Sunday, May 8, 2011

Singular Strategy

The major roads through Morristown, NJ, meet at the central square called the Green. Unsurprisingly, traffic jams are normal at rush hour. They are not normal at other times. It just isn’t that big a town. Yet, I encountered one last night. A quick look at the sidewalks revealed the reason: the Saturday night bar-hoppers were out in force and more were driving in. The same geography that snarls traffic at rush hour makes an ideal central location for singles bars, and Morristown has a bunch.

I feel increasingly outside the demographic in these bars with each passing year, and so I rarely enter one unless I happen to like a band playing there. More than a few of my younger male friends, however, have given up trolling such places for another reason: simple discouragement. One recently complained to me, “They’re called ‘singles bars’ because you enter and leave them alone.” Perhaps. Or perhaps he just employs the wrong strategy. I claim no personal expertise in this matter, but those who do point to two classic errors men make when attempting a pick-up: being indirect and being direct.

The trouble with being indirect is self-evident. You can’t very well expect to get a “yes” if you haven’t asked the question. With regard to the risk in being direct, I refer the reader to a classic study called Gender Differences in Receptivity to Sexual Offers co-authored by Russell D. Clark III of Florida State University and Elaine Hatfield of the University of Hawaii. They employed reasonably attractive women and reasonably attractive men for their experiment. (They reckoned that spectacularly attractive people – or ugly people for that matter – might get results that couldn’t be generalized to the rest of the population.) The task of each reasonably attractive woman was to approach one man after another at random. She would say to the man that she had noticed him before; then, she would invite him to meet her that night at her apartment for sex. The reasonably attractive men randomly approached women and said the same thing. The male response? 75% of men who were approached immediately agreed to sex. The minority who declined mostly cited commitments to girlfriends or spouses. None of the men seemed offended. The female response? If you guessed 0% agreed to sex you are right. Zero, as in not even one (out of 48). Some became angry. The authors reran the experiment (again with 48 male and 48 female subjects) a few years later and got the same results.

I don’t pretend to have insight into why such a traditional gender difference persists in the modern world. I merely present the evidence that “let’s have sex” might not be your best opening line if you’re a guy – at least if you’re are not a truly extraordinary guy. Most likely it would earn you 96 shoot-downs in a row. It apparently works if you’re a gal, though, which may be precisely the problem with it.

It is possible, of course, that the results of this experiment would be different if conducted at “last call” at the local pub instead of at noon on the campus quad. Does anyone smell a research grant to explore that one?


  1. Can we blame Victorian principles on this too? I wonder if this experiment would get the same results in Asian countries. Hmmm.

  2. Once again, "research grant," and with this one you travel.

  3. Additional data: A 2011 paper by Nicolas Guéguen describe a rerun of the experiment in France, though in the French version the supposed sex-seekers were split into average-looking and very attractive men and women. These were the results of sex offers.

    Request for Sex

    Average looking male solicitor: 0% (0 out of 30)
    Highly attractive male solicitor: 3% (1 out of 30)

    Average looking female solicitor: 60% (18 out of 30)
    Highly attractive female solicitor: 83% (25 out of 30)