Appropriately, Respectfully, Feminist-ically
July 16, 2015 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Assume I'm not from this planet. What is the appropriate way, if even allowed, to approach a woman at a bar?

I'm pretty socially inept. I like bars and it seems like a place where a straight male is "supposed" to be able to meet women. That being said, my default SOP is to just avoid doing anything altogether that could cause offense, embarrassment, or harassment. Once again, I call upon the women of metafilter to either provide suggestions or to tell me that I am completely wrong in my assumptions.
posted by bonje to Human Relations (39 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, bars are not really a great place for straight men to meet women, despite what the movies say. That's because a) often women are there to socialize with their friends or hang out alone, NOT to meet men, and b) you have no reason to be interested in someone except that you like how they look, and that is something that can easily translate into being skeezy (even if you don't mean to).

I would encourage you to think about looking to meet women in situations where you are starting out with something in common - gives you more to talk about anyway, and feels more natural. Focus your efforts on doing things that you think are fun and interesting - hobbies, meet-ups, community groups, a friend's party, whatever - and meet women there to become friends and/or potential dates.

If you still want to try the bar thing, pay a ton of attention to context and subtle cues. Don't interrupt someone who is doing something else or talking to friends. Wait until the two of you have at least exchanged some glances or made some eye contact before you start talking.

Follow the take-turns rule: each time you move the interaction forward, she gets the next "turn" to move it forward. If she doesn't move it forward, that is a subtle cue that she doesn't want to keep talking to you, and you should leave her alone. Women are socialized to be nice and polite even if they don't want to talk, so don't keep going if she seems merely polite; only keep going if she seems enthusiastic about talking to you.
posted by aka burlap at 2:45 PM on July 16, 2015 [59 favorites]

Oh, and just to add - if you like hanging out in bars, there are ways you can combine the "hobby" advice with that. Like, maybe you are a regular at a bar and you see another regular there all the time. Once you guys have seen and nodded to each other a few times, it'd be cool to talk to her. Your connection now isn't just that you like how she looks, it's that you guys are both regulars at the same place.
posted by aka burlap at 2:48 PM on July 16, 2015 [12 favorites]

Hi, I've met my last two long term boyfriends in bars (10 yrs, 7 yrs, respectively). Well, in a bar, my neighborhood bar where I feel comfortable, know a lot of people, and feel safe. In that environment, it is totally cool to buy someone a drink and then chat them up about safe topics like baseball YAY or other sports. What I would say is: if you notice that the woman is nice to you at first and then after a little while starts avoiding eye contact or changes from a positive outgoing vibe to a more withdrawn vibe, then thank her for the chat and move on. Always leave them wanting more.
posted by janey47 at 2:58 PM on July 16, 2015 [16 favorites]

I think picking up people in bars is one of those things that is sort of "high level social skills." Although I don't necessarily think you'll grievously offend anyone as long as you are polite and willing to back off immediately if you don't get a positive response, I also think it's a challenging venue for meeting people unless you are particularly skilled at it. As a reference point, I go to plenty of bars and the one and only time that a man successfully "met" me in a bar was when we were out as part of a group of friends (we didn't know each other before that evening, but had mutual friends and were at the bar as part of the same group)....which I don't think is really your standard "pick someone up in a bar" narrative.

If you do want to give this a shot, I would keep the following tips in mind:
1. Start with eye contact, and don't approach someone without some genuine, encouraging eye contact first.
2. Be very aware of her body language and verbal + non-verbal cues. If she's leaning away, looks uncomfortable, is giving you one word answers, etc. then politely excuse yourself from the conversation. A lot of women are conditioned to not want to say "no" to men, and if someone isn't enthusiastically participating in the conversation, she'd probably rather you left her alone. (If you're not good at reading body language/non-verbal cues, bars probably aren't the best place to meet people.)
3. Focus the conversation on interesting things about her/you/the world as opposed to her appearance.
4. Be willing to take frequent rejection cheerfully. Just because a woman is in a bar doesn't mean she is a) single, b) interested in a relationship or hookup, c) intersted in a conversation at this particular moment, or d) interested in a conversation with you. Many of these things aren't anything to do with you in particular, and even if they are you can't control other people's taste. Just by the numbers of the situation, there's a high likelyhood that most of the women in any given bar don't want anything in particular to do with you. Not because of YOU, but because, you know, they don't want anything to do with any stranger. I almost never want to talk to strangers in bars, and even if I'm up for some casual conversation, I'm married so I'm not interested in anything romantic. This is independent of how attractive, interesting, etc. the people are -- it's just that I'm at a bar to hang out with my friends, not to meet people. So knowing that numbers game, don't take it personally if most of the conversations you initiate get turned down or don't go anywhere. If that level of rejection is something you can't or don't want to deal with, bars are probably not the place to meet women.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:59 PM on July 16, 2015 [16 favorites]

Do you have friends who would be willing to come to the bar with you? Are you a fan of any professional sports? Watching a game together and interacting casually opens the door to interact with other people, whether they're alone or in another group. You can chitchat during halftime, react to the game together, and what not. Of course, you already know that!

If you could see such interactions as more of a friendly exchange, it might make the approaching part easier. People are nice to know in and of themselves and you never know if, say, the older couple has a younger friend joining them. It's about building comradery and community in low-key ways.

I agree with all of aka burlap's advice: becoming a regular helps you feel more comfortable as well as seem more legit. A lot of the interaction has less to do with words and more to do with non-verbal communication. When someone's interested -- asking you questions, doing a lot of eye contact, etc. -- it's less about what you say as much as seeming friendly without being creepy. (Easier said than done, right?)

As for buying people drinks, it all depends. I personally do not feel comfortable with a stranger buying me a drink but some women, regardless of personal feminist identification, do see it as par for the course. However, if I were interacting with a small group of people (say, four people watching the game and chatting) and one were to buy a round for all four people, that'd be OK. Likewise, if you're chatting with someone and about to order another drink yourself, you could say: "I'm about to get a [beer/etc.]. Would you like anything?" They can always say no and it seems more natural than some other situations.
posted by smorgasbord at 3:03 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is gonna sound condescending, but I swear I don't mean it that way, and this goes for everywhere, not just bars: Talk to her like a regular person, because women are just regular people.

Approach her like you would approach any other stranger you're interested in getting to know, with tentativeness, grace, and humility, and if she makes it clear that she doesn't want to talk to you, take comfort in the notion that no one in the world owes anyone else their time or attention under any circumstances. You don't need to verbally telegraph your physical attraction to her from the outset by telling her that you like the way she looks (or whatever), she's already going to know because you're approaching her. Make eye contact and smile; if she meets your gaze and smiles back, try nodding and looking bashful and then swing back to introduce yourself a few minutes later. If she gives you the gas face or looks right through you, leave her be.

Once you've established that she's amenable to having a conversation with you, make sure you're listening to her rather than just tuning out and waiting for your turn to speak. Talk about easy stuff like books, movies, sports. No politics. Don't talk over her or interrupt her because you think you have a story that's cooler than hers. If she talks about something she's interested in, ask after it with genuine curiosity. (And if you're not genuinely curious about finding out what she's interested in, you're probably not interested in her as a person, and you should probably just leave her alone.)

If she leaves to get another drink or go to the bathroom and doesn't come back, that's actually her being as polite as possible without risking the possibility that you'll be aggressive or confrontational when she delivers a verbal rejection. If she takes out her phone and starts scrolling through Facebook or otherwise starts getting fidgety and leaning away from you, cut your in-process anecdote as short as possible, tell her to take care and have a good night, and don't look back. If she takes out her phone and leans in to ask you to put your number in it, congratulations.

With all that said, I'm a single woman (and a radical feminist) who hits on dudes all the time and thus isn't entirely opposed to being picked up in a situation like this, but if a random guy struck up a conversation with me at a bar, I'd be starting from a position of deep wariness no matter how nice or polite he was when he introduced himself. Women are routinely blamed when other people do awful things to us, so many of us are naturally suspicious of strangers, especially male strangers. Try not to take it personally.
posted by divined by radio at 3:09 PM on July 16, 2015 [43 favorites]

Great advice above. Just aim to have a pleasant, entertaining conversation, like you would with anyone, and be respectful.

Would like to add this caution (which may be obvious, apologies if so): refrain from making comments about her body/hair/clothes; don't compliment her on her eyes or dress or hair or whatever. That immediately triggers an "I'm being reduced / objectified and not being treated like a human right now, furthermore he is probably incapable of seeing women as people" alarm (in my head anyway) - it just feels sleazy. (Of course it's true that you're starting the conversation because of some response you're having to body, face, etc., and this is natural, but understood, and the point of talking is to make a connection, hopefully. So look at her beautiful eyes*, and talk about the music.)

*not body, definitely eyes
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:46 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's good to keep in mind that the reason a bar is considered a good place to meet women is just because it's a place where people go because they're choosing to socialize in a more public way. NOT because it's some kind of special zone where women have entered an unspoken contract to pay you some minimum amount of attention. I say this not to accuse you of thinking this way but because it's a widespread idea in this society and it helps to be aware of it.

Now, there are bars and bars. In the clubby ones, luckily, there's an actual format for this: smile and make very brief eye contact, then, unless she turns around and starts talking to someone or otherwise shows lack of interest, make your way over and ask her to dance. If she says anything at all other than "yes" (including "not right now," unless followed by an actual time you should come back) leave it.

Bars more oriented toward sitting and talking are different, because it will stand out more and be more at odds with the mood if you're visibly there to look for women. Even women who are happy to talk to a stranger in a bar are going to be weirded out if it seems like you've just been sitting there scoping out the prospects and you're going to go back to doing that as soon as she ends the conversation. So have something to do (preferably something that also gives you a common interest) that you can un-awkwardly go back to doing if she doesn't want to have a conversation. Sports on TV are perfect--I know I was about five million times more likely to chat with a stranger in a bar while watching the women's World Cup games than any other time. Things like election debate-watching parties, the Oscars, etc, will also work. Oh, and bring a friend.
posted by ostro at 3:57 PM on July 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

Hi, I've met my last two long term boyfriends in bars (10 yrs, 7 yrs, respectively). Well, in a bar, my neighborhood bar where I feel comfortable, know a lot of people, and feel safe.

I submit that this definition of a "bar" is not likely the same as the OP's. What you just described is a neighborhood, a community, an entire building's worth of friends. Your future boyfriends probably felt just as comfortable there as you did, and everyone had a good time. Or maybe they were new to it, I don't know, but let's not dismiss the point that there are many, many different types of places that could be described as a "bar" and they would actually have very little in common. Is it a neighborhood pub or the bar at a Chili's in an airport?

Which leads me to my point: You need to closely pay attention to how you're picking the bar. Not just any one will do. You may need to become a regular and make your own neighborhood and your own community. THEN you'll be able to determine what's the best way to approach a stranger IN THAT PLACE. Because the way to approach someone in the place down the street could be quite different.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:57 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: This is all great advice. I guess I want to clarify that by "approach" I really am concerned with the actual initial "walking over and saying hi" part. Is eye contact really enough? I've never felt confident that it was, which is why I don't ever attempt such. Am I overthinking it?
posted by bonje at 3:58 PM on July 16, 2015

There aren't a set of steps you can take. It can't be learned. You either have that level of ease or you don't. It's not a list of steps, it's a way of being comfortable with people. If you don't, you'll creep women out. They'll tolerate you to varying degrees, but that doesn't mean they want to be bothered.
posted by discopolo at 4:18 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Walk up to her and say: Hi, my name is...
posted by parmanparman at 4:20 PM on July 16, 2015

It’s fine to meet women in bars. Some women who go to bars are there to dance, some are there to drink, some are there to party with friends, some are there to hook up. If you want a short term fling, bars could work especially well for you. And sometimes people even meet long-term partners in bars. The proportion of short-term to long-term is skewed in favor of short-term, but there are exceptions. It just depends on what you want. I agree that the odds of meeting your future wife or soulmate are higher outside of a bar and at a shared hobby or passion- but hey, maybe you both really like to dance, you know?

The times I have been approached most successfully in bars, a guy came over and danced with me, and we had fun. He may or may not have been a good dancer but he was clearly having fun and into the music. He did not grab my ass before words were spoken. He was not so drunk that he couldn’t speak clearly. He did not say “nice tits” or drunkenly slur “you’re beautiful.”

Alternatively, he bought me a drink at the bar. He might ask “What are you having?” and then tease me about drinking a Shirley Temple or whatever. Or ask, “want a beer?” and then buy me one. This could happen during a break if we were previously dancing.

Either his friend/s kept my friend/s occupied (most important if I am there with only one girlfriend) or let him peel off separately with me, while my group let me peel off separately with him.

MOST IMPORTANTLY he never, ever, EVER acted as though buying the beer was a big deal. He was clearly just burning the money for the pleasure of my company. Zero expectations. No leading anything anywhere from A to B. Lots of humor, laughs, casualness. No “courting” and no “paying for it.” Just- you’re fun, I have this fiver, I’ll buy you beer even if I never see you again.

It’s impossible to overstate how absolutely crucial this last aspect is. It’s very attractive and so many guys don’t get that. I think guys might misinterpret this as "acting rich or aloof" or something but basically what it comes down to is simply having fun for the sake of having fun, and letting others have a good time too.
posted by quincunx at 4:30 PM on July 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

It depends on the bar, definitely, but start a conversation about something. Remark about the game on the TV (or if that's kind of bar, the random film that's showing ... which is the kind of bars I go to). Ask her about the band on her T-shirt or the song that's playing or ask her to recommend a drink or a beer or whatever. In other words, talk to her in the same way you'd strike up a conversation with another man. Yes, women know what you're doing when you do this -- you're talking to us because you think we're attractive -- but at least you're trying to relate to us as a person.

If she's short with your or makes excuses, it's probably not personal. I like meeting people (all kinds!) but sometimes I just want to be in my thoughts or I'm there with my friends or my boyfriend (so yeah, well, you're going to strike out there) or whatever. Maybe I just don't feel like chatting. It takes practice.

(But yeah, focus on other things, too -- meeting people through mutual interests/friends/etc. -- I've always had better luck with that than meeting a random stranger out somewhere.)
posted by darksong at 5:17 PM on July 16, 2015

The times I've met (i.e. enjoyed meeting) guys in bars, I don't recall anyone making a cold advance from across a room without any prior establishing context. That is pretty much always a turnoff. It feels objectifying, because it is driven entirely by the guy.

It's usually happened that one or the other person has initiated a conversation in the context of a shared moment that is already happening on a nonverbal and situational level. E.g., we are already standing next to each other at a busy bar, waiting an eternity for drinks, someone cracks a joke, small talk ensues; or already dancing near each other, kind of naturally moving towards each other. The mutual conversation has already started in body language, as people have said above.

(Before anyone talks, I am maybe subtly checking him out a bit, maybe I'm smiling, my body is relaxed and open, and I'm not trying to avoid standing close to him. Though admittedly, this is hard to work out in a crowded space - basically, I am not laser-focused on getting the bartender's attention, I'm not squeezing into myself to get away from the guy, or giving him shoulder, or looking away [hard], or all of a sudden extremely interested in talking to my friends.)

2nd ostro; avoid known meat markets - just go to normal pubs, or clubs that are really about the music or event, or sports bars.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:20 PM on July 16, 2015 [13 favorites]

Back in the day, when I was single, if I had made friendly eye contact with someone who seemed interesting, I would position myself to give them an opening. For example, I might have headed over to the jukebox and lingered over picking out songs. That gave that person a chance to come up and say hey and chat about music with a minimum of weirdness. Generally, if someone wants to talk to you, they'll give you an opening.
posted by batbat at 5:39 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Hey, is this seat taken?" with an authentic smile and gentle eye contact is good. Then, if you sit down and her body language is open, you could say, "I haven't been here in a while -- what drink you would you recommend?" or "I've seen you here before -- what are you having tonight?" keeps things light and gives her the chance to size you up. "Nice, what do you like about that drink?" you could say as you call the bartender over and make your order if she's suggested something you're down to try. "That sounds great, thanks for the rec. It's pretty loud in here tonight -- do you find it's usually like this?" And then you're off. One of the most disarming convos I've ever had with someone at a bar went like that and after like 10 minutes of casual chatting he genuinely laughed at a joke I made (and god, what a great laugh) and looked me dead in the eye to say, "Man, you're really cute." I was so sold it was embarrassing. A+, would chat again all around.

FWIW... For me, if you come over and say anything like what Kalessin suggests, I will IMMEDIATELY become suspicious of you and probably start looking for the exit. Suggesting what YOU want is inappropriate IMO because it puts a person in the position of having to reject you directly right away and that sucks. Keep it open, keep it flexible. YMMV.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:55 PM on July 16, 2015 [21 favorites]

I want to reiterate that it's less about what you say and more about whether or not someone's open and interested in you at this particular point in time. If she's not, politely cut your losses and try not to take it personally!

If you are truly open to honest feedback -- and it sounds like you are -- I'd go to a bar with a friend and get some feedback on the in-person vibes you're sending. (You sound nice and interesting online so you're already half-way there!) I'd also get some feedback on your personal grooming: I'm assuming its fine -- to each their own, of course -- but a little coaching can go a long way. For example, unless it's a retro theme night, it might be best to save the fedora for the second or third date.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:33 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree that the suggestions from kalessin could be ... problematic. Here is what my internal monologue would be, not to pile up on kalessin but just to give you a good example of what a lot of women will be thinking:

"Hi! Do you have time for a chat? My name is X and I want to get to know you."
First part: Uh oh, is he selling something? Is he doing some kind of survey? Second part: OK, that sounds creepy for some reason. It's hard for me to decline easily if I'm trying to be polite.

"Hi! Are you by yourself this evening? My name is X and you look like someone I want to meet."
First part: Red flag: Why is he trying to see if I'm alone? Seems kind of threatening... Second part: Seems, I don't know, overconfident? Again, hard for me to decline easily if I'm trying to be polite.

"Hi! Can I buy you a drink? My name is X and something struck me about you and I want to know more."
First part: OK, so far so good. Second part: just sounds like a pickup line he uses with everybody.

I remember one time when I was in my early 20s I was at a club with my friends and someone asked me to dance, in a nice, friendly, normal way. I said "no thanks" or something, because I had a boyfriend and I didn't want to make it seem like I was interested, so he simply accepted that and didn't pursue it, and he didn't act offended or anything. No big deal on either side. It was simple, straightforward, non-creepy, and easy to decline.
posted by trillian at 7:12 PM on July 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

"Hi! May I buy you a beer?"

She either says "Sure!" And you say, "So, my name is Joe, how's it going?"

Or she says, "Sorry, I'm waiting for someone," and you say, "No problem, have a good night!" and clear out.
posted by 8603 at 7:16 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

So Emily Post emphasizes that the polite way to extend an invitation is always leading with the specifics, not saying "Say, are you free Wednesday?" without explaining what you'd like to do Wednesday. It's more polite to lead with "Would you like to go rock climbing/ watch Harry Potter/ help me take my dog to the vet?" so that the person has all the information and has an easy out.

To me, part of what's off-putting about "do you have a minute to chat" is the open-endedness of it. There's a reason people associate this kind of line with salesmen and survey-takers; it gets people to engage with them. It doesn't give people a chance to answer the other, more relevant question: "Would you like to have a a chat with me?"

When you're approaching someone at a bar, the implication is already "I'd like to talk to you for a bit and get to know you" (with potentially lots more implications down the line). For me, the offer to buy a drink communicates this intention and gives me a specific thing to turn down (with all the caveats noted above about being casual and gracious about the drink buying).

The other approach of starting a conversation works best if you treat it as starting a conversation. Ask a question, make a comment, and see how things develop. Throw a few things out and see what she grabs onto and how she responds. This gives opportunities for a polite way out of the conversation if it isn't clicking. Really specific (non-appearance focused) comments and questions work best. Asking her opinion on X (drink, sports game, neighborhood thing) is a good way to get to know her and listen to her without leaping straight into personal questions.
posted by earth by april at 7:34 PM on July 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

1) 90% of how a woman reacts initially has to do with whether she finds you physically attractive. 9% has to do with how she's feeling at the moment you make contact. 1% has to do with what you say.

The more physically attractive you are, the less you have to worry about being charming or saying the right thing. The less physically attractive you are, the more "game" you need to have.

2) Meeting women is a numbers game.

It's cold-call sales. You're selling a stranger on the idea of you. Volume--sheer numbers--is everything.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 7:37 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe counterintuitive, but would you consider practicing the art of chatting up guys first? Not for romantic purposes, but to get yourself comfortable reading body language and initiating conversation out-of-the-blue.

I'm a conventionally decent-looking lady-type who has been chatted up a number of times. I don't mind the first interaction (even if it goes awkwardly) as long as you respect my cues when I decline to speak further, don't engage in conversation, etc. That is, it's not misogynistic to chat up a lady at a bar and get turned down, but it IS if you get turned down and keep trying.

Things that have worked:
- dancing. Man, I love it when guys really try dancing. So fun. And I am an AWFUL dancer too; I was once asked if I was drunk while dancing and I was stone-cold sober.
- idle chit-chat while waiting for the bartender about your clearly-mutual purpose. Discuss your bar ordering strategy ("see, this is when I remind myself to order the pint and not the muddled cocktail") or whatever.
- "hi, I'm name. How's your night going?" This gives me the option to smile, say "good," and turn away... Or smile, say "good," and introduce myself and continue the conversation.
posted by samthemander at 7:39 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

May I suggest online dating?

I'm kind of socially awkward and I suck at meeting people in bars. But I've had some very good online dates, because I knew a few things about the people before we met, and I knew they were interested in me and we had some things in common.
posted by bunderful at 9:02 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah don't use kalessin's lines. Just talk about stuff, introducing yourself comes wayyy after you've had a bit of a chat. Last time I picked up a woman at a bar the place had a signature drink and she had ordered it, I was like Jesus Christ! What the fuck IS that? And we a had a laugh about the goofy name and speculated about what was in it, she gave me a sip, mutual wincing etc. Sports talk is also a great icebreaker!
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 9:32 PM on July 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I read a lot above, and in other places, not to approach a woman without "multiple glances" or "prolonged eye contact" first. In some cases I'd agree, but I don't think that's always necessary. If you're both, say, at the bar waiting to get the bartender's attention for a drink, make conversation. Nothing weighty, as said above, maybe just a comment about the place you're at or something else in the context of you both waiting there. That can lead to more conversation naturally without some weird romantic eye contact across the room. I've very rarely seen that work or even happen unless both people are specifically looking for hookups and find each other attractive. I mean most of the time you'd make eye contact with a rando in this situation is because they are attractive, right? Which is what everyone above is telling you not to focus on? So just chat up someone next you waiting for the same thing - without expectations, just being friendly.
posted by sillysally at 9:52 PM on July 16, 2015

To add to mine above - if she is actively avoiding your eye contact or seems at all not interested in talking, DON'T. But I don't think she needs to give you some "look" first before you say something. And of course like everyone said if she just says one word and doesn't keep the conversation going, don't push it. It's a two way street.
posted by sillysally at 9:55 PM on July 16, 2015

OK, so, advice from a male here, which is probably worth way less than that from the females in this thread. But maybe it'll be helpful.

I disagree with the assessment that this skill can't be learned. I agree with the assessment that it is "high level social skills." When I think of the number of women I mildly creeped out while leveling up, or even just disappointed with subpar conversation, I am a bit nauseated. But in the end, I don't think I ruined anyone's night, or caused any lasting harm, and this learning process brought me to where I am today, which is a much-more-socially functional human being than before.

So I guess what I'm saying is, ideally, you'd learn the appropriate social skills and approaching-strangers abilities in situations that have less potential for accidental creeper-dom. When you feel like a fully confident, socially-smooth person who just happens to not know what to do approaching girls in a bar, then you're ready to learn this skill. Before then, it's a bit of a minefield, and you'll need to pay very close attention to what everyone is saying upthread about backing off if you don't get positive signals.


All right. With that prelude out of the way, let's address your actual question, relaying what I learned over the years.

First, you need the appropriate environment. You want a bar where people are standing and socializing, potentially with strangers---not the type of bar where they're sitting and drinking and catching up with old friends. (Or, you want a bar/club where people are dancing---but that's an entirely different story, less about "meeting" people per se.) It should be relatively loud, but conversation should be possible, perhaps with a little leaning in to catch each others' words.

You'll know it's the right type of bar if there are pairs of girls holding drinks and surveying the room while whispering ocassionally to each other---these are girls waiting to be approached. Or, if the ratio is tilted more toward men, you'll find lots of obvious pickups going on: girls in twos or threes, with either one guy or two guys but one of them doing all the talking. Handshakes or unnaturally-attentive looks from either party are also good giveaways for the latter situation.

You need a buddy or two. "Wingman" is not really what this is about. What this is about is that you need to be able to go out to the bar and have fun no matter what happens with the women there. You're not here "on the prowl," moving from target to target. You're hanging out with your friends, and all of you are interested in meeting new people, especially attractive or interesting women, throughout the night. When (not if) you get ejected from a conversation with a girl, you want to have a group to go back to and join in with and continue having a fun night, before venturing back out. And you do want to be able to numerically match the groups, when appropriate: a conversation is easier to keep flowing when it's 2-on-2, 2-on-3, or 3-on-3 than when it's 1-on-2 or 1-on-3. Helping with conversation flow is the only part of wingmaning that really matters; you can layer tricks on top (like social proof, prearranged jokes, whatever) but they're not important.

Now, for the actual approach. This is traditionally broken down into two styles: direct and indirect. It's all kind of bullshit; the point is to find something you feel comfortable with and can own as your personality. Think of the most outgoing jokester life-of-the-party person you know, and think of how they'd approach. Compare that with the approach of ... say, the most smooth person you know. Very different. Which feels more you? Maybe neither. But there is something.

For me, my mentor gave me a list of direct and indirect lines to try out. The one that resonated was the honest one: "Hi, I just thought you were really cute and had to come over and say hello. I'm Jacen..." There are others suggested up-thread, and the internet is full of this stuff. Find some ideas, try them out if necessary. Certain personalities can get away with jokey or corney lines. I always entered the conversation in a polite, friendly, conversational way; others get great impact from entering in a high-energy, outgoing, almost boisterous fashion. If you have a European accent you could probably try over-the-top romantic, with a wink. Whatever. Find something that works for you, and dial it back immediately if it gets a cold reception.

OK, now you're in! Hopefully you can hold a conversation, because if you've gotten this far with a positive response, then the woman is hoping you turn out to be interesting, fun to talk to, and maybe more. Good luck!


I could talk more about many of the topics I only briefly alluded to above: wingmen vs. wingwomen; different types of bars/clubs; approaching mixed male-female groups; how this advice changes depending on the age groups in question; ways of practicing this in a safer setting; etc. etc. All I can say is, there's a lot to learn here. I got some of it from books and other such resources; many of those are misogynistic and toxic, but it's possible to just take them as practical social-skills advice and not let them warp your mindset or vocabulary ("targets", shudder).

In the end, I feel like a much more complete person than my old, anxious self, in a large part due to how going out to meet women in bars changed me. I have been in a relationship with a truly amazing woman for three years now. And I am 100% confident that if I had not upped my game with regard to approach, flirting, conversation, etc. over the two years previous, I would have blown it with her early on. Everything before her was just practice, for the one approach that changed my life.

posted by Jacen Solo at 12:01 AM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm a single, fairly socially inept lady who spends a lot of time alone in bars. This is because when I feel like taking myself out to dinner (and most of the restaurants here are holes-in-the-walls with bars), I feel like I should not take up a table for two or more with just me, because that sucks for the server who would otherwise be getting a tip on a larger tab. So I sit at the bar and eat and have a drink or two.

I'm simultaneously lonely and stand-offish. I've almost never been approached in a bar - I can think of once, when I was a DD for a buddy, and I was drinking nothing but water, that a guy approached me - and I'm not even sure if he was hitting on me or just wanted to bum a smoke. On the other hand, I also don't really engage strangers in bars because danger.

Then I went to my local with a coworker several decades older than me. She astounded me by turning the bar into her personal court, drawing strangers in to casual conversation, asking questions about themselves and making them laugh. She wasn't overtly flirty, just friendly. Based on that, I think the thing to do is sort of be social instead of targeting individual women - if what you're looking for is socialization, general remarks that can be satisfied by input from anybody also sitting alone at the bar are way better than the tired tropes kalessin refers. (And I think he's pointing out that they're tired, rather than actually advocating something you should use - if someone said they "want to get to know me" I would be super creeped out because they have nothing to base that on but my looks or the food on my plate, but if they said something along those lines after an hour of hilarious conversation and seeing some of my personality, I would not be as creeped.)

That's my perspective, but then like I said, no one ever approaches me so ymmv. However, if you're looking to meet people IRL in such a setting, perhaps sign up for local pub trivia, game night or tournaments. You'll get to know a lot of people and maybe one or two women you'd like to know better, or you'll meet people with cousins and friends and coworkers and friends-of-wifey's who might be waiting for someone a teeny bit socially inept and find that you tickle their fancy just right.

Good luck!
posted by mibo at 4:01 AM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm okay with a compliment on a specific style choice, but not my appearance in general. Say my shoes are great, or take a closer look at my jewelry, or something that you're actually not faking. But don't say I'm pretty, or scary ("in a good way." Oh, metal dudes), etc. I'm way uncomfortable with that. Make a comment about the music, or ask about a cocktail while we're standing at the bar, or something like that.

Basically start a conversation with me as a human being.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:08 AM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some tips:
- No pick up lines please. :)
- I agree with the advice above to go in with no expectations at all. That's key if you want to do this "appropriately, respectfully, feminist-ically." If it doesn't work out with one person, then hey their loss!
- If you're looking for conversational cues, just look around and comment on your surroundings. For example, if there's a game on in the bar, you can say something about that.
- Ask open-ended questions, but also share some details about yourself. Don't dominate the conversation, but it's not a grill session either. Find a balance.
- Unless the bar is super loud, try to maintain your personal space. I'm not sure about other women, but when a strange person suddenly comes up close to me - I don't like it!
posted by ThatSox at 10:30 AM on July 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Eye contact, smile.
Look away.
Look back. Smile again. Maintain eye contact.
If she smiles your way in a "meaningful" or "lingering" way then head over there.
If she smiles back in a "I'm just smiling to be polite and then I'm going to look away really fast and not look back in your direction again" then obviously don't head over there.

Women KNOW when a guy is checking her out. Women are also VERY good at signaling when they return the interest, consciously and unconsciously.

All the advice above is great, but don't overthink it. My favorite advice so far is "Hi! May I buy you a beer?"
Dating is a timing and numbers game. Confidence is key and good conversation is sexy as hell.

Now go - buy people beers! :) and GOOD LUCK
posted by JenThePro at 10:32 AM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Women KNOW when a guy is checking her out. Women are also VERY good at signaling when they return the interest, consciously and unconsciously.

Hashtag not all women.

I am a woman. I SUCK at this.
posted by bunderful at 10:56 AM on July 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Lots of good suggestions! Not sure if you want to practice your skills or get a hookup or find a LTR, but I'd also say that it can get risky if you approach a lot of different women, particularly if it's all at the same bar (or one nearby). If I see a guy hitting on lots of women, I won't feel special at all if he approaches me.

Good luck.
posted by mermaidcafe at 11:49 AM on July 17, 2015


Ok, from my perspective, and breaking it down for an alien, these are my initial thoughts:

Positive eye contact has been established - Example:
So, at a minimum, you've caught each others eyes, looked away, looked back, caught each others eyes again, and it has been followed up by a reciprocated smile. This can happen in the space of a few seconds, while you're standing next to each other ordering a drink etc.

If you are not already in proximity, and there is no natural way to move into proximity (e.g. by ordering a drink), first thing you should ask is check if they comfortable with having you in their proximity. Mind if I sit here, etc.

Eye contact does not have to be consistent/maintained, but check that it is happening regularly, or that they aren't pulling/leaning away. If they are, make an excuse to go away, and if they aren't visibly excited to see you heading back (eye contact & smile again), then don't push it.

Mention something of interest around you, or that drew you to them - I like this band/music/drink/bar, too. If they have something on their person which shows their tastes or talents - tattoos, broches, etc, also fair game (complimenting someone on their hair/clothes is complimenting the way they think/their choices, complimenting their body is usually not something they have had much input on, exceptions being people who've mentioned their own plastic surgery, or body building).

Be willing to approach someone to make a friend or acquaintance, not necessarily a romantic partner.

It's ok, and often good to wander off after a brief chat, and then come back again later. Think like catching up with people at a party.

I thiiink what is going on there is, I feel warmer interacting with strangers if I get the impression my boundaries will be respected, that they won't be pushy, or expect things from me. Keeping very casual and checking for interest signals, is good, as is being willing to chance going away and only coming back if they seem interested, and it kind of indicates that you aren't going to awkwardly stick to me like glue (or a stalker).
Chatting with people I'm with, or chatting people you know and drawing me into that conversation is also good, partly as social proof (multiple people are able to judge/vouch for each others character, etc).

I WOULDN'T offer to buy a drink in the first few minutes. It often sets up a dynamic where it feels like you are buying something, attention etc, and they are then obligated to repay. I reflexively turn down drink offers from strangers.
It is less threatening, but more ambiguous to offer to get 'this round', or drinks for you both.

However, be aware of the cultural situation where you are, if it's an expected norm, then, oh well. To some extent, follow the norms for your part of the world. In many places it is the direct signal that you are making a pass, not a friendship overture which is useful, so once you have established that you're both already enthused about talking to each other for the length of a drink, at least, then you can offer to buy one, entirely to display your interest.

Given I said at the beginning that being willing to make friends instead is very valuable e.g. I think you are a cool person regardless of romantic interest. But absolutely make your interest in pursuing a romantic option pretty clear early on, but leave it up to them to reciprocate. I'd even go with straight out saying something like, I think you're really cool (Be open and complimentary about what you find interesting about them!), I would totally accept if you ever wanted to go on a date with me (kind of joking, kind of literally - I'm leaving this in your court!).

Lots of this stuff ends up being negotiated in a non-verbal way, but absolutely verbalise before moving into actual romantic gestures. Having someone lean in and say, "Can I kiss you?" is absolutely romantic and raises anticipation.
It is absolutely possible that two people have gotten their wires completely crossed, and I've had guys just try and lay one on me when I wasn't expecting it, and, urgh. It might have been a comedy of errors, but still. Anyway. Fucking yay for verbalised consent.

Just some thoughts, YMMV, etc.
posted by Elysum at 12:29 PM on July 17, 2015

I agree with bunderful. I'm pretty horrible at telling if a guy is checking me out or even flirting with me, unless it's SUPER obvious and then I wonder but I still second guess myself. Totally oblivious.
posted by sillysally at 4:03 PM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank everybody. This gives me some perspective. Part of the reason I asked is because even online dating isn't working well for me and I wanted to make sure there wasn't some major venue I was missing. I think that based on the responses here, it's definitely something that I should probably avoid, given my social ineptness.
posted by bonje at 1:16 PM on July 18, 2015

Online dating did squat for me too, and I can't recall any successful bar pickups either, but I think the advice above is pretty solid. And two pieces at generalizable:
It's easier when there's a shared activity. In craft beer bars, chat about the beer. In airport bars, commiserate about the latest delay/travel/etc. Outside of bars- find a thing you love to do that happens in a mixed gender setting, and go do it.

And second, learn to chat with People. All people, not "women". Go out and be social to meet people, not women. Some of the people you meet may be women, and that's great, but if your primary goal is to get to know some other fun humans, I think it goes better. (I eventually met Mr. Nat through a shared activity, after five years of "damnit online dating sucks".)
posted by nat at 1:58 PM on July 19, 2015

Oh, and if for some reason you do get into craft beer, do yourself the favor of asking the people you talk to about what they know about beer. Showing off your own knowledge is just going to annoy people. It pisses me off when some doofus assumes he knows more about what beer I like than I do. (This goes for any topic/activity, be it sports or music or electronic circuits or whatever).
posted by nat at 2:02 PM on July 19, 2015

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