One of the first girls I’m instructed to hit on ignores me completely. That’s not true: She glances up, just enough to let out a knowing I’m-being-hit-on chuckle, then returns to her friends. This is not the end of the world. I’ve been advised to develop a “f— it” attitude. The same impulse that should get me to approach complete strangers in bars is the same one that has me rebounding when I’ve been unceremoniously shot down.
I’m at a Lower East Side former-speakeasy on a not very hopping weekday night. I am playing guinea pig, getting schooled by a professional dating instructor in the ways of what was once a very common — and to some, like me, cripplingly terrifying — social convention: trying to pick up complete strangers in public places (preferably with alcohol) rather than do so online. Or at all.
The Internet allegedly made this much easier. Various apps (Tinder, Grindr, whatever you like) break the ice for us. If we don’t go that route, we can simply woo people with our online personalities, which may be funnier, smarter, more charming and less prone to unsightly nervous tics than our vastly disappointing in-person selves. But that doesn’t always work. And so I’m trying it old school, just for a lark.
My instructor is Jared Sais, an “expert in nonverbal communication,” as he puts it. Specifically he’s a dating coach who schools clients in the art of picking up. But he’s no mere Hitch, the “date doctor” once essayed on film by Will Smith. (Although I’m probably a touch closer to Kevin James than I’d like to admit. After all, he’s a better dancer.)
From birth to age four, Sais was deaf, and only gained his hearing after some miraculous experiments. This period gave him an unusually strong gift for reading body language. This skill, he says, could have netted him sweet government surveillance jobs. But he decided he’d rather apply it to a more noble cause: He goes out with people who require romantic advising and steers them through the thing that probably frightens them more than dying.
But he’s not about sex, he repeatedly assures me, as if worried he’d be seen as just another bro. He’s about love. He boasts, with a huge grin, that three of his clients have gotten married this year. He doesn’t advocate pick-up lines, and the goal — at least on this solitary meeting — is modest: actually talk to women and maybe get a number. There’s an inevitable dude-ness to some of his techniques, but they can all — or at least most — be applied to any gender or sexual preference.
His lesson starts right away. When I meet Sais, I find him easily: He’s sitting in the biggest chair in the bar. This is is his first tip: Make yourself visible and look important. When he enters rooms, he pauses before continuing on. People notice you, and the more times they see you the more likely they’ll be to talk to you. Barrel through the door and they’ll never see you. Important people don’t rush, because they’re important.
Also, keep to two drinks, tops. This seems wise.
So here goes.
Sais preaches the power of “little jabs.” You don’t run up to a potential mark and instantly perish with an unfortunate line. You exchange glances. Then you make initial, friendly contact. Maybe around the third or fourth meeting you try for something a little more serious — but not that serious. A number will suffice.
Then there’s the matter of how you approach. If they’re at the bar, go up next to them — and that is, next to them. Approaching them face-to-face is no good; people have a more restricted comfort zone when they’re facing forward. If you sidle up next to them they’ll be more receptive because you’re already in their orbit before they’ve had the chance to notice. This is all about making them comfortable — because hitting on people is, after all, a miserable and deflating form of human interaction.[videoembed id=436265]
All of a sudden I’m doing this: I’m talking to a woman I’ve never met from Colorado. I ask her about her necklace — one of Sais’ ice-breaking tips. (Necklaces — and tattoos — sometimes have stories behind them.) She doesn’t know where she got it, but she advises I try a ginger-heavy cocktail that I visibly find too strong. Before we’ve gotten very far, Sais is dragging me off. This is enough for this “jab.”
I wind up talking to her again a bit later, and he’s right: We already have a light rapport. She asks me about the drink she recommended. Even as I’m shocked at how easy this is — how embarrassingly easy it is — my usual panic creeps in, and I scamper back to Sais, hoping he found this satisfactorily bold.
All of a sudden we’re talking to two girls and a guy sitting right by us. It’s quickly sussed out that two of them are married to each other and the third one to someone else. No big deal; we continue talking, just enjoying each other’s company.
That’s part of Sais’ approach: This shouldn’t be just about getting some. It should be about meeting people, learning about them, sharing a few laughs. It pushes whatever romantic motives you may have to the back of the mind, therefore making it easier to find someone you may actually like. Loosened up, you may actually make a real connection.
For much of the evening there’s sat behind us a group of women. Sais has brought them up multiple times, saying we’ll talk to them eventually. But we’re too late: They get up to leave. Sais waves them down. “Don’t go yet!” he implores, with a big, welcoming grin on his face that’s playful, not predatory.
Twenty seconds later I’m talking to three girls from France while he’s off with the others. (This is another move: split groups up so chatting is more manageable. Big groups are terrible.) This probably wouldn’t happen if I were doing this online.
I desperately seize upon my own French heritage — as well as a recent trip to Germany — to sound worldlier than I am. The words are just flowing out of me. I’m not trying to go home with them. I’m not even trying to get their numbers. We’re just talking and joking around and we’re all smiling and laughing. Luckily, they address the elephant in the room (because they’re not American, or at least not me).
“Why didn’t you come over earlier?” one of them asks. Without getting nervous I make a lightly self-deprecating joke about slow Americans. They like this and we continue chatting. Eventually they do leave, as intended, and I realize too late that I could have gotten their numbers but am okay that I didn’t. And then I realize I have no idea who I am anymore.
Want to learn how to flirt with anybody, anywhere? Read Sais' tips here.
Think you're as good as Sais? Take a quiz on body language here.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge