Don't show off, go easy on compliments and be wary of 'pretty girls'. That's the sentiment expressed by author Alec Greven, author of The New York Times bestselling book titled, "How To Talk To Girls"
While many might wonder what the heck a nine-year-old would know about talking to women (yep, he's nine!), the pint-sized pick-up artist says it's all quite simple really. The best way to approach a woman is this: just say "hi".
"If I say hi and you say hi back, we're probably off to a good start," he says.
Sounds simple enough. Yet he does warn men about saying hi to one particular breed of femmes, also known as the "pretty woman".
"It is easy to spot pretty girls because they have big earrings, fancy dresses and all the jewelry," he warns. "But all pretty girls care about is their looks ... Pretty girls are like cars that need a lot of oil"...
While it might be male instinct to jump at the first sight of an FHM cover model lookalike, Greven suggests men should ditch the search for arm candy in favour of a more regular type of girl.
"Remember, some pretty girls are coldhearted when it comes to boys. Don't let them get to you ... Regular girls can be pretty too. They just have other things on their minds."
Perhaps he has a point. Either way, when it comes to talking to someone of the opposite sex, it seems somewhere along the way we've lost our confidence. The art of face-to-face flirting seems to be dying while everyone is cowering behind their laptops and Facebook profiles, preferring to let their fingers do the talking than to risk the thought of getting a real-life rejection.
And, if all the online flirting doesn't work (and most of the time you need real face-to-face interaction to gauge any real sexual chemistry), men are constantly working together to come up with new-fangled pick-up lines, tips and tactics to start a conversation with a pretty girl in a bar, the hot woman in the gym or their cute co-worker at the next desk. Only they're still mightily unsure how to go about the whole thing.
"What the hell do I say without scaring her off?" they ask. "Will she think I'm being too pushy if I ask her out?" they wonder. "What if something I say completely turns her off?"
Never fear. The love coaches are here. In order to aid the forlorn singletons who are not only looking for love in all the wrong places but with all the wrong words, experts have spawned a multimillion-dollar industry, including "pick-up artist schools" for men.
One such school, known as "Love Systems", is one of the largest of its types in the US. Its promise is simple: "Become social, attract women, and change your f---king life."
A few weekends ago, I attended one of their boot camp seminars in Darling Harbour, Sydney, where I came face-to-face with a group of about 10 guys, all eager to learn the art of talking to women.
Their biggest gripe? How to get women to become attracted to them instantly by saying something different to every other guy in the bar.
What astounded me most about the course was that most of these gents were seemingly normal, pretty good-looking and intelligent, and yet there was something missing that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Confidence perhaps.
After the session, I was eager to find out more, so I asked the head coach, Sheriff, if I could ask him a few questions. This is what transpired ...
Me: Do you think men (and women) have lost the art of flirting?
Sheriff: Not at all - and if anything, there's never been a better time to be alive and single! Flirting is about suggesting things without actually saying them - keeping everything a little bit ambiguous, fun, and sexy - giving little hints, but without showing your full hand.
Me: Is "picking up" essentially flirting?
Sheriff: Women use flirting as a way of sorting the good from the bad when it comes to guys. Is the guy desperate and jumps all over the first sign of interest she shows? Is he a bit awkward and doesn't really understand hints she's dropping? Does he have a sense of humour and can he take a little joke at his expense?
The key to "picking up" is knowing and understanding the signals women give off, and understanding the rules of the "flirting game". Knowing that if you start a conversation with a woman, and she says "Is that your pick-up line?", that she's not just blowing you off - she's testing you out to see how you'll react. Understanding that you can make a situation awkward if you ask a girl for her number in front of her friends - there's a right way, time and place to do it.
At the end of the day though, you can't just flirt forever. At some point, you need to build a real, genuine connection with someone, too - and, despite the best intentions, some people don't know how to do that. Some people who'd make great couples are defeated by logistics and a little shyness on both parts - knowing how to counter that alone can make all the difference between a great love life and sitting in watching Rocky by yourself on a Saturday night.
Me: Do some men just know how to flirt while others struggle? Is it something that must be learned?
Sheriff: Absolutely. Guys like me ... we had to learn the hard way! I was a big-time computer geek at school and I spent all my free time learning how computers worked, rather than picking up an understanding of how people worked. As a result, I never learned the keys to flirting - until I got older, took a Love Systems workshop, and spent a lot of time around beautiful women! The learning process was a lot of fun.
Me: What do you think the guys learned from the course?
Sheriff: I really think that depended on the guy. John [not his real name] was a really good-looking, confident guy who was using humour, jokes, and cockiness as a bit of a shield. For him, our job was to get him to open up, wear his heart on his sleeve and, after a bit of fun with a girl, say to her: "You know what? I'm actually really enjoying myself spending time with you", and start to build that connection.
James was naturally pretty shy, although he was really an intelligent, friendly and interesting guy. We taught him how to start conversations with groups of guys and girls so that he wasn't imposing on them, get out of his shell, and then transition to spending some one-on-one time chatting to the girl he liked in the group.
Most guys are just missing one or two pieces of the puzzle. They don't quite understand the steps that need to happen to get from seeing a girl they like, to inviting her out for a date, to taking it further; but "letting it just happen" hasn't been working out for them so well. Lots of guys have one or two things they're doing that's killing the attraction women would naturally feel for them - being overly apologetic or nervous body language - and we can fix almost all of those over the course of the weekend.
Me: What are your top-five tips for guys on how to go out and flirt?
Sheriff: 1) Take chances! Most women are friendly and like the attention. I got talking to this beautiful girl one night in Sydney who complained that too many guys just didn't have the balls to come and say hi, or talked themselves out of doing it because they assumed her male friends or brothers were her boyfriend. You can't get "blown out" or "shot down" by a girl who's only known you for 10 seconds - she doesn't know you well enough to! So man up, and get out there!
2) Don't expect the girls you talk to to do most of the talking at first. Sure, some will, but many girls are just as shy as guys, and it's a common error to mistake a girl's shyness for unfriendliness. Have some stuff to talk about prepared - a fun story from last time you came to the bar, somewhere fun you went on holiday (although don't be bragging).
Don't be tempted to break in to "interview mode" if you do run out of stuff to say - free your mind, stop worrying about saying "the right thing" and just say absolutely whatever crosses your mind.
3) Don't take advice from female friends! Most are very well intentioned, but have no experience picking up girls themselves. Just as having seen lots of advertising doesn't make you a guru on writing adverts, having been approached by a lot by guys doesn't make girls experts in picking them up. Go out with your male friends who do well, and watch how they act. Watch what kind of mood they project to girls, and ask them for advice instead.
4) Learn how to give good compliments - but wait until she's "earned" them. Telling a girl you've only just met that you think she's awesome is a little creepy - telling her once you've got to know her a little better, and she's said some awesome things is much better.
5) Decide what you're looking for. If you want a stunningly beautiful and intelligent girlfriend, then getting proficient at flirting with girls who you're not attracted to and aren't that bright isn't all that useful to you. A large part of how attractive you are to girls is how comfortable and relaxed you seem around them - so start seeking out and spending time with the type of women you want.
What do you think? What's the best way to approach women? Is the art of flirting something natural, or can it be learned?
Have a fabulous weekend and happy dating!