In my summary of the questions or areas where I want advice on dating (and socialising in general), I considered that, if my questions about how to approach someone and start a conversation with them aren’t giving me the answers I need, then maybe there is a deeper level beneath the surface questions, and the questions I should be asking can be found by looking in more detail at what difficulties I have.
I promised a mind map, and here it is:
There’s a lot going on there, but the points I want to bring out are pretty simple. They’re about making choices.
I have come to the conclusion that, for me anyway, the hardest choice to make is the choice that doesn’t make a difference. (Some of the ones that do make a difference and matter terribly, have also proved difficult, but not as difficult!) A surefire way to delay matters for ten minutes or more is to ask me when playing a board game, “Which colour pieces do you want?” As long as the colours have no particular role or abilities attached to them, the decision makes no difference to the gameplay and I freeze up.
Consider this: numerous PUA advisors write that it doesn’t matter what you say to open a conversation with a woman (they typically say, “girl” or even sleazier, “target” but they mean adult female). “Just say anything”, they say.
Gee, thanks, guys.
As indicated in the mind map, what I need is a way to narrow down my options (possibly by having a clearer idea of what definitely is acceptable and “safe”). If I can do this more quickly, or if I can start with fewer options, then maybe I’ll be able to get to a single idea that I can say out loud, in time to make use of it. Here’s a couple of flowcharts to show what I think is going on:
[NB “Friendly” seemed like the best one-word synonym for “open to being approached” and “pleasant demeanour”]
PUA advisors typically solve the problem by telling clients to cut out the “is it okay?” step – first idea, run with it. There are some video makers on youtube that specialise in showing how to use even the worst opening line to get to a “number close” (the woman agrees to give the artist her phone number). Of course, “is it okay?” can and usually is a part of my “reject some” step, but cutting it out simply turns my flowchart into a logic loop (because the number of ideas never reaches 1). Sure, if “is it okay?” turns out to reject ALL the ideas in a set, then my flowchart resolves down to the assumed situation, but that’s not the same thing.
Effectively, I have a whole horde of ideas (and yes, that is the spelling I intended: not “hoard” as in “stash”, but “horde” as in “marauding invaders”) all charging forth with equal intensity and eagerness, and somehow I have to narrow them down to just one, because it is only possible to say one thing at a time (in the metaphor, the doorway of my mouth is only wide enough for one and if two try to come at once, then it just gets clogged up – you can do your own blowjob joke…)
So “narrowing down options” can happen either at the “reject some” stage (i.e. get quicker at choosing just one line) or at the data input stage, so that the “many many suggestions” are somehow pre-filtered and far fewer ideas enter the system at a time.
The other point of choice in having a conversation is the topic. At the speed dating on Monday, I found that a lot of the time I was answering questions about me, when really I wanted to hear about her, or find a way of engaging on a mutually interesting topic (don’t get me wrong, I find me fascinating, and I like to think the fact that they ask all these questions means they think I might be, too – it’s just I’m not there to lead a seminar on Yours Truly). So changing the topic smoothly (more smoothly than, “But I’ve been talking a lot about me, tell me about you?” which is all I had on Monday) away from YT onto something else (such as the person I’m with) would be a handy trick to have. Choosing a topic would also be helpful.
Again, choosing a topic is hard because, although it may very well matter, there are often too few data points available by which to make an informed decision. It might as well be a random choice, and that is the same kind of problem, only with higher stakes. It is easier to find narrow/defined lists of topics, although finding ones that are reliably interesting both to me and a conversation partner is more tricky. Are there cues you can learn and look for that indicate what is more likely to work for a person?
Somewhere in between “opening line” and “topic of conversation”, there is the second thing that I am going to say to a person. I say an opening line to them, they either ignore me (ouch!) or say something back. That requires me to say something else to them that relates to whatever they just said – or, if they just said “hello”, then it has to (a) show them me and (b) introduce a topic. I am very slow at these things. I need not just the opening line, but generally have some kind of plan for the follow-up line as well. If I have to spend several seconds thinking of what I want to talk to them about, then by the time I know what I’m going to say next, they’ll have wandered off under the assumption that “hello” was enough. If I can get past the follow-up, then I can usually busk it from there.
That means I need some kind of a strategy in place to deal with these situations, and the amount of uncertainty means that this is hard. If narrowing things down to a single opening line is tough, then predicting what might happen after I’ve said it and preparing for those eventualities, is even harder, because now there are multiple hypotheticals all of which need the potential responses narrowed down to a relevant and usable few.
The mind map shows that I think of approaching this problem in two ways: one is to see if I can, instead of anticipating a wide range of responses, anticipate a few types of response within each of which the responses can be handled similarly. The other is to prepare for a smaller number of anticipated responses, by trying to choose only for those that are likely (then we have a filtering problem unless a swift method of figuring out what is likely can be devised). It could be that I am thinking about this problem in the wrong way, of course, but advice that says “don’t think, do” is no good: if I don’t think, then I have nothing to do.
There’s one other stalk on the mind map, which is more specifically about socialising and is about a situation I face many times when I attempt to be social. Often, when I am in a room with a bunch of people, I observe that people having conversations stand in circles, squares or triangles so that no matter from which direction you approach, you are confronted with someone’s back turned to you. The only apparent way to become physically a part of the conversation is to lean over someone’s shoulder and interject one’s comment. I don’t know if you’ve had someone lean over your shoulder and interject, but I have, and generally it is a very uncomfortable experience. You don’t know they are there until the last minute and then suddenly their voice is right in your ear. More often than not, it seems as though the interjected comment is not actually adding anything to the conversation because its content was covered already.
Is there a technique to solve the issue of how to join such conversations, given that the topic is usually not private or personal, but of general interest?
In summary, then, my major questions are:
- How can I narrow down my choices quickly enough to approach?
- Fewer to start with (e.g. a list of lines I’m comfortable with using)
- Quicker process of rejecting ideas
- Being prepared for the other person’s response
- Choosing or changing the topic