In my discussion of what questions I would like to answer in improving my chances of meeting someone and developing a romantic/sexual partnership with them, I noted that I put a lot of emphasis in terms of my goals on working for a positive outcome for the other person. As with defining “success”, the question of, “What are they looking for, and what can I do to make it happen?” comes in two parts: the broader “relationship” part, and the more immediate starting-point, the “conversation” part. (It also comes in a “what do they want?” part and a “how do I?” part, but this got long just talking about “what”, so “how” will come later.)
In part, I talked about the broader relationship when I was discussing my own desires. Because so much is reciprocal, there’s necessarily going to be an implied ‘”they are looking for” produced by my “I am looking for” statements.
But beyond that it is really not that easy to determine – inasmuch as there is “the type of person I’m looking for”, then yes, it’s valid, but there may be other things either broader or more specific, to be figured out (specific things obviously get figured out once we’re talking and hopefully dating a while). There seem to be plenty of sources telling people what they should want (or be looking for) in a relationship, from “He’s Just Not That Into You” (and similar) to perfection-seeking BDSMers. I’ve pretty much already talked about how I can answer those desires in various ways (although I rebel against the manly man gender role that HJNTIY etc project for me, so refuse to meet some of their checklist like “he always makes the first move” – although this whole project is in part about how to get better at making the first move so just shut up already no I’m not a hypocrite, well, not much anyway OH JUST LEAVE ME ALONE! … *ahem* what was I saying? Oh yes.) So one way or another I’ve got some good groundwork to go from on that front.
That leaves the immediate, “starting point”, what they want from a conversation, question.
As luck would have it, Daygame.com published a blog post the other day about just this concept. It’s one of the few PUA sites I’ve seen that addresses approach anxiety from a perspective of concern about the other person. Their instructor, Jon Matrix, writes:
Even interactions that don’t lead anywhere in terms of a result will almost always leave both parties better off. You give her a compliment, she feels appreciated – She feels good, you feel good. Once you understand this fundamental principal and start seeing Daygame as giving rather than taking, the pressure that one may feel in terms of an outcome is gone. You get her number, you don’t get her number, she likes you, she doesn’t like you – you don’t really care either way. At the very least you made you and her both feel good.
Sounds pretty good, right?
There are a few problems with this conception, though, and to address them I want to point you first at a blog post that was highlighted by The F-Word UK Blog on Monday, which is called Why You Shouldn’t Tell That Random Girl On The Street That She’s Hot:
- It may very well be possible to compliment a woman you don’t know on her appearance in an appropriate way.
- But, if you choose to compliment a random woman on her appearance, you run a high risk of making her uncomfortable/scared, even if she doesn’t show any outward signs of it. Are you willing to take that chance?
Some men who want to compliment random women on the street are genuinely good guys who just don’t understand why their comments might be unwelcome. Some men who want to compliment random women on the street are creepy predators. Most are somewhere in between, and guess what? I don’t know you, I don’t know your life, and I have no idea if you’re going to leave it at “Hey, you look good in that dress!” or follow it up with “But you’d look better without it! Har har! C’mon, where’re you going? I know you heard me! Fucking cunt, nobody wants your fat ass anyway, bitch.”
Now, Mr Matrix of Daygame.com no doubt would tell us that the products that Daygame.com sell are precisely about learning appropriate ways to compliment a woman you don’t know on her appearance. The philosophy of their method is basically that women much prefer to fantasise about meeting a guy “by chance” in the street than at a bar or nightclub or through a dating website. By making a “daygame” approach, you can supposedly key into that fantasy and make it come true, thus “giving her what she wants”. Certainly, the people who run and coach Daygame.com also have a significant amount of success with their strategy – they report on encounters, they post secretly-recorded videos (with identifying words bleeped out and features blurred, on the women they talk to), and generally seem to have empirical evidence to suggest that – at least in certain conditions – the method results in women agreeing to give a phone number and they have claimed to show screenshots of text message exchanges with some of these women later. So we must assume that it works some of the time.
Nevertheless, any business selling its product and reporting its efficacy must be deemed to have a strong incentive to select which evidence they show and which they don’t. All PUA businesses have this problem when encountering a sceptic like Yours Truly. I just assume that the evidence they show, in whatever form (testimonials, field reports, videos, whatever) is not a representative sample and there must be failures that we don’t get to see. There is also the issue of interpretation, which Clarisse Thorn discussed using phlogiston as an analogy (point 2 in the linked post). This is basically the idea that, yes, PUA techniques work, but maybe not for the reasons that pick-up artists think are the reasons. Jon Matrix may believe that you made her feel good, but if she didn’t give her number or didn’t like you, that seems like it may be a misinterpretation of the signals that she was sending out. Maybe she was feeling nervous or uncomfortable and just trying to get through the situation with minimum cost.
So figuring out what another person is after is a bit more complicated. For want of a better idea, I decided to go back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory as a starting point. This gives some idea of what we should be aiming for in an interaction – what needs or desires might be reasonable to expect and to address by this means.
Robert Townsend in “Up The Organisation” summarises the levels in the hierarchy of needs as: “(a) body; (b) safety; (c) social; (d) ego; (e) development.” We can see straight away that the Brute Reason post is concerned mainly with the second level of “safety”, whereas Jon Matrix is looking all the way up at the fourth level of “ego”. (Incidentally, if Maslow’s theory is accurate, then that would mean that the woman was already satisfied for “friendship, family, sexual intimacy” under the social heading, making the purpose of pick-up rendered ineffective. But I happen to believe that the pyramid is not that rigidly defined, though the needs themselves are generally applicable.)
To get a realistic view, it seems to me that all three of these levels need to be addressed. I mentioned Charlie Nox’s remarks about being alert to the feeling of security or lack of, that your physical presence can cause when attempting to chat someone up, and how I was concerned that I may be not very good at that. And, to be fair, some of the advice that Daygame.com offers also addresses the issue. A conversation must feel safe, so that’s the first thing it can give. A conversation can also be a source of social connection, belonging and friendship. (PUAs are all about how to get from those things onto providing sexual intimacy as well.) SucceedSocially discusses at the end of this post how conversation style can create distance or connection (and we want the latter). And sometimes we talk to people, or want people to talk to us, because we get to feel good about ourselves as a result – ego. This includes feeling more confident, and respected by others. It also includes showing respect for others and for ourselves (“self-esteem”). This is what Jon Matrix says is happening in a daygame approach, but the real objective is to obtain something on the “social” step (usually sexual intimacy as the long-term outcome), and feeling an ego-boost is the consolation prize.
To have a chance of a positive outcome, the “safety” level needs must be met: the circumstances and opening of the conversation would make a person feel more safe rather than less safe. It’s worth noting that this is about security of person rather than ego: we may feel something is risky if it threatens our ego or social needs, but that is not the same thing. The “strategic ambiguity” that Clarisse Thorn discusses in “Confessions of a Pick-Up Artist Chaser” occurs on these higher levels. If either person feels the need to address the questions, “How can I protect myself?” or “How can I leave this situation?” because the answers are not obvious, then that’s a fail.
A conversation that is not on some level connecting, or else providing needed information, is surely frustrating and not positive. To be even average in outcome, it must meet these requirements and if it doesn’t, then anything addressed at the next level will seem insincere. (Incidentally, the daygame techniques do go directly to a compliment but always followed by the message “and I wanted to talk to you/get to know you”). The “ego” needs are then the cherry on the top: they’re the bit that make you go away feeling lifted and “aren’t I great?” Brute Reason’s post discusses what it means that complimenting a woman on her appearance is supposed to be the best way to recognise her greatness, and the overall effect that it has when this is in fact too often the only thing that the media find to focus on – even for women who are exceptionally gifted scientists or artists in various fields. This is why it is not, actually, a compliment to give a woman a compliment. Instead, it is an opener to explain what’s going on. If someone I don’t recognise stops me, the first thing in my mind is, “Who are you, and what do you want?” To be fair to the daygame advisors, they do seem to acknowledge that this is also in the minds of women they approach: they talk about women wondering whether you’re trying to sell them something or get them to donate to charity. The daygame approach, it seems, is about providing the answer in obvious but deniable terms, to the question, “What do you want?” (An answer to, “Who are you?” is generally given later in the conversation, it seems.) A genuine and meaningful compliment can only come after a connection has been made, it seems to me.
In this post, I referenced Dr Eric Berne’s work developing transactional analysis as a therapy or counselling tool, drawing on an idea referenced in one of his books. In his most famous book on the subject of TA, “Games People Play”, he discusses various concepts to build up a thesis of human behaviour. In discussing informal rituals (such as the “hi, how are you?” ritual which has no actual exchange of information intended), he talks about “stroking”, where a stroke is “any act implying recognition of another’s presence”. Most people exchange stroking units on a more-or-less regular and expected routine (for instance, two work colleagues might exchange one unit each morning by saying “hi” to each other, and then continue). If one day one of these people extends the conversation in a ritualistic way (that is, not asking for information like “has the fax repair man been yet?” but simply adding more “stroking” points e.g. “how are you?”) then this produces initially suspicion and confusion: “why is he giving me more attention than usual, and what attention does he expect in return?” (Equally, the phenomenon of “blanking” – where an expected stroke is not given – can cause confusion and consternation.) It’s not hard to see why, on this basis, a stranger approaching and “stroking” might not automatically be experienced as a positive thing – the onus is on the approacher to provide enough context and information to make this “safe”, “connecting” and “ego-enhancing” such that the stroke points are accepted.
In general, we might be tempted to say that being recognised as existing is a positive experience, although there are plenty of ways in which it can be a bad thing. The question is, when approaching a female-bodied person, in what ways might an approach be felt as being not in fact recognising the person’s existence, but only (for example) the body’s existence? This, feminist theory argues, happens a lot of the time with women – developing terms such as the “male gaze”, objectification and so on to talk about it.
Going back to daygame, a programme recently on Channel 4 called “Bi-Curious Me” (about specifically bisexual and bi-curious women, no bi-curious men – useful for research for my novel but frustrating since it presented women as inherently sexually attractive and men less so – and of course, nothing revealing about my own bisexuality or how to explore it further; also frustrating because it didn’t depict any bi-curious women who tried it and found sex with women actually didn’t do it for them) featured one person who is a female dating coach who happens to be bisexual, talking not only about how she became curious and then decided she was bi, but also talked about how she used her bi-ness to help her coach men on how to approach women. (A quick Google search reveals her blog post about it is here.) The demonstration matched almost exactly the way that Daygame.com suggest making an approach and was perhaps more convincing than any of the videos I’ve seen them produce (she used more of a rising questioning intonation, whereas Jon Matrix and his colleagues advise having a more definitive, steady or falling intonation – probably because women are, in this society, expected to have a more passive or uncertain stance whereas men are “supposed” to be firmer). Again, I find myself questioning how to tell the difference – her approach was literally “just assume ‘of course she’s going to be attracted to me!’” What I found most interesting was when she said something along the lines of, “I was wandering around hoping someone would approach, because I had no idea how to” – story of my life! But she implies that this may be true of other women, too. This is where I struggle, because I believe there are very few universals.
Intriguingly, she does suggest some pretty basic body language clues to use, in a post called How To Recognise The Signs – Approaching Women On The Street (looks like I may be bookmarking her blog, after all!). And it may be this is as good as it gets on that question (although it’s earmarked for a separate post, when I have more data).
For now though, it’s time to summarise the data collected so far. This feels like a very incomplete post, but given the nature of the question I think that was inevitable.
My conclusions, then:
- It is generally a positive thing to have one’s existence as a person recognised and receive “strokes”, although unexpected ones can be perturbing.
- An approach is on three levels of the “hierarchy of needs”:
- Safety – if the other person for any reason feels threatened or has limited options to leave, it’s bad
- Social – conversation that grows connections produces positive outcomes for the other person
- Ego – affirming confidence, respect, well-founded compliments, gives a real boost
- Does she even want a conversation at all? Further research needed.