Ask Dr. NerdLove: How Do I Hit On Women Without Being A Jerk?

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Hello all you leakey Twitternet pheromone squids, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column that’s descended from Sir Francis Bacon.

This week is all about the trials of modern dating. How do you approach someone you’re interested in without being the latest guy to join the douchebag conga line? And when you’ve got the soul of a nerd and the body of a jock, how do you reconcile the difference between who you want and who you’re “supposed” to want?


It’s time to get out into the jungles of love and find some treasure. Let’s do this.

Hi Doc,

It is a pleasure to contact you after having seen your advice across various sites throughout the years. I have always appreciated your candor in light of complex questions and the respect you have for all parties in a relationship. You provide a great service, I commend you for that.

I approach you with a concern that has bugged me recently. I am curious about the cold approach. I have learned a great deal about the male gaze and appreciating women beyond their physical attributes. Say I’m at a bar: how can I in good faith interact with a woman if I know that my first instinct was to approach her because I found her to be physically attractive? I feel this goes against what feminism has taught me over the past few years. Is that acceptable?

Beyond that, I worry that I shouldn’t bother people that catch my eye because they are probably approached multiple times daily by potential suitors (weird terminology I know, but the only word that I thought fit). I don’t want to add to that annoyance in their daily lives. I realize this is more of a personal hang up but I’d appreciate if you could contextualize this.


Ok, I’m gonna level with you ShyGuy: you kinda went past wanting to be considerate of others and aware of the way that society has taught men to treat women, and straight into “bad parody of male feminist”. The former is admirable. The latter is missing the point and runs the risk of turning into a sort of performative version of wokeness that leaves people functionally paralyzed out of fear of being problematic somehow.


It’s actually surprisingly common among well-meaning geeks. We recognize how unacceptable behavior was normalized, want to avoid being like those assholes and end up over-correcting to an almost absurd degree.

So let’s talk a little bit about attraction and how we meet our partners. But before we do that, let’s talk about the male gaze and attraction for a second. (Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be Feminism 101; we’re only gonna touch on this since you brought it up.)

The term “male gaze” was coined by film critic Lara Mulvey and describes how women in the arts are presented as passive objects for the sexual pleasure of straight men in cinema. It was only later that the phrase expanded to have a more overarching cultural meaning, where it’s come to describe how groups view other groups as a whole. (Side note: Lindsay Ellis has a great video on the topic and how it applies to men as well.)


The key words there are “passive” and “object”. Despite the protestations of Reddit-fueled fantasies of straw-feminists, nobody out there with any real credibility is actually claiming that simply looking at women and being attracted to them is bad, dangerous or harmful. Frankly, most people aren’t going to notice unless you’re staring or acting like the Wolf in the Red Hot Riding Hood cartoons.

Seeing somebody and being attracted to them isn’t inherently rude or disrespectful. There’s nothing wrong with seeing somebody and thinking that they’re hotter than a four alarm fire or that they have a body to make a bishop kick in a stained glass window. Humans are visual beings and one of the things that draws us to others is that we like how they look to us. How a person looks is literally the first thing we’re going to notice about somebody because no amount of makeup or hair styling is going to emphasize their doctorates in quantum mathematics.

Being attracted to someone initially by their looks is just part of the human experience. It’s not the only way we come to be attracted to somebody — in fact, the value of physical appearance vs. their uniqueness as an individual dwindles rather rapidly over time. But it is part of what forms our initial impressions of somebody.


But it’s what you do afterwards that makes a difference. Are you basing your interactions with them on the idea that they owe you their time or attention just because you’re attracted to them? Do you only like them because of their looks? Do you think that their appearance is the sole marker of their value as a person? Are you treating them as though they’re there solely for your pleasure? Are you treating them as an ornament to affirm your masculine bona-fides, to provide you with sex and validation from others? Or is their appearance just one data point in the matrix of who they are as an individual?

If you’re treating someone as an object — a passive tool for your pleasure — then yeah, you’re being an asshole. Same if you treat their appearance as the thing that’s most valuable or significant about them. But if it’s just one thing, even if it’s the thing that drew you to them in the first place, then that’s not bad, that’s just being human.

So, don’t beat yourself up about the fact that you’ve wanted to get to know somebody because they were attractive. It’s just part of what made you curious enough to want to learn more about them and see whether they were someone you wanted to actually invest your precious time into.


Which brings us to the meat of your question: how do you do a cold approach — that is, striking up a conversation with someone that you have no social connection to — in this day and age, without being a dick about it?

There are a couple key points to keep in mind. The first is to respect the social context, which make up the rules that dictate what is acceptable behavior in society. Some spaces are explicitly social spaces, where people are expected to mix, meet and mingle with others. Parties, networking events and singles bars, for example, are places where the social context says that approaching strangers with an intent to get to know them is acceptable.

Other spaces aren’t. Mass transit, for example, is generally a bad place to try to get somebody’s number because it’s not a social space. Most of the people on the bus or the subway are just trying to get through their commute and want to be left alone. Moreover, they’re in a place where they can’t leave if they decide that somebody’s bothering them. They’re functionally trapped, and trying to get away can be profoundly inconvenient. It’s a similar idea with people who’re walking down the street. Most folks are just trying to get from A to B with minimal fuss and don’t want to have to deal with every rando who thinks that he or she is entitled to their time, whether it’s a dude who wants her number or someone with a clipboard who wants her signature for their petition.


This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to meet the love of your life on your 7 AM express to work… but the odds and the context are against you. People are far more likely to be open to being approached in an explicitly social space than a non-social space.

The second point when it comes to approaching strangers is that you want to do so efficiently. Your time is valuable, and being a pushy asshole is inefficient… y’know, on top of that whole “being an asshole” thing. So you want to maximize your chances of success and minimize the waste of your time by focusing on people who want to meet you. And the way you do that is that you watch for women who are giving you what are known as approach invitations — signs that they’re interested in you and would welcome your coming to talk to them.

Let’s say you’re at a bar. On one side of the bar, you have an attractive woman who has locked eyes with you, looked away, and then looked back with a smile. On the other, you have an equally attractive woman who has noticed you looking at her, but has turned her back to you and is talking to the bartender instead.


The former has given you a classic approach invitation. She’s seen you looking, looked back to see if you were still looking and gave you a smile that showed she’s pleased that she still has your attention. The latter has made it clear: she saw you, but she’s not interested.

Other signs include lingering around you when they don’t need to be there, in hopes that you’ll notice and say something to them, or saying something loud enough for you to overhear in hopes that you’ll respond. This is a common, low-investment way of trying to start a conversation with people; in fact, it’s part of how I tell my clients to approach women they’re into.

By focusing your attention on the women who show that they want you to talk to them, you’re ensuring that your approach won’t just be acceptable but welcome. You aren’t going to just be another dude trying to sling his dick at her like it’s his shitty mix-tape. You’re someone she’s been hoping would come say hi.

Pay attention to the context of your surroundings and watch for those invitations from women and you’ll be able to approach women with confidence, knowing that you’re not just another speedbump in her day.

Good luck.

Hi Doc,

I’m a nerd at heart, but most people would consider me to be a bit more of a jock.

I’ve recently come out of a relationship of 3 years (it’s been a few months), and I’ve been deep diving into your posts to discover how to attract not the “next girl”, but the “right girl”. Now, to be specific, I’m finding that most of the time the “right girl” generally isn’t attracted to me.

To give you some background, growing up I was the “one not good with girls” too. For the next decade after high school, I worked on myself until I became the person I wanted to be, and the “one who was good with girls”. It took a while but I got there, and for a while it was awesome.

To be specific I play guitar, train in Mixed martial arts and work to support my passion project. As far as looks go, I dress well, am tall, athletic and tanned. I have two university degrees, and quit my job to work on my passion. By all accounts, people seem to think that I’m a “jock”.

It’s not even that I have that much trouble with the opposite sex. I’ve had a good number of partners, had long term and short term relationships and casual flings. I’ve had plenty of sexual experience too. Even as we speak, I can’t find any reason to complain about any of this.

I’ve done a tonne of therapy to work on myself too. It took such a long time, but I feel that I’ve gotten myself to a really good point. I’ve removed most of my limiting beliefs. I’ve dealt with my childhood. My low self esteem is slowly coming up. I’m open, honest and insightful. I have a really good relationship with my family now too.

This is going to sound really shallow, but I feel it needs to be addressed. I feel societal pressure, and I also put pressure on myself to date conventionally attractive girls, but for some reason I can’t do it. The entire time I’ve been dating, I’ve really only been on a handful of dates with conventionally attractive “10s” (and God I hate that term because everyone is attractive in their own way, but this is for illustrative purposes only). Every time I’m on those dates, they may have gone well, but nothing really materialises from them.

Many of my male friends, who are quite jock-like seem to have little trouble with this. I’m not saying they are any better or worse than me, but they end up dating girls that are conventionally attractive.

It’s also an issue where people say “you could do so much better” when I’m with a girl. And the worst part is, most of the time I probably could, but the girls that are “better” don’t seem to be the ones that are attracted to me.

I’m not sure what to do here, because I have no reason to complain, but it’s bugging me.

So maybe this is an impossible standard that is set for “jock-type” men, and when you don’t adhere to that people don’t like it. Or maybe I’m overthinking it.

So my question to you is, do I keep doing me and date who is attracted to me, or do I try and pursued this potentially poisonous ideal, which may in fact lead to true happiness?

The truth is, when I do finally get a girl that is a “10” on a date, I don’t know what the hell gets into me but I lose all confidence. I start giving off low status signals and eventually the girl gets disinterested. It’s this terrible self sabotage. I even feel crippling approach anxiety for this certain type of girl, like I’m back in high school. For any other type of person, I have confidence. I don’t know why I value this conventionally attractive person higher than the unconventionally attractive people, but I do, and it sucks. Many times have I come so close to dating that conventionally attractive “10”, but I’ve just been unlucky, or self sabotaging.

This isn’t a problem, but I’ve got my whole life ahead of me and would like to resolve this in the best way possible. It’s the next mission on the self-help quest to enlightenment.

What do you think? Give up? Figure out a way to date “10s”? Find some new friends?

Crouching Jock, Hidden Nerd

OK CJHN, there’re a few things going on here.

First and foremost, you’re having issues with deservedness and self-esteem. You’re putting way too much weight on the opinions of others, whether it’s your friends, society, or the women you feel like you should be dating.


I want you to throw your eyeballs back up a few paragraphs and look at what I said to ShyGuy about the Male Gaze. One of the issues you’re having is the fact that you’re treating these “10s” as though they were more important or more valuable than anyone else because of how they look. Now, maybe some of them are poets laureate or Nobel Prize nominees, but you’re putting so much value and status on their looks alone that it’s cratering your own self-worth. You’re falling back to the person you used to be because you don’t believe that you two have similar or equal social value and frankly, that’s horseshit.

Look, I’ve spent a lot of time around some of the most gorgeous women in the world and I can tell you from experience: they’re people. Some are brilliant and some are as sharp as a sack of wet mice. Some are sweet and some are assholes. But they all fart, pick their noses, snore, have obnoxious food preferences, watch shit you can’t stand on Netflix, stub their toes, and forget their keys. They are like you and me and the only importance they have in your life is what you invest them with.

So stop seeing them as the “pinnacle” of achievement or whatever, or as sources of validation to “prove” that you’re as awesome as you want to be. They’re individuals, same as anyone else. You may find them insanely attractive but as I said earlier: that’s just one data point in the matrix that makes them who they are. Don’t let that one thing about them blow your hard-won confidence away.


Now, second of all: are you sure that the “10s” you’re pursuing are women you actually want to date? I mean, sure, they’re hot… but are you pursuing them because they’re someone you actually are compatible with, with aspects other than their looks that you find appealing? Or are you dating them because they have an ass like woah and boobs like PWHOAR?

Are you going after them because they’re what a jock-looking motherfucker like you is supposed to want? Are you finding that maybe they’re not quite it, but you’re willing to give it a shot because hey, look at how your buddies are all giving you the thumbs up?

‘Cuz I’m here to tell you: hotness is great, but hotness fades, very quickly. Hedonic adaptation is a part of the human experience and what starts out as phenomenal quickly becomes mundane and every-day when you get used to it. To quote Billy Bob Thornton: she can be the hottest woman in the world, but after a while, it can become like fucking the couch.

Having the same sense of humor, on the other hand, keeps things alive and vital. Shared interests, goals and values mean that you’ll have a connection long after even the most intense Korean skin-care regimine has ceased to work it’s magic. Being in awe of somebody’s wit or their brains, their sense of adventure or the way they can turn any situation into a positive, is going to serve you far better than just “will she look good on my Instagram feed?”

I suspect that part of the problem you’re having finding women who’re into you is that you’re chasing after women you’re not actually that into. You said it yourself: you’re feeling this pressure to go after a specific type of woman. And if that type isn’t the type you vibe with… well, that goes both ways, my dude. They may be drawn in by your crunchy jock-like exterior but just aren’t diggin’ on the chewy nerd center. And maybe your bros are doing better because they are into that type of woman. They speak the language, as it were, and they have the things that those women are looking for.


There’s no shame if you don’t have what they want; it just means that they’re not right for you. Better to find that out on the first couple of dates than try to paper over it, only to realize a year down the line that you’re lonely even when they’re in the room with you.

So when you’re looking at who to date, focus on the people who make you happy, not just the ones who make your dick smile. Maybe that person’ll be a 10 after all. Or maybe they’ll be a 7… but the way she smiles, or the fact that she’s more excited about Persona than you’ll ever be, or the fact that she can put you in an arm-bar before you can blink, will make you realize that you’ve rounded her up to a 10 because she’s just that awesome.

And as for the people who tell you “you can do so much better?” Fuck ‘em. Your love life isn’t a democracy. There’s no comment period where people get to register a complaint or tell you that, based on your height and body fat percentage, you should be dating X, Y or Z. Are you happy? Is your snugglebunny seven pounds of terrific in a five pound sack? Yes? Then the people who’re telling you “duuuude, you can do better” can collectively take that flying fuck at a rolling donut and you can get yourself a better class of friend.

Good luck.

Did you meet your partner on a cold approach? Have you dealt with friends’ opinions about how “you could do better”? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. We’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.

Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.


Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.

He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.

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