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If you’ve been in the dating scene for a minute, you may recognize these tired old pickup lines:
“Are your legs tired?”
“If I could rearrange the alphabet…”
“Are those space pants?”
And there are sooooooooo many more! Pickup lines can range from funny and cheesy to downright filthy. But the golden question is: Do pickup lines actually work?
Well, like most things, they do if you do it right, but can hurt you if you do it wrong. So what’s a guy to do? As I teach my clients, it’s not about memorization, where you blindly just parrot the same phrase to people, hoping for a good reaction. It’s about being adaptable enough to recognize situations that might present themselves, and acting on them in the best way, with the best pickup line.
As a carpenter and dating coach, I use a lot of tool metaphors, so bear with me. My job is to teach you to use as many tools as possible. You’re never going to use all the tools every time, and some tools you’ll rarely use. But the more you know, the more you’ll be able to choose just the right tool at just the right time.
Pickup lines are just another tool to break the ice and initiate conversation. Certain pickup lines can get a lot of things out in the open right away. You immediately show that you are interested in her. Delivering a pickup line can be done in a variety of ways, but the intent is right out there, so everybody knows what’s up. For better or worse, you’re most likely not to get “friendzoned” with pickup lines.
Pickup lines can also reveal something about us and our desires. For real, a pickup line is meant to be a humorous way to get a conversation going. Good ones can show off your wit. They have clever play on words, observational humor, educated guessing, and (hopefully) a confident delivery.
Believe it or not, there’s been some research on this topic as well! Christopher Bales pointed out in his study on chat-up lines that a person’s line will be better received when it highlights positive qualities such as helpfulness, generosity, athleticism, and wealth. According to the study: “The success of openings which demonstrated culture was predicted from Miller’s (2000) ‘mating mind’ hypothesis; the success of others could be predicted from patterns of parental investment.”
You can tell your date a lot about you by opening with, “Is your name Earl Grey? Because you look like a hot tea!” You know multiple brands of tea names, for instance. If you toss out a dirty pickup line like, “As a hot filly and a stud, we could make some Derby winners,” some assumptions about your intentions will be made pretty quickly.
This is okay! You’re letting her know about you. A good pickup line can also show what kind of connection you are looking for. If you are interested in long-term relationships, then use something like, “Feel this shirt, you know what it’s made of? Boyfriend material.” Of course it’s cheesy, but it’s also letting her know you might be interested in more than a quick fling.
If you are in the mood for something more casual, you could go for a real smoldering line. “Are you Medusa? Because every time you look at me, I get rock hard.”
And if you are into ENM (ethical non-monogamy) and want to take the temperature of the room, perhaps you could attempt, “I like my women like I like my nomials… Bi and poly.”
In the same year that brought us “Top Gun”, “Aliens”, and “Pretty in Pink,” social scientists Kleinke, Meeker, and Staneski identified three types of opening lines in a 1986 study.
The flirtatious and humorous opening lines were called flippant. “Girl, you know how I feel about you — it’s like you’re a fossil sample, and I’m an impatient paleontologist because I want to date you badly.”
Opening lines that used flattery and were complimentary were defined as direct. “Is your daddy a baker? Because you’ve got some nice buns!”
More subtle opening lines that involved questions were deemed innocuous. “What’s the best song on this jukebox?”
Remember that any pickup line can work at the right time, to the right person, with the right delivery. But, statistically speaking, flippant opening lines are going to be the least successful.
“Any man has a chance to sweep any woman off her feet. He just needs the right broom.” – Will Smith in “Hitch”
According to the researchers, the users of flippant pickup lines were perceived as being lower in intelligence and trustworthiness. My personal take is that these opening lines seem too rehearsed and don’t take cues from the woman or the specific circumstances. Probably they are perceived as a bit generic.
And it helps to know your audience. If you use a sexual line with a woman who is conservative, it’s probably not going to go well. Or if you see a hot goth girl reading Edgar Allan Poe, you will need to tailor your approach — she may not find your humorous charm endearing. That same 2006 study stated: “Generally, pick-up lines that showed off some aspect of a man’s positive attributes or value as a mate were seen as most effective.”
Women who identified as self-conscious, shy, or anxious seemed most receptive to any pickup line. On the other hand, women who said they are more outgoing and energetic preferred humorous and direct lines from men.
The study goes on, “Finally, women whose personality tests revealed them to be aggressive, impulsive, or risk-takers tended to like a ‘bad boy’ type — and they preferred lines featuring generic compliments as well as overtly sexual lines.”
Some dating evidence suggests that it pays to poke fun at yourself a little. The dating experts at OkCupid looked at thousands of messages and combed through user results to determine which messages performed best. The results go against the age-old idea that women love arrogant alphas. When straight men used self-effacing humor, it greatly upped their response rate.
Here are some examples of good self-effacing opening lines:
If you add a little humility into the mix, your pickup line may just have a better chance at success. So don’t take yourself too seriously!
Remember, guys: pickup lines are best delivered with a sense of humor and a desire to entertain, not with the idea that it’ll convince a person to go out or sleep with you. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not a magic trick. Pickup lines are simply one of many tools to start an interaction. Be original, be funny, and be flirtatious.
Be prepared to engage in a real conversation if it goes over well. If one line is all you’ve got, then you’re probably going nowhere. Whatever the mood of your line, make sure you can keep up that vibe. The door is open, now hopefully you can walk through it!