“Do you come here often?” “Where do I know you from?” “Did it hurt? … when you fell from heaven?” Pick-up lines are one of the most hilarious steps of the mating game — meaning-laden openers that can sparkle with chemistry or wither on the spot. But how do you know how it’s going to perform?
We scoured the research (because, indeed, your government is throwing money behind such important questions) to sort the winning lines from the witless wonders.
Neanderthals in Love
Research in the Journal of Social Psychology examined how women’s evolutionary drives might affect how they respond to pick-up lines. (Sadly, the research almost invariably focuses on how women respond to men’s ice-breakers. A very unofficial poll of my guy friends confirms that they love, love, love when a cute girl approaches them, so ladies, be bold.) Women imagined being approached by a man who opened with a compliment (“I love your jacket”), an innocuous line that masks his interest (“Is the bartender ignoring this end of the bar?”), or a “flippant and flirtatious pick-up line” (“I lost my number. Can I have yours?”).
Women who were looking for love (or at least a long-term relationship) favored the flattering or innocuous line — but the flirty one “conveyed lower trustworthiness and intelligence,” the authors write. This matches up with what’s called the “good dad” hypothesis, the idea that women are looking for clues that their potential beau is a quality mate who’ll stick around and garner lots of resources for their young’uns.
The excellent kicker: For women who were only interested in getting some action, the one variable that mattered was how attractive the pick-up artist was. That’s it! He could use any line without ruining his chances. Again, the evolutionary explanation is that ladies don’t really need high-earning Good Guys if the dude’s going to bounce into bed and then bounce on to the next girl — all he needs are quality genes, of which handsomeness is a good signal. So men, if you’re just looking to score, make sure you’re looking your best before you sidle up to that Pretty Young Thing.
Another study entitled “Flirting Competence” began with videotapes of a dude trying out five different pick-up lines: Direct introductions (“Hi, I’m Pete”), compliments, humor attempts, cute-flippant lines (see above), and third-party introductions of the “Hey, this is my buddy Pete” variety. This time around, female participants rated compliments, humor attempts and cutesy lines as equally inappropriate and ineffective. (Wah-wahhh.) They thought the third-party introduction was most appropriate and effective. And there you have it: Girls like when you send over a wingman first. (College girls in this particular study, at least. [Suspicious look.])
You’ll notice a tactic missing from researchers’ arsenal of pick-up tactics — those of the Pick-Up Artist himself. These are the aggressive techniques you’ve probably heard in conversation including the Neg (you know, that insult-masquerading-as-a-pick-up-line move that often sounds something like, “You look like you’re not having any fun” or “Is that your real hair color?”). Luckily, researchers from the University of Kansas recently examined who follows Mystery’s methods, and which chicks actually like it.
Turns out the offenders are men with a preference for one-night stands and negative sexist attitudes towards women. (Lovely.) In response, women with a preference for no-strings-attached sex who also have negative attitudes toward other women tend to respond to dudes’ aggressive tendencies. (Even lovelier.) This suggests they find guys who treat them in a dominant way more desirable, because it jives with their sexist ideology.
Now you know: So-called pick-up artistry serves an important function. It helps sexist men and women find each other in dim and crowded bars. For the rest of us, a confident smile and a friendly air are all you need to nab the cutest specimen in the room. Or just a really effing hot appearance. Hey, whatever works.