Last week my friend Liz wrote in her advice column: "Questions, questions, questions. Men and women alike love to be drawn out from their selves with QUESTIONS. I keep a file of questions ready for occasions like this." They range from the timely ("Do you identify more with Generation X or Generation Explains-Your-Wearing-Stupid-Clothes?") to the timeless ("Who's your hottest underage relative?") I have not yet tried any of them as pickup lines, but if you do, please let her or me know how they work out.
Recently a bunch of pickup approaches actually were put to the test. In February, researchers at Edinburgh published their results on which "opening gambits" work best. Surprise surprise--situations where men organically display generosity or a cultured background work better than preformed pickup lines. (Summary here, full list of gambits here.) But then, the lines included schlock like this:
M: What has 148 teeth and can hold back the incredible hulk?
W: I give up.
M: My fly.
In Hulk's place, I would have liked to see one from Nick Sylvester's infamous Village Voice story about Neil Strauss's The Game, in which Sylvester refers to someone's "new signature move, a pickup line that takes over 15 minutes to tell and wraps up like this:
"Anyway, my friend has had this mustache for as long as I've known him but he just shaved it and now he's freaking out because he has a really bad tan line on his upper lip. He has a date in two days so we were discussing what he can do. My question for you is: Should he wear a fake mustache on the date?"
(Reconstructing the first 15 minutes of that line would make a great exercise for a creative writing class, but "reporting" on its existence was a riff that lost Sylvester his job.)
Or the Edinburgh team could have relied on the old fave The Most Complete and Most Useless Collection of Pick-Up Lines, which already has a smattering of data on the utility of many lines. Skim through and you will find that "I wanna put my thingy into your thingy" is surprisingly effective, working 100 out of 120 times. Unsurprisingly, "Chick do now" has worked 0 out of "804,147 (or so one guy claims)" times.
You'd think "Chick do now" would have amused one of those thousands of women and led to a hookup. Two scientists (Eric Bressler and Sigal Balshine) published a study last year in which people rated potential partners on desirability. Subjects viewed head shots with funny and not-so-funny quips attached. Women liked funny men, but apparently men didn't give a shit whether women were funny. These data didn't mesh with claims from both men and women that they like partners with a good sense of humor. So B&B did a follow-up study and found that men and women mean different things when they say "good sense of humor." Women like men who say funny things; men like women who think the things they (men) say are funny. (Good summaries of the research here and here. Full PDFs available here.)
French maximizer La Rochefoucauld once wrote, "We often pardon those people who bore us, but we cannot pardon those who find us boring." Modern-day research has now demonstrated the utter male-centricity of this particular maxim. (Whereas the male-centricity of this Maxim was never in question.)
The flirting research came to bear in an IM chat with Liz last month:
liz: what do you think about the notion:
men: use conversation to establish dominance
women: use conversation as gift to establish togetherness/equality
me: like that humor study
me: girls like funny guys, guys like girls who think they're funny
liz: humor is the ultimate trick - it tricks guys into thinking they've become dominant by making girls laugh. it tricks girls into thinking they've been offered a gift by the man to induce togetherness
liz: what happens though when i tell a humor-joke?
me: no effect
me: guys don't care
liz: is gilda radner funny?
liz: is that good?
me: i need funny. i am not most guys
liz: oh so you're saying certain guys, it's a plus
liz: but guys guys don't care
liz: how can i know the difference
me: you cant
me: ok you can
me: do they attempt to elicit humor from you
liz: seems so simple, and yet i'd never have come up with it
me: i have lots of experience attempting to elicit humor from chicks
me: its my litmus test
me: if they fall flat, too basic, i lose interest
liz: how do you do it
me: leading, snarky questions can work
me: last night i replied to [redacted]'s friendster message. her profile says she wants to meet someone who can procure a butterfly knife. i said:
me: "Why do you wish so badly to procure a butterfly knife? What do you have against butterflies? (Or is it merely a person who can easily obtain one that you wish to find? You're into bad boys/girls.)"
me: not brilliant, but it should work
liz: but isn't that just showing off your creativity/humor, more than eliciting hers?
me: its both. thats the key.