True story: As I sat at the library to get some work done, including writing this article, earbuds in, Brahms playing, after about an hour the guy sitting next to me unplugged his phone, packed his stuff, and headed out. As he walked behind me, he slipped this note on my desk (I’ve fuzzed out the phone number).
Just like Georgi, I’m thinking, “My hair is in an ugly, lopsided bun; I’m makeupless, and quite obviously displaying a wedding ring on the left hand typing away at my laptop.” Also, “My husband sure will get a kick out of this.” But also: “Gee, that’s kind of exciting!” It’s pretty flattering to know you’ve generated interest, especially when not even trying.
Yet apparently the Internet is (what else) freaking out over some guy giving tips about how men can get the attention of an attractive woman who cannot see their expressions of interest because she’s tuning out the world with headphones.
Let’s be clear first that we’re talking about merely expressing interest, as in Craig above or Dan the pickup artist who started this row. He includes obviously non-rapey caveats like: “Some women wear headphones because they don’t want guys or anyone else to speak to them, so if you try to talk to a woman and she clearly shows that she’s not interested in talking to you, just respect that and walk away.” We’re not talking about rude and disgusting street catcalls or leers. Every decent person knows those are completely out of bounds.
So, look, I get it: the fact that men are also sexual beings can feel threatening. We women often worry men may use their superior strength to force us into repulsive, dangerous, and violating encounters. It’s an existential, instinctive fear for most women. That’s real, and it’s legitimate.
But basic male assertiveness or sexual interest is not in itself dangerous. In fact, it’s fun—as anyone who has ever had enjoyable sex ought to know. Further, men have a right to be on buses and sidewalks and in gyms and coffee shops. They’re human, too, and not bad for making small talk or flirting with people they find in public places. Neither are they bad for expressing something they’re thinking or feeling in an effort to probe for or cultivate mutual satisfaction. That could actually indicate a healthy level of social and emotional development.
So back off, uptight whiners, and stop making public and romantic life so much less fun for everyone. Some ladies like a good chase. You have a case if you refuse the guy’s query and he keeps pushing you. But you don’t have one against him initiating contact. Here’s why.
Public Means Other People
Georgi and the Guardian writer both insist headphones are a strong nonverbal signal that everyone nearby should make no attempt to communicate with their wearers. I reject this selfish, isolating idea. Lots of people wear headphones to maximize commute time (audiobooks!) or ward off boredom. It’s not a universal, unambivalent signal that the wearer wants zero human contact while plugged in.
In fact, if the wearer actually doesn’t want human contact, he or she should not be in public spaces. Public means open to all comers. If you don’t like that, ride your own car (or bike) instead of using public transportation. One of the ways you pay for using public transportation is by sharing the space. Your ticket purchases you a seat or spot to stand near other people, not an impermeable cone of silence.
You may have outsized expectations of being able to walk through crowds with zero human contact, but other people are people, too, including men. Humans are not objects obnoxiously impeding your desire for silence. Basic courtesy includes being situationally aware, looking people in the eye as you interact with them, being open for small talk, and so forth. Wearing headphones does not excuse you from basic politeness. Sorry.
Male Aggression Isn’t Automatically Evil
Have women who hate the idea of being approached by men in public places not ever seen practically every single romantic movie ever? You know, the ones women love, with assertive men they dream about for months afterward? For example:
Men know women like this stuff, so it’s really confusing when women going all apeshit when men mimic classic behaviors that in the movies have women salivating for at the very least a kiss. Men are as a whole more aggressive than women (read up on testosterone if you don’t believe me), and it is better for society if we allow men healthy ways to express that natural assertiveness and penchant for risk-taking. Initiating a conversation or asking a woman out are super-tame healthy outlets for masculine assertiveness.
Besides, know what’s not sexy? A man who is tame and entirely predictable.
We Need a Safe Middle Space for Romance to Thrive
Many women love a man who has the balls to ask them out, to plan our interactions, to say affirmatively what he wants in life and go after it. Wimpy pajama boys are a total turn-off. There is a huge berth between manhandling rapist and limp you-know-what sexed-out porn user. Many, perhaps even most, women would like something in between—strong yet not overpowering, someone who listens—yet the whiners are telegraphing to men that we want the wimpy end of the spectrum. They need to stop ruining it for all of us.
Expressing interest is not in any way an assault. If that were the case, men would never ask women out at all. And how many women do we have bitching nowadays about how lazy and gutless men are on the dating scene? A lot. Maybe that tells us we’ve veered into “too safe.” The recent stats about millennials’ declining interest in sex support that hypothesis.
This reticence to just talk to a guy on a bus or sidewalk, even merely mumbling, “No, thanks,” is just another example of how the sexual revolution that was supposed to liberate us all for our most fun lives ever has actually turned social situations into boredom at best and hostility at worst. Women now get to pick between being used and discarded like a sex toy or getting zero action. Again, most of us would like something in between. We’d like the opportunity to use our attractive features to get more of what we want: some attention to us as human beings, some care, some time, some thought.
Having men ask us out and giving us the chance to progressively consent to deeper interactions would be a great way to rebuild the rapport and mutual enjoyment among the sexes that the sexual revolution has helped destroy. It gives women more relationship power because it helps insert many more steps on the way to bed. That means more opportunities to ensure we’re satisfied with this relationship, too.
Some Tips to Build on Mr. Pickup Artist
Dan the pickup artist actually has some great tips that are really just basic social awareness, but some of us need that sort of thing, just the way some of us need fashion advice or cooking tips. No shame. Skills take practice. To add to his suggestions and another good one here, here are some of my own.
No means no. Sure, the lady could be missing out by saying no to you. But that’s her prerogative. If she gives you a dirty look, says “Go away,” etc., do what she wants.
Don’t get a chip on your shoulder. Given our culture’s obvious problems with good relations between the sexes, some ladies might be rude to you because they are misinterpreting your interest. Or they might not be rude, but uninterested. Again, just brush it off and move on. Don’t deprive all women of the opportunity to fall in love with you just because your style won’t work for some. You want a personality match, anyway, and a woman who is scared of or angry at an assertive man won’t be a good match for that man.
Be attractive, not annoying. Craig from the library actually used the strategy I’d thought up the night before after reading the Guardian piece: a note. The major problem with his approach is that I have a wedding ring and it’s totally not cool to pick up another man’s girl. That’s a “no means no” signal, bud.
Pickup artist Dan suggested men wave their hand in front of headphone girl’s face to get her attention. Way more suave would be to keep a stock of business cards from your favorite coffee shop or drinks place and slip one to her with something written on it like: “Want to meet here? Circle one: Tomorrow 7 p.m. / Saturday 11 a.m.,” etc. Include your phone number.
If you need help thinking up or trying out other attractive and not annoying or creepy approaches, ask your mom, sister, or best female friend.
Familiarity ups your chances. Far better than just attempting to pick up random cute girl on the street would be attempting to reach out to a girl who is at least familiar with you. Maybe you see her on the same bus to work every morning, or bump into her regularly at the gym. Maybe she’s your Starbucks barista.
Getting hit up randomly can shock a woman because she knows you only have her looks to go on, and women are understandably sensitive about men just treating them like a piece of meat. So if you have gradually and casually upped the small talk or eye contact over a period of time in familiar contexts, she’ll likely be more amenable.
Telegraph date, not booty call. Modern women are starved for dating. We’re used to sliding from friendship into sex without a clear expression of interest in us exclusively, and we’re used to men using us as in-person sex toys. This makes us feel used, and callous. A little bit of classic gentlemanly behavior will go a long way. The hallmark of a gentleman is putting the other person first.
So, for example, once you get her on that first coffee date, don’t try to get her to your apartment afterward. Don’t follow up with stupid little games over texts or Facebook. Ambiguity is for losers, and it undermines women’s confidence and interest. We know men will do that on purpose, and it’s a turnoff because it means they don’t want us, just our bodies.
Don’t listen to the naysayers, even if you uncover one in that cute girl you keep seeing on your daily commute or job. Keep trying. The happiness of many women, and indeed the future of the human race, depend on your courage. It will be rewarding for you, too. A good woman is worth the effort of finding and wooing her. As they say: A man who finds a wife finds a good thing.