How do you approach someone in whom you have romantic interest? We can display certain nonverbal indications that we like someone and monitor their nonverbal reactions in return, but ultimately we can only really ascertain whether our advances may be reciprocated by directly speaking to them. The question is: What do we say? What kind of opening line or chat-up line do we use? Further, are there differences between males and females in the type of lines used and the types of lines preferred?
In an older yet quite amusing study carried out by Chris Kleinke and colleagues (Kleinke, Meeker and Staneski, 1986) students were asked what they would say to initiate contact with someone they wanted to meet. The research was triggered by the question, "What do you say when you meet someone you would like to get to know?"
Opening lines used by men
In this study, male and female university students listed as many lines as they could think of that men might use to meet women, although they were not initially asked to think of any particular venue or place where the lines they were thinking of might be used. Most of the respondents listed between 5 and 10 lines with the 100 most frequently cited lines then rated on a scale of 1 to 7, and categorized into three different types — cute-flippant lines; innocuous lines; and direct lines.
Examples of different types of line follow. (Keep in mind, this is not a recent study and so some of the lines may seem dated but what's important is the type of approach used.)
Some of the most-preferred lines included:
Some of the least preferred lines included:
As can be seen, the most preferred lines were innocuous and direct, with the least preferred being the cute-flippant type. Compared to men, women were less keen on cute-flippant opening lines and direct lines, and were more keen on innocuous lines.
Opening lines used by women
This time university student participants in the study wrote down all the lines they could think of that they thought women might use to meet men. Typically, between 5 and 10 lines generated by each participant, with the 59 most-commonly cited being judged on a scale of 1 to 7. The lines were again categorized into the same groupings of cute-flippant, innocuous, and direct, and just as in the first part of the study, the lines which categorized as innocuous or direct were most preferred, with the least-preferred being those judged as cute-flippant.
Some of the most preferred lines included:
Some of the least preferred lines included:
The next question addressed was how different types of lines would work in different locations. To investigate this, men and women listed all the opening lines they could think of that men might use to meet women in a variety of situations — bars, restaurants, supermarkets, launderettes, and beaches. There were 42 lines listed for bars, 20 for restaurants, 27 each for supermarkets and launderettes, and 32 for beaches.
Women gave lower ratings to cute-flippant lines compared to men in locations such as supermarkets, laundries, and beaches. Further, women gave lower ratings to direct lines compared with men in locations such as bars, laundries, and beaches. Compared with men, in all locations, women had a higher preference for innocuous lines.
Why do people use cute-flippant lines?
Cute-flippant lines are consistently judged as being the least desirable, and yet many people still use them. The question is why. The researchers in the current study proposed three possible reasons:
1. Protection from rejection. Quite simply, this means that if someone is rejected after having approached someone, they can attribute the rejection to the line and not to the fact that they may have been found undesirable by the person they approached. This is similar to self-handicapping, a strategy whereby people make little effort in an endeavor to preserve their self-esteem if they fail. Clearly, while such a strategy may protect self-esteem, it is not always effective in starting a conversation with someone.
2. Lack of social skills. People who use cute-flippant lines may not possess the same level of social skills as those who avoid using such lines.
3. Vicarious reinforcement. We are often exposed in the media to people who use cute-flippant lines, and we see these lines being effective. This ultimately leads us to think that if such lines work for movie stars or other famous people, then maybe they will work for us. (In the study, it was reported that cute-flippant lines were actually preferred by a small number of people, which means that we may be intermittently rewarded for using such lines in real life.)
Kleinke, C. L., Meeker, F. B., & Staneski, R. A. (1986) ‘Preference for Opening Lines: Comparing Ratings by Men and Women’ Sex Roles, 15 (11,12), 585-600.