5 Mistakes Men Make When Approaching Women

Number 3: You’re approaching women who don’t want to be approached.

The Good Men Project
Apr 11 · 13 min read
Photo credit: iStock

By Harris O’Malley

It seems that it’s time to talk about good ideas and bad ideas when it comes to approaching women.

See, last week, an example of holy hopping sheep shit never do this from 2013 called “How To Talk To A Woman Who’s Wearing Headphones” resurfaced. The Internet was, to put it mildly, not impressed.

Part of the PUA site The Modern Man, this article promises to help men succeed in approaching women who rudely insist on wearing headphones and being unapproachable.

Now, I’ve written before about why you don’t want to approach women wearing headphones. However, the article itself1 is a fractal of awful that manages to take an already shitty set-up and make it worse. This article — and the site in general — encompases many, many of the mistakes that men make when approaching women. Not only does much of this advice ensure that you won’t get a date, but following it makes women feel even more threatened and at risk. In the end, everyone loses. YAY!

So while the rest of the Internet is frying themselves a rasher of Bacon for ignoring the universal Do Not Disturb sign, I want to break down the mistakes and why they’ll ruin your chances. After all, part of the point of this blog is to teach men to be better men. There’s no point in approaching women if you’re just going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by being an asshat.

#5 You’re Assuming She’s There For You

Imagine that you are walking down the street. You’ve gone one block and a guy is following you asking you to buy his mix CD. He gives up, but now you see two people with clipboards and you’ve just made eye-contact with them. Now they’re coming up to you wanting money, or your signature. If you get past them, there’s a homeless person who really just needs a smoke, man.

Annoying, isn’t it? Now imagine that you’re actively trying to avoid them… so they’re getting in your face. They’re planting themselves directly in your path. They’re waving their hands in your face, so you have to look at them. You don’t want to be bothered, but they really want your time and attention. After all: why wouldn’t you be open to giving to charity? Or discovering a new band?

Welcome to Dan Bacon’s ideas about approaching women. Let’s kick this off with a direct quote:

These days, many women walk around playing with a smartphone or tablet device and are often wearing headphones and listening to music at the same time.

Yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them.

Of course, not all women are open to being approached because not all women are single and looking.

However, if a woman wearing headphones is single and hoping to meet a boyfriend (or even a new lover), she will usually be happy to take off her headphones to give you an opportunity to create a spark with her.

Right from the jump, we’ve got the first mistake many men make when it comes to approaching women, neatly encapsulated in one sentence. “That doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to them.” Well actually yes. Yes it does. See, as a general rule, people (not just women, people) who’re wearing headphones are doing so for a specific purpose: they’re choosing to listen to their music or podcasts or even just blocking out the sound of the world around them. Sometimes it’s just because they really want to enjoy some tunes and the glory of music. Sometimes it means that they want something to occupy their minds during their runs or their commutes. Other times, it’s because they prefer to put a literal barrier between them and the people around them.

But to Bacon — and the random /r9k/ gentleman earlier — headphones are less of a “do not disturb” sign and more of an inconvenient roadblock for their penis. They represent something to be overcome because their desire to hit on a woman overrides her desire not to be bothered. And that is the key first mistake: assuming that women exist for you to hit on them. Or that women owe you anything at all in the first place — whether it be a smile, a hello or even their attention.

It’s the same sense of entitlement that underpins a host of dating mistakes, from Nice Guy behavior to harassing and groping women at conventions. Or for guys to present women with pics of their junk like a cat dropping off a dead bird. Or, for that matter, the belief that you should be getting in a woman’s face and waving at her to force her to notice you.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing inherently wrong with approaching women. It’s fine to want to meet someone. There’s nothing wrong with finding her attractive or wanting to get her number. It’s when you decide that what you want means more than what she wants that there’s a problem.

#4 You’re Ignoring The Social Context When You’re Approaching Women

The next key mistake that guys make when approaching women: they ignore the social context. The social context is, put simply, the rules that govern people’s expected behavior in social situations. This, for example, is why the fine sport of frozen-turkey bowling is frowned upon in grocery stores during business hours; it goes against the social context. If you start sliding the largest Butterball you can grab at that Dr. Pepper display, you’re going to get thrown out.

Of course, this can be a bit complicated at times. As you might imagine, the social context is pretty, well, contextual. For example, there are restaurants where meals are long and leisurely and it’s generally expected that you’re going to eat at a measured pace. At the same time, there’re restaurants where you’re there to shovel your food in your face and get the hell out. Waiting one second longer than it takes to pull out your wallet and pay is going to earn you the ire of the staff waiting to turn the table over and the diners waiting for your table. Similarly, there are coffee shops where people are just there to get their muddy bean water so they can face the day and coffee shops where people post up to work for hours.

If you can tell the difference between these, congratulations: you can, in fact, read the social context. Now let’s apply this to approaching women. The question at hand is whether you are in a place where approaching women and men is generally considered acceptable behavior or not.

If you’re at a restaurant, do you stand up and start going over to another table to strike up a conversation just because you think they look interesting? No, that would be weird. That goes against the social context. You’re there to eat; meeting strangers isn’t part of the social context. Bars, on the other hand, are generally expected to be social spaces. At most bars and clubs, the social context is that it’s a place where people meeting and approaching strangers2 is acceptable behavior.

As a general rule, people on buses, on the street, or otherwise going about their day aren’t open to strangers approaching them. The social context doesn’t support it, they don’t expect it or even wantit. They want to get through their day without people bothering them.

But what if there’s a hypothetical woman who’s single? After all, according to Bacon:

Most single women are open to being approached by a confident guy, so that they can have a chance to meet a potential new lover or boyfriend.

Doesn’t he have a point? Wouldn’t she be open to some charming man approaching her?

In an infinite universe, yes, it is possible that any random woman would be open to being approached. In practice, however, you have better odds navigating an asteroid field in a busted-ass Corellian freighter. See, part of the social context is that just because you’re open to behavior in one place doesn’t mean you’re open to it everywhere or from everyone. Having an account on Tinder doesn’t mean that you’re also open to randos hitting you up on Facebook. The fact that she’s looking for a new lover doesn’t mean she’s open to anyone applying at any time. She may want to find a boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean right at that very instant. This is doubly true if, say, she has social anxiety or gets flustered or anxious talking to people.

But what about serendipity? The beauty of meeting a charming stranger on the bus?

Ask yourself this: where have you made most of your friends? Like most people, you probably met them at work, at school or through shared interests. How many have you met by approaching random people on the street? Likely in the single digits at best.

Now ask why finding a lover should be any different.

#3: You’re Approaching Women Who Don’t Want To Be Approached

Let’s go back to Bacon and The Modern Man for a moment. Here’s another direct quote from his post:

The key to talking to a woman who is wearing headphones (or who has her face buried into her smartphone and checking Facebook) is to be confident, relaxed and easy going as you talk to her.
Of course, not all women who wear headphones are open to being approached or hoping to be approached. However, you can only find that out by starting a conversation and seeing what happens.

Actually, he’s wrong — you already know. She’s not; that’s why she’s wearing headphones. She is, quite literally, shoving things over or into her ears so she can’t hear you. She is putting barriers between you and her. For all you know, she may not even be listening to anything on her headphones. Many women will just leave their earbuds in to signal that they’re not interested in talking to you. Similarly, a woman who’s absorbed in a book or her phone and is otherwise not paying attention to you, is letting you know that she doesn’t want to talk. That, incidentally, is not your cue to block her path like she’s about to step into traffic.

It doesn’t matter how relaxed or confident or “alpha” you are because you are going where you aren’t wanted.

Contrary to popular belief, women don’t just sit around hoping for dudes to assume they’re ready to get picked up. Women actually put a lot of effort into being approachable and showing that they are interested in being approached. Women who want you to approach them will let you know. I’ve written extensively about how to recognize a woman’s approach invitations or how to recognize when women are ok with someone coming up to talk to them.

But what if she’s shy? What if she doesn’t know how to give those signals? Then you test for them. Make eye contact. Give a smile and see if she smiles back. Does she give a perfunctory smile before returning to her phone? Not interested. Does she not pull off her headphones herself, without your doing the “take those off” dance?

Then she’s not interested.

If you want better results when you’re approaching women, stick to women who want you to approach them. If she’s wearing headphones, then she’s already sending you a message.

#2: You Believe Women Are Testing You

Now, there are a lot of bad ideas in this article, but there’s one part that truly takes the taco.

This, this right here, is something that comes up all the time that drives me up the fucking wall: the idea that women “test” men by ignoring them or rejecting them. In PUA jargon, this is known as a “shit-test” and women supposedly do this to find out if you’re “man enough.”

OK, first of all: no. No they don’t. A woman who’s ignoring you, listening to her music or studiously reading her phone isn’t trying to see if you’re “confident enough” for her, she doesn’t want to fucking talk to you. Period.

Second of all: Yes, I know that there is the odd statistical anomaly out there who actually does shit-test guys. In my time, I’ve run into one or two. Literally, that’s one or two, out of hundreds of partners and dates and thousands of approaches. A woman who’s “testing” you and wants you to push past her “no” is akin to someone winning the lottery. It may happen to someone, but the odds of it being you are so remote they don’t make numbers small enough to represent it mathematically.

Just as importantly, however, is that games like that are bullshit. If someone were to pull some bizarre test on you, then you shouldn’t be rewarding them with your time and attention. And quite frankly, if they did, then why in pluperfect hell would you want to fuck them in the first place? I’m not saying I’ve been everywhere and done everything, but I can tell you that there is nobody in the world who’s so good in bed that they’re worth putting up with behavior like that.

If, in your travels, you come across this fantastical beast (you won’t) and she wants you to try harder after the initial rejection (she doesn’t), then give them a hard pass. You have far better uses for your time up to and including reorganizing your Pokemon by color. If she really wants you to try harder to impress her, then she can damn well use her words and say so.

All of this is a paper-thin excuse for guys to behave like dicks in order to get their way. It’s a way of pretending that rejection doesn’t exist. The myth of women shit-testing guys is just an excuse for guys to ignore a “no”, “I’m not interested” and “go away”. It’s teaching that a “no” is really a “yes” if you try hard enough and holy shit that’s an insanely bad thing to teach.

#1: You Think This Means You Can’t Approach Women, Ever

So I’m going to say something a lot of you aren’t going to like. A lot of you are going to have an immediate reaction to what I’m about to tell you, a reflexive anger. Trust me for a second when I tell you to clamp down on that knee-jerk reaction and listen to me. Because I’m going somewhere with this and it will make sense in the end.

The advice typified by Bacon’s godawful column is about not just avoiding a no but ignoring it. That advice — and the attitudes behind it — make dating worse for everyone by increasing the risks that women face. This isn’t about my hating men or insulting people who come to me for advice, it’s to make you recognize something: that reflex you just had is a sign that you’ve missed the point. It’s like a finger pointing at the moon; you get so focused on the finger that you’ve missed all the heavenly glory. The point of this column — of my site as a whole — is to make men better. I want you to have an amazing love life and I’m giving you the tools to make that happen. But if you’re making these mistakes, you’re not going to get there.

Straight talk: if these guidelines are too much or too complicated for you, then you shouldn’t be approaching women. If you’ve read this and immediately asked “so I guess I should never talk to women”, then you’re right. You shouldn’t.

The behaviors I talk about aren’t mistakes because women are arbitrary creatures who hate your boner. These aren’t mistakes because people want to make shit harder because fuck you that’s why. It really has nothing to do with you at all.

The reason why they’re mistakes is that this behavior makes women feel unsafe. When you’re throwing your hands up and saying that avoiding these mistakes is too difficult, you’re saying that making sure someone wants to talk to you is too much. That’s not a good look on anyone.

But here’s something to keep in mind: you can avoid many of these mistakes by not cold-approaching women. Please notice very carefully that I didn’t say you couldn’t date — just that you should avoid trying to pick up women you meet when you’re out and about. While I’m very much a proponent of cold-approach — at night and during the day — it can be goddamn difficult and it’s not for everyone. Critically, it’s also not the only way to meet women. You can meet women through friends. You can meet women at work or through classes. Go to parties, where the social context encourages approaching strangers and making new friends. Women who’ve signed up for OKCupid and Tinder are saying they want to be approached. They have explicitly said that they want to see if you can create a spark with them… as long as you do it the right way.

One of the keys to dating success is enthusiastic consent; you don’t want to avoid a “no”, you want to get a yes. Approaching women should be an opt-in activity, not an opt-out.

Most women going about their day have not opted-in. When they’re getting cornered by guys on the bus or subway or walking down the street, they’re being dropped into an encounter that they didn’t choose. And that’s going to put most women off, for good reason. Don’t sabotage your dating success before it even has a chance to start. Forget Bacon’s bullshit and stop annoying the women who don’t want to talk to you. Start approaching women who want you to approach them and watch your dating success soar.

About Harris O’Malley

Harris O’Malley provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove, as well as writing the occasional guest review for Spill.com and appearing on the podcast The League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and Twitter (@DrNerdLove.)

Dr. NerdLove is not really a doctor.

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Hello, Love

Love changes us. Love makes us human.

The Good Men Project

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We're having a conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21st century. Main site is https://goodmenproject.com Email us info@goodmenproject.com

Hello, Love

Love changes us. Love makes us human.

The Good Men Project

Written by

We're having a conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21st century. Main site is https://goodmenproject.com Email us info@goodmenproject.com

Hello, Love

Love changes us. Love makes us human.

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