have a person who wants to initiate contact, and the person they want to speak to. Let’s say we’re talking a man and a woman. I think this is how it should be done regardless of gender, but what’s also true is that a woman is much less likely to perceive another woman as a potential physical threat.

  1. Man stays a socially acceptable distance away from the woman. He makes eye contact with her for a few seconds.
  2. During the eye contact – which may happen several times over a minute or two, as the woman looks, looks away, and then looks again – he smiles. Eye contact minus smile = creepy.
  3. Then, and only then, does he move close enough (if that’s necessary) to her to say “I just wanted to tell you that you’re beautiful.”

That’s the process. She’s far less likely to be startled, because you signaled your intentions. She may or may not respond the way you’d like her to, but I know that when someone follows this process with me, I am much more likely to smile and say, “thank you!” than I am to jump back and fumble for my pepper spray.

You’ll notice this can all be done in the time it takes a stoplight to change. If you really just want to pay a lady a compliment, I think the ideal circumstance is one where she can thank you and then be free to physically move on if she wants to. So, for example, tell the lady as you’re both getting off the elevator, not as you’re getting on.

I define "socially acceptable distance" as arms-length at least. There are exceptions where strangers routinely stand closer to each other - subway cars in New York, for example. But the closer you get, the more likely you are to seem like a potential threat.

I think the maximum time you can hang out after you pay a compliment and she says thank you is about five seconds. Past that, you’re hoping for a longer exchange, and the compliment has become a means to that end. That doesn’t make you a crazed serial killer, but if you want to not make an ass of yourself, there is another set of signals you should observe, in my opinion.

1. A woman who physically steps away from you is saying I don’t want to talk to you, and in fact, you’re making me uncomfortable. A gentleman respects such a signal. Do not step closer to her again. Don’t say, “hey, don’t run away”, or “don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you”. What that tells me is that you are thinking about hurting me, so I should run run run away.

2. That stuff seems all fairly obvious to me, but there are subtler signals too. A woman who maintains eye contact with you and smiles past the five-second window is signaling that she’s open to further conversation. If she also turns her body towards you she’s definitely interested in talking. But a woman who turns away and looks away, steadily, is signaling no thanks.

I say steadily because there are shy girls who sometimes do that look-away, peep-back thing. (Is he looking at me? I hope he’s looking at me. Omigod omigod, he’s looking. Eeek! Like that.) Facial expression would be the indicator with a peeper. Is she smiling (or better yet, giggling) – or is her expression better suited to someone visualizing you in a police lineup? If she keeps her face and body mostly turned away, but cuts her eyes back to check on you, and she is not smiling, that means I don’t want to talk to you.

Personally, I think that if a woman gives the move-away/look-away signals during Step 1 or Step 2 of the 3-Step Process, the initiator should back off. However I will allow that failure to do so doesn’t instantly brand you a Pushy Creep. But – if you speak, and she backs away, and you don’t respect that, you are indeed a Pushy Creep. Proof positive: you keep talking to her, and she either ignores you entirely or makes one-word answers, while not looking at you. You’re the Mayor of Creepyville now.

Other thoughts: Bad places to talk to strange women are parking lots, parking garages, elevators in parking garages, dark alleys, any place dark and/or largely unpopulated/isolated. And yes, I’ve had guys try to chat me up all these places. Bad strategy.

But it doesn’t have to be a dark, scary place for her to be uncomfortable - I’ve been on a little corner of a beautiful sunlit beach and been uneasy because some strange-vibe guy found me and just wouldn’t go away and leave me alone, and there wasn’t anyone else close by. So be aware that if you’re alone somewhere with a strange woman, odds are good that she’s going consider, at least momentarily, whether anyone would hear her if she screamed. If the answer is no, your courtship is unlikely to prosper. It’s a not a personal slam at you, it’s just the way the world works.

So you’ve gotten the okay, I’ll talk to you signal from her. Here are some other ways to avoid being kicked back to creepy weirdo status: do not ask her name for at least five minutes. Do not ask her last name, period. Do not ask where she lives, or where she works, or any other potential-stalker information. Basically, don't a lot of personal questions.

Don’t say anything else about her looks. Don’t ask if she has a boyfriend/husband.

Talk about innocuous stuff – movies, music, sports, pets, whatever. Nothing too emotionally intimate, either. The point is not the information, the point is showing her you get it that there are steps and stages you, the guy, have to go through in order to get to know her better. And if you as much as mention sex at this stage, you’re the President of The United States of Creepy.

The one think I don't know is how long you must talk before you can ask for (and successfully get) her phone number, because while I've occasionally talked to guys I met wherever, I've never been willing to give out my number to a stranger this way. I'd be interested to hear what women who have met guys like this would say.

See, paul_tex, I'm as good as a Cosmo article anyday!

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