Sure she’s a feminist, but Clarisse Thorn still likes the guy to make the first move. She shares the story of a recent pickup.
Some people, including me, have theorized that uncertainty and ambiguity are key components of sexual attraction. You can definitely have too much of it, though, and sometimes it’s hilarious to watch the tentative mating dance between two people who are both like, “wait, does this person—I think—no way—um, hold on.” I’ve written a lot about the “pickup artist subculture,” which is full of guys who are sometimes evil and manipulative, but who are sometimes just confused and want better ways of decoding these tacit signals. Pickup artists like to write “Field Reports” in which they obsessively analyze every detail of how a dating interaction went. I do the same thing with my friends over drinks, but I haven’t seen a good example online from the female perspective.
So here you go! I’m going to give you a step-by-step of a recent pickup featuring Clarisse Thorn, some dude she met at an event, and our old friend Neuroticism.
I was in a medium-sized circle of people when I first saw this dude across from me; when he spoke up, I thought he was cute and smart. He mentioned that he’d done a project that I, coincidentally, wanted more information about. As the event was ending, he read something aloud to the group off his smartphone screen; I used the incredibly flimsy excuse of walking across the room to read over his shoulder, in order to get closer.
Then he picked up his jacket like he was about to leave. “Leaving?” I asked. “Are you heading into the city?”
“No, I’m meeting a friend soon,” he said.
Hmm. If he’d been heading back then I would’ve had an excuse to take transit with him. “I’m interested in your project,” I said, and explained why. This is what pickup artists sometimes call an indirect situational opener. Another example would be asking someone the time. For people who feel anxious about flirting, indirect situational openers are good for starting a conversation on a neutral, non-flirtatious, low-stress note; but the down side is that it can be hard to shift a situational conversation into a flirtatious one. Of course, I was—again—genuinely interested in what this guy had to say about his project, so a situational opener was actually a win-win. I figure it’s a bad call to use situational openers if you’re not actually interested in the situation, right?
We chatted, and the conversation gained energy. I asked him to email me some links and we traded email addresses. We made tentative plans to meet and talk about it some more, the next day. Great! I figured. Even if nothing else comes out of this, at least I’ve learned something about this awesome project.
One might say: Clarisse, aren’t you a big ole feminist? Why didn’t you just ask the guy out after you established that he was cute, smart, and worked on awesome projects? I think there’s an interesting question about roles there. Men are generally expected to make the first obvious moves toward an actual date. This initiation role isn’t easy or instinctive for all men, or even most men (which is part of the reason why pickup artistry exists). But fair or unfair, this role is commonly expected of men. I used to try and break that role expectation, but I learned that it’s tough and socially complicated to be a lady who’s perceived as too aggressive. It unsettles a lot of guys, for one thing, and I’m a strange enough girl that I unsettle guys as it is (more on this in a moment). So these days I usually avoid asking boys out myself, though it makes my feminist soul weep.
Hence, after we did the email address exchange, my new goal was to seem awesome and/or interested enough that this guy would make a more obvious move. I smiled a lot, told him about some stuff I’ve done I thought he’d be interested in, ask if he’d be OK with a hug when he had to go, lingered in the hug as he pulled away.
He said, “So, do you mind if I ask –”
… and then he hesitated. He’s definitely about to ask if I’m romantically available, I thought. Wait, what if I’m wrong? He was hesitating for a long time. If I finish the question for him, and I’m wrong, then I’ll look super presumptuous and arrogant. So I hesitated, too. Yay for Neuroticism! After a long pause, he asked whether I was single.
Since my romantic life is somewhat untraditional, this was where I had to lay a bunch of stuff on the table as efficiently as possible. I’ve gotten OK at this, but it still scares me, because I’m strange, and sometimes it scares guys off. Sometimes, guys I really like.
“I’m polyamorous,” I began. “I’m not seeing anyone seriously right now, but I’ve been thinking that it’s time to look for a more serious partner, especially because I want to have kids at some point. Ideally, I’d want that to be a polyamorous relationship, but I’ve thought before that I might be willing to do monogamy. I write professionally about alternative sexual models, actually, so I can send you a link to my work. Have you ever thought about any of that stuff?”
(Man, I wish I could put hyperlinks in everyday speech. I can’t wait until we all have chips that interface with the Internet directly implanted in our brains.)
He hesitated again. For a long time. I’ve scared him off, I thought. Sigh. I hope we can still talk about our other projects. I bit my lip. “Wow,” he finally said. “I mean—I’ve thought about it a bit. But not a lot, honestly.”
“Well,” I said. I hoped that his hesitation was confusion or anxiety rather than wait, who the hell is this weird girl? … and I decided to go for broke. “I really like you. Do you still want to get coffee?”
He hesitated again. Damn, I thought. “I mean, we don’t have to,” I said, trying to give him an easy out so we could still be friends at some point. “We could just chat by email.”
“No, it’s not that,” he said, “it’s just that I’m actually not sure I have time tomorrow. But I’ll call you for sure.”
I smiled, and we split up. I still felt quite uncertain and was therefore quite relieved when he texted:
I apologize for becoming temporarily 17 years old back there. You are brilliant, and I’m out of practice being around someone so attractive.
I texted back:
Please don’t apologize! I was just afraid I’d scared you off.
… and he promised to call. Yay for Neuroticism, again!
Pickup artists complain that women flake out all the time, but let me tell you, men flake out just as much. For example, I’ve met men where we had a seven-hour conversation about everything and nothing; held hands; and at 3am he looked deep into my eyes and said “I feel like I was meant to meet you. I’ll call you tomorrow,” who then never called. (And it’s not because he didn’t have my number. I double-checked.) (And he wasn’t even a pickup artist, either!) (OK, this only happened once. To me. I still don’t get it!)
Point being, I spent the next day uncertain about whether he’d call.
But he called!
Clarisse Thorn is a feminist sex writer who specializes in alternative sexuality and has given workshops all over the USA. She wrote a book about masculinity, dating dynamics, and sex theory called Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser; she’s also got a best-of collection called The S&M Feminist.