Direct Is Best: What Makes Women's Pick-up Lines Work

Study shows the effectiveness of straightforward overtures from straight women.

Posted Mar 30, 2020

Jokesters hardly get enough of men’s pick-up lines and their legendary awfulness. From sitcoms to stand-up routines, those corny, one-line failures are a cultural phenomenon all their own.

What about women’s pick-up lines? Are they any better?

That’s a tough one to quantify, but here is what we do know: Women are more likely to see success – from men, at least – from their flirty overtures if they’re direct.

Photo by Martin Boulanger from FreeImages
Source: Photo by Martin Boulanger from FreeImages

In a recent study, my colleagues and I found that straightforward questions – “Do you want my number?” “Are you single?” – were most effective as pick-up lines on straight men, especially if attractive women delivered them. Even women seen as unattractive at first were likely to get results from the blunt approach.

Such is the power of clarity.

More specifically, direct pickup lines are seen as more effective because men often have a hard time determining whether a woman is interested in the first few minutes of an interaction. Since men typically aren’t aware of how well they’re faring, both sexes feel a direct approach would be most effective, prior research shows.

The direct indication of a possible date – or even a direct hint of a possible date – gives the man a clear, or clearer, signal the woman is interested in spending time together. Plus, a woman using a direct opening line wouldn’t have to worry that ambiguity might turn off the guy.

To be extra clear about our study: We gauged success from the pick-up lines not as a new relationship but as more modest milestones, such as securing a phone number, a phone call or a follow-up meeting. 

Anything can happen from that point, of course. If the woman stays interested, it’s often because the man has shown signs of life beyond that initial magnet of good looks – intellect, humor, refinement, and culture.

In other words, more than an appetite for a one-night stand.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, straight women often look for qualities in men that signal potential for a long-term bond, studies have shown. That means the proverbial total package: looks paired with personality, smarts and other enduring qualities. After all, our biology programs us to create prime conditions for child-rearing.

When you’re inspired to try your latest pick-up line on the best-looking person in the room, you can chalk that up to science. When your relationship blossoms because it’s more than just eye candy, that’s likely science, too.


Fisher, M. L., Coughlin, S., & Wade, T. J. (2020). Can I have your number? Men's perceived effectiveness of pick-up lines used by women. Personality and Individual Differences,

Wade, T.J., Butrie, L.K., & Hoffman, K. (2009). Women’s direct opening lines are perceived as most effective. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 145-149.