Ah, the first approach. We all dread it and yet, there is no way around it. People make up their minds about each other within seconds so it’s important to make an impression. Luckily, in the first five seconds, you don’t have to make a person decide to date you or marry you or have children with you or be buried next to you. (Stop thinking of death!) You only have to make them decide to keep talking to you. Here’s how to make the most out of those vital first five seconds:
Don’t over-think it. A little perspective goes a long way. You’re not curing cancer, you’re not splitting the atom, you’re just starting a conversation. What you say doesn’t matter as much as how you say it and that you don’t look like a complete lunatic. You’re not a lunatic (most likely) — you’re a normal person worthy of dialogue with others. Keep it uncomplicated. I was once at a party where a guy came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Mark, what’s your name?” And we talked the rest of the night. It was just that simple.
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Don’t use a cheesy pick-up line. Unless you are brimming with confidence and the line is so awesomely good (or bad-good) that you are prepared to handle any consequences, just don’t do it. “I’ve got skittles in my mouth, wanna taste the rainbow?” is just completely stupid. A certain kind of guy, in a certain environment, could pull that off, I’m sure. But don’t be that guy. You’re more creative and smarter than that guy.
Start with your surroundings. Don’t bring up topics that are too deep, personal or polarizing in the first five seconds. If you are at a party by the dip bowl, you can say, “This dip is amazing! Do you know who made it?” That’s pretty neutral. Don’t say, “My brother, who died defending this country against Arabs, loved dip but was against abortion so to honor his memory, I’m burning down a clinic tomorrow. Would you care to join me?” There are very few instances where that is an acceptable thing to say to someone upon making first contact. Try commenting on the décor or the food. People like food.
Don’t neg. Someone somewhere told men that if they want to approach women at a bar, they should “neg” something about her to undermine her. I think negging is gross. For example, I went up to a bar and ordered a vodka cranberry. The seemingly normal guy next to me leaned in and said, “A vodka cranberry? Why don’t you let me buy you a real drink?” So, he was “negging” my choice of drink. My first thought was, “What a dick.” And my second thought was, “Buy me a ‘real’ drink? Like what? Something with roofies in it?” What I said out loud was, “No, thanks,” and got the hell away from him. I think he wanted me to be thrilled that he offered me a drink, but I was just grossed out. Don’t neg. And, by all means, offer to buy a drink — but later, after you’ve been talking for a while.
Be playful. People like to be entertained. Say something playful that’s not combative. Smile and be approachable. “Lemons will prevent scurvy but will drinking lemon-flavored vodka prevent scurvy too? I hope so.” That’s just silly enough to engage someone for a moment to get the ball rolling. It’s not a brilliant thing to say, but it’s slightly more interesting than, “Do you have the time?”
Don’t comment on physical appearance. Not in those first five seconds. It’s uncomfortable. Save that for when he or she understands that you’re a normal person. “I like your scarf” is better than “You have incredible eyes,” as a first approach comment. It subtly implies that you are just into looks and puts a lot of pressure on the other person.
Be confident. Don’t admit you’re nervous or “bad at this.” That’s lame. “Hi, I’m really nervous. I’m so bad at this. Um… How are you?” is just bizarre. It puts the other person in a position where they have to comfort you and then feel like a jerk for not wanting to talk to a wuss. Just leave that part out. Almost anything is better than this.
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If you get rejected, be graceful and move on. No one likes rejection and it stings, but if it happens and you get completely snubbed, don’t shout, “BITCH!” and run from the party crying. Just move on. Not everyone is going to be as fabulous as you are. It’s their loss. Relax, keep smiling, give it a minute, and try again.
Yes, it’s awkward and uncomfortable at first but like anything else, with practice, it becomes a lot easier. You can say almost anything as long as it’s something. A simple “Hi,” is often the best approach around. We’re just people making contact with other people. We’re all in this together. Good luck out there.