I'm house-sitting for my sister down in Canberra, Australia's capital city. The only friends I know who live here are either away on holidays or out of contact. I wouldn't mind meeting some new people to hang out with while I'm in town, and I've been inspired by Joseph Matthew's book The Art Of Approaching to have a go at approaching women and starting conversations. I was talking to my friend Ruth about this back in Sydney a few weeks ago, and her advice was this:
“Look Graham, people go out to clubs to meet other people. All you've got to do is to walk up and say 'Hi, I'm Graham'” [puts her hand out to initiate a handshake].
Interesting. I still had a hunch that the wisdom in Joseph's book would help me, but maybe I was over-complicating things a bit. Us analytical guys tend to do that sometimes. So last Friday night I hit the town, to see if I could meet some people in a pub or club. If you're used to doing this, it might seem like a no-brainer; but not to me. I'm the guy who used to have a full-blown panic attack just walking into a nightclub, and the thought of approaching anyone at all, let alone an attractive woman, just freaked me out. In order to ensure take the pressure off and I had a successful evening, I decided before leaving home that my criteria for success was simply this: to approach at least one person during the night and say “Hi”. If I could accomplish this, I'd consider it a success. I started off by heading to the wine bar that a friend of mine had recommended. It's a little hard to find, so I needed to ask directions from a threesome having dinner at an Italian restaurant nearby. “Well, I've already approached a stranger and talked to them by asking directions”, I thought. Didn't really count though; and besides, the wine bar was still closed from the New Year break! Damn. Well I wasn't going to give up, so I headed into the center of Canberra. A thriving cultural hub. If you grew up in a desert perhaps. But nevertheless, I found a bar called The Moosehead which I thought might be worth a shot. On wandering in, I discovered it full of men. No women to be seen. Anywhere. “What the?”. I wandered around a bit, but found only men: drinking, playing pool, sitting around. The gender I was most interested in was distinctly missing. I sat down and watched the cricket on the video screen. Cricket? I don't care about cricket... what am I doing here? If there were no women to talk to, I figured I'd better have a go at talking to some men instead. There was a guy sitting near the bar not far from me, so I wandered over and said “Hi... I'm Graham”. We shook hands and started to chat. He seemed friendly enough. It wasn't long before he offered to buy me a beer:
“I don't drink beer.”
“Huh?”, he looked at me disapprovingly, as if I'd said something totally un-Australian.
“It tastes like piss to me. I drink wine. If you want to get me a red wine, that'd be cool”.
I'm learning not to be fazed when other people don't approve of the choices I make. It's all part of getting over Nice Guy Syndrome. I really do hate the taste of beer. Why should I drink something I don't even like, just because everyone else thinks it's the manly thing to do? Besides, this guy was drunk as a skunk. What do I care what he thinks? My new friend introduced me to a few of his friends, all of whom appeared to be wasting a significant chunk of their lives hanging out drunk in this rather ordinary bar. But we had a good chat. I was very open about being there to meet women.
“Where the heck are all the women? There's only men in here”, I said
“Wait till later. Around 11pm, they'll be in here.”
“Really? Because I can't see any here now.”
“Believe me, they'll be here. Just wait around.”
“And what am I supposed to do for the two hours until then?”
Talk to these drunk guys was the obvious option. They were pretty good to warm up on. Very receptive. I teased them a lot and we joked around heaps; they were good fun. I was saying all this outrageous stuff about how I was there to meet women, and more guys just kept coming over to talk to me. After finishing my wine, I was thinking it was time to move on when one of them offered me another drink.
“No thanks, I think I'm done.”
“What? It's only 9:30”, he stammered with a look of disapproval.
If this was the best company Canberra had to offer on a Friday night, I might be heading home early, which would mean no more drinks if I wanted to be able to drive. Plus I didn't really want to be caught staying for several rounds with these drunk guys if there were women out there to meet somewhere. I couldn't believe how bold I was getting by this stage, when I replied with:
“Look, I know it's completely inconceivable to you that I might actually want to stop drinking alcohol. But I don't want any more at the moment, thank you.”
“Just who the hell do you think you are?” he incredulated
Well whoever I think I am, I'm obviously projecting a lot more confidence than before I started what is now the Confident Man Personal Development Program. That stuff obviously works. I just smiled in reply. I'm learning that I don't need to justify myself all the time to other people.
“Well it's been great meeting you guys, I hope you all have a great evening. I'm off now. Bye”.
It was only 9:30pm, and already my evening was a success because I'd said "hi" to one person. More than one, in fact. I wouldn't mind saying "hi" to an actual woman though. I wandered around a few city blocks before coming across my next establishment: The Tongue and Groove. It was obviously going off, with heaps of people packed in talking, and a few girls almost dancing. I must have walked past the place three times before summoning the courage to go in. I didn't really have much in the way of pick-up lines prepared since I think they're pretty cheesy, but I did have a simple opinion opener as a fall-back after introducing myself:
“Do you think people are friendlier in Canberra or Sydney?”
As I walked through the crowd, my heart started to explode from my chest. “How am I going to approach any of these people?” One girl made eye contact briefly, and before I knew it I was at the end of the room with nowhere to go. Who to approach? What to say? Oh stuff it, I'll just have to do it. I went back to the girl I'd made the brief eye-contact with who appeared to be with three friends and said:
“Hi, I'm Graham.” (put hand out to initiate handshake)
She just stood there with her hands clutched at her chest, looking scared. Oh-oh. I waited. Nervously. Eventually she took my hand, said:
“I'm Jenny”, she said as she turned her back to me.
Damn. Well, I'm learning not to give up at the first hint of rejection. I turned to the girl on her left, who looked like she might be a friend and tried again:
“Hi, I'm Graham.” (put hand out to initiate handshake)
“Hi, Nice to meet you. I'm Mary.”
"Cool. Nice to meet you too. How is your evening going?"
She was more receptive, and we chatted briefly. At least I got a positive response that time. Pretty soon she turned towards Jenny, which meant away from me. She seemed friendly enough though. There was another guy there too, so I thought I'd better include him.
“Hi, I'm Graham.” (put hand out to initiate handshake)
“Hi, I'm Mark.”
“Nice to meet you Mark. How's your evening going?”.
By then Mary was back.
“Hey Mary, let me ask you're opinion on something: Which city do you think is friendlier: Canberra or Sydney?”
“Canberra. It's a smaller town”
Based on Jenny's reaction, I wasn't so sure. I should have said so, but the old Nice Guy thing still gets in the way sometimes, so I still self-censor sometimes. But I'm rapidly getting over that, and finally we had some conversation going. Albeit after a bit of a struggle.
“Hey what's the matter. I don't look like a stalker do I?”
“You don't look like a stalker... but you sound like a stalker”, Mary replied.
Ouch. That hurt. People have told me I've got a great voice. It's not as deep as I'd like, so I'm a bit sensitive to it. In hindsight she was just putting me to the test; and I failed by taking it personally and recoiling. Only a bit, but still it would have been better if I'd just smiled or teased her back. I really don't like being called a stalker either, which is a hint that I probably shouldn't have brought the subject up... all it did was backfire. Soon Mary and Jenny took off to the toilets and I was left talking to Mark. He seemed nice enough. Didn't know whether Canberra or Sydney was more friendly, because he was from Melbourne. I had sensed, perhaps incorrectly, that the girls didn't want to talk to me, and still feeling slightly wounded from the stalker comment I decided to head off.
“Well nice to meet you Mark. Say goodbye to Mary and Jenny for me when they get back.”
“Oh”, he seemed surprised that I was leaving, “Yeah... OK”.
I think I'd misread things and could have stayed, but I was committed to going by now, so I did. Now the good thing about all this was that although I felt mildly rejected when Jenny didn't want to talk to me initially and when Mary said I sounded like a stalker, it didn't trigger the horrible self-flagellation process that used to go on in my head whenever I felt I'd failed at some social situation. I didn't spiral downwards into a horrible pit of despair. People talk about being afraid of rejection, but it's not the rejection that we fear really: it's the negative way we've been programmed to treat ourselves when we encounter it. I was happy that when I'd encountered resistance, I just kept going until I got success. As a result, we all had a brief but pretty good conversation. Nevertheless, I felt like I was done with The Tongue & Groove for now. I wandered out wondering if there was a place with friendlier people around, and thought it might be time to visit the Irish pub I'd been past before. So off I set like a man on a mission to get there. And then a most remarkable thing happened. Walking past a cafe on the way, I saw a hot blonde waitress packing up tables suddenly give another guy the bird. You know, the old middle-finger “Fuck You”. Instinctively I must have reacted with a “What-The???” facial expression, because right at that moment the waitress turned around, saw the look on my face and started justifying herself. She seemed embarrassed. She also seemed really hot, and sweet. Something I'm encountering more and more these days.
“He just said 'bend over lady and take it up the ass you little slut'. Arsehole!!!”
“Um... Right. I see.”, I replied as I kept walking past
“Yeah, he was really disgusting to say that”
“Yeah... totally inappropriate.”, as I kept walking off into the distance.
She kept talking to me as I walked off, even though I was several metres away with my back to her by now. Justifying why she'd made the rude gesture that she hadn't expected anyone else to see. Hang on, I thought. She seems nice. So I doubled back.
“Hey. Obscene gestures not withstanding, you seem kinda nice. Would you like to grab a coffee after you finish up here tonight?”
“Thanks, but to be honest, I'm really exhausted. Sorry.”
I'm learning not to give up at the first sign of rejection, so...
“Ok, how about another time? I'm from out of town and don't know anyone here.”
“Um, yeah. I've just got back from England and don't know anyone either, so yes... coffee would be fun.”
“Great. What's your name?”
“I'm Graham. Nice to meet you”
She shook my hand while holding a half-full glass of coke, which I ended up wearing.
“Don't worry... Give me your number.”, I said
(Gets her number, puts it into phone)
“I'll SMS you mine, and give you a call. Have a great evening!”, I said
So I carried on to the Irish pub, with Sally's number safely stashed in my phone. Somehow this gave me even more confidence. Not only had my evening been a success because I'd met my objective of saying “Hi” to one person, I'd had the guts to approach a group of people and start a conversation with them; and I now had a hot girl's phone number as icing on the cake. I hadn't even planned to get any numbers that night; it was my first attempt at this. In the Irish pub I just walked up to people and introduced myself. Only about 50% of people responded like they wanted to talk to me, but that was enough to have a few conversations. Again, if they didn't want to talk to me, I didn't sit there ruminating or analysing myself negatively... I just said hello to someone else. Or listened to the band. As I walked out, a very cute looking girl was sitting by herself outside, so I sauntered over, sat down next to her and said “hello”. Initially she was facing away from me, but as we talked, her body language gradually became more accommodating. She was waiting for a guy who turned up after a few minutes, and we talked about something to do with friendships. Some of her friends were bumming her out.
“I only hang out with quality people”, I said at one point.
It was in context at the time, but it even surprised me when I said it. No idea where that came from.
“I wish I could say that”, she replied.
“Hell, why not? It's your life isn't it?”
It's amazing how what we say frames the way the world responds to us. Say you only hang out with quality people... and what do you know, before long you discover that's true. I went home on a high. I had a successful evening, and ended up with a phone number as a bonus. Some people were friendly to me, some were not. But when they were not, I didn't indulge in the old self-deprecation rubbish I used to go on with. I discovered I'm able to let other people respond to me the way they do, without me having to get all stressed about it. I probably wouldn't have had the guts to approach anyone if I hadn't been inspired by reading The Art Of Approaching. If you haven't read it yet, get it now.