#872: Dating strategies that don’t involve the phrase “breaking the touch barrier.”

Hi Captain Awkward!

I’m in need of your spot-on dating advice and I’ll get right to it. This evening, I went on my fourth online dating website “date” (which usually is just find a place to chat for a couple hours) and, like the previous three dates, I have realized that the girl that I’ve chatted with for a while online just doesn’t seem that interested in me. (She still could be, but I just got back from the date and I think it’s smart to take a break from texting – don’t want to overwhelm her/appear clingy.) One of the main indicators that she just wasn’t interested in me was the fact that she wasn’t really trying to establish any physical contact. Being an introverted geek, where dating doesn’t come naturally to me, I’ve read about “breaking the touch barrier” and trying to create a (even slight) sense of intimacy on the first date. No, this doesn’t necessarily mean “make out” on the first date, but I always introduce myself with a hug; establish eye contact whenever possible; and give occasional friendly taps on the shoulder to establish a welcoming persona. I’m really trying my best to be better at dating but I’ve realized my problem is that I have a hard time creating intimacy on the first date and appearing like a desirable guy to my date. In short, I get the sense that even though we agree on a lot of topics and hobbies, I can never get my dates to “want” me like some other suave guys can do. Also, in between chatting about our hobbies, where we come from, what we like, etc., I tend to have a few awkward pauses during my dates. I’ve reasoned that it’s best to ALLOW these awkward pauses to occur, even if we’re just awkwardly sitting in silence, because a) You want to give her time to think/process what’s happening and b) you don’t want to appear like the blabbermouth who doesn’t know when to shut up. So I allow awkward pauses to happen, even if they sometimes seem to kill the mood. Should I do something differently there?

Padawaan Dater

Dear Padawaan Dater,

Someone is gonna want you when they want you and it won’t be because of any strategy you had about “breaking the touch barrier.” You say you are an introverted geek for whom dating does not come naturally. Your optimal dating pool is most likely made of geeky introverted women who also feel awkward about dating. Being “smooth” at them won’t help because they are also inside their own heads like, “Did he just touch me? Should I touch him? What does it mean? Am I doing this right?” Furthermore, all these calculated little hugs and shoulder taps are elliding the fact that every woman you date is different and has a different response to being touched, including some women who don’t want to be touched at all until they know you a little bit better. Your strategy of frequent, escalating touching from the start is very likely making some of the women you meet shut down until they can get away from you.

Touch & flirting on dates can be fun and it’s true that it’s part of figuring out if you have chemistry with someone, but it’s much better when you take someone’s hand or hug them because you’ve gotten to know them a little bit and it feels good to touch/flirt with that person, specifically, vs. All Of My Dates. Treating it like a game you are trying to win is alienating you from your dates and also alienating you from your own heart. How can you even tell if you like someone if you’re trying so hard to impress or seduce her?

It’s summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, which is a good time to review ideas for things to do on dates:

  • Go to an outdoor concert or performance + picnic. Pro-Tip: Scout out seating and nearby safe bathrooms/transit beforehand. Bring bug spray.
  • Go to a bookstore or a comic book store and pick out a book for one another. Pro-Tip: This is not an opportunity for you to show off your impeccable taste, it’s more of an opportunity for you to learn about her taste and to see if you can match something to it. Geeky ladies are very used to guys pushing their tastes on us, and it’s actually an attractive novelty when a geeky dude says “I don’t know, recommend me something!” and then actually reads whatever it is. I will also give you the advice I give every young heterosexual guy who asks me for dating advice: Read/watch/listen to more work by women.
  • Go to a bar or cafe that has board games and play a game or two. Pro-Tip: Choose a game you both know or a game that neither of you know over a game that you know well and she doesn’t know.
  • Go to the second run movie house or the drive-in for a midnight showing of an old (geeky) favorite.
  • Find an inexpensive performance or art show or live music or poetry slam or reading or comedy night where you live and go. The show/art gives you something to talk about to fill the awkward pauses. Pro-Tip: If the art sucks, it gives you even more to talk about.
  • Take a class or a lesson in something – archery, cooking, pottery, photography, fire-spinning, ukulele. Look at Groupon (or similar) for deals. Pro-Tip: Taking a class can be a great way to meet people in general and to get into a mode where you are vulnerable and engaged with what you are doing.
  • If your local museum sells memberships, invest in one, since they usually let you + a guest in for free. “Let’s go look at art/dinosaur bones/suits of armor/the planetarium/super-cool rocks.”
  • If organizations like One Brick have a chapter near you, find a 1-time volunteering event to go to together.
  • Consider: Karaoke at the dive bar, bowling at the weird old bowling alley, miniature golf, hitting balls at the batting cages.
  • See also: The State Fair, neighborhood street festivals, church festivals, anywhere you can ride a ferris wheel and eat things-on-a-stick.

Whatever you choose:

  • It’s not about having the coolest/best plan, it’s about finding a venue and an activity where you can enjoy yourself for an hour or so and then doing that thing with someone else. That means, plan something that is genuinely interesting and fun for you. Is this an event or pastime you would want to at least try out with a very good friend as your company? If you hate karaoke, don’t make yourself do karaoke.
  • Be vulnerable and don’t be afraid to look like a big goof at whatever you’re doing. If you do karaoke, enthusiasm counts as much, if not more, than talent.
  • Don’t spend lots of money on early dates. Do things that are inexpensive or free and easy to get to.
  • Think about doing things or going places that are new to both of you. Ignore the dating literature that tells men to try to impress women with their expertise & taste. Maybe IMPRESSIVE MODE works for some people. May your mode is “I don’t know, let’s figure it out together.
  • If I wasn’t clear before, stop reading sexist dating advice about “breaking the touch barrier.” Your question was basically, how can we make all that sexist “seduction” advice work a little better for you? Answer: Women are people, and we can’t be hacked.
  • This is trial and error for everyone, and it takes time for everyone to figure out what and who they like. Be gentle with yourself. Go slow.
  • When in doubt, ask. “I have no idea what to do to end a date, but I’m having fun with you. Is this the part where we hug goodbye?: 
  • After a date, check in with yourself. Did you like her? What did you like about her? Did any red flags or incompatibilities come up? If you did like her and want to see her again, tell her so the next day. “I had a great time and I really liked meeting you. Can we do that again soon?” 
  • During the date, check in with yourself. Are you having fun? Is it easy to hang out with this person? Are you glad you left your house or are you anxiously waiting until you can get home and hit “play next episode” and relax? Pro-Tip: If you’re having fun, you know what might work better than hugs and shoulder touches to create intimacy? A sincere “I’m really enjoying myself, thank you.” A sincere “You look great.” A sincere smile. Use your words to fill some of those awkward pauses: “Meeting new people is awkward, right? But I’m really enjoying myself with you.Thank you for making an awkward thing really fun.




577 thoughts on “#872: Dating strategies that don’t involve the phrase “breaking the touch barrier.”

  1. Being hugged by someone I met two seconds ago would mean I’d never speak to them again. I would instantly want to be somewhere else.

    1. Yeah, I’m autistic and a sexual assault survivor. I’m really, really selective about who I want touching me and how, and a strange man trying to hug me at the start of a date is my nightmare. LW, please, please try to see the women you’re dating as individuals with their own histories and preferences. Stuff like applying a blanket hugging strategy and carefully calculating when to text (although you’re right not to bombard someone with texts after a date) are making you seem fake and are definitely annoying and potentially triggering your dates.

      1. Yes. If someone hugged me at the start of our first date, that would also be the end of our last date. I mean, I would try to dodge the hug first, both physically and with words like, “I don’t hug people I don’t know well” and “I don’t want to hug you,” but if that didn’t work, I would be gone. Immediately.

      2. Amen. Another gal here on the ASD spectrum, plus I was raised by parents from a culture where manners are much more formal and detailed (rule-wise). I almost never hug my friends, and even our family rarely hugged (and watching us try to do so was often amusing, in the sense that we were all rather robotic and blatantly clueless.) LW should remember that even gals who are not “on the spectrum” are often naturally wary of any guy they’re just now meeting in person. To use the LW’s terminology, that “touch barrier” is there *for a reason*, and pushing right past it and effectively running over someone’s personal comfort zone will only reinforce that barrier.

        If someone I don’t know or barely know comes up to me and even does something as innocuous and put a hand on my shoulder, my defenses immediately got straight to DEFCON 1. *If I want you to touch me, or am okay with that, you will know.*

        I’ve rarely dated for a variety of reasons, but here’s my advice: be polite, err on the side of caution, and don’t try to be something you’re not. The last one in particular never leads anywhere good.

        1. Yup yup yup. I’m a completely neurotypical lady who came from a huggy, physically affectionate family and now lives in a houseful of 8 huggy, affectionate people. I hug my family. I hug my friends. I *MIGHT* even hug someone on the first date…

          …at the END of the first date
          … if I had REALLY enjoyed the first date and was feeling the chemistry
          …and much more likely if *I* initiated it.

          The odds of my voluntarily hugging a stranger at the *beginning* of a first date? When he approached me with intent to hug, as an introductory move, and didn’t even *ask*? So low as to be approximately in the sixth circle of hell. Anyone who tried that would be told immediately, “Hey, fast mover! Can we get to know each other a bit first?” while I physically dodged — *if* I were feeling especially chock-full of second chances that day. Otherwise, they’d just get told, “You know, I don’t think this is going to work. I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time. I’m going to go home now.”

          1. A hug is just SO close! Physically, you are rightnext to someone when you hug them.

            It’s very intimate to me. And I’m neurotypical from a huggy family.

            I hesitate to stress this, because I don’t want to add to the “all women are like this” attitude, but I do think that general etiquette says “less contact when you don’t know people.”

            It’s always safe to NOT hug someone, in terms of being polite.
            It’s very risky TO hug someone you don’t know well, in terms of being polite.

            So, pick something less intimate. Shake hands maybe, even if it is a cliché, and then observe for HER reaction.

            If that feels too formal, then lean forward while you do it, and smile delightedly.
            Or make it your ironic signature. Make it lighthearted in some way that works for you.

    2. Same. I’m not a touchy-feely person by nature, and I only hug people that I’m emotionally attached to enough that I *want* to hug them. A stranger hugging me would have me riding the Nopetepus out as fast as possible.

    3. Same here. I don’t like being touched by people I know well, much less someone I’ve just met. Some people just aren’t physically contact oriented for various reasons, and there’s nothing wrong with that – you just have to connect in other ways.

    4. a friend mentioned that his (woman) first dates usually hug him hello. why is this different? because his dates INITIATE the hug; he does not.

      i mean, patriarchy sucks and all, so like…deal with it, LW, don’t reinforce it.

      1. Also – it’s not actually different? Even if some people (of whatever gender) are happy to be hugged by people they’ve just met, it is ALWAYS a better idea to ask before hugging someone. And I get the feeling that there is social pressure on cis het guys to be okay with being touched by women at all times and in all ways and now that I’m thinking of it in these terms it is really creeping me out. I can feel that I have my dismay face on.

        I’m thinking about this because my friend’s partner (he is my friend too! Just not as close) recently mentioned that he doesn’t actually like hugs. And I had not known that! And I had totally been hugging him upon my arrivals and departures for, like, several years! Because he is my friend, and I like to hug my friends, and I only recently learned to start asking first. So now I do not hug him anymore, and we are both happy.

        1. The power imbalance makes it different, though. I mean, yes, there are definitely guys who are not cool with it, and I think the women should ask, absolutely. But “unsolicited hug from a woman” and “unsolicited hug from a man”, even though I want neither, are VERY different. The woman’s is uncomfortable. The man’s is “what the fuck this dude is a CREEP probably ugh gross”.

        2. “Even if some people (of whatever gender) are happy to be hugged by people they’ve just met, it is ALWAYS a better idea to ask before hugging someone”

          Yeah, personally I’d love being hugged on a date but I’d still appreciate being asked first. Then I get both the hug and the opportunity to find out they’re someone who’s careful with my boundaries, win win.

          Though this is probably affected by me being a lesbian. There aren’t any guys I’d want to hug soon after meeting.

          1. Crow, I think that would definitely have something to do with it for me. I identify as a lesbian, but have dated both men and women in the past, so I’ve got some basis for comparing my own instincts, at least. And I have been *much* more comfortable with physical touch on most reasonably good first date with women than I have on any first date with a man.

          2. pocketnaomi, you know, I was assuming it was just a “women tend to feel less threatening to each other” thing, but I think it might be more because of the dynamics of how relationships and attraction are handled in our culture.

            if one is a lesbian then she gets taught that she needs to make herself sexually available to men and that her boundaries to men are something to be broken (‘breaking the touch barrier’). at the same time we get told that we’re predatory and that our attraction to women is dangerous.

            obviously hugging on dates is still a very individual thing and asking before initiating is good, but maybe the difference for us is that women on dates are trying to make each other feel like their attraction is welcome, that they’re not seen as dangerous, and that physical touch with this person isn’t going to be unsafe to engage in. for me a hug on early on on a date could potentially make me feel safer and more able to trust her.

            I’m not sure I’m expressing this very well but there are kinds of reassurance like this that women who are only attracted to men don’t really need, which means short term physical touch isn’t going to be especially reassuring for most of them and might as well wait since there’s still all that gender dynamic stuff to parse.

          3. Yeah, with the caveat that asking is *always* a good thing, I (lady person) feel more comfortable hugging a female date right away, I think for me it’s partly because I have more social expectations for hugs among female friends and acquaintances. So, like, I hug male friends who I am close to, but usually not as a standard greeting/farewell, but many of my female friends, even acquaintances, will hug as a standard hello/goodbye. So it implies less of a connection to me.

        3. Also – it’s not actually different?

          Ditto this – I’m bio gender male, social gender indifferent, and that would be the end of the date for me.

          And I get the feeling that there is social pressure on cis het guys to be okay with being touched by women at all times and in all ways and now that I’m thinking of it in these terms it is really creeping me out.

          You are not wrong.

        4. I don’t know. Even when it’s presented as a question, I still feel a great deal of pressure to agree to a hug, whether I want it or not. And yes everyone’s line is in a different place, so there’s always a risk that whenever you ask, the other person will think it’s too soon. But I still think there’s a huge difference between asking on a very first meeting, vs after a date where there is some chemistry, or on a second meeting, regardless of where the other person’s “Whoa too soon” line falls.

          1. Yes, the problem is with a stranger, you don’t know them well enough to know how a no will go over. So there’s a lot of pressure to not make waves, not ‘make a scene’, etc.

            It’s different after you know someone a little. Then saying ‘no thanks’ to things starts to feel easier and more natural (at least it should!), which is what tou need for a question to feel like a real question.

            I kind of like the idea of presenting it as a choice between a couple kinds of greetings.

            But also, if someone really likes you, them having to wait a day or two before they touch you is only going to build fun suspense, it’s not like it will turn them off ;). And if you worried they won’t know you like them, just tell them you had a good time, or text them the next day and ask if they want to meet again.

          2. “Even when it’s presented as a question, I still feel a great deal of pressure to agree to a hug, whether I want it or not.” I think it’s very common to feel that way, especially with given power dynamics. I try to keep it light and provide options; “Are you up for a hug, or is a wave/handshake better?”

      2. Yeah, i think from an ETIQUETTE point of view, that’s not really kosher either.

        Not from an “all men like…” or “all women like…” but from a “wait to be offered intimacy–don’t presume it.”

        That’s a basic, basic tenet of etiquette, that you wait to be offered an intimacy.

        Sure, it leads to some awkward “leaning in, leaning back, holding out my arms, dropping them.” But that’s kind of endearing. Especially when it’s accompanied by a truly “watching for your signals but I do really like you” attitude.

    5. Yep. I could maybe do a handshake, but a hug right out of the gate…whoa nelly.

    6. I wish we had the option to click Like on these comments so I could click Like on this comment.

      1. I think we do… very occasionally I get an email saying someone has liked one of my comments, but I’m buggered if I can figure out how to do it myself.

    7. This. I’m not much of a hugger and certainly not with a relative stranger. Hold off, please.

    8. I am not a just-met-you-hugger, and I have been on roughly forty million first dates, and what I started doing what approaching people with my hand out, a big smile, and going “handshake or awkward side hug??”

      Embrace the awkwardness. Except not literally.

    9. I love hugs. I am super touch oriented person. If someone said to me: pick one “love language” and that’s the only one you get for the rest of your life – I would choose physical affection with no hesitation. I love having someone smushed up next to me while I sleep. And nothing feels better than when someone I love (platonic or romantic) hugs or kisses me to connect and show love. All the warm fuzzies!!

      But a first date opening with a hug? Oh, eff no. This what I learned about this person from that one gesture: at best, they are willfully clueless about other people’s boundaries and needs; at worst they don’t care and are actively attempting to break down my boundaries. Either way – I’m out. I am done teaching people (mostly cis, het, male type people) how to empathize and respect my boundaries.

      Also, just because I love physical affection, does not mean everyone also feels this way or feels this way about me. If I think a touch-averse friend might want like a hug (like, my best friend who isn’t a hugger is upset and crying) I ASK THEM and if they say no, I *don’t hug them and I don’t get upset about it or take it personally.*

    10. Being hugged by a stranger and constant touching would have me never seeing the person again–maybe after a date at the end if you enjoyed the person, at MY option–but someone all over you as part of their “getting to know you” strategy is horrible.

    11. Yep. Also, I find “occasional friendly taps on the shoulder” weird. Is there a reason for the shoulder tap? I only tap someone’s shoulder when I’m trying to get their attention and I’m standing behind them. Please let me know if I’m misunderstanding that line.

    12. In the day, there used to be a rule that a gentleman did not attempt to shake hands with a lady unless she put out her hand first. Simply nodding at people was considered just fine for an introduction. How we got from there to “let’s all hug people hello” I will never understand. I barely hug my relatives, for Chrissake.

    13. Oh god this. I mean… maybe I would be okay with it if there’d been a lot of online chatting, and I mean *really* a lot, and it had gotten to the point where I had offered *hugs* in chat and that was a semi-common thing…

      …aaaand I just realized that when I try to visualize the circumstances in which I’m okay with this kind of interaction, what comes to my mind’s eye is being okay with someone who is not a guy on a date with me introducing themselves by hugging me.

      First-meatspace-meeting pre-interaction (and yes, “during introductions” is “pre-interaction”) friend hugs are to my mind way less pressurey than first-meatspace-meeting pre-interaction date hugs.

      I’m reading that there’s an expectation here, LW, that the date is to check out someone and see if there is a possibility of mutual pantsfeels and sexytimes; you are meeting these girls in part so you can both see if they would be into you touching them. Maybe dial back on the touching before they’ve had a chance to decide if it’s cool.

  2. “I always introduce myself with a hug”

    LW, this is just one woman talking, but for the record, that would instantly kill my interest in the date, and make me want to get it over with and get away. A hug is much more intimate than I want to get with a stranger. A hug at the end of a good date, maybe; a hug as introduction, and I’m out for good.

    YMMV, and many women are much, much, much, much more tactile than I am. But something to consider as you’re weighing these questions.

    1. Yep yep yep. I *am* a very tactile person, and would hug goodnight after a fun date, but someone who is essentially a stranger introducing himself with a hug? That would be past my threshold.

      (LW: if you *do* want to hug at the end of a date — or whenever, if hugging this person has not been a thing you’ve done before — a good approach is to just say: “I am a huggy person, can I hug you goodnight or would you rather handshake?” or just “Are you a hugger?” so they can no thanks you if they are not comfortable.)

      1. And if you do ask for a hug and she says no, please accept her answer graciously. I’ve had people ask me if they can hug me… and when I said no, they got offended and mad at me because I’ve been talking to them that evening/they’re close to my date/they’re soooooo nice. Ask with the understanding that she may say no.

      2. I’m a huggie-slut – I love hugs 🙂 But – a hug from someone I’ve just met ? Sorry but that would really deter me from a second date and I’d be spending the entire date trying to figure out if I was safe. Please lose the hug.

      3. I am a very huggy dude, and “Are you a hugger?” has become part of my default vocabulary. I used to not ask, and it took me a while to see the problem with that.

      4. I am a hugger, but the first time my now-husband and I went out, he hugged me and it ticked me off. First, he hadn’t even paid for lunch, so in my mind, it was not a date, it was just two people with friends in common going out to lunch, and second, I didn’t know him! I don’t hug people I don’t know. I am happy to hug my friends and family, but not strangers.

        (I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Chile and it took me a long time to get used to the Cheek Kiss of Introduction.)

        1. Slightly off topic but to do with dating etiquette so maybe helpful to LW in some sense…

          I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or what, but it jars on me really weirdly when I see stuff like “he didn’t even pay for lunch so in my mind it wasn’t a date.” Every date I’ve ever been on before being in an established relationship with someone (apart from a few ONLY dates with overbearing, pushy men who insisted on paying), I’ve paid my share and they’ve paid theirs. I know etiquette says the host, i.e. the person doing the inviting, should pay, but that always struck me as something for more formal arrangements like business lunches and birthday celebrations. Have I been getting it wrong in terms of etiquette? Not that it matters to me any more as I’m married and monogamous, but I can’t be the only person who gets confused by this.

          Also, just to throw it out there, I’ve never ever seen “SHE didn’t pay ergo it wasn’t a date.”

          1. Personally, I never let someone pay for me if I can get out of it, and if I like them I’m LESS tolerant of attempts to be pushy about it. Because it matters a lot more to me if I actually like them.

            The few times I’ve let a guy get away with insisting on paying for me (without paying for him the next time we went out) was when I had already made up my mind I was never going to see the guy again, so it wasn’t worth the conflict necessary to try to establish the kind of relationship I would want.

            Guys who aren’t pushy or overbearing when I go to pay for my food make wn immediate good impression on me, because they are actually listening to me.

          2. I ssuspect I’m very much in a minority here, but for me, if it’s not my birthday and someone else pays for my lunch, my immediate strong association is with going out with my parents, or my boss. It’s a VERY unromantic association.

            I know guys are practically trained from birth to offer, so I try to remember that when they do, but if they are pushy or insistent once I say no thanks, it only makes me feel that they aren’t willing to listen and believe what I actually say. Which, again, very offputting ane unromantic.

          3. I think the whole “man automatically pays” thing is pretty much gone by the wayside. For instance, I always pay my own way even when I’ve been asked out… although I’ll grab the coffees if I’m the person who did the asking. Cis-het-female, if it matters.

            It’s partly as self-preservation, though–I hate it when men think that I owe them something, even a second date, if they paid for the first. So I just make that little bit of power trip a non-issue right off the bat. My boyfriend and I take turns picking up the check unless it’s a special occasion, more expensive than usual, kind of date where we want to treat the other.

          4. I hate the “going dutch” thing, and like “Gold Digger,” it makes it feel less like a date and more like dinner with friends or co-workers. We have to figure out whether to each pay for half, or each pay for what we ate, down to the penny. It just feels unromantic to me. I’m fine with “you pay for movie tickets, I pay for popcorn/drinks/etc.,” trading off who pays each time, and so forth. I’m in a relationship now, so it isn’t an issue. Heck, most of the time we go to the grocery store together and trade off who buys the food, and just cook at home.

          5. Perlandra, don’t they do separate checks where you live? It’s never been an issue for me to just ask for separate checks when it’s time to settle up. No muss, no fuss and the wait staff does the work for you. No need to do any math other than for the tip.

          6. I cut the men some slack in this situation because I’m ALWAYS uncomfortable when someone else always grabs the check. I’m female and I hate it when female friends do it, when colleagues and business associates do it, always. In one case, the friend was so insistent that I felt like I was losing an argument. Efforts to do my share even by making lunch in my home were met with so much exaggerated effort to pay me back (including trying to pay me cash) that I started refusing to go out with her or do pretty much anything with her. Our friendship has suffered. Sometimes being aggressively generous implies a required pay-back. Sometimes it implies superiority, or the opposite, a you’re-better-than-me imbalance. Luckily there’s a pretty easy fix. If the guy has made the initial invitation, he offers to pay when the check comes. If his offer is met with his date getting out her wallet while saying “let’s split this,” he agreeably acquiesces.

    2. I am pretty physically affectionate and am a hugger, generally… but this would still put me off, for what it’s worth. A hug at the end of the date would be okay with me if the date went well, but as an introduction, it would make me really uncomfortable. Even for people like me who are fairly casual with hugs, it’s still something reserved for people I’m comfortable with–friendly acquaintences who aren’t good friends might very well make the cut (I’ve give good-bye hugs to similarly hug-friendly coworkers who I’m not otherwise terribly close with), but someone I had little or no interaction with would not.

      If someone went in for a hug at the introduction stage, I might let them out of sheer surprise, but it would make me wary and cautious thereafter (if they feel okay hugging me out of nowhere, what might they feel comfortable trying if I encourage them?).

      1. Whoops, didn’t see that a bunch of other people had said exactly this! Didn’t mean to pile on. (Although the sheer consistency of the ‘ack, no!’ response, even from huggers like me, means that this is probably something you’d be best off dropping this part.)

        To expand on it a little, though: I think part of the problem is that you’re trying to create a sense of intimacy via touch, whereas for most people I think it goes the other way around–we are comfortable touching people because there’s a pre-existing sense of intimacy. How much intimacy varies widely (I wouldn’t say that I’m “intimate” with a coworker who I might give a goodbye hug to, but I’m certainly more intimate with them than I would be with a total stranger on the train, say), and different people have different thresholds (I’m fine with the coworker hug; some people need a much closer bond to hug someone), but in general I think it’s true.

        I do have one story of stranger-hugging that might actually be useful here, beyond just “don’t do that.” I was at a very tense, very close baseball game against my hometown team’s biggest rivals. It was incredibly exciting. I happened to be sitting next to a person who I didn’t know from Adam; we interacted only in the usual sitting-next-to-each-other ballpark patter (lots of “excuse me”s, some “would it be in your way if I put my jacket here?”, a “those nachos look great, where did you get them?” and very occasional commentary on the game). The commentary ramped up as we got into the ninth inning behind by a couple of points; we talked more freely than we would have in the first inning. And then when our team won in a grand slam on two outs, we shrieked, leapt up, and hugged each other.

        The shared experience gave us a sense of–well–I suppose a minor but very real sense of intimacy. I had no idea what the guy’s name even was, but the sense of having gone through something together, that made me feel like I knew him at least a little–enough that I spontaneously wanted to give him a hug when our team finally pulled it off.

        So the moral here is not “haunt ballparks, hoping to hug a woman after a game-winning grand slam.” It’s also not “artificially manufacture that sense of having gone through something together.” (Honestly, had I had the impression that the guy next to me was attempting to “bond” with me through the experience, it would have put me off–and yes, plenty of people are capable of noticing that kind of strategizing. The charm of it was its very naturalness: we happened to be sitting together, the game happened to be exciting, the magic happened on its own, not because someone was orchestrating it.) It’s exactly what the Captain said: you want to get to know these women that you’re dating, share experiences, do things. Maybe it’s a concert or a museum trip or a board game night or any of the other things suggested. But the shared experience happens first, and if you get along the intimacy follows. You can’t hack it by trying to artificially jump to the intimacy.

        1. “you’re trying to create a sense of intimacy via touch, whereas for most people I think it goes the other way around–we are comfortable touching people because there’s a pre-existing sense of intimacy” —- I think this is so right.

        2. OMG YES THIS.

          LW, Please take the advice people are giving you here, to heart. I am an awkward, somewhat introverted, mildly autistic (new self-discovery!!!) nerdy NB. I am totally understanding of the difficulty of trying to learn How To Social when it comes to more emotionally fraught situations like dates, so I am really feeling you on the difficulty of trying to gauge this stuff.

          But I promise you, books that teach you a rote set of techniques to “make” women like you won’t work. Because they tend to get things backwards. The book says “Notice that people who are getting along well on a date make low-key physical contact. This signals interest and intimacy. So you should initiate contact in order to create interest and intimacy”. No. Nope nope no. It’s backwards. Familiarity and interest build intimacy. And intimacy is reflected by physical touch, among other things. Also, hugging someone you do not yet know is sufficiently unusual to stand out to people in a somewhat off-putting way.

          The absolute best thing you can do is just treat your date like a person, rather than a puzzle to solve. A date is not a side-quest. You’re not trying to input the right set of commands to unlock the bonus *goodnight kiss* cutscene. A date is an opportunity for two people to get to know each other better, and find out *if* they have anything in common and *if* they think there might be potential for a relationship. This means that it’s not just you proving your worth or attractiveness to her. You should be talking to her, gauging her interests and personality, and thinking to yourself about whether you’re having a fun night, if you’re finding her an interesting and engaging person, if you find her mannerisms charming and appealing, if you’re feeling a growing attraction as opposed to a diminishing one. Think to yourself; if a romantic or sexual relationship was never going to happen between us, and I met this person fresh tomorrow, can I see myself becoming their friend? Ask yourself, since I like this person and find them fun, do I also find them attractive and charming?

          1. Exactly! This Bronami Code nonsense, about performing set steps to defeat the end of level Boss woo someone, is awful.

          2. “The book says “Notice that people who are getting along well on a date make low-key physical contact. This signals interest and intimacy. So you should initiate contact in order to create interest and intimacy”. No. Nope nope no. It’s backwards.”

            I’d say that the fault lies in the logic behind it, because it assumes that A = B, thus B *must* = A.

            Thus, if two people who are getting on really well on a date will touch each other, then that must mean that if there is touching on a date (whether it’s organic or not doesn’t matter, because all that exists is a binary touch and not touch) then the date is going well.

            It’s like thinking that if a person gives their best friend $50 because they are their best friend, then all you need to do to become their best friend is to get them to give you $50. It’s silly and will never accomplish the desired result.

          3. Bingo, it’s reversing the causation mechanism. Escalating touch is lovely when *you already like the person.* because being touched by someone you’re into is amazing! But if you’re not, or not sure, escalating touch is quite frankly a little terrifying. And so if a dude is getting action by that means, odds are the girl got intimidated into it. (Especially when coupled with that ‘isolate’ technique!)

          4. But I promise you, books that teach you a rote set of techniques to “make” women like you won’t work. Because they tend to get things backwards.

            Correlation is not causation!

        3. I see a similarity here to horse riding, and not only because I tend to think of all interactions in terms of horse riding…

          Back when I was a child and went to riding school, we were taught that in order to have a good seat, our heels should be down and our toes pointing slightly inwards. So we all did our best to push our heels down and point our toes inwards. It was difficult and did not come naturally.

          Then I grew up, and didn’t ride for more than a decade. When I got back into riding, I started riding for a personal riding trainer instead, one of the best horsewomen I know. Her focus was on making me relax on the horse. She started by having the horse on a lunge line, so I wouldn’t have to worry about making him go in the right direction, letting me focus on learning to feel instead of thinking. “Sit back. Like in a chair. Let your back relax. Let your legs relax. Feel how stable you are now that you are not tensing and trying to grip the horse. Feel how now that you are relaxed and stable, the horse will simply carry you along, you don’t have to fight to stay in the saddle. Feel how your stirrups gently catch your feet, so that your heels can rest. Feel how your legs feel when they are relaxed, how your heels sink down, how your toes turn slightly inward, how your seat follows the motions of the horse, how you can now work with him instead of forcing him.”

          In essence, my early teachers knew what a relaxed rider with a good seat would look like in terms of leg positions – but by focusing only on the end result, they hindered us from ever getting that good seat. Because that cannot be forced, it can only happen when you trust yourself and your horse and you have a saddle that works for both you and your horse, and you aren’t scared… so you can relax and go with the flow, and work with the horse instead of fighting to push both him and you into something that looks like the standard picture but feels awkward and uncomfortable.

          This is an essence of dating. You have an idea of what a successful date should be like. If you start by pushing yourself and your date to match this idealized picture, you will never be able to relax and you will never be able to really connect. You cannot force connection, trust and intimacy. You can only relax and respond and allow them to grow naturally.

          (And I still don’t always manage it when riding, nor when meeting people. But now that I know what it can feel like when it does work out, I know not to settle for less.)

          1. OK, totally off topic, but I also ride, and my early teachers also did the “heels down, toes in” thing, and I had a terrible time getting my legs in proper form and never understood why until you explained it just now.

          2. I see a similar thing with swim instruction. Because good swimmers tend to rotate their bodies in the stroke, the stroking arm tends to follow a sort of s-shaped pattern. So generations of swim instructors and coaches made their students pull their arms in an s-shaped stroke, not realizing that it would just happen naturally if the body was streamlined and rotating from side to side in the water.

          3. Off-topic, but I think you’ve literally just cracked what I’ve been struggling with for a year as a new adult rider. Thanks! (Also, awesome analogy.)

          4. Oh my gosh! There’s a reason for the legs and heels down other than torturing riding students? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this??

        4. To expand on it a little, though: I think part of the problem is that you’re trying to create a sense of intimacy via touch, whereas for most people I think it goes the other way around–we are comfortable touching people because there’s a pre-existing sense of intimacy.

          This is very well said and very true.

          Like you, I’m kind of casual with hugs. I’m not a touchy person in general and don’t initiate touching with basically anyone but I don’t particularly mind it, either. However, the intimacy thing is key even for someone like me. A couple of years ago, I met up for a project I had to complete together with a classmate. We saw each other solely in that class – so, once a week -, didn’t know each other outside of it, sometimes sat next to each other and talked in a friendly but not overly intimate manner. I’d describe him as a nice, not-close-at-all acquaintance. So imagine my surprise when we met up for the project and he hugged me out of the blue! I did participate and wasn’t uncomfortable with it – as I said, I don’t mind touching, I just don’t usually initiate it – but it still felt really weird and out of place. And that was because to me, we weren’t on a level of intimacy that allowed such close touching for something as simple and fast as a greeting.

          Again, I wasn’t uncomfortable but it did make me realise that this guy either had a much lower threshold for gestures like that or that he thought us to be closer than we actually were. I suspected it was the latter and since I had no interest whatsoever in getting to know him better, I made a point of distancing myself during the following couple of weeks. So yeah, had we been good friends or especially close before that, I wouldn’t have batted an eye at the hugging but as it was, no way, the touching just didn’t match our level of intimacy at all.

        5. I think part of the problem is that you’re trying to create a sense of intimacy via touch, whereas for most people I think it goes the other way around–we are comfortable touching people because there’s a pre-existing sense of intimacy.

          This is really well-said, and it stands out to me because I am the rare person for whom it frequently does go in the touch –> intimacy direction. In dating, I prefer to get to the making-out or sex stage quickly, because I feel most natural relating to people and expressing affection (even light, “I just met you and you seem cool” affection) with my body and I find that it is often easier for me to be myself in conversation during and after lots of sex than beforehand. It is also easier for me to sort out how I feel about someone after experiencing a more intimate interaction with them and seeing how I feel about communicating with them in that setting (do I feel like my natural self?), so I like to use sex and subsequent interactions to help suss out whether I like someone enough for more dates. It works for me.

          And because my preferences are unusual, and because it can do real harm to people to escalate touching and sex beyond what they are comfortable with, I have also had to learn to be very careful in making sure that I am not imposing this on someone whose preferences would be otherwise. One way I do this is by screening people’s interest in sex before the date, or before I touch them. Because I meet people online, I generally have a lot of information about their preferences before we ever meet, and because sex (including political and feminist issues surrounding sex) is one of my major interests, it not-infrequently becomes part of the pre-date or first-date conversation.

          I also date people who don’t have sex as one of their major hobbies, and aren’t sending a clear signal in advance that lots of touching is something they are super-comfortable with, and I hold back on touching them even though I feel more adrift dating that way. The best relationship I have ever had was with a man who is like this, and we muddled through the awkwardness and made our way to great sex later on. (The second-best relationship was with a man who is like me, and we had great sex first and went from there. It’s all good.)

          Which brings me, at last, to my advice for the OP. OP, if you are someone who, like me, relates to people best early on through touch, which is a completely valid way to be, and you want to be able to pursue this in the way that feels most natural to you, then you need to actively look for others who are similar to you. It may take you a long time to find them. It may or may not be worth it.

          If that’s not you, or if you are more flexible, or you want to learn to be more flexible because there are so many cool women out there who could be wonderful for you but the thing that feels natural to you early on would feel uncomfortable (or worse) for them, then you need to learn to relate to people in other ways.

          These are choices that you get to make! Just please don’t make the choice of imposing physicality on people who are likely to find it an uncomfortable experience, or even feel violated by it. That it the only really bad choice you can make.

    3. Ditto to this. Quick hand shake, or even a wave, but no one I have JUST met is “hug appropriate”. I’ll hug people I like when parting, if we hit it off–this goes for new friends as well as dates–but right off the bat? Nooooo. Hell no.

      Also, “breaking the intimacy barrier” sounds like PUA stuff. Eye contact and what not, sure, but people I barely know touching me in ANY way, even “friendly” touches like my arm or my back, is pushy and Not Cool. It reads like someone testing if I will allow them to invade my personal space or not. On a first date? That kind of “testing” takes on a whole different flavor. A cringey flavor.

      1. Yeah, I vote for shaking hands. I don’t like being touched by people I’ve just met, especially if I’m concerned that there may be expectations. Like, they totally may not have any expectations about having sex on a first date, there’s no way for me to know that.

    4. YES! I had the same thought. I’m introverted but VERY demonstrative/physical with the people whose company I do enjoy. I’ve learned an important step to honoring the boundaries of other people is to ask whether they are comfortable with hugs once I feel like I am at that point. It always works out as, when saying goodbye:

      Me – *shirks waving/handshake gesture we’re used to* “Hey! Are we at the hug stage yet?”
      Other Party: “Yes!” *hug* or just *hug*


      Me – *shirks waving/parting gesture we’re used to* Hey! Are we at the hug stage yet?
      Other Party: Uh, I’m not into that. *continues gesture*

      I like talking about it as the hug stage because I think it helps convey the level of closeness I feel. Some people don’t feel the same, and that’s OK. I can empathize with the times I have felt weird being hugged by someone with whom I am not so comfortable/familiar.

      Second thought: IGNORE THE DATING LITERATURE. The line where you said you were reading advice on dating was a red flag to me. You may have chosen a good source for information, but a lot of the dating advice I ever read came from a harrowing male perspective where everything was on a time table that eventually leads to “Sex Yes” (rather than a main objective like “Fulfilling emotional relationship based on mutual respect”). I also had a very visceral reaction to the idea of “breaking the touch barrier”. I’ve had many experiences with times someone touched me in a way I felt was too familiar, and I felt awkward pointing it out because I liked them as a person but didn’t feel a corresponding level of closeness.

      The only advice I have for this may not be helpful, but I hope it is: Be empathetic. Put yourself in the other person’s place and consider the situation from his/her perspective. I think that helps one get better at understanding another person’s needs and desires. Relationships aren’t only about filling your own needs, and it helps you get outside yourself to consider the other person early on.

      Also, I hope no one in the Awkward community minds my seventh-ing of the no “introduction hug” point, but I felt compelled to join the chorus and reiterate this is may be bad dating advice.

      1. I just want to second something else you said…

        When in doubt, *just* *ASK*.

        Like I said, I’m Asperger’s, and all too often clueless as to when something is appropriate–anything from a borderline personal question to what the proper behavior is for an event/place/etc. So I just ask the seemingly stupid question if something is okay or not. With questions I’m not sure might be too personal, I’ll preface them with, “If I may ask,” or “Feel free not to answer this if it’s too personal,” “Do you mind if I ask,” and so on. Most people learn pretty quickly that with me, I’m not trying to excuse crappy behavior, I just genuinely *don’t know*, and am giving them an out if they need it. And I’ve had people tell me they’re not comfortable answering a question, or would rather not answer, and that is fine.

        We’re trying to get people on the bandwagon of enthusiastic consent, but I don’t think many people think about applying that outside of full-on sex. It may be much more critical in that situation, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be applied to even minor interactions like hugging. Just freaking ask. It’s second nature to me, because even long before I was diagnosed as ASD/Asperger’s, my family was true to a cultural stereotype of being direct and rather blunt. You rarely had to guess what someone was thinking, because they usually just told you. and if you didn’t know, you just asked them.

      2. I also really like checking in before giving hugs. I am a very touchyfeely person but my friends aren’t, and my friendgroup tends to use, “Are we hugfriends?” for new people and just yelling HUGFRIENDS! at each other when established friends are leaving.

        I also really like “Are you a hugfriend or a highfivefriend?” for brand new people/at the end of first dates. “hug or high-five” takes all of the awkwardness out of “hug? NO” because it gives a positive choice you can enthusiastically move on to instead. I have never once met someone who was uncomfortable giving a high-five in that situation, although I am sure I will someday (“neither” is a fine answer too!).

        1. I am a hugfriend for some friends and a non-hugfriend for others. I have one friend with whom hugs make me feel uncomfortable and awkward for a variety of reasons and he used to get very upset when he saw me hugging some friends but pulled away when he tried to hug me. We fixed that and now we do this thing where we run towards each other yelling “PRETEND HUG!” then throw our arms open and make hugging motions that just don’t quite touch each other. With another friend who doesn’t like hugging, I have “[friends name] hug!” where we move towards each other like we’re hugging but just lightly tap each other on both shoulders, touching nowhere else. I’m reminded a bit of Christopher’s “hand-fanning” in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, where in lieu of a hug he and his parents spread their hands out and touch each other’s fingers.

          I also really hate being greeted with cheek-kisses, even by family and ESPECIALLY by men I don’t know, EVEN MORE ESPECIALLY if they have just greeted my male friends/colleagues with handshakes. But that’s a whole other thing.

          Anyway. It’s horses for courses, not one size fits all!

          1. OH MY GOD the cheek kisses! A franco male coworker who comes in to the office rarely came in the other day. My manager and I were going to get lunch, and this guy was meeting another coworker for lunch. My manager got a cheek kiss and so, because it would be weird to cheek kiss her and not me even though I do not know him well, I got an awkward cheek kiss where we accidentally slammed jaws because I am terrible at the cheek kiss because I find it super awkward.

            ANYWAY the guy he was meeting got a handshake and said “Aw, where’s my cheek-kiss?!” and everyone laughed and I was glad SOMEONE pointed out how weird it all was.

            I get that it’s cultural for some people. And if you’re in THAT culture, ok, whatever. But man, it is not normal in Anglo-Canadian culture. ADAPT TO YOUR AUDIENCE, DUDE.

          2. Cultural or no, it’s still super sexist to offer men a handshake and then expect women you don’t know to accept kisses as equivalent. A lot of continental Europeans kiss both men and women as a greeting and while I’m not comfortable with it, I can give those people a pass on cultural grounds if that’s their normal and they don’t realise it’s not cool with me.

          3. In my culture the cheek-kissing is ubiquitous to greet women, but when I or my friends don’t feel like letting a creep kiss us, we just stick out a hand for a handshake while taking a step back so the creep can’t pull us in. I find it works well.

    5. Yep. My first reaction would not be “oh good, a little warm up, barrier breaking contact!” but “Oh, God. What does he want? Am I going to be fending off hands and ‘casual’ touches all night? I don’t even know him!” Not the best headspace for getting to know a person.

    6. And the “friendly taps on the shoulder” thing? That would be a huge issue for me, especially early into the dating thing.
      I’ve been married for over 10 years and occasionally my husband will get excited about a topic and does this thing where he taps my leg or arm while talking. It didn’t start until the last 2 years or so…but I tell him every time he does it that I hate it and to knock it off. I can’t imagine that I would have been so honest with him if he’d done it on one of our first dates. I probably would have just stopped seeing him.

  3. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. I despise being touched when the sole purpose is to manipulate me. I react with anger when medical people touch me on the arm to fake empathy, when a salesman at the door wants to shake my hand, when a female sales person makes a big deal of something I am wearing and touches it or pretends to brush off a crumb.

    I like men who ask “May I hug you?” at the end of a date and do NOT throw a fit when I say nuhuh.

  4. Someone else saying that immediate hugs are a MASSIVE red flag for me. That right there? Good chance of being someone who will not respect my boundaries. Red flag NOPE on ever wanting to see them again. So yeah, that single factor alone could be responsible for a huge chunk of the “disinterest”. Especially if LW is trying to date nerdy, semi-awkward women who are likely to be introverts as well. Just . . . forget what dating sites say, this is not a good strategy.

    1. There’s also a good chance that someone who doesn’t respect boundaries will also react poorly to having that fact pointed out. So if someone’s overly physical with me, I’m not going to say anything about it. I’m going to fake being okay with it, and then go out of my way to never, ever see them again. Is this unfair? Sure. It’s also unfair that I’ve been called names, assaulted, and abused for implying that I’m the master of my own body, not other people.

      1. “I’m going to fake being okay with it, and then go out of my way to never, ever see them again.”

        THIS. Sometimes it is not worth your energy to get into stuff with strangers or people you just met.

        OK, case in point: My very, very liberal self and my very, very liberal friend went to a new hang-out last night to get tacos and stuff. This lady came over and sat by us, which, OK. Well, we’re friendly, and so when she made it obviously she was lonely (she even had a cute little dog as a conversation piece), we included her. She tested the waters by talking about Uncle Remus (who starts a conversation with strangers about such things?) and we both pushed back on the problematic aspects of it hard (there’s a reason people are now offended by the film, and particular scenes in other older Disney films like Dumbo with the crows), while acknowledging that using animals as avatars in moral stories, like AEsop in particular and nursery rhymes and fairy tales in general, is an old narrative device. Politely.

        So she brought up Orlando, and how some of her best friends are gay, and wasn’t it a shame there weren’t metal detectors and armed guards at that club, or that more people weren’t packing heat? And we pushed back, politely, and noted there was an armed off-duty cop working security and the club was dark and crowded, and it took 12 SWAT team members in head to toe Kevlar armor and toting similarly powerful weaponry to take the shooter down, so panicked civilians carrying pistols and shooting wildly into a dark room would likely have injured other innocents rather than the shooter, or been confused by LEOs as co-shooters. And then she said she was a right-wing talk radio junkie and yuuuuje Trump supporter, and we looked at each other, sighed, and changed the subject to how cute her dog was. (Her dog was, truthfully, SUPER cute.)

        It was clear we were not going to become close friends with this lady, but fighting with her over her ideas was not going to be productive. (She probably went home wondering why we didn’t invite her along to our next planned stop of the evening, and continued to be lonely.) At the same time, we pushed back against some of her assertions in ways that might make her think, later on, in ways that fighting angrily about her idees fixe would not.

        Now, what if she had been a really cool person who didn’t try to initiate conversations about things we found appalling? We probably would have exchanged contact info and made plans to hang out again.

        And what if either of us were stuck one-on-one with this lady? Well, if you’re introverted and uncomfortable, you might push back a little less, or make non-committal noises, or find an excuse to leave early. Because life isn’t like a TV show or film where it is scripted, and thus safe to be bold and fearless at all times and speak your truth loudly and assertively rather than politely. And if the lady was some guy who one of us were on a date with? Well, presumably he now has a way to contact you, and there may be a size or strength differential, and we already know that people can’t always be counted upon to defend a stranger if a man appears to be getting aggressive with her.

        So, yeah, don’t play little touchy-feely games and all that. It’s somewhat unlikely your date will articulate what you’re doing wrong, either because it isn’t worth the possible argument or energy or because she doesn’t feel SAFE making an issue of it, but it is equally unlikely you’ll get a second date.

        1. If you’re my variety of introverted and uncomfortable, you brought a book with you to begin with, spent the entirety of the stranger’s introductory speech staring at them without smiling or blinking, then waited for them to take a breath or giggle nervously at your lack of reception to pointedly return to your book.

          Not a great way to make friends, but I also haven’t had a would-be bar buddy try and advance to the “we should hang out sometime *WINK*” stage in over two years. I’m calling it a win.

      2. YESSSSSSSSSSSS! It is not at all unfair if you ask me.

        Me: “I’m actually not comfortable with hugging.”
        Person X: “What? You think I’m rapist or something?! Think you’re you too good for me?
        Person X: “ok, fine.” *withdraws and acts like a petulant child*
        Person X: “Jeez, it’s just a hug! You’re so sensitive!”

      3. “I’m going to fake being okay with it, and then go out of my way to never, ever see them again.”

        TOTALLY. It’s not worth the effort and trouble (to me) to call a basic stranger out on this, especially if I don’t have a good read on how he or she will react, so I will just gut out the hug and move that person to the No Contact list. I’m not going to have an argument about it, because there aren’t two sides to that story.

  5. Please, please don’t just hug everyone. Some people are cool with that. When I’m meeting a new guy and he immediately wants a gesture of intimacy from me, I start shutting down from him and hoping that whatever it is is short and that he doesn’t try to push me into even more touching. Remember, lots of women are socialized to appease, and to do things like return the hug, even when inside they feel a strong desire to just leave.

    Activity dates are the best. They give you something to talk about, a set start time, and a set end time if things go poorly. It also means that you don’t have to have your full attention on each other the whole time, which to me, is a lot more comfortable, and give me more room to be myself.

    Adding to the ideas presented up above: Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight shadow cast shows. Maybe not for a first date, but they’re usually inexpensive and a blast. You can also ask her for ideas. What things does she enjoy? If she tells you, it’s quite likely there will be something that you BOTH would like to do right off.

    The Captain is right on track. Be yourself, not the impressive-suave-masterful-somethingsomething guy (seriously, what exactly do those sites say?) that the internet says you have to be. Pretty much all of the hetero women I know prefer a guy to be himself, and to take them somewhere fun.

  6. Personally: Anyone who opened with a hug would set me off on the wrong foot immediately. I have been on a date that ended with a hug, but it was with someone with whom I was previously acquainted, and again, the hug was at the end, so I was able to jet immediately afterward and process my feels. I would feel like a trapped rat if I had an entire hour, or two or more, to spend after someone immediately went in for full-body contact…

    This won’t be true for every person you’ll date. Some folks may love the hug from the outset! (I appreciate that CA stresses the individuality of taste in relationships of all sorts.) But that’s exactly why it’s a bad reason to make it a rule to establish some sort of touch early on with every single date.

    I know how scary it is to trust things to your feelings/judgments in the moment, and especially to trust things to other people’s feelings/judgments in the moment, but sometimes that is the only way you can go. Just remember it is the most rewarding way to go, too.

    1. “This won’t be true for every person you’ll date. Some folks may love the hug from the outset!”

      Still, we’re six for six saying “oh god, please no.” 🙂

      1. I’m not dating anymore, but let me also stand and be counted as a “ask me first/let me be the one to touch you first” person.

        1. I feel like he would burn through literally dozens of dates with women who might have potentially been open to goodbye hugs looking for one who likes hello hugs.

        2. Adding an affirmative from another “out of the dating pool, but instant hugs from a stranger are a non-starter” lady person.

      2. I’ll add a check to the ‘yeah, cool, I like hugs!’ section. I have been known to hug people when meeting them, and I’d be totally cool with a hug. But! I always ASK FIRST when hugging people, because I know that tons of people would rather avoid hugging, and I make it clear that a handshake/fistbump/wave/nothing is also totally fine.

        1. I’ll add that the shoulder touching would be super weird, though. I would definitely want to edge away from somebody who kept randomly touching my shoulder. Just . . . no, for me anyway.

          1. I personally dislike the shoulder touch because a lot of men I know have (probably unconsciously) used it on me as a gesture of dominance or possessiveness. Touches on the back or shoulder from someone I don’t know can very often feel that way to me.

            Apparently PUAs do deliberately use this “dominance touch” to come across as strong and to intimidate their … I nearly said “prey,” but that’s about right. So yeah, don’t do that.

            Touch is a tricky one. I’ve often used a light touch on the forearm as a way of showing someone I’m interested in them, but even that can come over too strong if it’s overused.

            If in doubt, don’t touch your date. If you’re worried you’ll come across as standoffish or uninterested, use your words! Say positive things about the date as the captain suggests, or text them afterwards to let them know you really enjoyed yourself and would like to see them again.

          2. Agreed – my shoulder is too close to my breasts for me to feel comfortable with a touch from a stranger. Maybe this is more acceptable for men to do casually with each other?

          3. Thank you – I keep trying to picture a scenario in which a “friendly tap on the shoulder” comes off as natural and/or appropriate, and I’m drawing a blank. I also really dislike having someone’s arm across my shoulder, but that’s another matter.

          4. I totally thought the same thing. That’s not even a thing my husband -who I have naked smexy time with- does. I was seriously trying to think about how often he taps or touches me on the shoulder ever, and drew a blank.
            If he’d done it on one of our early dates, even ONCE, I would have thought it was weird and annoying. More than once on the same date? I would have ripped him a new one. (And that instead of NOPING *only* because we had talked/texted every day for weeks before our first date and I already knew he was pretty exceptional)

            LW, just don’t do it.

          5. Yeah – the hugs I wouldn’t really mind, probably, but the shoulder touches would make me feel super uncomfortable.

          6. Completely agree. This creeper me out more than the hug. Someone constantly touching me would be literally repulsive. I mean, we don’t even know each other and you feel like you can paw at me / make some sort of claim on me? Ugh.

      3. Yeah. And perhaps more importantly, it’s way better to err on the side of not giving unwanted physical contact. As we’ve seen in this comment thread, people can be very put off by it and feel really uncomfortable, but I don’t imagine those kinds of feelings happen if someone is cool with immediate hugs but doesn’t get them.

      4. Seven for seven, here. Went on a date this weekend, and he tried to grab my hand on the way INTO the restaurant after the Hello Hug and seemed taken aback that I pulled my hand away. Seems like so many guys want a hug as literally the first in-person interaction with them, and it does really bother me.

        1. Meant with respectful curiosity and not as a veiled criticism: if it really bothers you, what is it that keeps you from shutting that down before it happens? If the other person is too quick for you to avert the greeting hug, do you ever try deliberately stiffening up all over while *not* raising your arms to reciprocate?

          I learned the hard way when I was 12 years old that I had a spine of steel and could get myself out of a horrifying, sickening situation on my own. Since then, I have had absolutely no fear about defending my boundaries. I sometimes felt guilty or apologetic about it but it didn’t stop me because I had learned the hard way that my personal boundaries are necessary for my survival. Now that I am middle aged (well, if I am expecting to live to be 120+, I guess I’m middle aged!), I just view my boundaries as a useful filter: is this person worth knowing or not? If they don’t respect my boundaries, it’s good to know sooner than later.

          1. Your approach sounds like one I’d love to get to (though I’m so sorry you had to experience badness to learn it). Right now, however, I react like a lot of women in this situation – I freeze. When someone does something uncomfortable or threatening, my brain kinda shuts down, and I stop and wait for it to be over. Especially if it’s something as quick as an unwelcome touch.

            This also has to do with the fact that the “is this reasonable?” calculation takes time to get through. As a child I was mostly allowed to deny strangers from touching me but I had to hug the uncle I disliked. As an adult, the rules are even more complex. Was the thing actually uncomfortable or just surprising? Is the conflict worth it? Will there be conflict? Are the people around me on Team Me? Will speaking up stop the unpleasantness or invite even more? What is my exit strategy if things go really south? Did he actually objectively misbehave, and does that matter? Will there be later social repercussions for speaking up? Am I actually entitled to decide who touches me, or is that just radical idealist feminist ideology inapplicable to the real world?

            I wish I could automate the reaction that “uncomfortable” = “shut it down!”, but I suspect that it’s gonna take a while before my instinctive answer to all those questions tilts in my favor.

          2. Duly Concerned: You ask why LW #837 isn’t “shutting that down”, but they did shut it down. They pulled their hand away and startled the dude.

            The more general answer is, there isn’t just the Fight-or-Flight response. Some people, like yourself, respond to a boundary violation with immediate action to get away, whether that includes evasion or aggression. But those aren’t the only physiological stress responses–increasingly researchers are finding that there is also Freeze and Fawn: Freeze when our body thinks a physical trauma will be unavoidable, so it makes us physically freeze up, drop our heart rate and blood pressure to reduce bleeding, shut down unnecessary higher brain function (language, abstract thought, planning for the future), and brace for impact; Fawn when social aggression is about to seriously threaten our belonging in the group and therefore survival, causing us to instinctively hunch smaller, smile, and display submissive behaviours. These are things wired deep into our monkey hindbrains, and incredibly difficult to reprogram.

            You say that your comment isn’t meant as a veiled criticism, but I still read it as a little bit of, “I respond this way–why can’t you all respond like me?” And, well, if it was an honest question: because your life arranged things so that your go-to response is a fight-or-flight one, and for many of us, our lives steered us into freeze-and-fawn methods of coping.

          3. Firstly, shutting something down “before it happens” is really difficult on a first date. You’re being open and friendly, you don’t know if you like this person yet, and I’m not one to automatically discount someone for something like a hug first thing. I don’t like immediate hugs, but I don’t automatically assume ill intent/boundary issues because SO MANY people hug first. Pulling my hand away *was* establishing a boundary. It was a fine date after that, and I did go for a second date because, while I wasn’t feeling it, I couldn’t put my finger on what bothered me. I knew the moment he walked into the bar for the second date that it wasn’t to be, and ended up trying to gracefully exit the date for the next two hours–finally saying I was tired and planning to go home to bed. Not wanting to see him again, but also not feeling any ill will towards him.

            When we left the bar, he grabbed me, said he was going to give me his “patented bear-bell hug” and proceeded to grab me around the middle (pinning my arms), hug me really hard, and swing my legs back and forth like they were the clapper of a bell. Then he put me down and asked me if I wanted another one, and I told him “I think the people behind me only needed to see my underwear once this evening.” (I was wearing a fairly short skirt). He asked me if he could see me again, and I told him (as I’d told him several times during the date) that I wasn’t feeling it but I appreciated his time. Dodged his kiss so it landed on the cheek. He asked me to text him when I got home, ok, fine, whatever. I decided that I needed something to calm my ick feelings before I went home, so I texted my good-friend-with-benefits that I knew was getting off work then, and met him at a bar just to vent and make him (and me) laugh off the evening. I texted Scary Hug Dude from the bar, told him I’d decided not to go home, but was with friends and safe, and thought nothing else of it. I got a message the next day about how shitty I had been, and I shouldn’t have lied to him about planning to go home, and if I’d wanted to meet friends after our date, I should have taken my date with me. WHAT?!?!?! We’ve had two dates, I’ve told him I didn’t want to see him again, and this guy is angry that I changed my plans without consulting him and inviting him along?!?!?!?? Oh HELL no.

            The moral of this story for the LW is that dudes with small boundary issues like not asking before hugging often have other, much more severe boundary issues, and women deal with these guys all the time, and when you ignore personal space boundaries you immediately put yourself in group with Those Guys. Which is not where you want to be.

            @Duly Concerned, I, and many others, often prefer to exit gracefully if possible and then do the Never Gonna Happen and the Don’t Contact Me Again, and the Blocking Your Number Now from a safe distance, not in person. Guys can turn really ugly really fast (see the entitled anger from Scary Hug Dude above) and if the boundary being violated is one I can live with (such as repeatedly removing his hand from mine, turning so the kiss lands on the cheek rather than the lips) then I feel safer not forcing the issue at that moment. I do have a somewhat scary demeanor if I want, and can eviscerate someone with words if needed, and am *always* armed when I go on dates. If I feel like the boundary that is being crossed relates to my personal safety, I can and will enforce that boundary by any means necessary, beginning with the dreaded Making a Giant Scene in Public. But for the most part, extricating myself with a smile and then NOPING like crazy from a safe distance feels safer to me.

          4. Ran out of nesting but I want to +1 what Pizkies wrote. I’m like that too, I’d love to get to a point of being able to shut things down in the moment, but I still freeze more often than not.

          5. In my case? Because I was “programmed” at an early age that when having other people touch me despite my discomfort, the polite and proper thing was to keep your mouth shut and bear it.

            I don’t mean anything sexual at all, believe it or not. Until very recently, when everything started going gray, I have always had very, very light colored and very thick natural blonde hair. So you can probably guess what every single adult did to me as a kid: squealed “Oh, what beautiful hair!” and then proceeded to paw through it at their leisure.

            It made my skin crawl. I hated it passionately.

            I tried explaining this to my parents, and was told to quit making such a big deal out of a minor thing.

            To this day, *NO ONE* but me touches my hair, and I even avoid getting it cut for as long as possible to avoid having someone else mess with it. Just writing about it is making the creeps go up mine spine.

            So that’s one reason. The other is well, while standing up for yourself worked out great for you, that isn’t the case for a lot of people. In a lot of cases, and on occasion that included me, it backfired horribly and just ended up making things worse. An awful lot of kids who end up in similar situations to yours at 12 do not come out with anything even approaching a positive outcome.

          6. Staranise, your “freeze or fawn” explanation made me feel SO much better about the fact that I often don’t get angry about things in the moment (things that SHOULD make me angry), but rather freeze up or even try to smooth over the situation as if *I* was the one at fault. It doesn’t usually serve me well, and I’m working on responding differently, but I don’t feel like such a freak now. Thank you!

          7. Ran out of nesting, but I too appreciated the Freeze or Fawn explanation as well. I had heard about the freezing response somewhat recently (i.e., in the last year) as an explanation for why many women don’t fight rapists off even when they’ve had self-defense training (the article was in theory trying to give respectful reasons why not fighting back didn’t mean it wasn’t rape; at times it kind of came across as, “Don’t bother trying to learn how to fight back, just accept that you’ll be raped and live with it,” but I did appreciate the support of women who did NOT fight back because they froze). They didn’t give as much information as you did about the biology behind it, though; that makes much more sense.

            (I will add as a side note that this is part of why I appreciate my self-defense class where I volunteer, although it is NOT for everyone. It’s adrenaline-based, which means that you feel like you’re actually fighting for your life, and you have the chance to freeze and then work through it. Again, NOT for everyone, but I found it helpful to get that chance to feel like I could push through the freezing, rather than just shutting down.)

          8. Ran out of nesting but wanted to say to Staranise: FAWN. OH MY GOODNESS THANK YOU FOR SAYING THAT. I mean, OF COURSE, that makes SO MUCH SENSE, but I had no idea that fawning was a fear response, despite that being my own primary fear response. Suddenly putting the pieces together across huge swaths of my life right now. I am astounded, in the best possible way. Thank you.

          9. @Duly Concerned,– As the other folks who have responded have said, female-raised people are taught to submit, tolerate, and not rock the boat, as a general rule. Some people naturally overcome that training, or were actually taught to be assertive. A lot of women/people, however, do not. And that is not their fault.

            As staranise said, “You say that your comment isn’t meant as a veiled criticism, but I still read it as a little bit of, “I respond this way–why can’t you all respond like me?”” It would be nice if we all had the ability to respond like you, but we don’t. Until about last year, I could no more manage to cause social awkwardness, even in my own defense, than I could fly. Lately, I find that I can do it, which makes me really happy.

        2. @LW #837: OH HELL NO. Scary Hug Dude is scary. I can feel the entitled creep vibes through the internet.

          1. Yeah, he was fine, if a little overly invested in geek social fallacies and overly touchy and not to my taste, but I didn’t expect to wish I’d just lied to the guy and said I’d gone home.

            And you know what, at first I actually tried to soothe him, told him that my friend was going through a tough time and needed someone to not let him drink alone (true, if not the whole story)… and then I realized what I was doing. That I was reacting as I’d been programed to as a woman, and was soothing the man even though HE was the one in the wrong. I was annoyed at myself, and told him off and that two dates entitled him to exactly zero seconds of my time, and that he was possessive and creepy and I was NOPING right the hell out of this.

            So I was a little late to the mental game, but at least I pulled the home run out in the end. 🙂

        3. Also jumping on the Fawn or Freeze bandwagon, because IT ME, and THANK YOU for this explanation!

          In social situations where I’m uncomfortable, I definitely Fawn until the confrontation is over, then George Costanza style “THAT’s what I should have said!” later. I have known this about myself already.

          And then recently, I played a game of flag football for the first time in… probably 20 years. I caught the ball, three people came charging at me, and I absolutely froze. All they were going to do was rip the flags off my belt, but confronted with three people running toward me, I couldn’t think about throwing the ball or running or anything. I just I hunched my shoulders and tucked my head and stood there like a deer in the headlights.

          It was so startling to react like that. I have never been in danger, never been physically attacked, so it was kinda shocking that even this psuedo-danger evoked such a strong reaction… and kinda scary that THAT’S what my reaction to danger is. I sincerely hope I’m never in actual danger.

          1. I’d say this is your reaction to danger in this particular situation. Even if it was your reaction to 100% of dangerous situations right now, doesn’t mean it would stay like this your whole life.
            But also … it’s not like that is a failure. Your body is making decisions in split seconds what’ll keep you the safest – physically and mentally. Given the chance 3 people would be ripping things from your belt(?)/trying to do that, I feel freezing is a very good reaction to avoid physical harm.

    2. “This won’t be true for every person you’ll date.”

      I believe that it really doesn’t matter if some of the women you date would be OK with a hug.
      Oh, sure, yes, absolutely, women are not all the same, and we are not Vending Machines of Affection for you to put the proper pre-set currency into and get romantic/sexual/friendly interest out of. But the women who like it can do without it.

      Here’s why–it’s a very important concept.

      But Etiquette (and yes, I capped that “E” on purpose–I’m talking Etiquette, not etiquette) has this as one of its fundamental rules:

      WAIT TO BE OFFERED INTIMACY. Do not presume it.

      Being too friendly too fast is a con man’s trick.

      Wait. See.

      You don’t use someone nickname until you know them better. You don’t ask to borrow money until you know them REALLY well. And you don’t hug them until you know them well enough to read their signals.

      And especially when it comes to relationships between men and women: Wait to be offered intimacy.
      It’s true the other way as well–definitely! Think about it–how would it be if a woman asked to borrow your hoodie and wear it home? That’s something you only do when you’re pretty close to someone; on a first date, would you like that?

      There will be plenty of time.
      Or, you’ll decide you don’t like her much after all, and there won’t be plenty of time, but that will be a good thing.
      Or, she’ll decide she doesn’t want to go out with you again, and there won’t be plenty of time, but again–that will be a good thing.

      1. Just one question: if both sides are waiting for the other person to initiate, when does it happen? I think you’re saying that the LW should wait and let her initiate physical touch which if that’s what you mean then okay, that’s at least a rule. I will say though that I personally have been so socialized NOT to initiate physical touch on a date (because “women don’t do that”) that even though I totally believe in my head that it’s fine for either of us to touch first, in practice I have never ever ever been able to make myself touch first. So I appreciate guys initiating, as long as it’s in a way that’s not threatening (a hug or handshake at the end of the date, for example).

        1. Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way to figure out how to initiate touch (on either side), because people are all different and carry their own histories and personalities.

          There’s no good rule to follow that will always work. There are some general guidelines, which the captain and a lot of insightful commenters have already described very well.

          The annoying thing is you can follow a set of guidelines and still be wrong. You can offer a hug when it wasn’t particularly welcome. You can both mutually be interested in initiating physical touch, but both feel too shy to do it. The guidelines won’t necessarily achieve the outcome that maximizes everyone’s happiness. That said, they’re a pretty decent way of stopping you from being REALLY wrong.

          If you’re doing your best to read the individual situation, and checking in with the other person’s feelings and your own feelings (those matter too!) you might still misinterpret, but you’ve at least upped the odds that you haven’t misinterpreted by a HUGE amount.

          Maybe you’ll go in for a hug a little too soon, but hopefully it won’t be so far out of left field that the person you hug gets totally freaked out for their physical safety.

          Or maybe both you and your date would both have been really happy to hold hands, but neither of you got up the courage to try it. Obviously not optimal, but if this is what was going on, you both like each other enough to try for another date. Maybe on the next date one of you will get up the courage to say, “hey, would it be ok if I held your hand?”

          The key is to just try your best, treat each person as an individual, and when in doubt, err on the side of safety.

        2. If you’re not sure, Use Your Words. You can’t really go wrong with using your words–if the person you’re on a date with is visibly upset that you would use your words about something like whether or not you should touch each other, you know that you probably don’t want to go on more dates with them.

          It’s interesting that you say you’ve been socialized not to initiate touch on a date, because how I was used to doing dating was that I, as a woman dating men (usually), was the one who initiated physical touch, because I am the one whose threshold for physical touch is presumed to be higher, and in general I feel that the person with the higher presumed touch threshold should initiate and also dictate the pace. If I read someone as not into me, obviously I won’t touch them. If I read them as touch-averse, I won’t touch them. If they touch me, I figure they’re probably into me but have a higher threshold than me, so I reciprocate if I’m into it, and let them escalate if they want to.

          As for the actual initiation of touch, there are two ways I usually do this. The first and least aggressive is that if I’m talking with my hands (I always am!) I very quickly and gently put my hand on theirs for a moment to emphasize a point. It happens very naturally, and it lets them know that I’m comfortable and would probably welcome a reciprocating–but not escalating!–touch.

          The other way is a lot less ambiguously a statement of intent, and it sounds like you aren’t into that. 🙂

          1. I do that too, Novelator Furiosa. If I’m into a guy, I’ll touch him first, usually laying my hand on his forearm to point something out to him, or touching his hand to make a point. I agree that women are presumed to have the higher touch threshold.

            I think one of the main points for the LW here is that they are following this weird script and trying to escalate touch without the date reciprocating the touch. That’s important to me. If I’ve touched my date and he doesn’t reciprocate in some small way, or make his pleasure at the touch known, I’ll back the hell off. And that’s what the LW needs to learn.

  7. Screaming no to being hugged by a guy first time we meet. I wouldn’t even want to be around you. You already think you’re entitled to touch me.

  8. Think about Schrodinger’s Rapist. This is the concept that women often consider the possibility (sometimes just subconsciously) that any strange man she meets might mean her harm, but she can’t know for sure until she opens the box. So take your time and let her assess you.

    Let her initiate ‘breaking the touch barrier,’ even if it doesn’t happen on Date 1.

    1. …or 3.

      Really, there is not point to touching people when you don’t “feel it” (and by “you” I ideally mean “both of you”). As various commenters have illustrated, forced touching is a surefire way to make a lot of people go “nope”.

  9. yeah, the immediate hug is a major problem for me, but the “occasional shoulder taps” would bring me screamingly into the red haze of murder zone. in an older computer game, I think one of the original Warcrafts, if you clicked on a unit repeatedly they’d get more and more cranky. the orc peon in particular would eventually say “stop touching me!” and “me not that kind of orc!” I can be very physically affectionate with people once I have established that I feel safe and comfortable around them. if somebody tries to “break the touch barrier” with me, without my invitation, on first meeting, they’re more likely to hit the Sudden Wrath Barrier, which has in the past sent overly-touchy men backwards over appliances and down flights of stairs. (the SWB is not physical at all; it’s part of my “intimidating persona,” carefully cultivated and honed for maximum psychological terror-induction. FEAR THE SWB.)

      1. heh… at least part of it, I suspect, has to do with having not been “properly socialized as female” while growing up; my mother pretty much left me to my own devices, gender-wise, and my father’s intermittent, half-hearted attempts to get me to “act ladylike” didn’t have enough momentum to really make any impact on my behavior. I’ve been told I “give off the wrong signals,” which is generally fine by me. this was accentuated by spending several years living in Oakland, CA, watching people interact, paying close attention to the environment, and learning to project an aura of “you really don’t want to fuck with me” that extends roughly eight feet beyond my body. I’m actually an extremely non-violent person, but I have no problems defending myself verbally or–posturally, I guess. on the downside, it’s not something I can turn *off*; even now, as a 40+, plus-sized, glasses-wearing woman, people occasionally cross the street to avoid me, parents shield their children from me, and I sometimes get tailed by security. the green hair accounts for some of that, of course. 😉

        1. *takes notes* Thank you! I’m told I consistently come across as “too pure and adorable for this sinful world” and, while it has its perks, I’d prefer to project an aura more in accord with my actual personality. Posturing time it is 😉

          1. I am a cuddly-marshmallow type of person. I have resting trust-me-with-your-children face – complete strangers will ask me to keep an eye on their kids. As a 5’4″ plus-size woman in my twenties, I am physically unimposing. But when I am angry, I am terrifying. People will back up away from me – my face goes blank, my gaze is intense, my body is tense, and my voice gets lower and colder. I think part of it is the extreme shift from my usual demeanor.

          2. as someone who apparently comes off as not to be fucked with recklessly, I can tell you a few things about my body language.

            I keep my head up, and my shoulders up and broad, my back straight. My eyes are habitually slightly narrowed and my jaw habitually slightly set. I tend to stand square over my hips with my feet shoulder-width apart and my hands on my hips. I can intensify all these natural/habitual things easily, making my shoulders look even broader, narrowing eyes/setting jaw further, and it apparently makes me go from “maybe don’t mess with this person” to “whoops fuck back up”.

          3. I also am a person who’s been told I’m intimidating (by all dudes, so far). Here’s what I do:

            I am very confident and don’t hide it, though I also smile a lot, genuinely compliment people whenever I get a chance, and am generally very friendly. I don’t make myself small in the way the female-raised kids are mostly taught to do. I take up all the space that’s mine (I’m careful not to intrude on anyone else’s space, but I don’t minimize mine). If I’m walking on a sidewalk and a group fans out and heads along assuming I’ll move, I don’t move. If I’m sitting in a chair, I take up the whole chair. I walk with intent. I always stand up straight. I look people full in the face and smile, which is especially useful if they’re doing something where they’re expecting you to move, because it clearly signals ‘I see you just fine, I’m confident, and also I’m not taking any potential crap’ (they tend to smile back, and also move). I try to always be very polite, like . . . warmly polite as opposed to meekly polite. Also awesome is a firm handshake.

            On another note, I’ve done a lot of martial arts and I’m really into boxing right now, and boxing is SO excellent for a powerful taking-no-crap posture. It’s also been great practice for me because I’m the only woman in my gym and we practice sort of random circuit training, where you go stand by whatever thing you want to do to indicate that you want to do it. So I do a lot of ‘yeah, I’m using this, go try something else’ to big dudes. +1 for boxing, if that’s something you might feel like trying out.

          4. I’m another one that comes across as “too innocent/oblivious;” I’m also a 5’1 traditionally feminine woman, but when my emotions hit Angry (pretty rare) EVERYONE backs away from me. A few debriefing sessions have led me to understand it’s because: A) I have a really intense, steady stare and B) I get very tensely still, like I’m waiting to pounce.

            TL;DR – Steady, sustained eye contact intimidates a lot of people.

          5. Teacher and derby girl here. I’m actually apparently terrifying enough that a couple of my administrators have used me as an intermediary stage with colleagues who are being assholes between “This person is not behaving reasonably with reasonable co-workers” and “Disciplinary intervention from an admin is necessary.” I actually have an admin from my first year of teaching to thank for the facial expression – he suggested at least a four count inhale, at least a four count exhale, and, weird as it is, run the tip of your tongue all the way from between your two front teeth to the back most part of your soft palate. It has the unexpected side effect of wiping any expression from your face while also slowing your brain a little so you can think in the face of rage-adrenaline. It’s evolved for me so that I automatically also cock my eyebrow. My students have hilariously nicknamed the look “The Eyebrow,” as in “Oh shit. Ms. T’s giving you The Eyebrow.” I tend to stutter when I’m worked up, so I also like applying a generous dose of uncomfortable silence. It takes practice, but it was definitely a high point for me as a teacher this year when I had a student trying to sneak into the auditorium unnoticed, and the only thing I said was her name, then stared at her till she literally ran from the room.

          6. 5’2, slim build (with visibly muscular arms, though the rest of me looks average), 40+, glasses…and I too mastered the Assassin Walk years ago, to the point where I do it automatically. Shoulders broad and raised a little, chin forward and down–I remember a description in a Wheel of Time novel about walking as though being pulled by a string from the back of the neck, and that’s kind of how it is. People cross the street to avoid me too.

          7. “too pure and adorable for this sinful world” actually, literally made my lip just involuntarily curl.

            – fellow person who tends to get taken for more innocent than actual

          8. There are specific acting classes for learning how to perform various kinds of body language on stage so that it will telegraph to the audience, and all the world being a stage (the men and women – and non-binary people – being merely players), this stuff works pretty well in real life, too. I used to practice “tough, possibly dangerous” affectations while walking through crowds against the flow of traffic, and they can be VERY effective for making people move out of the way (not on my campus, though, becasue a majority of people under the age of 24 are walking around staring at phones instead of looking where they’re going). The class I took incorporated some social psychology and anthropology literature, but it was mostly just based on drama lit derived from observation – what was or was not effective for telegraphing affect to an audience in theatrical productions. If anyone is looking for a way to kill time, meet some strangers (and I can tell you that theater people can be some of the strangest, usually in wonderful ways), and pick up some attitude-projection skills, consider a body language acting workshop. As an added bonus, they’re geared toward actually implementing the affectations oneself, as opposed to other disciplines that tend to look at analyzing the body language of others.

        2. Oh yes! I’m 5’6″ and plus sized, but when I’m angry I apparently grow 10 feet. Stopped 7 stupid male college kids (admittedly my age at the time too) from beating up a homeless man by simply ordering them to get away from him and keep moving. While wearing my 7-11 uniform, so you know I just radiated authority dress-wise lol.

          1. Seriously, I envy all you intimidating-when-angry people. I am a 5′ tall feminine looking person and I can’t do eye contact. When I get angry I either burst into tears or direct everything inwards and become pretty much incapable of intelligible speech so just shut down.

            I’m glad to see comments talking about body language etc because I am trying to learn!

        3. Same here! I was never particularly feminine, and then I ran off to join the Army and, well… the Army is really, REALLY good at teaching people how to come across as intimidating. I’ve been told by a number of people that they were really scared of me when they first met me, until they got to know me.

          So here’s what I do!

          First step: I am a badass bitch. I know this to the core of my being. My badassery is unassailable. When you know of your own badassery, everything else will follow. I don’t know how to give this knowledge to another person, so I recommend: Finding how the thing at which you are The Best and spending a lot of time thinking about how, god DAMN am I amazing at that thing.

          Then posture. Here is how the Army taught me to stand. Plant your feet shoulder-width apart. Stand up straight. Straighter than that. Square your shoulders and push them back a bit. Tip your head slightly forward so you’re looking a little bit up at people–if you do this right, you’ll feel tension on the back of your neck. Keep your hands in fists.

          Now, this won’t stop someone mid-touch but it will discourage people from touching you to begin with. If you want people to stop touching you, get a friend and role-play. One of the reasons that people freeze is that they don’t know what to do, so their body shuts down. Role-play is your friend here. Have someone go in for a hug and practice stepping backwards so that when someone DOES try to hug you, your body moves away without involving your brain. Practice having someone put their hand towards you and grab and twist their wrist–not enough to hurt, enough to be uncomfortable. Have someone accuse you of being mean/frigid/not understaaanding so you can practice snapping back. If you’ve spent your entire life being quiet, being gentle, being friendly, you won’t be ABLE to yell, to be abrasive, when you need it the most. So practice! Practice saying “I don’t want to be touched,” “Keep your hands to yourself”–whatever feels best to you.

          Exercise caution, though. It’s worth remembering that freezing is an evolutionary tactic for a reason. Freezing won’t get you to safety but it will minimize the damage someone does to you. Evolution doesn’t care about you being HAPPY, just about you being ALIVE. These are high-risk tactics and they have the potential to backfire and escalate violence. So please be careful, okay?

      2. I just want to say this list of ‘how to be terrifying’ is terrific, and also I feel like I might be seeing a pattern here?

        I am also someone who has been told she is scary when annoyed/angry, and I think a lot of it has to do with my set face and steady stare… but I cannot for the life of me reproduce this when I’m not actually annoyed/angry. I see a lot of other people talking about narrowed eyes/set jaw/DEATH STARE, and I wonder if the best way to achieve this is to just give yourself fully to your anger, un-moderated by doubt or anxiety*?

        If it helps anyone, the image I sometimes play in my head is that of forging a sword, transforming fire into cool, shiny, controlled steel.

        * It’s not that easy, I know 😦 I will say that this isn’t only applicable to righteous anger – sometimes it’s about owning “I am uncomfortable, but I don’t have to justify that before I let my face show that I AM NOT HAPPY”

    1. Fun fact, the peons in the orc start zone in WoW still do this. In fact it seems like most of the NPCs have an annoyance/anger response when you repeatedly click on them. At least some of the ones in Draenor default to these responses from the start until you gain higher rep levels with their faction.

  10. LW, I’m not disparaging your qualities as a person, but as a female I would be wary and defensive, if not outright angry, if an online acquaintance thought my agreeing to meet in meatspace granted them automatic permission to hug me and tap my shoulder. I suggest you limit the touching to a hello and goodbye handshake and focus on getting to know the person instead. Best of luck with future dates.

    1. My most recent first date and I exchanged fist bumps as a date ender. It was cute and funny and very noninvasive

  11. I used to always ask dates to go to the mini-golfing/arcade place. You have something to DO besides sitting there staring at each other (dinner) or sitting in the dark (movie). Plus, I got to see how a guy reacts to doing something ridiculous. Can you laugh at yourself when you hit the windmill blade for the 5th time? Or do you get mad about it? Are you telling me how to “properly” hold my club? Are you trying to run people off the go-kart track?

    1. Yeah, I love this! It gives you something to do, which makes it less stressful and pressured, and you learn so much more about each other and about how you get along.

  12. LW! There’s still time! It sounds like you’ve beginning to enter the orbit of the PUA movement. Words like “establish” don’t belong near dating advice. This is not a battle. You don’t need detailed strategic plans.

    You sound like a very sincere person who is very nervous about dating, and boy do I 100% sympathize. But you’re putting off the wrong vibes from the beginning, simply by, well, trying to vibe. There is no perfect date. Women are people (!) who are extremely different from one another, just like men are. There is no one-size fits all plan for dating.

    At this point, you have two choices. You can go on date after date, trying out different “strategies”, establishing physical contact, using all the acronyms that PUAs use. Or, you can go on dates and begin to learn HOW to date. The only real way to do it is trial by fire. Go on dates, be yourself, talk to her, learn about her interests. And again, I have deep anxiety about dating, I’m right there with you. But accepting that dates will sometimes go bad mean that you can start learning to connect with people in a real sense, and not just try to get the cheat code correct.

    1. This was my same thought. Dating is about finding someone you like spending time with. You don’t use strategy to make friends, you just find folks that are fun to be with, that want to hang with you. Dating is really no different. PUA folks are the ones that always want to treat women as some sort of quarry you can find that one great technique to conquer.

      If the LW knows they are awkward, then make the date as low key as possible. Even tell a prospective date, that you are not that smooth and ask if they have any ideas on what to go do. It can be a collaborative outing, and it might make it less awkward for both of you.

    2. Women can generally tell when we’re being thought of as “a girl” rather than as a person, and we do not like it. Chuck all that BS dating advice and get to know your dates the same way you’d get to know a guy friend.

      1. If I hear a man speaking of “girls” in that one-size-fits-all kind of way, I’m like “Girls? Are you sure? A girl is a female child. You’re not thinking of dating children, are you?” That sure makes them feel awkward 😀

        I’m also occasionally known to use the line, “Try thinking of me as a person rather than a woman. Oh wait, women ARE people! Silly me!”

        1. Or men who describe women as “females” as if we’re a completely different species or something. At that point they might as well be a matador for the giant red flag they’re waving.

          1. I’ve actually heard guys say “female species” (that word, I do not think it means what you think it means!) and also “the female persuasion.” I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean, other than, “I’m a sexist asshole” of course.

          2. There’s a dude on a Board with me who always calls women females, and co-ops literally everything any woman says. I hate him with a passion.

          3. I married a guy who has the beloved-by-me response of calling that out by repeating what has been said and drawing out FEEEEmales as if he were the Grand Nagus of the Ferengi. Bless him.

            (I remember another CA commentor found it helped her to pretend these people were talking about female antelopes.)

          4. If I hear guys referring to women as “females” in my presence, I tell them to watch all of DS9 and then get back to me. Either they learn their lesson, or they get bogged down somewhere in season 2 and I never have to deal with them again.

    3. I liked Cynthia Heimel’s essay back in the day where she points out that usually the HUGE IMPORTANT DATE turns into a festival of bad jokes and halitosis where you spill latte down your new outfit and it turns out he supports the world’s vilest politician. As she put it, there’s no way to make it go right if it’s wrong, and nearly impossible to ruin it if it’s right.

      Dates are just dates. They aren’t your last chance, a pilgrimage, a proving ground, a battlefield or a game of wits.

      1. This is so true! My first date with my wife was a comedy of errors–I’d suggested a restaurant neither of us had been to before, and it turned out they mostly did take-out. So we were alone in a huge dead-silent room, with the one server/host staring in our general direction to watch a Bollywood drama on mute.

        Unbeknownst to me, a large-screen TV behind me was intermittently showing huge, eyes-only close-ups of a woman sobbing the whole time we were trying to make small-talk. When it was over, neither of us had any idea if it even was a date or not.

        But we had a great time! We laughed and found shared experiences and couldn’t wait to see each other again. Halfway through the next date ze asked to kiss me, and when we finally came up for air, ze said something like ‘that solves the Schoodinger’s Date conundrum’ and I fell over laughing and about melted to the floor with crush-feels.

        Neither of us was logistically in a great place to start a relationship at the time, so we both kinda decided early on to be as weird and open as we could, to put all our cards on the table, and split rather than make any big initial compromises, and just…dang, it turned out we’re great together.

        Deciding to be a little fatalistic about dating was absolutely good for me. Saying ‘if we’re good together, I’m not gonna mess it up by not making exactly the right move, and if not, I shouldn’t try to *make* things work with that person’ freed me from so much anxiety and a history of committing to meh relationships I could make good-enough by trying really hard. But it did mean going on a *lot* of first and second dates, learning what *I* actually liked in a partner, learning to gauge how enthusiastic they were about me, and learning to graciously accept a lot of rejection from folks who just weren’t into me, even when I was really excited about them.

        1. @land_planarian

          “Deciding to be a little fatalistic about dating was absolutely good for me. Saying ‘if we’re good together, I’m not gonna mess it up by not making exactly the right move, and if not, I shouldn’t try to *make* things work with that person’ freed me from so much anxiety and a history of committing to meh relationships I could make good-enough by trying really hard.”

          What amazing, freeing advice. (I’m always looking for things to free me from anxiety XD)

        2. My approach to dating was similar. I figured if the person across the table didn’t enjoy my company then at least I got to eat at a restaurant and practice my conversation skills until I dound the person for me…and usually the dates that didn’t go anywhere turned out to be fun stories to tell my friends…like the guy who spoke not a word to me the whole time we were out (literally communicated with hand signals and facial expressions) but still went in for the hug at the end of the night, the guy who asked me for bail money after 2 date, the guy who thought buying me cheesesticks meant that I should give him oral sex, the guy who brought me back to his place for a drink where I met his ENTIRE family…and on and on and on.

          1. “Kids, let me tell you the story of how I met your father”.
            I’d totally watch that just for the sympathetic cringing at awful dates xD

      2. My theory for the ideal first date was to rollerskating (and fall down repeatedly) and then eat tacos (impossible without making a mess) to get all the awkwardness and fear of being seen in less than perfect light out of the way. I hate the stage where I feel like I’m performing the act of ‘myself but cooler’ and want to find out if any potential ladyfriend can laugh at herself too.

        1. That is a really great date plan!

          Or maybe I just love rollerskating and tacos and feeling at ease. And being with other people who love rollerskating and tacos and feeling at ease.

          So, it’s a *wonderful* date plan.

  13. Hi LW – I too am an introverted geek and I feel awkward around other people. I’m also female.

    If I were out on a first date with someone and they hugged me right away and then made a point of touching my arms and shoulders, unless we had a really good connection I probably wouldn’t see them again. Here’s why:

    1) A lot of women (including myself) are sexual abuse/assault/rape survivors. Being touched by a strange man on a first date rings all sorts of alarm bells. This is how *we react.* It’s not something you can control.

    2) Anthropologically, when one person (stranger, mild acquaintance, coworker) touches another they are dominating the other person. “I can invade your personal space and touch you. I have that much ownership over your body and our actions.” This is NOT how it is in families or among friends! But it very much is elsewhere, especially in America, and especially when a man touches a woman. I had a coworker who insisted on touching my arm when he was talking to me and it made me quite angry at him. Google something like “touch establishes dominance” to see articles about this.

    Hugging is touching in overtime. A hug can be sexually intimate, since if you’re pressing your body fully against hers you have just made contact with her breasts. So if you are doing that, you’re setting yourself up to her as someone who feels he gets to touch her breasts the second he introduces himself to her.

    Eye contact is nice, but if you stare at her, that’s another form of domination. A good rule of thumb is to remember to blink or look at other things, just like if you were having a casual conversation with a friend, coworker, or beloved relative.

    If you need a rule (and I usually do as a geeky introvert), it’s this: don’t touch during the first date. Intimacy is not something you create, and touching will not make anyone feel intimate with you as long as you’re still getting to know each other.

    If possible, attend a cuddle party. Cuddle parties are great for learning how and when to touch and for learning how to give and take noes without awkwardness or offense.

  14. Please don’t read this advice and conclude that since the “touch barrier” advice is wrong, you just need a different manual / guide /strategy.
    You don’t need a strategy, you need to treat your dates like PEOPLE. Read their body language, use your words when you want something (including to clarify what the body language is saying!), do things that are fun for both of you.

    It’s supposed to be fun, not a challenging run at an obstacle.

    1. ETA: Women can read, and women are on the internet. We know those PUA guides too and many women will react very negatively to them.

      1. Signal boosting–I have, in fact, read several simply to find out what behaviors signaled people I needed to avoid.

        1. I am another person who has read the PUA guides so I know who to run away from. They’re creepy as heck.

      2. This. I have actively called out negging and similar when people do it to me.

  15. “Pro-Tip: If you’re having fun, you know what might work better than hugs and shoulder touches to create intimacy? A sincere “I’m really enjoying myself, thank you.” A sincere “You look great.” A sincere smile.”

    THIS SO MUCH THIS. telling someone how YOU feel, rather than trying to induce them to feel or do something, is The True Way. (the hard way but also the mature/respectful way toward a real connection!)

  16. I am like all the posters above. The touching wouldn’t please. I would be irked by the hug. I would be angry at and frightened by the shoulder touching.

    On a more positive note, street fairs are great. So are picnics at outdoor concerts or plays.

  17. “I’ve read about “breaking the touch barrier” and trying to create a (even slight) sense of intimacy on the first date. No, this doesn’t necessarily mean “make out” on the first date, but I always introduce myself with a hug; establish eye contact whenever possible; and give occasional friendly taps on the shoulder to establish a welcoming persona.”

    My skin tried to crawl off my body when I read this. This is not dating, it’s manipulation and boundary-testing and all kinds of do not want. Don’t listen to anyone who gives you advice like this, because it’s not going to get you where you want at all. I’m glad you came here for advice and I think the Captain gave you all kinds of good stuff. Don’t beat yourself up over dates past, but take this as a lesson learned and move on. And to anyone else reading this for whom these insights are a revelation, please really do heed them! Don’t treat people like games, puzzles, or objects to be won, solved, or hacked, especially not if your goal is a long-lasting relationship built on mutual trust and respect.

    1. No kidding, someone tapping on my shoulder would have me getting up and leaving right there and then, especially if I didn’t know them well.

    2. When I read those sentences in the letter I was pressing back into my chair like NOPE NOPE NOPE RED FLAG NOPING OUT NOW. Anyone who did that to me would find out shortly that my dog had mysteriously exploded/my mom’s house was on fire/I suddenly needed to wash my hair or I would die of lice.

    3. Rereading that quoted section made me think: heterosexual dudes do not need to establish that they are “welcoming” to physical/romantic interactions with women. We know already that most of them are a little too welcoming. What will allow real, actual intimacy to develop if it’s going to, is their establishing that we are safe with them. I’m not sure what dudes can do right off the bat to start to indicate that they are safe for women to be around, but it damn sure isn’t hugging us and getting touchy-feely right away.

      1. I actually do find myself assuming men aren’t interested in me that way… And interpreting anything friendly they do as either wanting platonic friendship or just being polite. It’s only in the past few years, and particularly since I started online dating, that I’ve been able to start wrapping my mind around the possibility that at least some of them might actually be interested in me, and that I am someone who it is even possible for guys to be attracted to.

        The thing is, it’s still combined with a lot of nervousness and anxiety and sometimes fear (mostly of being mocked or emotionally hurt, but very occasionally the fear of someone bigger and stronger than me). Someone rushing things would ultimately intimidate me more than excite me.

        For me, continuing to express interest in less intense ways, acting excited about seeing me again and talking to me again, being very easy to make meetings with, acting like a friend with occasional reminders that they also like me in a dating way (I do need those or I’ll become conviced they just want to be friends and mortified of overinterpreting), and showing that they are not in a big rush are ways for someone to show me they’re interested.

      2. heterosexual dudes do not need to establish that they are “welcoming” to physical/romantic interactions with women.

        Quoting for emphasis. Seriously. So true.

  18. One question that occurs to me reading your letter is this: do you even WANT to be all huggy and touchy right away, or are you just doing that because you think you’re supposed to? Because I get the impression that this behavior may not be what you would do if left to your own devices. I think you’ll have a better chance of finding a woman who’s right FOR YOU if you think more about what you want and what you’re comfortable with and present yourself in a genuine way, rather than following instructions from books or articles that prescribe a false one-size-fits-all approach to relationships.

    What do you want? What does she want? Are those wants compatible? Those are questions that will be much easier to answer if you treat dating as a mutual exploration rather than as a fixed ritual that the man performs for the woman which you either execute perfectly and “win” her or fail to execute correctly and “lose”.

    1. Signal boosting this here! LW: I’m sure you’re looking for strategies because you feel like the usual advice of “be you” hasn’t served you well. But dating will never go well if you’re inauthentic. And I totally get that – it’s hard to find the balance between being yourself and being your best self in the fraught atmosphere of first encounters and relating while dating.

      I gave advice to a friend once who was wondering if he might have better dating odds if he presented himself as wanting children to his prospective partners. I asked: “but do you actually want kids? Because if you don’t, you might get more dates, but they won’t be with women who will actually be compatible with you.” And that was true – he had a couple of short-term girlfriends, but the contortions he had to go through to keep himself within the relationships were probably as uncomfortable to go through as the were to watch.

      In short – fake confidence if you have to. But don’t fake intimacy.

  19. Count me in with all the other comments about not wanting to be hugged immediately by someone I’ve just met. Full disclosure, I don’t even like being hugged casually by people I know, but I’m OK with it when the person initiating the hug is someone I’ve known long enough to understand he/she is just naturally a hugger – that takes away the awkwardness and uncomfortable part for me, somehow.

  20. I’ll chime in as one vote for the “I don’t mind hugging when I meet people” group, but you’ll notice I’m ONE voice in a sea of “NOPE”. Even then, I like to be asked first *especially* if there’s a big size difference between myself and the new person. FWIW I’m female bodied, female identified, mostly female presenting, and hug all bodies/genders/presentations according to the other person’s comfort.

    Also, these two bits of advice are spot-on for me:

    “When in doubt, ask. ‘I have no idea what to do to end a date, but I’m having fun with you. Is this the part where we hug goodbye?'”
    “Use your words to fill some of those awkward pauses: ‘Meeting new people is awkward, right? But I’m really enjoying myself with you.Thank you for making an awkward thing really fun.'”

    In my last job I met a lot of potential clients in coffee shops and had to quickly establish if we would be able to work together even in emotionally tense situations (I was a private math tutor- that shit can get real). Calling out the awkward and asking people about their limits and comfort levels, and then *listening* to them, have served me well as general tools for a positive first interaction. I won’t promise they’ll get you a girlfriend (nothing will *get* you a girlfriend), but they may help some of your interactions move from “and then we never spoke again” to “we don’t click for dating buddies, but I have a new table-top game friend!”, which is frankly just as awesome of a win scenario in my book.

    1. I sometimes hug people when we meet, but just a quick a-frame type, not a full -body snuggle. On a date, I prefer a more reserved initial greeting. The shoulder touching would depend on the person. If I clicked with them right away I wouldn’t mind, but if not, it would make me back away more. I’m pretty huggy and affectionate, but that is a reflection of how comfortable I feel with someone, not a way to develop intimacy.

    2. Same here — and I’d generally prefer to be asked even by people I know really well (and “asking” could even be just “sticking your arms out in a come-here-for-a-hug gesture”). It’s not that I’m likely to say no, but I want the out just in case, and more than that I need a second to move into hug mode. Otherwise it’s like offering me a cup of coffee by suddenly dropping one in my lap and expecting me to catch it — I would have really appreciated the gesture with a split-second of notice time, but now it’s just a mess instead.

      1. Exactly, getting surprised by a hug or feeling ambushed or pressured makes the hug an awkward and unwelcome intrusion, not a step towards intimacy.

  21. I am a woman, and I approve this message.

    Also, as a fellow awkward person, I have had great success with acknowledging the ackward very bluntly. Example:
    *silence* “Wow, this is awkward/that pause went on too long, someone should say something” plus nervous laughter.
    I would find a date who did that endearing. You probs don’t want to date someone who wouldn’t.

  22. People who are feeling warmth, sincerity, and intimacy often are comfortable with hugging and touching. That does NOT translate to: I’ll hug and touch them until they feel warmth, sincerity and intimacy. I don’t know how it got so twisted to the point where many people think that.

    Another fallacy I noticed in the letter: “One of the main indicators that she just wasn’t interested in me was the fact that she wasn’t really trying to establish any physical contact.” Whoa. For all we know, she could have been very interested. Indications of interest include: listening intently to what you say, laughing appropriately when you’ve said something funny, holding up her end of the conversation by saying something on the same subject you’ve brought up, answering (appropriate non-invasive) questions thoughtfully.

    Another fallacy: “hard time creating intimacy on the first date”. Actually, the first date isn’t the time to create intimacy. The first date (and 2nd, 3rd, and 4th) is the time to establish fun, mutual interests, good conversation, and general comfort level.

    Here’s my dating advice: Take turns. It goes like this. You mention a class you liked in school and what you liked about it. You ask her about a class she liked in school and listen. You mention something you like about your job. Either she volunteers something she likes about her job, or you ask her. Without emphasizing the negative, you mention something you don’t like about your job. You wait for her to make some similar small complaint. Continue in this fashion in which you bring up the sorts of movies you’ve seen, then wait for her to say she’s seen the same movie and say what she thought of it. Back and forth. Your turn, her turn, your topic, her topic, your question, her answer, her question, your answer. You tell a (inoffensive clean) joke, and she laughs. She says something funny, and you laugh.

    Oh, and all those people objecting to the introductory hug? That doesn’t bother me nearly so much as “friendly” taps on the shoulder.

    1. Yes, I don’t understand the shoulder tapping. To me, shoulder taps are what you do when you have to get someone’s attention to tell them “excuse me, you dropped your wallet” or something of similar importance. They’re not friendly or intimate.

      1. I asked myself what shoulder taps mean to me, and I figured it out. My mother does it, and it means: “You’re paying attention with your eye contact and attention, but I want you to pay even more attention so I’ll poke you as well every time you so much as look away to get a forkful of food or blink; it’s not enough that you’re looking at me, I’m so insecure that I want you to be saying uh-huh too, and if you say uh-huh to show you’re following my every word, I’ll poke you, er, I mean tap you because that’s not enough either.” One time my mother progressed to poking me in the ribs. I got up and moved to a seat across the table. She got her feelings hurt. I have another friend who taps me and pauses until I say uh-uh. She’s alright otherwise, but I did switch to an email relationship. We no longer talk in person. She’s too annoying even if she doesn’t mean to be.

        1. Clarry, just ugh.

          May I play “What shoulder tapping means to me”? I’ll add what I think about those lower-back-faux-helpful-and-protective touches-while-entering-room:

          “This man is grooming me. He is trying to habituate me the way one socializes a young animal. He sees me as subordinate, and therefore has no chance with me.”

          To get through the next 90 minutes, I will play Conversation Bingo in my head. I get points for predicting how many minutes before he mansplains something in my area of expertise; interrupts me more than once; dismisses my opinion or changes the subject when I disagree with him; volunteers details from work or his childhood without asking about mine; or volunteers an observation about my personality. Bonus points! He starts a sentence with, “I’m not racist, but …”

          LW, see how a strategic approach to dating can backfire? If a conversation is genuine and respectful, even if awkward (and awkward can be charming and lead to shared laughter — early relationship gold), I stay in the moment, and Bingo never crosses my mind.

          1. No one has ever done the lower back thing to me (I believe?) but it makes me ragey SO FAST when I see it in movies. I hate it so much.

      2. Yeah, it’s interesting because to me a shoulder tap is a last-resort gesture–you notice that someone dropped their wallet or their bus pass, you’ve already said “excuse me!” two or three times and they haven’t heard, you’re afraid they’ll walk off without it. So it has strong connotations of urgency via necessity, not friendly happiness.

        1. Exactly this (and as Clarry says, it can also have some very unpleasant connotations). Shoulder taps as ‘friendly’ are in the same category as back slaps – it’s an aggressive gesture, and someone who thinks it’s a socially-acceptable way to escalate intimacy is, as we used to say, cruising for a bruising.

        2. Gosh yes, you don’t shoulder tap! This is really ingrained in me because my best friend is Deaf and that’s a guaranteed way to badly scare him (and yet so many people keep doing it argh) and when my hypervigilance is driving the bus, an unexpected touch on the shoulder means you’re scraping me off the ceiling.

          1. Exactly this.

            And you might just be putting your hand/fingers on the shoulder of someone whose startle response on their less-well-sighted-side includes a short lunge and snap at whatever’s touching them.

            No, it’s not a great startle response and I don’t condone biting strangers, but … people don’t tend to try to touch you again.

        3. Yes! The only time in recent memory I’ve tapped someone’s shoulder was when I was getting ready to close the library I work at and a student had their headphones in and didn’t hear me or notice when I tried tapping the table first. I still felt super awkward about it.

        4. I once grabbed a stranger’s arm as he ran past me. He looked scared for a second until he actually saw me, like he thought I was mugging him. I said loudly, “you dropped your wallet!”and pointed to it about 10-15 feet away. Folks bucket-brigaded it over to him, and he was very appreciative.

      3. Yeah, tapping is weird. I first understood it as the kind of touching I sometimes do with friends where I’ll pat or rub their shoulder as part of a “there, there” joke or as comfort, things like that. Which would still send me shuddering into the sunset if a first date tried it. Brrr.

        1. *nods*

          Reason I would put my hand on someone’s shoulder: They are sad or shaken about something, and we already know each other well enough for me to understand that this will help them feel supported and cared about. I wouldn’t do this to an acquaintance, let alone someone I was meeting for the first time.

      4. To me, shoulder taps are ok as a last resort if you really need to get someone’s attention, or as an intimate gesture. Otherwise… they’re gigantic personal space violations. Ugh. I can’t fully explain why or how much I loathe shoulder taps from people I don’t know well. They usually make me jump about a yard (and about half the time, the tapper starts laughing at me….), and leave my hackles up for the next 5-10 minutes.

        My mother’s church is full of shoulder tappers with no sense of personal space. I wanted to run screaming into the forest after one choir practice with them.

      5. I sometimes nudge someone’s shoulder with mine, when we are joking around or I am playfully teasing. I agree poking or tapping a shoulder seems rude and intrusive, especially if done repetitively.

        1. Yeah the shoulder tap (or ‘friendly’ hand briefly on a shoulder, which I assume is more like what LW is doing?) is not great. And if someone isn’t reciprocating with touching constant prodding is rather insulting and liable to make someone very wary and uncomfortable.
          For my part I’m extremely ticklish on my shoulders and neck to the point of jerking or squirming rather violently away. My dad’s a bugger about forgetting about this and, while be really doesn’t do it deliberately, he will get yelled at – and that’s with a close huggy physically intimate family- because he should know better.

          1. I am super ticklish too! I am ok with people I am comfy with tickling me, or if it is a medical procedure or something. On a first date, it would make me feel awkward and uncomfortable.

          2. A dude who was making his move on me once casually put his hand on my back, and I straight-up yelped. “Oh sorry,” I said, as sincerely as I could, “I have a sunburn.” Which was true, but also quite effective at getting him to back off. I have shelved that information away and may make use of it again, even if it’s January in the Arctic Circle.

          3. I am also super ticklish on my shoulders and neck. My mom used to exploit this fact and tickle me on purpose just to mess with me. She thought it was hilarious. Not good associations.

    2. YES on lack of physical contact not equaling lack of interest. I could be super interested in someone and still not establish any physical contact, because I’m just not a touchy-feely person outside an actual relationship. I don’t even touch close friends of 20+ years unless they initiate a hug or something. I’m not particularly averse to touching, it just doesn’t occur to me to do it as a social gesture, much like I wouldn’t randomly reach out and give someone a shove or stick my finger up their nose.

    3. YESYESYES on the take turns advice. a big chunk of my first-date screening process is whether the other person is capable of *both* letting me have an equal share of the conversation, *and* is able and willing to *make* an equal share of the conversation as well. I think of it as “carrying the conversational load;” I don’t want somebody to take all the load off my hands, and I don’t want to be burdened with the entire thing either. that’s just for dating suitability evaluation–I’ve been fine with carrying the conversation with other friends, or with letting other friends dominate the conversation, as appropriate.

  23. Adding my voice to the Greek chorus of “no hugs from people I barely know, thank you very much”. When a stranger tries to hug me without my permission, I grab his arms (they’re always men, come to think of it), get them off from around me and give them back to their rightful owner, along with a complimentary Death Glare. Don’t be the owner of those arms.

    LW, please, don’t listen to advice that tells you there’s a cheat code to implement the perfect date. There isn’t. Dating is not about strategy, it’s not about putting on a performance on “the smoothest dude all the girls want” (for the record, “the X all the girls want” is a logical fallacy. We’re all different people with different tastes).

    I think dating is more like making a new friend with whom you may eventually want to make out. Your feeling at ease and having fun is much more likely to make you attractive in the eyes of your date than any PUA-performance you have heard of. It’s way more sincere and respectful, too. That’s because a good outcome would be your date feeling attracted to you, the awesome geeky you, not the fake manipulative one. The awesome geeky you is much more likely to come out if you’re feeling relaxed and having fun.

    Thus the Captain’s superb advice, which I heartily second: go do something fun with your date! If you like one another, great! If not, you still had fun 🙂

    Lots of luck,

  24. Nth-ing “do not touch.”
    I’ve been on a LOT of okcupid dates. Trying to establish false intimacy is a no-go. Honestly, I find awkwardness endearing, being awkward and nerdy myself. If I met up with a guy who had a super fun profile but turned out to be trying to game me in person (even if you don’t intend it to come across that way, it totally does), I would feel lied to. “Perfection” is intimidating. Vulnerability allows intimacy to develop organically.

    The last guy I met from okc was so nervous that after the date (a really good one!) he forgot to ask for my number and basically just hightailed it home. I don’t think we touched at all. I think maybe we got around to touching after the third date? But we got married about a year ago so I’d say it was a success. We’re both still super awkward. It’s pretty great.

  25. Story time!!! Now, I’m a very touchy, open person. I like hugs, i’m great with eye contact. I work in PR, and i’m the very definition of a people person. So, my very first date with This Guy, and he said, “Hey, can I hold you hand?” So, I thought, sure! “Why Not?”

    Famous last words…

    Dude would. not. let. go. I actually went to the bathroom, got back, and he grabbed them again. To my credit I was like, “ok. enough. no.” and at the end of the night he of course. OF COURSE. Told me I was shy. lollllollloll

    Sorry bro, I don’t want to grasp a stranger’s hand for twenty minutes over a bar table.

  26. LW – I just want to praise you for writing in to CA. I want to praise you for seeking out another opinion on dating. You tried out some PUA type advice and it didn’t work for you so you asked someone else. That gives me a lot of hope for you and your prospects.

    Dating is hard. For everyone. The captain gave you some A+ advice. Good luck.

    1. I would like to second this. When I read the letter I was like “well, you’re working on some faulty assumptions, but you’ve written in here for advice, so you’re probably gonna be OK”.

      1. Thirded – don’t let the mountain of comments make you feel like we think you’re terrible – you’re not LW. You’ve just found one of the many ways that patriarchal behaviour can screw up both men and women. Being honest and writing to the captain was a great move that says a lot about your character.

      2. Thirding this! LW, you’re getting a chorus of “no, you’ve been doing it wrong, you’re working on faulty assumptions,” and I hope you take that as earnest, well-meant feedback directing you towards a different course, because that’s what it is. It’s a really good sign that you noticed yourself that the PUA-type advice wasn’t working great, and wrote in to Captain Awkward instead. It’s solid advice! Dating is hard and awkward for everybody, women included.

      3. Fourth! Nice job seeking out the voices of actual women when your approach wasn’t working.

  27. Actually good dating advice? On the internet? Oh my!

    In all seriousness, I just want to echo what a lot of people are saying, that the “break the touch barrier” nonsense is very clearly coming from a PUA or PUA-adjacent mindspace and is terrible advice. They’re able to make things sound reasonable – when I was much younger I do remember finding them plausible – but for the most part, PUAs are in the business of peddling ‘here’s how to be a creepy arsehole’ in the guise of dating advice, in order to better disguise the fact many of them want an excuse to behave like creepy arseholes (the ones who don’t have generally been misled by a combination of the ones who do and things like mainstream romcoms). Don’t listen to them, unless you’re doing so with the express purpose of learning what not to do.

    About the only decent advice you’ll find in PUA-land centres around improving yourself and building your self-esteem so you don’t come across as desperate. (Don’t be desperate, either; the best advice I can give you is that it’s much easier to become not-single if you also get comfortable with being single, contrary as that sounds.) If you have things to talk about, it becomes much easier to talk to people. That said, don’t take that as an excuse to talk at (mansplain at) people either; being a good listener and actually engaging with people will get you much farther (not just in the dating world!) than just holding forth about something you’ve decided your date should find interesting.

    Long story short: if you’re interested in dating women, listen to women rather than PUAs.

  28. Joining the chorus of “introductory hugs and shoulder taps” would make me very uncomfortable on a first date. It’s probably frustrating for you to read this, LW. Don’t get discouraged! Touching *is* an indicator that someone likes you, but it’s not something you should go for immediately, on the first date.

    I was just talking to a female friend about hugging a few days ago. We hugged goodbye and she told me I was such a great hugger. This surprised me. I enjoy hugging my husband and children and my close friends, but the family I grew up in was not a hugging family. It’s something I’ve had to get used to. This means that even when I genuinely want to hug someone, I still get this ping of anxiety where I think “Okay, they’re going to want to hug me” and I freeze up a little bit with uncertainty.

    I think you should let go of the “first date checklist” that it seems you may have come up with. A first date should be very low-expectation, not an occasion where you try to tick all the boxes of “breaking the touch barrier” etc. And there’s probably going to be plenty of trial and error going forward – there’s just no foolproof way to find someone you connect with who wants the same things from a relationship that you do. Everyone has more “failures” (where they dated someone who was not a good fit for them, for lots of different reasons) than “successes” (where a stable, long-term relationship was the result.)

  29. What works for me since I’m weird about initiating touch: If you’re weird about it, don’t force it.

    If you’re not sure about it and touch somebody like they’re a possibly hot stove, it’s gonna come off weird. It gives off the vibe that you think what you’re doing might not be okay but you’ll do it anyway which even if touch would have been welcome translates to “I’ll do things I know aren’t okay and just hope being nervous negates any wrongdoing.”

    1. One of the weirdest encounters I’ve ever had was with a guy (who I didn’t initially realise was trying to start something since he wasn’t really of my generation), who actually *noticed* that I kept stepping away anytime he stepped closer to me (noticed before I even consciously noticed it myself) and *pointed it out to me* and then *kept doing it*. And then kept reminding me I was doing it again.

      I think most women have a few such stories… They’re not good stories!

      1. *raises hand*

        I have a friend who is my friend because in general he is a really nice guy, we have a lot of interests in common, he’s intelligent and we have great conversation and so on…

        But every now and then I have to have a Quiet Word with him about his touching. He will also tell me off for stepping backwards away from Touchy Hands, or politely declining a hug. If i do the latter, he’ll often spring theatrically backwards with hands held up as if I’ve tried to hit him, then get all defensive and sulky.

        What he doesn’t get is that this is WHY I don’t feel comfortable with him hugging me. If it had happened once and he’d thereafter respected my boundaries, he would not be stuck wondering why I let other friends touch me and not him.

          1. Honestly? I don’t think he does. I think he thinks I just don’t like him as much as I like some of my other friends, or that I’m punishing him for the fact that he was once (and maybe still is) romantically interested in me.

          2. He sulks instead of using his words. He acts all theatrical as a way of expressing his displeasure. He doesn’t accept your Quiet Words, but assumes you are lying and punishing him. So, okay, maybe he doesn’t get it, but if so, it’s because he chooses not to.

          3. Yup, I think you’ve got him in a nutshell there. It really irritates me. 95%+ of the time he’s awesome and that kind of makes up for it, but there have been times when I’ve wondered if the other 5% would make me want to avoid him completely for a while if I could. I know him through a thing that means we’ll always see each other about once a week, you see. But I’ve never wanted to lose him forever.

          4. Yeah, the fact that you keep having to have these Quiet Words with him which are met with sulks tells me that it’s not him being oblivious, it’s him deliberately and repeatedly testing your boundaries.

      2. this is definitely a case where I’d go ahead and make it awkward. “I keep stepping away from you because you keep entering my personal space, and I DON’T LIKE IT. stay AWAY from me.” accompanied by DEATH GLARE. somebody who ignores *that* is somebody to call security on, tbh.

        1. I would be a lot more assertive about it now. But the first time someone’s ever done that to you, it’s just so confusing. I was so young and inexperienced, and he seemed so convinced that chastising me for moving away from him when he stepped too close was perfectly reasonably and that my stepping away was a sign of a character flaw that I would naturally want help ‘correcting’, that the first few times I was genuinely unsure if I was right.

          Luckily, I realised quickly that I disliked being around him, and that as I spent more time around him my desire to get away was getting stronger, not weaker, and that in the end it didn’t matter if he was being ‘reasonable’ or not, since I disliked being around him and that’s kind of the point of socializing with people.

          Ten years later I’m a lot more confident person.

          1. Ugh. I just realized about a year ago that all those years I’ve spent trying to “correct” myself because, well, this is “normal” social behavior, and it makes you look so scared and unconfident, etc, etc. Wait, I’m allowed to not want people to touch me. And have my personal space barrier be bigger than “normal”. I don’t have to fix it.

            Surprising how fast my body language relaxed when I wasn’t making myself do uncomfortable things like let people hold my shoulders and stare into my eyes for twenty minutes ~shudders~

    2. I agree with this sentiment of “if you’re weird about it, don’t force it”. I’m sure there do exist some people in the world who can pull off casual shoulder touching or arm touching or something, but any time anyone’s done it to me it has seemed weird and forced and *super* awkward, which is a world away from the suave look you seem to be going for.

      Once the intimacy level has increased by itself through conversation and what not, touching won’t seem like a big deal and that will be the time to touch her hand. It may take a while, don’t rush it.

  30. Please don’t try to be someone you’re not in order to persuade women to like you. For one thing, you’ll come across as a bit odd with forced body language that doesn’t match what’s going on in the conversation – and that’s likely to be a bit unnerving. For another, even if you did meet a woman who likes this version of you, at some point she’s going to have to meet the natural you. Much better to be natural from the start so you don’t have to worry about that.

    There are a lot of men out there writing about how to pick up women. Don’t pay attention to them. Many of them give advice that is absolutely awful, and more about showing off to other guys than actually developing any understanding of women. Remember that they may claim to be incredibly successful with women, but you really only have their word for it, and the women they write about bear no resemblance to any I’ve ever met. The PUA schtick tends to treat women as interchangeable pieces of meat for guys to put their dicks in, and focuses on getting laid at any cost. Funnily enough we don’t like that attitude. In particular, many of us hate it when men treat women as interchangeable. By trying to start the physical contact off right at the beginning before you’ve had a chance to get to know each other at all, you’re not giving the message that “I think that you, [insert name here], are awesome, and I hope that this date works out well for us” you’re giving the message of “you’re a woman and I’m hoping to spend more time touching a woman. Any woman.” It’s massively off putting.

    Pay attention to what women say and that will be much more useful. If you can start to wrap your brain a little bit around what it’s like to be a woman in today’s society you’re much less likely to screw up and more likely to get some rapport. Listen to lots of women. You might try asking female friends or relatives about bad dates they’ve been on and where it all went wrong. The sad fact is that on a first date the woman is probably more concerned with establishing that she doesn’t think you’re an axe murderer than she is about establishing physical intimacy.

    1. “you’re not giving the message that “I think that you, [insert name here], are awesome, and I hope that this date works out well for us” you’re giving the message of “you’re a woman and I’m hoping to spend more time touching a woman. Any woman.” It’s massively off putting”

      For me personally, if someone seems that sure they want to be with me after ten minutes in my company (or worse, from a photo and a few paragraphs on a website) that they’ve already moved on to the ‘how do I move this along’ it makes me feel kind of invisible to them. Because they haven’t known me long enough to know me at all, so it can’t be ME they really like. I’m either just some utterly generic woman to them who has the ‘right’ body shape they like, or they’ve invented some imaginary person in their head and are mentally projecting it onto me.

      People like different things, but that kind of makes me feel invisible, or like I don’t fully exist to them, or like the real me isn’t particularly interesting to them.

      So those things make me not see them again, and/or send their messages to the spam folder

      1. I realise this is all focused on the negative, so the flip side: when I like and get along with people or feel like getting to know them further, it always starts with ordinary conversations about common interests, interesting things one of us has done, opinions, jokes that we both find funny, etc. Of course, we may talk briefly and realise there’s not enough connection or common ground, and that’s fine (it’s part of the point) but whatever happens they’re talking to ME.

    2. For one thing, you’ll come across as a bit odd with forced body language that doesn’t match what’s going on in the conversation – and that’s likely to be a bit unnerving

      THIS THIS THIS. LW, do you feel comfortable “breaking the touch barrier”? Does physical contact come naturally for you on these dates or are your eyes glazed over while she’s talking because you’re frantically trying to work out your next touch-barrier-breaking move? Because trust me, women pick up on that shit. You’ve probably had a few dates being like “dude seems nice, but why does he keep tapping me on the shoulder at random intervals?”

      This has already been reiterated many times in this thread, but I’m going to say it again because guys – particularly nerdy introverted guys – seem to have such trouble with this concept: There is no dating playbook. There is no secret combination of moves you can pull to “make women want you”. You can’t hug and shoulder tap your way into intimacy. After the basics – be clean, be polite, be punctual – all you can do is put yourself out there and see what happens. Women don’t want to be “gamed”, they want to talk to another human being.

      LW, try a new dating policy where you let the woman initiate physical contact. I think you’ll find that you’re a lot more relaxed and engaged when you’re not trying to hit a shoulder tap quota, and I think you’ll find that women respond much better an engaged and relaxed you.

  31. When you say breaking the touch barrier all I hear is invading personal space. I would not be comfortable.

    Also, dating is not a game to win. There’s no such thing as irresistible to women, because women are all different. They want different things. Don’t try to be the perfect guy, try to be your best self. Get to know the women you go on dates with, and let them get to know you.

    1. This comment is spot on.

      The “barrier” is essentially your date’s personal space. The only decent way of “breaking” it is to allow things to progress naturally, not dwelling on it or seeing it as a goal. If you’re at the point where you would feel comfortable touching her, check that she is too.

      1. Well, and at that point, you wouldn’t even be “breaking” the barrier, since she would have let it down of her own volition in order to invite you in.

  32. LW, if you are going to listen to any dudes on the internet for advice, you should try Dr. Nerdlove. He gets both improving dating skills *and* fighting toxic masculinity, especially in the geeky community.

    Not everything he says is gold, but he seems to be a good guy.


    1. I will *cautiously* second the recommendation of Doctor Nerdlove. I think he means well, and I wish he or someone like him had been around when I was a teenager to head off some of the toxic ideas I absorbed then, but at the same time I don’t think he’s completely escaped from the toxic ideas that inform PUA culture. He’s definitely an improvement and I’d much rather people read him than PUAs, but even while giving lip service to the idea that you need to acknowledge the people you date are actually individuals with thoughts and feelings of their own, it’s not always clear he’s internalised it.

      I don’t know if anyone here listens to I Don’t Even Own a Television, but they gave him pretty hostile treatment on their podcast (here’s the link if interested: http://www.idontevenownatelevision.com/2016/03/31/052-new-game-w-rachel-millman/ ) and I found on reflection that I couldn’t disagree with them.

      1. I agree with the criticism (and I will listen to the podcast as soon as I finish reading these comments.) I think Dr. Nerdlove is a good first step when moving away from PUA culture but, yeah, he has some curious beliefs, like NO ONE is naturally monogamous.

      2. I could be mistaken but I’m pretty sure he’s also given the advice to touch women to create intimacy? He also tends to emphasise paying attention to how women are reacting to you and backing off if they seem uncomfortable but it still sometimes seem like he thinks creep first, regret later is an ok way to do things.

        1. He totally has. In fact, that’s where I heard the phrase “touch barrier” before. To be fair, he doesn’t suggest hugging or touching shoulders but he did a whole column “breaking the touch barrier.”

      3. That IDEOTV episode is brutal but yeah…I really can’t argue with it. I went looking at Dr. Nerdlove’s site just last week as I’m a sex educator for youth and was hoping to find a helpful link to share with someone in particular, but I just couldn’t in good conscience offer the site as a resource. Even the advice that feels ok is couched in language and presentation that gets my hackles up like nobody’s business.

        1. I think it’s interesting to read his stuff, because he’s clearly groping after an ideal of interpersonal behaviour that honours everyone involved and is based on open communication, but he ends up couching it in such male-centric, quasi-PUA terms that even when his initial idea is right, his explanation ends up being totally wrong.

          I’ve put him in the “usefully irritating” category of Internet Things I Consume, and I doubt he’s going to make it to actually useful, because he’s still having trouble conceptually with the idea that romance isn’t something you can or should gamify.

    2. I’ve been reading him for years (lady-appearing feminist person) and his advice has gotten better with time, as he’s moved from “Former PUA tries to offer alternatives to PUA bullshit but actually it’s just more PUA bullshit” to “Actually the problem with out dating lives seems to mainly be sexism, misogyny, and toxic masculinity”. Anything from the last two years or so is likely to be relatively good advice. But he’ll sometimes link to his older articles in his newer ones so…

    3. Maybe the LW should stop listening to what dudes think so much. We are inundated with DUDES’ oh so precious thoughts, ideas, experiences, beliefs etc. Even the most liberal dudes are problematic. I think all people need to actively and consciously read/listen/watch more things created by non – cis, het, white dudes.

      LW – I HEARTILY recommend following CA’s advice that you intentionally (because it has to be intentional, if you just consume whatever is front of you, it’s gonna be pretty much all mainstream patriarchy dude-isms) expose yourself to culture created by women. Art, movies, TV shows, books, poetry, stand-up, graphic novels. This is NOT to learn the secrets of seducing all the womenz, but to expand your brain and expose yourself to experiences far outside your own. Also, are you related to women? Try spending more time with them, ask them questions (NOT about you or how to get a girlfriend, ask them questions ABOUT THEM), get to know them.

      And seriously, stop reading whatever it is that is teaching you about PUA nonsense like “breaking touch barriers.” Do you really want to “break” someone’s barriers? That’s sounds assaultive, not intimate. People should welcome you across their boundary moat into their glorious castle of vulnerability – when *they* feel comfortable and ready to allow you in, not when *you* decide it should happen.

    4. My guess is that Dr. NerdLove might be exactly where the LW got the idea of touching women to build intimacy and even the phrase of “breaking the touch barrier” from:

      I don’t think Dr. NerdLove is talking so much about touching someone on a first date to build intimacy out of nowhere, but rather about how to show your genuine affection later on, when you are sure you know and like each other. I guess his intentions are good, but still…

  33. Mmmh. I’m in a similar position to this LW, in being rather a n00b at dating (and a straight guy, specifically, like LW seems to be). And yeah, I get some anxiety about appearing too reticent – I am shy and awkward, initiating physical contact and such doesn’t come naturally to me, and I don’t particularly want to ‘escalate’ all that quickly, given the choice. So I worry that, if I haven’t made any attempt to hug/hold hands/kiss by date number [x], women might assume that I’m not interested.
    I’m still trying to find my own way to deal with that, but dude, I’m pretty sure that hitting the ground running and pushing past any and all boundaries from the start isn’t the way to do it. I mean, if a woman tried to hug me within moments of first meeting, *I* would feel seriously weirded out – and holy crap I can’t even imagine how uncomfortable it must be the other way round given the gender dynamics (cf. Schrödinger’s Rapist) of such situations. *shudder*

    On an unrelated note, I’m still not convinced about the idea of starting out with some sort of activity date, though; I tend to feel too tense-awkward in situations like that with unfamiliar people. Personally I would always go for the ‘meet for a drink (not necessarily alcoholic) somewhere safe and public’ kind of approach early on – and especially for the first meeting, a built-in time limit (i.e. meeting for a coffee at lunchtime, say) seems like a good idea so that neither person can drag things out if the other one isn’t feeling the connection but feels too awkward to say so and bail..?

    1. Fwiw, I think the “go grab a bit to eat/drink” approach works well, as long as you keep it safe and public and set some kind of time limit, like you said. What I usually do for that is scheduling another thing after the date (calling a friend, meeting with my sibling, cuddling my cat…) so I have to leave at a set time 🙂
      I think you can express interest in a lot of ways that don’t involve physical contact. For example, if you’re not comfortable with the idea of kissing yet but keep initiating conversations with your date and setting new dates with her, that’s a pretty clear expression of interest, imo. And if it isn’t clear enough, you have to trust that she’ll use her words to let you know, or you could also use yours to ask her. Sometimes the uncertainty is nerve-wracking, though, I feel you on that.

    2. If you’d rather do a “meet for beverages and chat” first date than an activity date, then that’s a great way for you to find someone whose preferences are more like yours, which makes it easier to have fun together! I too used to prefer (past tense because I’m married and monogamous, not because I changed my mind) a first date that was more about talking to each other, so I could decide whether I wanted to spend more time with a guy, and having an activity-based second or third date. There’s no right or wrong for that kind of thing. Different people will have different preferences, which is why two generally awesome people can still be incompatible.

      1. I also think it depends on the relationship you already have with the person. I did a lot of online dating and the first date was nearly always “meet for a drink and chat in a public place we can both leave easily if we need to.” I think a planned activity might have made me feel like I had to “complete” the activity once I’d started it.

        On the other hand, dates with people I already knew usually ended up being movie or dinner dates or similar. And there was one guy I met through a friend, at a gig, and we clicked incredibly well and had such amazing chemistry we were kissing passionately within hours of meeting for the first time and our first date was a trip to a really cool science museum and it was so. much. fun because we already knew we clicked and could laugh at stuff together and go “wow, that’s so cool” and so on. Actually, that was the best first date I ever had but I don’t think it would have been so good with someone I hadn’t met before.

    3. I actually really like coffee dates for first meets. An hour is sufficient but you can easily spend three hours if you’re really hitting it off and want to keep talking. Cheap and low pressure. So I’m sure there others out there like me too.

      1. I love coffee dates, too. Or there’s a great tea house near me, and a great first conversation is about the differences in types of tea from different regions of the world. And if coffee is going great, there is a restaurant next door if we want to make it dinner. But an hour for coffee is a do-able amount of time even if you don’t hit it off with that person.

        1. I actually kind of like shorter than that, closer to half an hour. You can always extend it if you feel like it, or just plan a second meeting soon after. An hour is a long time to spend if you realized in the first 10 minutes that you dislike someone.

          1. I disagree. Oftentimes, I need AT LEAST a half an hour to break out of my awkward shell and bloom into the personable, interesting, opinionated flower that I really am. Even with friends, the conversation sometimes starts off very stilted and filled with awkward pauses, whereas by the end of an hour, we’ll both be laughing and talking a mile a minute.

            I can’t imagine how I could offer a decent first impression if I was given less than half an hour to become comfortable with the setting and my date.

          2. This is exactly why I never put a time limit on my dates. Because I didn’t know whether my date was the type who’d need more time to overcome the initial anxiety and be themselves. However, I always went armed with a reason why I had to go at a certain time (which wasn’t untrue but wasn’t necessarily tied to any particular time), which I’d whip out if i was getting uncomfortable. This meant a date with me could last half an hour or (in the case of my first date with my now-husband) until 1am when my last train home had already left. Whoops.

          3. Very few of my first dates have actually ended up being as short as half an hour. But I do like situations and locations where it feels very natural and socially acceptable to say bye after half an hour.

            So I guess when I say ‘it can always be extended’, it actually is extended more often than it isn’t. I don’t feel in any way like I ‘owe’ someone that, though. Sometimes sitting around for an hour is just wasting my time (and theirs). There’s a difference between ‘I feel like I haven’t had a chance for us to find something to talk about yet, or get comfortable yet’ and ‘this guy is really irritating and I am watching the clock, but I don’t feel unsafe and do feel like being polite; what’s the minimum time I can sit here to not feel like Ieaving would make a big statement.’

          4. Very few of my first dates have actually ended up being as short as half an hour. But I do like situations and locations where it feels very natural and socially acceptable to say bye after half an hour.

            So I guess when I say ‘it can always be extended’, it actually is extended more often than it isn’t. I don’t feel in any way like I ‘owe’ someone that, though. Sometimes sitting around for an hour is just wasting my time (and theirs). There’s a difference between ‘I feel like I haven’t had a chance for us to find something to talk about yet, or get comfortable yet’ and ‘this guy is really irritating and I am watching the clock, but I don’t feel unsafe and do feel like being polite; what’s the minimum time I can sit here to not feel like Ieaving would make a big statement.’

          5. I do extend it beyond that much more often than not. But I like feeling like I’m extending a short date, rather than cutting a longer date short. So I like being in a situation where it will feel more natural and polite to leave after half an hour if I’ve actually been irritated and watching the clock, but don’t feel unsafe or don’t want to look like I’m making a big statement and leaving in the middle of something.

            But yeah, if it’s just ‘I don’t feel like we’ve been here long enough to start to get a sense of each other’, that could easily be enough reason to stay.

          6. @EchoFlower – I don’t think TO_Ont was saying that half an hour is always enough to be sure whether a date is good or not, only that if you find right away that you *dislike* somebody, then you only have to be polite for half an hour rather than a full hour before escaping.

        2. This is a good plan. And if you’re doing a dinner-and-an-activity thing, do the activity FIRST so you have something to talk about over dinner! (Or an activity where you can get food during, like a museum visit or a street fair.)

    4. I think you can signal your interest in other ways, like the fact that you’re still asking them on dates, showing interest in what they’re saying and referring back to it on later dates, etc etc. You can tell people you like to take things slow at first.

    5. “I’m still not convinced about the idea of starting out with some sort of activity date, though”

      Yeah, the only activity dates I’d enjoy on first meeting someone would be low-key ones — we’re meeting at a coffee shop and we’re both bringing a favorite board game/ card game to teach the other person, or we’re meeting in an area with like 5 or 6 different bookstores and we’re just going to wander from one to the other checking them out.

      1. “…in an area with like five or six different bookstores…”

        I need to move to your city immediately.

      2. I like the idea of grabbing a coffee and wandering around bookstores (or like a park or cute downtown area) because then you’re not stuck staring across a table at someone indefinitely. Walking also helps me get over the anxious meeting someone new jitters!

    6. My now-husband hugged me on our first date…. but he ASKED first. He’s seven inches taller than me and at the time outweighed me by a good 40 pounds. It can be really creepy and intimidating to be touched by strangers who are much larger! (Or, really, by any stranger.)

      For the LW: if you want to touch someone you’re dating, I’m going to suggest you ask in a neutral way. Ask “Would you like a hug goodnight? Do you want to hold hands?”. Note that these are not asking permission, but what the other person *wants*. And also, women can and do initiate touch. I promise I’m not the only assertive nerdy straight woman out there and I promise some of them are single.

      And finally, someone who touched me the way you describe, without asking, would (did!) never have a second date with me because I would have called a cab while the appetizers were arriving.

      1. “Note that these are not asking permission, but what the other person *wants*.”

        Just want to highlight this. Not because of the wording as such, not like a magic verbal formula, but because the more you think of what the other person wants, the better this all is going to go.

        Which does *not* mean to think less of what you want! More of both, actually. Your wants and her wants are not opposed, they’re aligned — in a good date, which is the goal here.

        Any ‘routine’ that isn’t connected to your feelings about this specific person with you tends to, well, disconnect you. It’s not attractive, if that is motivating to point out. What is generally attractive to see someone’s moment-to-moment awareness of you and engagement with you as a unique individual. Do you feel like you’re awkward and just can’t radiate engagement the way this sounds like, maybe if your body language is atypical? You *can* make this work explicitly, by words; there are people who really go for direct words, maybe wouldn’t perceive the body language anyway.

        (Engagement: sometimes, especially in mundane timekilling conversations, I try to find out what makes the person I’m talking to unique, and their most unique if you will. You might enjoy this? In your case strongly recommend trying it with non-date people, to get a feel with less emotional weight for how not to be too pushy or shoehorn this into conversation. Note that I don’t usually interrogate “what makes you unique” explicitly, and I would suggest you don’t; the point is not about the answer but about seeing the person as specific and fascinating.)

        Also importantly, being disconnected from your feelings means you don’t know how you feel about this person. Do you even want another date? If it seems like “yes, of course, anyone” try to rethink. I get that when you’re learning it makes sense to say “yes” a lot of the time since you haven’t learned to predict which people aren’t going to work out well. But a way you learn that is by being conscious of your feelings on the first date, remember them, and match them up later with how things turn out.

      2. I can’t think of a single guy I’ve dated who initiated the first touch. Some of my girlfriends have been the first to initiate touch, but with guys, I’ve always been the one to say “Would you like a hug?” “Do you want to make out?” “Would you like to move this into the bedroom?”

    7. If you’re worried about seeming uninterested at a point where you have decided you are interested, don;t “make an attempt to hug/hold hands/kiss by date number [x]” by reaching for your date, use your words. Say something like “I really like you, and would like to kiss you” or “would you like to hold hands?” and see what she says. If she’s been waiting for you to express interest, this is her cue to say “oh good,” or perhaps “I’m not really into kissing, but would you like a hug?”

    8. Yeah, just use your words if you know you’re no good at demonstrating through body language. Something like “could I kiss you?/I’d really like to kiss you” might feel awkward to say, but if you want to be kissed, and someone says that to you, it’s pretty rad. One boyfriend, I had literally no clue if he was attracted to me by the way he was acting, and after a few dates, the next time he asked me out I said “Hey, is this like a date, or like friends? Sorry to be blunt I just… can’t figure out if you’re attracted to me” and he was like “Oh I totally am!” and the next time we hung out we managed some physical touching and it was the best.

    9. I don’t like activity first dates unless it’s someone I already know and know that we play well together doing whatever it is. My go-to was always “let’s get coffee/a drink” because I like to talk, and I wanted to talk to the person and find out if we could have good conversation. I’ve been on two “walking dates” and they were both AWFUL, so while I know people like that kind of thing, my experience is that a bad walking date is worse than a bad drinks date. I want to be in a situation where, if it goes pear-shaped, I can just leave, and activity dates are not that.

      1. It does pay to choose the activity with that in mind, for sure.

        If it’s something in a public place or with othet people, that doesn’t have a set beginning and end time or completion or significant cost, it can be possible to drop in for a bit and still easily leave whenever.

      2. Also, if I’m going to be on my feet a lot on a given day, I have to plan my whole day around that, and possibly the day before and/or the day following depending on different factors. The people you date might have invisible disabilities.

    10. As far as your worry that women will misinterpret your lack of [hug/hold hands/kiss by date x] as a lack of interest– I think that what B. said about making sure to be initiating conversations and more dates is good. Also maybe compliments? Like, if I were starting to worry that maybe a guy I’d been out a few times with wasn’t interested in me romantically, if he greeted me by complimenting how I looked that day, I would interpret that as a gesture of romantic interest.

      1. Like, if I were starting to worry that maybe a guy I’d been out a few times with wasn’t interested in me romantically, if he greeted me by complimenting how I looked that day, I would interpret that as a gesture of romantic interest.

        We, as a society, need to figure out a consistent norm regarding this. I hear as many people say things similar to this comment as I hear say that unsolicited comments about a woman’s appearance (even a woman one knows) are sexist objectification in which nobody should ever engage; sometimes it’s the same people saying both. Because people are not able to read minds, and becasue, in the exact situation we’re discussing, one or both parties are unsure about whether the other party is into them and might welcome an appearance-based compliment, we need a norm that is more clear than, “It’s a sexy compliment when it’s wanted and sexist harassment when it’s not.” If commenting on someone’s appearance is going to be generally unacceptable, then we can’t recommend it in situations where one doesn’t already know the preference of the person in question; conversely, if we’re going to say that there are various situations in which commenting on someone’s appearance without already knowing zir preference is generally acceptable, we need to be much more careful about delineating the contexts in which this is and is not an acceptable social norm.

        1. I would argue that do not need a consistent norm as much as an acknowledgement that this is context-dependent. A man complimenting a woman’s physical appearance 4 dates in isn’t weird, nor is it the same as doing it at work or hearing from a stranger.

          1. In my opinion, we could really use a society-wide acknowledgement that pretty much all human communication is context-dependent.

            Most people who have in any way mastered the ability to use language at all have at least some grasp of this, at least subconsciously. But because it’s one of those things that’s sort of an “unknown known” for people who don’t look at language use or human behavior academically–you just do it intuitively–you get the very same people who USUALLY understand that sometimes you say things to your mother that you wouldn’t say to your boss (or at least, who say things to their mother and don’t say the same things to their boss) angrily demanding how come X person can say Y and I can’t, or how come it’s okay to say X here but not there, like this is some sort of rhetorical question meant to illustrate MONSTROUS HYPOCRISY instead of being probably literally the single most integral aspect of human communication outside of “we invented it because people don’t have telepathy” (which, granted, there are certainly people who have trouble with that concept as well).

            Commenting on a date’s attractiveness is not the same as commenting on a coworker’s.
            Hugging your friend is not the same as hugging a stranger.
            Ordering a smile from some rando on the street minding her own business is not the same as ordering a coffee from a barista, even though they are technically both ‘giving an order to a stranger.’
            Explaining how something works to someone who has actually asked you how it works is not the same thing as explaining it to someone who already knows how it works but you didn’t know that because you didn’t fucking stop to ascertain their level of knowledge.
            Telling someone “Your hair looks nice” is an appropriate answer to the question “How does my hair look?” but is NOT an appropriate answer to “I’ve taken on X, Y and Z extra projects and my performance review was stellar; could we discuss a raise?”

            There are difficult bits in human communication, and this is not actually one of them. People just willfully pretend it is so that they don’t have to examine their own behavior.

        2. We already have the context, which is “on a Nth date,” and saying that there is acceptable behavior in that context that is not universally acceptable in all other situations is not a sign that something is wrong. When the purpose of the compliment is to communicate romantic interest, of course it wouldn’t be appropriate in another context.

          1. And sometimes the person you’re talking to is part of that context. I get compliments on my appearance from strangers whenever I leave the house…because I dress in 50s vintage all the time, and it’s noticeable.

        3. OK, does this work:

          Woman whom you know through work, see in the street, are buying coffee from, is related to you, are taught by, who has made a comment on the internet about politics or is dating your friend: probably doesn’t not want to hear about whether you find her sexy.

          Woman who is having sex with you, dating you with the possible intention of having sex with you, or receiving money from you for sexual services: probably does not mind hearing that you find her sexy, or actually welcomes it.

          Is that simple enough? Cos I think if you need it to be even more straight-forward than that, then it’s probably better that you err on the side of caution and don’t compliment women at all.

        4. In addition to what the Captain and other commenters have said, “we, as a society,” are going to have a hard time figuring out a consistent norm because, among other things, not everyone on Earth, on the Internet, or even on this website is part of the same society; and lots of people identify with one or more groups that has the axiom “outsiders don’t get to tell us what to do.” The people that someone won’t listen to about what counts as appropriate behavior might be “foreigners” or “unbelievers” or “people who aren’t our relatives” or “non-sports-fans” or “hicks” or “eggheads” or any number of other labels. Nonetheless, we find ways of getting along despite that, of understanding that context matters, and that we can adjust things based on what we already know about people.

          In the meantime, if you’re actually unclear on the difference between telling someone on a fourth date “I like your hat” or “you have pretty eyes” and saying the same thing to someone in a business context, the checkout line at the supermarket, or the doctor’s office, here’s your guideline: don’t say such things to anyone who hasn’t already commented favorably on your appearance.

    11. I appreciate hearing everyone’s perspectives on this because I’ve wondered sometimes in the past how meeting for coffee/a drink for a first ate could be anything other than torture. It’s good to know that there are actually people out there who find this a useful way to meet people! My particular brand of introversion means that when I first meet someone for a date, I freeze and stare at them while I’m trying frantically to think of questions to ask them. It doesn’t even matter if we’ve chatted online for ages and I know all sorts of things about them; the Making of Polite Conversation freezes me up every single time. This is why I’m on the other side of the fence about this; at least if we’re doing an activity then I can have a topic of conversation (“Oh, look at the awesome artwork! Isn’t this bike riding fun? My favorite part about the fair is the….” Etc.), and I don’t have to make eye contact the whole time.

      1. Haha whereas unless I’ve had a conversation with the person face to face first, I probably don’t want to go to an art gallery or a fair or on a bike ride with them, because I will have no idea if they’re going to drag me round a bunch of art that is Not My Thing, I’ll find when I get there that it’s some kind of weird fair about something I find repulsive, or if they’re the kind who treats bike rides like Awesome Adventures (I will ride somewhere on a bike, preferably to get a drink, and then ride home very happily, but no I don’t want to “just go see what’s out there” on a bike). When I was dating, I didn’t even go to a movie on a date without establishing what movie first. My idea of hell is ending up stuck in a documentary with someone I slowly realize is extremely boring.

        1. I wish I lived somewhere where documentaries were shown in actual movie theaters. Not that I want to go to every single one, but if it’s a topic I’m interested in…

      2. Whereas I’m fine at making conversation with people in person, but never know what to say online unless (and sometimes even if) there’s a specific topic we’re discussing. Which is why I don’t take discussion-based online courses or date online.

  34. I’m gonna jump on the “quit with the touching” bandwagon. A stranger, on a first date, *introduces* himself with a hug? NOPE NOPE NOPE. He then repeatedly seeks out opportunities for seemingly-innocuous casual touches that I can’t really object to without seeming to be unreasonable or overreacting? SADDLE UP THE NOPETOPUS, I’M OUT OF HERE!

    LW, I’m going to give you some weird advice — try being a little more self-focused (not the same as self-centered) on your first dates. Don’t focus on, “Does she like me? Does she really like me? What can I do to make her like me more? Is she attracted to me? What are the cheat codes that will make her more attracted to me?” Think instead, “Do I like her? Am I enjoying spending time together? Does meeting again to do something specific sound like a fun thing I would look forward to?”

    I’m not saying you should think about those things all the time; that would make for super weird and stilted interactions. But if your focus is on Building Intimacy with Some Generic Female-Type Person, you’re not going to be a lot of fun to hang out with. And if you’re not fun to hang out with, why would she want a second date?

    1. Chiming in to agree with this. LW, maybe I’m misinterpreting, but your letter gives off a vibe to me like you feel that dating is like a video game where you score points by getting more dates and eventually “win” by getting to call someone your girlfriend and/or see them naked. As previous commentators have mentioned, this is off-putting to many women because it suggests that we’re interchangeable prizes rather than, you know, individuals with preferences and agency. For myself, I don’t mind if someone is trying to impress me, but I only like it when it’s clearly because they like *me* and think I’m cool – and there are, obviously, also limits on that.
      If you’re a goal-oriented person, try replacing “impress this person” or “score another date” with “have a good time” or “learn something new about this person”. Maybe what you learn about her is, “I think she’s boring or not very attractive to me”, and that’s okay – at least you’ll know one thing going forward, which is not to date this person.

  35. Just adding my voice to “immediately warned off by two-seconds-later hug.” Not going to lie: planning ahead like that, and to very deliberately invade space–you call it ‘breaking the touch barrier,’ meaning you know it is a line they may be drawing it is _attacking_ it–is not only manipulative, it is truly frightening just read about. I nearly didn’t add my voice to this not only because it has been covered extensively, but because it freaked me out so much I just wanted to run away.

    But I recently had an argument about this exact issue with close friends of mine, who are, I will add, awkward cis-het-male-identifying geeks in science and tech. For that matter, I am a awkward-in-dating cis-het-female high end geek myself. So this is speaking as someone likely closer to your suited dating pool.

    Everyone’s already talked about attacking boundaries and forcing things on your person-interest. It can be utterly terrifying, especially because this can be outright dangerous to us sometimes. Understand that while This Makes You Sad And Confused, _our feelings on it are just as valid_. It is a Nice Guy(TM) fallacy (rather than genuinely caring), It is male entitlement and makes us want to disengage. I know it hurts, but all that means is that you have empirical proof that what you are doing not only ‘doesn’t work’ as an actual dating strategy, it’s not working as a social behavior. Change it. Don’t strategize. Just let your strategy be to genuinely get to know her and accept you may not like the answer, but maybe it will be a friendly no instead of a frightened no–which, I suspect, will feel infinitely better for you as well.

    (uh, hi, Captain and Awkward Army, lurker, first time poster.)

  36. Yeah, LW, I think you might have the touch thing a little bit backwards. Being flirty-touchy is awesome when you *already* have chemistry, but when you haven’t yet established chemistry and/or a base level of trust it is just uncomfortable. I’ll hug all my friends but I don’t want a hello hug on a first date (a goodbye hug if it went well is fine though).

    Basically, if you are trying to create intimacy with touch alone, I think you are probably turning off more women than not. If you are using casual touch to escalate intimacy or chemistry that you have already built you will have better luck (though be aware of the fact that different women will have different thresholds for how good the intimacy and/or chemistry needs to be for this, so look for reciprocation of some kind.)

  37. One other note – maybe this isn’t true, but your letter comes across as “how can I get ANY woman to want me?” You don’t talk about the specific women’s personalities, how they made you feel, whether you had fun, or even whether YOU want THEM. Again, maybe I’m reading too much into things, but I can sense a little desperation in your letter, and I wonder if your dates can too.

    I don’t really want to go out with a guy who’s taking whatever he can get; I want to be with someone who is excited specifically about me and my goofy personality and weird jokes. Desperation makes me wonder if you want to be with me just because I’m the human who happens to be sitting across the table from you, and no amount of touching will fix that.

    1. This stuck out to me, too. LW, have you been interested in furthering things with all four women you’ve dated? Because that is a clear sign that you’re not actually getting to know these women or relaxing on your date. 50% of your first date goal is to determine if *you* are interested. You only do that by listening and actively getting to know her, and if you do that, the answer is sometimes gonna be “no”. Maybe her body language turns you off. Maybe you both have to explain your jokes all the time, and you can’t grok that. Maybe she doesn’t want to touch or hug after the third date, and you need someone who’s super touchy-feely. You need to pay attention to these things, to your own feelings. Don’t focus so much whether you established intimacy or whether you met some arbitrary goal. Focus on whether you felt happy and relaxed and want to get to know her better.

    2. Re: “Desperation makes me wonder if you want to be with me just because I’m the human who happens to be sitting across the table from you, and no amount of touching will fix that.”

      Desperation and being an interchangeable widget instead of an attractive human being in my own right are certainly not complimentary to me, I agree. I’ll add that what makes them scary is, I think, that the person in front of you is drowning. They are desperate to float, and you are an object, a widget, that is going to ease that aggreeive need.

      And oooh, that’s scary. That’s the difference between, “hmm, I might like this guy, and I’ll spend some time figuring out whether that impression holds up” and “holy, schnikes, he won’t let go, and now he’s pulling me under as he climbs on top.” When you’re smaller (usually),with less upper body strength (usually),a nd with less intrinsic cultural power (usually), no wonder you will use all your avoidance skills to step backwards as fast as you can, preferably before you have sent any signals he misinterprets and that you will be called to account for, in text after text after text.

      Successful dates make both parties feel good about themselves as well as about each other.

  38. One other note – maybe this isn’t true, but your letter comes across as “how can I get ANY woman to want me?” You don’t talk about the specific women’s personalities, how they made you feel, whether you had fun, or even whether YOU want THEM. Again, maybe I’m reading too much into things, but I can sense a little desperation in your letter, and I wonder if your dates can too.

    I don’t really want to go out with a guy who’s taking whatever he can get; I want to be with someone who is excited specifically about me and my goofy personality and weird jokes. Desperation makes me wonder if you want to be with me just because I’m the human who happens to be sitting across the table from you, and no amount of touching will fix that.

  39. A couple of things that I would add: I’ve spent little time in the PUA world, since it tends to creep me out, but the little experience I’ve had there has shown me that often what the PUA’s are going for is a way to get to sex as quickly as possible. So I guess this is a time when you can think about what you want from a relationship. If you’re going for hook-ups, then there are places that you can go (including regular dating websites, which I know at least in some cases have ways for you to make it clear — including in your profile — that you are interested in casual sex) to get that sort of interaction, and in that case, if both of you are going into things knowing that the point of the date is to get a little action on that first night and maybe not even see each other again, some of that advice about breaking the touch barrier and things may actually be helpful. (I’m totally NOT into hooking up, so I don’t know, but I’m open to the idea that this might work in that situation.)

    On the other hand, if your goal is to develop an actual relationship with someone that is ongoing, then the PUA advice is not going to help you out here, and I would go with the advice that CA and the Awkwardeers have been giving. I’m such a huge fan of having first dates (or first through third dates) be an activity rather than a movie or just going out for dinner/coffee/drinks. Especially if you are the sort of introvert who has a hard time making small talk with strangers, it keeps you from having to spend hours trying to find things to say and gives you an actual topic of conversation. And if you’re involved in doing something together and the conversation lags, it’s not as awkward because you both have something to focus on. Plus it gives you a foundation of something the two of you can come back to in future conversations (whether as, “Hey, that was so much FUN!” or, “Hey, never doing THAT again!”).

    I’m a cuddly, huggy, physically affectionate sort of person that things nothing of hugging someone the first time we meet. I’ve had some of my first dates that have hugged me when we met, and as long as they weren’t creepy afterwards I thought it was great. (Actually, while I’ve had some dates that were sketchy for other reasons, I haven’t had someone creepy that I can think of. Mostly what I meant by that was that they didn’t try to get into my personal space after the initial hug, at least not for awhile.) So my experience has been different than that of many others here. Reading what others have written, however, I would say that perhaps starting with a hug is not the best idea, and maybe you could start with a handshake if you’re really wanting to have a physical connection, since that’s much less space-invasive, fairly socially accepted as a way to greet someone you don’t know, AND gives the other person a chance to nope out if they want. Others may have thoughts on the handshake idea, though.

    (I will also add as someone raised as a cis woman that there’s a lot of baggage around women as sexual beings, and women who initiate tend to get slapped down a lot by society or called nasty names. I agree with what everyone else said above about things like not doing the shoulder touches, and things like that, BUT I’m adding this in here because I want to make sure you know that if your date isn’t touching you, that doesn’t mean she’s not into you. It could be that she doesn’t like physical closeness with someone she’s just met; it could be that she’s had bad past experiences and doesn’t want to jump into something; it could be that she’s enjoying just talking; or it could be that she’s been socialized not to initiate so early in a potential relationship. Or something else entirely different. So just know that this isn’t necessarily indicative of her feelings towards you.)

    1. Oh, yes, this.
      I am married now, but I spent a good ten years of my life alternating between relationships and bangin’ it up NSA-style. The initial meetings are not that different! Even if it was going to be a one-time deal, I still wanted a partner who didn’t assume intimacy he didn’t earn, or try to push it on me. I think women generally have a lot more to lose from a one-night stand in regards to personal safety. If your goal is the sex, the advice people are giving here still applies, and turned up to eleven.

      1. “If your goal is the sex, the advice people are giving here still applies, and turned up to eleven.”

        Exactly. The stakes are way higher if you miss clues that someone may not respect your boundaries, if you’re considering getting in a physically vulnerable and likely emotionally vulnerable situation with them quickly.

        1. Good to know! The little bit of reading I’ve done from PUAs made me nope out pretty fast, but since some of them were seeming to get results (although as others here have pointed out this is entirely from their perspective, and who knows if they’re telling the truth), I thought there was a chance that a woman who was interested in that sort of relationship might be more okay with that? Even though I’ve never known any women who were (including some of my female friends who are open to hook-ups). What Neuroturtle and TO-Ont just said makes MUCH more sense to me.

          1. The “results” they’re getting, even if they’re not exaggerated, are not exactly consensual. I was that girl at 20, thankfully only once. The shit works on women who a) are not hip to it, b) have bad self esteem, and c) don’t have a lot of dating/sexual experience.

      2. Off-topic, but I just wanted to share the entertaining mental image I had until I figured out that NSA did not stand for National Security Agency. 😉

        1. Clandestine meetings in bugged hotel rooms, peeling off our literal masks as foreplay, never knowing each other’s code names, leaving in the misty early hours like two well-disguised and heavily-armed ships in the night.

    2. FWIW in my youth my circle went with: I touch first in my space, you touch first in yours. If you touch first in my space, I kick you out and never see you again.

  40. I will join the group of people who definitely do NOT want a hug as a greeting from a near-stranger. And the shoulder taps? One I might ignore in that “I am PRETENDING to ignore your rude, crass and utterly unwelcome gesture” way. A second would get you my death glare accompanied by a few terse words on how I feel about uninvited touching followed by my prompt departure from your vicinity. Middle of a meal? Tough noogies, should have kept your hands to your self.

    One of the most charming men I’ve ever met ended our first date by saying “so this is that uncomfortable moment where I try to figure out if you’d rather shake my hand or accept a hug from me” in such a way that it was totally clear that either was fine with him. We both laughed, I opted to shake hands, then invited him in for the beverage of his choice and we spent another 3 hours discussing books.

    Why did I feel comfortable inviting him into my home? Because his whole being exuded “I will always respect your boundaries.” He wasn’t just het, he truly liked women as human beings and he was very good at conveying that attitude. He was also comfortable enough in his own skin to simply be open about the awkward or uncomfortable moments which took all the tension out of them.

  41. Well done for seeking advice here.

    My input – don’t have a checklist, women are people and therefore individuals.

    On my first date with one of my current partners, I immediately warmed to him because he asked if I was okay with a hug and explained he was a very touchy-feely person. I explained I’m not, and would prefer a handshake until I knew him better. No issues. Different levels of comfort with touchy-feelyness is not an issue, if you don’t assume and are respectful of others comfort levels. If you’re unsure, ask! If you don’t want to ask because you think the answer might be no, then you should DEFINATLEY ASK.

    Everyone gets awkward about something and having the self awareness to say “I’m feeling awkward about this, may I hug you” (or whatever) is a good thing! I am very suspicious of the smooth guys you say you envy. The ones I have come across see me as a woman who is attractive to them and no more. I have no agency in their mind and they are not interested in me as an individual, but as boxes ticked. (I’m actually a non-binary, pansexual person, so their lack of interest in actual me is painfully obvious).

    Dating is about making connections and getting to know new people – which is hard! Rejection is hard. The only way to get better is to get better at dealing with rejection, with practice. You cannot game your way out of this and you shouldn’t, it’s important in working out what your own preferences.

  42. I have two pieces of advice for you, my friend.

    1. When it comes to physical intimacy, in addition to using your words to ask as others have recommended (eg, can I hug you?), I highly recommend matching her level of touch. If she touches you on the wrist or shoulder, it’s probably safe to reciprocate. If she initiates a hug, you can try a hug next time. If she’s not initiating touches, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you, it just means she’s not comfortable with that yet, and your best bet is to give her space and just concentrate on getting to know her and having fun.

    2. The captain touched on this, but it’s important: use the date as a chance to get to know her and to figure out if you like her. If you’ve decided you want to make her your girlfriend before you’ve even met, you’re probably coming on way too strong.

    Have a think about the qualities you’d like to find in a partner (I suggest starting with: kind, interesting, good with boundaries, similar world view and someone you have fun with, but your list may look slightly different depending on what’s important to you) and the traits that aren’t essential but which might be a nice surprise, for example a shared interest in sci fi or gaming. Also think about any deal breakers and red flags, such as treating the waiter disrespectfully or making a racist joke (again, this list will be specific to you but just ftr I do think those are bad signs for anyone). You don’t have to write this stuff down although you can if you want. The point is to get yourself out of the calculating “how do I get this person to date/sleep with me” thought pattern and replace it with the idea that you’re mutually figuring out your compatibility.

    First dates with virtual strangers are so low stakes that it shouldn’t really matter if one or both of you isn’t interested. If it doesn’t work out, you can move on without much invested to lose. Concentrate on having a good time and getting to know the other person, and have your lists in the back of your mind when you’re deciding if you want to see this person again (remember it’s a decision you’re both making, it’s not just you auditioning for someone else’s attention and affection)

    One advantage to this approach, other than the obvious “finding someone you really like” and “taking the pressure off achieving a particular end game” upsides, is that it involves asking a lot of questions and taking a genuine interest in the answers, something women (and people in general) tend to appreciate. Another bonus is that it might help you recognize your date is doing much the same thing, and if the date doesn’t go anywhere it’s not because you did something “wrong”, it’s just that you’re not the right person /for her/. There’s no single right way to date, so just be yourself until you find someone you click with.

    1. Wait, one final piece of advice, which is subtext in a lot of the responses:

      Demonstrate that you are trustworthy, safe, and will respect her boundaries.

      And then actually be those things.

      It goes a long way.

    2. One major thing that’s on my list for a partner is that they don’t have to share my nerdy interests, but they absolutely must respect them. I’ve suffered through the disparaging comments and telling me the think I’m addicted to a video game I enjoy and the little “jokes” to friends and acquaintances about how silly and childish my hobbies are. I’m not doing that again.

      1. This goes double for fields of study/career paths. Nothing like having a partner who thinks you’re stupid because you didn’t major in the same thing they did in college!

  43. Hi,

    Others have the ‘escalating touch’ angle covered.

    What I’d like to add is that as a shy geek, I’d prefer a date to be honest, (but not clingy-needy) about shyness.

    I had an awful situation with someone I was dating who I now believe, was going to great lengths to try and hide his shyness, and it led to a nightmare of ambiguity. I liked and cared about him a lot. I wish we had both been able to find our words and say something about how awkward things were between us. Things ended in an irreparable misunderstanding. I feel it could have been avoided by some straight-up honesty.

    We are both older, and I believe we had a strong attraction. Unfortunately for older, shy people, coming acrosss like a bumbling teenager is really embarrassing. But infatuation can bring out the inner-adolescent, particularly in people who haven’t dated in a long time.

    I’m not sure exactly what words, but words were required, on both sides.

    1. I’m a very nerdy woman and honestly, my ideal date with a nerdy man would involve both of us displaying the characteristic nerd awkward body language, lack of touch, and infrequent eye contact until we got to know each other, and one of us said, “Do you mind if we hold hands?” or “Can I kiss you?” or “I feel like being physically affectionate, would you be okay with that?”

      Because I’m a nerd. I’m not good at fluently expressing myself through nonverbal body language. I’m awful at reading when someone is into me. I like to intellectually deconstruct the entire world around me. And I don’t want to date someone who’s off-put by my nerdishness in this area or any other, because that’s part of me.

      1. This. And when someone who’s trying to date me is too smooth about things, it actually freaks me out and makes me retreat.

  44. LW, one of the ways that has helped me, as a nerdy, touch-averse dater, is to be very up-front and honest about my shyness and need for direct communication around stuff. When I’m nervous, I say I’m nervous. When I’m hoping to hug someone, I’ll ask. You don’t have to keep up a running monologue about your emotional state, but a straightforward “hey, I’m sometimes kind of awkward, and dating in general is nerve-wracking” in your profile is a GOOD sign. “Suave” dudes in my experience are appreciated because they bring good qualities to the table and put people at ease, not because they pressure their dates into escalating intimacy. But suaveness and honesty are not mutually exclusive – you’ll develop your own kind of suaveness once you’re true to yourself and feel more practiced about checking in emotionally with your dates. Maybe you’ve heard of Dr. Nerdlove? Check out his blog for some decent guides on how to date as an inexperienced or awkward person. Good luck.

  45. Stop thinking so hard! I know when you’re a nervous, awkward person it’s hard to do (believe me, I know), but overthinking is what’s killing you. Do activities on dates that you enjoy, act how it feels natural to act, touch when you want to touch (and you get permission), and date people you want to date. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.

  46. I can’t speak to how to generate chemistry, but here are some things that will make me like you as a person, even if we don’t develop a romantic relationship:

    1. Ask me about myself and my interests
    2. Listen when I answer, don’t just wait for me to stop talking so you can jump in and talk about yourself
    3. If I am interested in something you are interested in, that is not an invitation for you to quiz me to see how legit I am
    4. Do not treat my opinions as convenient jumping off points for you to convince me I’m wrong
    5. If you find yourself wondering how to proceed, or whether something is ok, ask

    …and for a surprise twist at the end, this is not a “how to woo women” guide. In fact, this is how most women are socialized to act around other humans. When I meet men who do the same amount of emotional labor in a relationship, I am impressed (again, not automatically in love, but impressed.)

  47. I’m geeky, introverted, and massively touch-averse. I’d be more impressed by someone like LW if he greeted me with a Vulcan salute, though individual responses might vary based on specific fandoms, cultural backgrounds, etc.

    1. Damn, I really wish I was in the dating pool now because I would TOTALLY use a Vulcan salute!

      1. Haha, I’m not really in the dating pool either (put it this way: I’d be totally happy joining a convent if any of them accepted Jewish atheists), but I could get behind using the Vulcan salute as an all-purposes greeting!

        1. Seconding this – anyone, potential romantic interest or no, who knows I’m into Star Trek and says goodbye with “Live long and prosper” gets a bonus point, but anyone who knows to say goodbye with “Peace and long life”, so that then *I* can reply with “Live long and prosper” gets many bonus points 😀

  48. Hi LW. There were a few things in your letter that really stood out to me, so I wanted to address them directly.

    “One of the main indicators that she just wasn’t interested in me was the fact that she wasn’t really trying to establish any physical contact.”

    That doesn’t actually mean she isn’t interested. It might, but it might not. I’m personally not a very touchy-feely person, and I won’t initiate physical contact with people I don’t know extremely well. My husband likes to joke about how on our first date, I flat-out refused to hold his hand or kiss him goodbye. Did that mean I wasn’t interested? Well, we celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary last night, so I’d say I ended up pretty interested!

    “I’ve read about “breaking the touch barrier” and trying to create a (even slight) sense of intimacy on the first date.” … “I have a hard time creating intimacy on the first date.”

    I’m not sure where you are getting the message that “intimacy” is something you should be trying for on a first date, but it’s wrong. Intimacy isn’t something you can simply create–it grows over the time through trust and vulnerability. First dates aren’t about intimacy–they are about getting to know someone a bit better so you can decide IF intimacy is even something you might want to move toward. Also, touching someone, in and of itself, doesn’t *create* intimacy. If it’s unnatural and happens too soon, it can actually scare someone off. When in doubt, err on the side of NOT touching. If you want her to be sure you’re interested, tell her you had a really good time and invite her out again.

    What I look for from a guy on a first date is not intimacy but safety and respect. Without safety and respect, there will be no intimacy (not consensually, anyway). That might not sound very sexy but trust me, from a woman’s perspective, it is! On a first date I’m asking myself, “Does this guy respect my boundaries? When I say no does he simply stop, or does he try to make me feel bad or change my mind?” “Does he listen to what I have to say, or is he too busy trying to impress me?” “Does he seem like he’s in a hurry to get me to [kiss him/have sex/open up emotionally/agree to a relationship]?” “Is he interested in ME in particular, or just having a woman on his arm?”

    There is an uneven distribution of vulnerability in heterosexual relationships, with women having to fear for their safety much more than men do (which isn’t to say men don’t get abused and assaulted, just that the risk falls more heavily on women). We don’t have the luxury of ignoring red flags on dates (and pushing physical or emotional intimacy too fast is a big red flag). You could be the greatest guy in the universe but if your behaviors make a woman feel scared, that’s going to override any other feeling she could have. So your goal for a first date should be to create a safe space where you can both start learning about the other.

    “I can never get my dates to “want” me like some other suave guys can do.”

    You can’t *get* someone to want you, that’s not how attraction works. Not everyone will be attracted to you, just like you are not attracted to everyone. A date is simply an opportunity for two people to come together and figure out if that attraction is there, mutually. You should strive to be the most attractive version of YOURSELF that you can be, but you still need to be yourself, and you need to accept that there just might not be chemistry there. I’ve had more than a few guys in my life that I wished I could be attracted to. They were objectively good-looking, smart, kind, and interesting people. But it just wasn’t there. Sometimes that happens, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.

    It can be disheartening to look out there and see more charismatic guys getting laid left and right. Some charismatic guys are genuinely decent people who just lucked out in the social intelligence department. But many are guys who use deception and manipulation (like that PUA crap) to get women into bed with them. This might be great for racking up numbers on their bedposts, but as a woman who has fallen for that in my younger and stupider days, I beg you, don’t aspire to be one of them! Their actions might look like confidence on the surface but they mask a deep and undoubtedly painful insecurity underneath. And the women they’ve “conquested” are NOT looking back on those experiences fondly. Please, be the kind of guy on whom women look back fondly–regardless of whether what you shared was one first date, a one-night-stand, or a lifelong relationship.

    1. Hah, when I met my husband, he also thought I wasn’t interested because I couldn’t even make EYE CONTACT with him. I liked him so much I was terrified to even look at him for fear we’d be setting things aflame with our eye-sexing. He kept trying to politely give me opportunities to get out of the lunch date we’d planned, and I kept insisting that no, I really did want to go on a date with him. That was 14 years ago!

      1. Not quite the same, but my wife couldn’t make eye contact with me when exchanging vows at OUR WEDDING! That was more of a “not-wanting-to-start-crying” thing, though. It was a little strange being up there and watching her direct her vows somewhere over my left shoulder in the vicinity of my best man 🙂

    2. “And the women they’ve “conquested” are NOT looking back on those experiences fondly.”

      THIS. I wish that this was more of a barometer of dating success/sexual prowess. Being able to trick a lot of people into having sex with you by lying about yourself and disguising who you are feels like a really weird and low bar for someone being celebrated for their romancing skills. Give me someone whose partners feel positive and unashamed about having been with them, every time!

    3. LW, I’m going to second her comment and add this: I’m married & monogamous now, but I am the kind of person who ok with casual sex and one night stands. The suave, charming guys you wish you were? Those were the guys I *didn’t* sleep with. As soon as I met a guy like that, all my shields went up, and I noped away from them like they had the plague. Like Redgirl says, some people have natural charisma, but most of the “charming” guys I’ve met, or observed when they dated people I knew, fell somewhere on a spectrum that starts at “manipulative & dishonest” and goes right up to “actual sociopath”.
      And those are the kind of guys many women think of when men start “breaking the touch barrier” without the woman’s permission.

      1. Wilhelmina, some of those guys probably did have a plague of some sort! If only a massive case of “entitleditis” (inflammation of the sense of entitlement).

    4. Yeah, uh, LW, if I’m not too nervous to initiate physical contact, it means I both am not attracted to you and have no suspicions that you might be attracted to me.

  49. I apparently often react less unfavorably to initial hugs than others, but where that’s happened, it’s usually with someone I’ve chatted with for a bit and am finally meeting. It is *sometimes* okay for a hug to happen then, and I can’t remember it being an immediate turnoff ever. I also can’t remember it having ever been a specific point in someone’s favor. The shoulder tapping would definitely weird me out.

    Beyond goodbye hugs, and hello hugs after a first date, I don’t actually *want* physical contact for the first few dates with a new person. I want dating partners who are not pushy, and I’ve learned the hard way that anyone wanting to rush that with me is no good for me. And I will always extra respect someone who asks whether I want to kiss/hug/etc instead of trying it first to see whether it has a bad effect on me. The asking first makes me feel much more comfortable with a new person.

    The Captain has some excellent advice, and the fact that you’re picking up on the interest levels of your dates is a great start. Just treat them like people whose boundaries you will always respect and you should do fine.

    1. Also, awkward pauses? Totally normal, often endearing. I mostly just assume the first couple dates will be awkward, and if they are also fun and interesting conversationally, then I have plenty of patience for the initial awkwardness.

  50. LW, you sound like a very deliberate person. And let me tell you, people can sense that. People react very differently to touch when it is premeditated than when it is spontaneous (although the latter can also go wrong, believe me). For example, my friend Tarquin is allowed to hug me from behind because he is a very spontaneous person who obviously has no ulterior motives. He’s not even attracted to my gender. If my acquaintance Julius hugs me from behind, I know he has premeditated it, partly because I don’t really hug him in the usual way and partly because he is a very deliberate person

    As an also deliberate person, I have realised I need to *ask before physical contact* unless it’s an obvious exception (like someone holding up their hand for a high-five), because if I can sense other people’s motives then my friends definitely can. I default to weird sidling behaviour because I’m afraid of sounding silly, but the thing is that “would you like a hug?” or “I’m sitting closer to you now because I think this date is going well, feel free to move if it’s weird” sound either normal or charmingly awkward.

    tl;dr: people can smell your ulterior motives, ask first and then they’re open motives.

    Also, 1000th-ing all the other advice that says *get to know the person instead of trying to get a relationship out of anyone who seems willing*, which might take away your ulterior motives in the first place.

  51. What really sprung out to me (besides the focus on touch, which commenters above have discussed extensively) is the awkward silences. I might be way off base here, but could it be that these silences happen when you have been talking for a while? Not to say that this has to be the case, but in my experiences there have only been awkward silences when a conversation partner simply hasn’t shown interest in me or asked me questions. When a date partner talks about their own interests most of the time, I will fake interest for a while, but after that I will stop encouraging them to continue on – and that’s when the silences happen.

    Next time you notice an awkward silence in a date, ask your date a question! Ideally, the question would flow from the current topic (what do you think about that? What is your favourite x? Are you interested in y at all?), or grab back to something they have mentioned before (you mentioned you lived in x, what made you move to y? You work in z, how interesting, what is the hardest/nicest/most interesting part of your job?You’re a big fan of y, what book of theirs should I start on?). And then ask follow up questions, preferably open ended ones.

    This is great for two reasons:
    1) You fill awkward gaps very smoothly, and nearly everyone likes talking about themselves
    2) You get to know your date, and can find out if they are a match with you

    Plus, if you like a person, their answers would likely be interesting and fun to you, which is how you recognise a good date!

    1. This is a good point. I find that when I’m with someone who talks AT me instead of WITH me, my brain eventually shuts down. Feigning extended interest is hard work, and when the other person finally shuts up, the silence is such a relief. I also have literally no incentive to break the silence since that’ll just “reward” me with more wordswordswords.

      Not saying that’s what you’re doing, LW, but frankly, most people could stand to be better at listening. Thankfully it’s something you can train on your own. For every post here, stop and find three questions you could ask of it. Make a habit of doing this exercise when you read or hear new stuff, and soon it’ll be second nature for you to find interesting questions whenever you talk to someone new. This solves the “but I don’t know what to ask” issue which I know a lot of people have and which is especially hard when you’re sitting there nervously in the middle of a date. Engaging with what people say is a skill and a habit you can build. It’s not actually magic.

  52. Two things stood out to me:

    1. Evaluating, on the date, how interested the date is in him, and basing it on physical contact indicators—instead of getting to know the girl, finding out if he is interested in her, etc. One of my favorite parts of the Captain’s response was that women are people and can’t be hacked.

    2. Letting the awkward silences stand, as if that is a considerate way to let the date “process” things. I think all New social situations (dates, talking with another parent at a school event, getting to know a new friend, talking at an interview) involve DECREASING awkward silences. That doesn’t mean there can’t be any silence at all, but if it’s awkward, and if you can make it less awkward, it’s good to do so. I can’t put a finger on why, but “giving her time to think/process what’s happening” strikes me as Off. She can do that without the date giving her awkward silences in which to do so, is I guess my conclusion. Also, there are other alternatives to (1) being a blabbermouth and (2) letting an awkward silence fall, and one of those alternatives is (3) let her talk for awhile / ask her some questions to invite her to talk.

    1. Eh, the “time to think/process” thing didn’t actually strike me as weird. It would have back before I met Mr. OtherBecky, who needs occasional silences to process, because auditory input is not his strongest suit. If the LW’s brain works similarly, he may not realize that not everyone wants or needs that, or he might realize that but also know that it can be a difficult thing to ask for, and conclude that it’s better to err on the side of letting it happen.

      LW, if any of that is accurate, you might want to notice how your date deals with potentially awkward silences. If she makes an effort to fill them, then she probably doesn’t need them. If you do need the occasional moment of processing time, let her know. Otherwise, seconding Swistle’s suggestion that a great way to fill a gap in conversation is to ask a follow-up question about something she’s said.

  53. Hi LW, I once went on a date with a guy who seems exactly like you (or it might have been you yourself?). In that experience, what I found most stressful is that he had no ability at all of reading body language. So he tried to “break the touch barrier” several times and I was each time sitting a little further from him (we were sitting on the same couch in a fancy bar) and he kept approaching and making body contact. At some point, half of my butt was outside the couch, like about to fall. I was also sitting in a very uptight position, legs closed, very evident tension. He failed to notice any of these things. If you can’t read people’s reactions very well, then don’t break any boundaries.

    As it is said in the response, “women are people and cannot be hacked”. Please stop reading PUA poison right now.

  54. I’m a huggy person… I’m comfortable hugging people I just met, if they are. But hugging first off in a date situation is likely to raise my hackles, because as a woman, I’m on high alert for red flags and boundary pushing. I’d recommend holding off on the hug until maybe the end of the date, and ask first.

    I’d also suggest cooling off on the touching unless it’s situationally appropriate (I.e. if you’re wandering around the fair and you tap her shoulder – gently and briefly to catch her attention – to point out the super-awesome fair game you want to go play). If you want to do something more, *ask*. “Hey, this crowd looks pretty thick… would it be OK if I held your hand so we don’t get separated?”

    Respect what she says. If she changes her mind, she’ll tell you, but you’ll be more likely to seem like the fun, geeky guy you really are if you treat her with respect and take her at her word.

    My boyfriend excelled at this when we were in the awkward first-dates situation, and we’ve been together 8 months and just moved in together. I know it’s corny advice, but try to relax and be yourself. Awkward, geeky, and shy will appeal to a compatible partner – with my partner, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even find him attractive until I saw a photo of him at an SCA event, where his real self showed through.

    Give it time, and try to find date venues that let you – the real you, not the cultivated date-hack persona – shine. You’ll have a lot more fun… and probably so will she.

    1. This.

      I have gotten first-date hello hugs. And ironically, I didn’t mind the hug itself, but the fact that he didn’t appear to consider the possibility that I would. (This isn’t an uncommon phenomenon, really; my personal set of boundaries are weird as fuck, low in some places but high in others, so my reaction is often less along the lines of ‘I don’t like that’ and ‘okay, you not knowing better than to do what you just did is a red flag’.)

      If, as some speculated, the hugging wasn’t even something you genuinely *wanted* to do, but something you thought was needful for your date to go smoothly, you now have ample evidence that you’re off the hook!

      If anticipating the greeting moment still seems awkward, you could always clarify that in the same message you pin down the when/where of the date; something jokey maybe, ‘please indicate whether you would prefer to be greeted with A) a handshake B) a hug C) a high-five or D) a secret signal of your devising’, etc.

  55. I’ll nth the nope, nope, nope on instantiating contact (and I say this as a hugger: consensual hugging is different from being ambushed by a hug).

    Most people who look for a relationship are looking for a one-to-one connection with a unique human being. The more you play things ‘by the book’ (I should do a, b, c, to be successful) the less interesting you become.

    For me, the most boring books or films are the ones that follow the ‘Hero’s Journey’ template. I’ve seen or read it a thousand times: I know the roles of every character that turns up, I know how every plot twist will turn out, I know at which point in time which event will happen. I do not know the details, but all the explosions and car chases in the world won’t let me forget that I’ve been there many times.

    Women tend to keep an eye out for predatory techniques. They, too, have read the sites that say that one should escalate touch _like this_ and never let silence go on for longer than _that_, and what the five most important questions to ask are. Chances are, your dating partners have BEEN on this date before. Not with you, but with someone else. The more generic you become, the less fascinating you are, and that’s going to stand in your way of finding someone who’ll giggle madly when you’re hitting that awkward moment together.

  56. LW, all the “touch barrier” stuff is a load of crap. I actually did study some of the PUA stuff when I was in my 20s, out of curiosity more than anything (since I was a psych major and interested in human behavior), but I’m actually glad that I did because now, as an older, wiser, nerdy lady it’s a helluva lot easier to sniff out when a guy is using it. It almost always indicates that they are simply trying to get into my pants, and/or they really aren’t paying attention to who they’re dating, they just want to date someone (anyone!) with a vagina. So it’s a complete turn off for me now.

    Unfortunately, when online dating you meet A LOT (and I do mean A LOOOOOTTTTTT) of guys who use it. Sometimes the guys actually are a bit more suave and think that their seduction techniques are what is working. For those few guys, I can tell you, it’s not the techniques that are winning me over, it’s usually just that they have a likeable personality and we have things in common. However, the vast majority of guys who try to use it are throwing around terms like “alpha” and are interrupting me when I talk to make a vaguely insulting compliment or are touching my knee while I am clearly NOT touching them and in fact am glaring at them, and they are just not reading the signs AT ALL. (Which is because they are running a script in their head of what’s happening or what they want to happen, not actually paying attention to the person across from them).

    I will add this- With online dating, for me personally, the first “date” is almost never a date. It’s a “let’s go out and have a drink to see if we click or have something in common” date. It’s baffling to me why men in general treat the first meeting from online dating as anything but (except for the people who have explicitly outlined that they are only looking for sex- you do you!). You are essentially a pair of strangers meeting at a place. You might know precursory facts about each other, but that’s it. In person you may or may not have any sexual chemistry. You may or may not have anything in common. I just don’t “get” how some guys come in and start up with the sexual stuff almost immediately thinking that *THIS* is what will win me over and make me want to hop into bed with them. I am a human being with critical thought processing, and I generally know when I’m being sold a line of crap. Please give me some credit. Show me an enjoyable time and talk about the things that interest you and actually LISTEN when I talk about the things that interest me. That’s it. That’s all. Just remember, EVEN THEN, I may still not want to screw you, and it may or may not be a reflection on you personally. Maybe I’m just not feeling it. Best advice I can give is, try not to take it personally and just go out to find the person who IS attracted to and interested in you.

    1. This!

      I haven’t done a statistically large enough amount of online dating to get a good sample size, but I (and almost all of the other ladyfriends that I have who range from HIGHLY MONOGAMOUS to OBTAIN MANY SEXFRIENDS) treat the first in-person date as one thing and one thing only: “are you a serial killer y/n”

      For us, the first date is a meeting in a public place with a start and end time to see if the person we’re meeting a) is in fact the person they said they are on the internets b) doesn’t immediately repulse us with vibe/secret swastika tattoo/copy of Atlas Shrugged c) is a person who respects a no, whether that’s “no, I don’t need another drink but what if we had ICE CREAM” or “I don’t want to go any further than hot make-outs tonight but this is fun and we should make-outs again soon” or “sorry, people that ‘don’t believe in safe spaces’ don’t get to put their genitals on/near my genitals” [YES THIS WAS REAL].

      1. Or a secret tattoo of Atlas Shrugged! I actually went on a date with a person I met online who had one of these and was pleased to show it off.

  57. Honstly, LW, I’d say knock off the physical contact in general until the date’s starting to head towards the end and *ask* if they mind before doing it. For record, I don’t just mean this for the hugging (which everyone else has covered well) but also for the general “friendly taps on the shoulder”. Actually, those would probably put me off more since I generally don’t have to worry about hugs coming out of no where during the date.

    As for the awkward silences? The best thing for them I’ve found is to just make a joke about the awkward silence. They’re a great way to break those ime since most people apperciate jokes and it’s a good way to get the conversation rolling again seeing as most people typically find them pretty easy to respond to. Plus they generally invite the other person to talk because of that. Win/win all around.

    1. On my first date with my boyfriend, we clicked really quickly. He didn’t hug or touch me at the start, but over the next hour or so, we gradually got more touchy (hugs and hand-holding and sitting close together). It didn’t feel stilted or calculated or manipulative. We spent 4 hours together that first date and another 3 the next day, and have only missed one day together in the last 4 months.

  58. So, dating. Meeting people you think are attractive and interesting, and getting to know them to see if there is potential for more.

    Don’t think of it like a side-quest. Don’t think of it as the romance storyline in a game. You’re not trying to “win”. You’re not looking for the right sequence of phrases to unlock Girlfriend Mode.

    You’re the Enterprise, under Picard. Picard was looking for new worlds, new civilisations, with an arm outstretched to offer friendship, trade and understanding. You’re looking for new people, with an arm outstretched to offer friendship and, if things work that way, a relationship.

    Not every race Picard encountered was interested in friendship with the Federation. Of those who were receptive, some were content to merely co-exist in the same galaxy without engaging in any overt relations. Some opened up trade opportunities. Some swapped cultural and scientific information. Some collaborated on scientific endeavours. Some would call on the Federation to arbitrate important matters. And some – a small percentage – would eventually seek to join the Federation.

    Sometimes, even if both races wanted in all earnest to try to foster a relationship, there were simply too many fundamental differences between them that limit how close they could become. Even when encounters end positively, this might not result in anything more happening.

    Dates are like that. You don’t know who this person is, yet. A date is an expression of interest in *finding out* who they are, what the two of you have in common, and working out what sort of relationship – if any – the two of you feel is possible. And sometimes, the feelings won’t be mutual. Picard was open to pursuing relationships with every alien race he encountered, but you’re not on a mission to date people, so you have the luxury of being more picky, as do the people you date.

    If the closest you can get to someone is explaining Darmok and Jelad at Tenagra, you don’t *have* to try to force greater intimacy. An unwanted hug or arm-touch where no natural intimacy has developed is like any one of the episodes where advanced aliens exercised control over the Enterprise in the interests of learning more about them. Well-intentioned, but as the crew couldn’t *know* why it was happening, they experienced the actions as aggressive and threatening.

    1. I giggled to hard at this I woke the cats up.

      If you want to end up as “Picard and Dathon at El-Aldrel” (except Dathon dies; maybe skip that part of the date), you have to go through “Temba, his arms wide” first. Demonstrate that you’re safe to be around. That you care about the other person as a person. Find what you have in common. Only then can your date become a new epic.

    2. “These are the voyages of the letter writer Padawan Dater. His mission: to meet interesting new people, to have fun getting to know them in a relaxed setting, to boldly date with a new understanding for boundaries that no PUAdvice has granted before”.

        1. Aw, thanks! I thought the universe would explode when I added “padawan” to a ST motto, but it turns out it didn’t 🙂

  59. (Apologies if my comment turns up a bunch of times – my internet is being REALLY WEIRD right now. Please delete duplicates if they turn up)

  60. Padawan Dater, after going away to mull for awhile, I actually thought of something that may (or may not) be helpful to you.

    I started thinking about what sparked the beginnings of an emotional connection to all the non-family people I have had an emotional connection with. And when I thought about it that way, it became obvious: sharing a laugh, a real belly laugh or the sort of laugh where if you look each other in the eye, you start giggling all over again. For me, one route to that sort of laugh is doing something fun and lighthearted or even goofy. The Captain’s comment about art galleries, particularly if the art sucks really rang true for me. I grew up in a university town that had a good art department, so there were lots of exhibitions and places like restaurants, coffee shops and bars where local artists could exhibit. There was performance art. There was art that was profound (at least to me) and art that was ridiculous (to me).

    So here’s my suggestion: think back in your life to everyone outside your own family that you have some sort of emotional connection to. Not necessarily a romantic connection because friends and buddies count too. See if there is any commonality to what sparked the growth of an emotional connection. It might not be laughter, it could be a whole bunch of other things.

    If you can figure that bit out, then design your first meetings to stack the deck in that direction. This will help you to know if you have any shared outlook with your date or just wishful thinking. And it will help your date figure out if she feels you share an outlook.

    It has the benefit of not requiring that you pretend to be someone you are not. A mask may feel light at the beginning of a relationship but it soon gets to be a burden that keeps dragging you away from your partner.

    1. Over and over, when people study what men and women (it’s always cis, but future research etc etc) are looking for in a romantic partner, the same things tend to come to the top for both. Above “rich,” above “attractive,” above everything else, is “makes me laugh.”

      1. Wow, I have never heard that before. I thought that I was part of a subset of humanity for whom shared laughter can start a connection and assumed that it was a small-ish subset because it seems so silly.

        For me, it is true for all of my close relationships, friendship as well as romantic. I have never gone out specifically looking for someone who can make me laugh but when I thought back to all the important relationships in my life outside my family, laughing together is the common denominator. I have radical leftie friends, NRA members, a rather odd number of serving and retired military (odd because I am Buddhist and a pacifist), just a wide range of people with nothing in common… except that I’ve shared great laughs with all of them and have discovered with all of them that we share the same ideals, it’s just how to get there that differs.

        Thank you. I’m still having little “who knew!” shivers (which are happy ones).

        1. Huh. This explains why pretty much all my most loved ones are deadpan sarcastic little shits 😀

        2. One of my friends is a Buddhist NRA member who is ex-military. He is a wonderful person!

  61. Another idea for a date: Square dancing or contra dancing. This is totally old-fashioned, geeky, and fun. It might be different in different places around the country (I’m in the U.S.) and world, but in the 2 places I’ve lived (New England and deep South), it’s fine to go with or without a date. It’s natural to change partners for every dance as long as you dance the first and last dances with the date you came with. People bring children, and anyone who can follow the steps dances including children as young as 8 or 9. While it’s mostly men and women as partners, no one blinks at other combinations. You know who’s taking the lead or follow part (sometimes called “gents” and “ladies”, but that’s going out in favor of “lead” and “follow”) by where they’re standing in the line. The basic steps are pretty easy since it’s mostly just walking in the right place, no fancy footwork or rhythms to follow. The steps are walked through each time before the music starts, and then it’s the same steps repeated several times as you move up and down the lines. Part of the dance is putting your arm around a woman when spinning your partner– which is the part that might interest our LW. Look at some youtube videos to see if this might appeal. If there’s a contradance in your area, go alone the first time. When you ask someone out for a date, tell her that you’ve been once, and ask if she thinks she might like contradancing. This gives her a chance to say no if she definitely doesn’t want to, but it’s socially acceptable non-threatening touching if it does appeal, a chance for her to talk, dance, get to know you, and feel safe.

    1. Great suggestion! My daughter had contra dancing at her wedding reception–everyone had a great time even if they knew no one else there. We went to several local dances before committing to having this at the reception and all were quite welcoming and FUN!

  62. And awkward silences? Sometimes they’re not awkward; they’re just silences. It’s okay to do nothing but concentrate on your dinner sometimes. It’s okay to look out the window of the bus or car without saying anything. If it’s hard to talk over the noise in the subway, don’t; just hang out together until you get where you’re going. I find it so dreadfully tiring having to be “on” every minute, never being allowed to be alone with my own thoughts without explaining myself or answering a question or listening to something someone is saying.

  63. I don’t think you’re a PuA type, but I think you might have read some similar advice. If you have read something about “kino,” I would like to say that it’s not the best advice.

    We all have different preferences on being touched. I don’t particularly like it with people I don’t know very well. I usually chalk it up to them having a different preference and not magically guessing mine, but sometimes with guys it feels like deliberate boundary-pushing.

    And I know what they’re doing.

    It might help to think this way: If a man did _____ to you, would you think he was pushing it? Fill in the blank with grabbing your arm, touching your leg, and so on. Is it something you want a new friend or someone on a first date to do?

  64. LW, out of curiosity, I googled around about “breaking the touch barrier”. I found a company CLAIMING not to be a pickup artist organization was the top hit. I then googled around some more, and found descriptions of them on PUA sites discussing them *as a PUA organization*, as well as an article by the founder describing himself as a “former” PUA.

    You writing here for advice hints to me that you don’t want to be a PUA and perhaps tried to avoid that when looking for dating advice. I would strongly suggest that you be careful where you’re getting the advice — research the company thoroughly, see if there’s discussion of them on PUA sites, see who runs the site, etc.

    And just to reiterate what most people have said already: unsolicited touching, esp. overly-intimate touch like a hug, is MORE LIKELY to put your dates off than anything else. If you tend to feel more comfortable with someone having made brief physical contact, there is a neutral touch you can use for that. It’s called a “handshake”, and can be used with anyone of any age to start interactions off on a good note. Some people do not like handshakes, but usually these people will not be offended or put off by the offer, and have worked out ways to gracefully indicate their preference.

    1. Or look for advice on dating *written by women.* Trust me, we know what we want in a dude way better than what dudes think we want, and I imagine it’s difficult to find any sincere advice from guys on the internet because of how saturated the PUA stuff is. I think the overwhelming amount of ladies telling you the same things here is a strong argument for going to the source!

  65. The thing is, touching on a date can be super hot, IF you’re both clearly into it and it happens as a natural progression of you getting to know each other.

    I still remember a first date I had that was going really well, lots of laughing and good back and forth conversations. I’d got to the stage where I was thinking ‘God, I really want to make out with this guy’, and he was clearly thinking the same. I got up to go to the bathroom and as he got up so I could pass him he very lightly and naturally touched the side of my hip. It was honestly such a turn on because it felt like part of the general atmosphere of pantsfeelings that was already developing (reader, I came back from the bathroom and we made out A LOT) – but if he’d done that cold? And early on in the date when I knew nothing about him? I’d have been out the window…

    TLDR: touch is sexy! But not if it’s forced or unwanted, so if you struggle to read the situation JUST ASK.

    1. Also, NOT touching is sexy if you have chemistry. Letting that sexual tension build, knowing you’re both thinking about it but not acting on it… This idea that you can make someone be attracted to you by touching them is so backwards. If someone is already attracted to you, they may welcome being touched, but they’ll still be attracted to you if you don’t rush that part.

  66. Chiming in here as yet another person who’s very selective about who I’m willing to be touchy-touchy with: The whole ”strategic touching” thing is generally best avoided, and is actually off-putting for a lot of people.

    As others have pointed out, touching is usually a *result* of intimacy, when people have got to know each other a little more and sussed out each other’s boundaries a little better and touch because they enjoy it and they feel close to each other. You can’t trick people into feeling like you’re closer than you are by throwing in strategic little touches; that’s putting the cart before the horse and is more likely to make people feel *more* uncomfortable, particularly when they recognise the touching as “strategic”. People don’t like to feel like they’re being manipulated.

    LW, you seem like a decent person and I wish you all the best, but as you can see the methodology you’re currently using isn’t very good or reliable.

  67. This may be putting too much focus on wording, but “create a sense of intimacy” seems like it’s trying for the wrong thing. Real intimacy is something that grows between people, and usually takes time.

    It sounds like your goal in dating is to find someone you want to have a relationship with, who wants to have a relationship with you, and to create a relationship you both enjoy. (If you were looking for one-night stands, you’d probably have asked a different question.) If you try to skip ahead to “a sense of intimacy” without actually getting to know each other, which includes sharing thoughts and experiences, and seeing over time whether she’s trustworthy, things could go wrong in all sorts of ways. One of them is that you could be very badly matched emotionally, and make each other unhappy. Another is that you might look up one day and think something like “I have a girlfriend, we’re going on regular dates and she likes to kiss me, shouldn’t I be happy about this?”

    1. This is true. You do not want a “sense of intimacy.” You want ACTUAL intimacy, not some imitation of it that makes it hard to tell whether the other person feels it or not. I learned the hard way when I was in my teens and went through boyfriend after boyfriend: I loved the feeling of being in love so much (and never got much love from my family so i daresay i was trying to fill a hole) that I would try and force it by spending literally hours convincing myself that I was falling for them. What happened? Well, I ended up getting overly attached to people who weren’t ready for that sort of thing, but for some reason they were all like “Oh my god I have fallen so hard for you I’ve never felt this way before you’re so amazing I can’t believe how you make me feel” and I’d be like, woohoo, I’ve cracked it! We would become inseparable and would constantly declare our love for each other. Two of them proposed to me.

      Then the bubble would suddenly burst maybe two weeks or a month later and they’d realise it was just a “sense of” being in love and LW, they would nope the fuck out of there and I would cry into my embarrassing teenager’s journal for a month.

      You don’t want that, dude. Like love, you can’t hurry intimacy. Don’t force it. You won’t believe how great it feels when you just let it develop on its own.

  68. This is such sweet advice — I loved the part at the end about accessing good feelings you’re having about the date in the moment and saying something sincere and nice to the other person so they know you’re feeling good about it and them. Lately I’ve been thinking of carefully wading into the dating pool myself, and this sounds like a great, low-key way to approach dating, for people of any gender. Like, you actually make it sound fun instead of anxiety-ridden.

    1. Good luck, syllabub. There’s so many kind, funny and sexy people out there, and dating is all about getting to know them and maybe kiss them, too. I hope you have good experiences out there.

  69. Dear LW,

    One other thing: if you’re looking to have NSA sex, or booty calls, say so some place in your profile.

    Because there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m sure that more women are interested in NSA sex than the hugging and shoulder touches.

    1. … It took me such a bunch of time to figure out that you weren’t referring to sex that was being surveilled upon by a certain US government agency. It seemed like an interesting choice for acts of civil mayhem, but to each their own, I guess? ;D

  70. So the last first-date I went on was pretty great, and I really want to articulate all the reasons why. It was with someone I connected with on OKcupid and we went from messaging to emailing to him giving me his number and saying texting/calling would be very okay with him but no pressure, and moving at my speed. I was talking about a book signing (Felicia Day!) at the end of the week I was thinking of going to, he said “We should TOTALLY go!” and that was perfect (also, I had friends in the crowd who were happy to keep an eye out for me, and people to report in with texts to, to make sure I was okay). We’d been flirting a fair bit online so when we first met he said “Would it be okay if I hugged you?” and I gave an enthusiastic yes. We spent the subway trip down touching hands and blushing and basically being awkward and shy but also happy and sitting together. This was basically the rest of the night.

    At one point after the signing we were outside getting some air and sat down together, still chatting, and he said “Would it be okay if I kissed you? I’d really like to.” And again, enthusiastic yes. No groping, no further boundary pushing, just kissing.

    Now I’m a very affectionate person and my pre-screening online is pretty vigorous, combined with if I am feeling safe I have no problems with sex on the first date if the attraction’s there and everyone’s on the same page. Again, while making out at one point he said “So how far do you see this going? I don’t want to push you” and my response was something along the lines of “Oh at least second base”. He didn’t make a single move beyond that.

    The whole time, tons of communication, asking and not telling, I was initiating touch as often as he was (I slipped my hand into his and he gave it a big squeeze and laced his fingers with mine and blushed furiously which is, to me, big positive, otherwise I would’ve taken my hand back and tucked it in a pocket). We were both huge, shy, geeky people. Nothing was scripted, nothing was weird or challenging or attempting to dominate, it was just respectful and fun.

    There is no happy ending, stuff didn’t work out, but it was still one of the NICEST first dates I’ve had in my life and I remember it for all of those reasons.

    What exists in this date? Sincerity, awkwardness, good faith, goodwill towards the other person, respecting them as a person and any boundaries they might state.

    What’s missing from this date? Trying to “force” someone’s feelings (I know PUA stuff too y’know, it’s gross), calculating how and when next to touch them regardless of their responses to previous touches, focusing on anything other than “Am I having a good time? Is the person I’m with having a good time?” with both being equally important.

    1. Heh, that sort of reminded me of my first kiss with my now-husband. It was our third date (LW, there was NO touching on the first, until the very end when i had to run for a bus and he offered me a hug, which I accepted and which was necessarily quick and kind of awkward. But it was nice, because HE ASKED FIRST).

      So, it was our third date, a beautiful late spring day and we were lying on the grass in a beautiful park, full of ice cream (us, not the park), when he said,
      “What do you think we should do now?
      I was like, “Ooh, let’s go to my house and play retro video games! My consoles from the 80s and 90s still work! Let’s play Sonic 2 head to head!”
      *Slightly awkward pause*
      Him: “Well, I think we should kiss. What do you think?”
      Me: “Ohhhhh! Can we do both?”
      Him: “If you want.”
      Me: “Hell yeah!” *initiates kissing, followed by his first visit to my house. I won the head to head :-)*

      1. Sorry LW, I meant to make this point and forgot: There was no significant touching until the third date. So how did we stay interested and know each other was interested? We clicked conversationally, we laughed together, we did fun stuff and that made us both want to see each other again. Because it was fun. If it hadn’t led to love, I still would have wanted to see him because he was cool and fun and made me happy. It’s worth mentioning here that I’ve gained a couple of good friends from online dating as well as a husband.

  71. LW, I think I’m the sort of girl you’d like to date – an introverted nerdy girl who met her boyfriend through online dating – so I’m well-proportioned to give you some advice.

    First of all, if you take anything away from the Captain’s response, PLEASE remember the “women are people, they can’t be hacked” line. It sounds like you are approaching each date as if the woman is a Rubik’s cube, and if you touch her in the right way you will “solve” her. This is not an optimal strategy, because the main result is that you are not really thinking of these women as people, which is actively making it harder for you to really connect with anyone. Instead of worrying what you can do to trick her into liking you, focus on figuring out if you like her. Switching perspective will help you be more genuine and that improves your chances of finding someone who actually likes you.

    Second, the hugging as introduction thing – you gotta stop doing that, dude. It is hard for me to think of anything more unpleasant than being forced to hug a strange man. It feels like he is taking advantage of social norms in order to feel me up, and it immediately adds points to the mental tally of how likely the guy is to be a rapist. And just in case you’re reading these comments and thinking “yeah but these women all hate being touched, I’m trying to find someone who likes it,” let me tell you that I am very, very physically affectionate with my boyfriend. I can’t walk past him without kissing whatever part of him is closest – but it took 5 dates before we did anything other than a goodbye hug, because I didn’t know him yet. So please, please, stop with the introduction hugging.

    1. Totally right there with you on this. I’m totes a touchy-feely type. And when I was single, I had no problem with NSA sex. I *STILL* don’t want someone giving me a hug the first time I meet them.

  72. Also, considering a lot of PUA is used for “breaking the b*tch shield” and other lovely hostile gems because women are EVIL and WITHHOLDING SEX YOU RIGHTLY ARE OWED (for reasons), so is that REALLY how you see the people you’re dating? Most PUA tactics are rooted in humiliating, frightening, and abusing women, to the point that they’ll use guides on how to recognize abuse as a “how-to” manual. This really isn’t a rabbit hole you want to go down.

    Most people want to be liked for who they are and desired for who they are. This goes for any gender. If you found out someone was “settling” for you because well, you’re better than nothing even if they’re not actually interested in you, how would that make you feel? Because that’s what you’re doing to these people.

    You’re not looking to be someone’s “anyone”. Give the same respect to the person you’d like to be your “someone”.

  73. Hey LW – I don’t know if you’ll get this far down through the barrage of OMG NO HUGS comments above (and while I agree with them I’ll say no more about it) but a really really good idea if you’re shy and awkward is to build an activity of some kind into the date. The Captain provides many good examples, but to expand on it – if you do an activity you have something to talk about, yes, and you also have something to distract yourself from the stress of being on a date. I’m not great at meeting strangers and don’t know what to talk about but I’ll relax and talk my face off if you give me a shared topic we can get into that isn’t “what do you do?” type stuff. Being relaxed is more attractive and a better way to get to know someone – if you can distract yourself from the nerves you’ll be more open and natural and will come off so much better, and also she’ll probably *also* be more open and natural and you can actually get to know each other a bit.

    The other thing that I’ve heard over and over regarding online dating is that you’ll go on *a lot* of dates that go nowhere before you find someone you have a connection with. It really is the best approach for a whole range of reasons to worry less about what your dates think of you and instead focus on what you think of your dates – it gets your focus off your nerves, and it also lets you really think about whether *you* like *them* at all. If you’re thinking that you just want to date any woman you find physically non-repulsive know that people can usually sense this, and find it *really* off putting. I’ve know lots of people (mostly guys, but some women too) who felt this way and everyone they tried to date was very put off by it – no one wants to be someone else’s interchangeable prop – they want to form a real connection.

    1. That is such a good point about online dating. There’s a certain kind of chemistry that I’ve found to be essential in a romantic relationship and you can really never know if you have it until you meet someone in person. I once dated someone online and over the phone for several weeks before we finally met; I actually thought I was falling for him, and then we met and i was like NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. Never spoke to him again.

      That’s the big difference between “traditional” and online dating. If you’ve already met someone before going on a date, you have a bit of a headstart. So with online dating you can probably expect a slightly lower success rate per first date, but that’s easily offset by the fact that it’s easier to find a date in the first place, so don’t be put off by that. When I was doing online dating I was able to set up two or three first dates every week or two and had a succession of them that went something like: 1) nope, 2) nope, 3) sadly not what a shame seems a good match but meh, 4) nope, 5) nope, 6) HELL NO, 7) nope, 8) eeeew no, 9) nope, 10) married him.

  74. Possibly my other comment got eaten, apologies if there are duplicates.

    I had a few horrifying afternoons delving into the ridiculousness that is PUA culture and We Hunted The Mammoth while recovering from surgery, and that combined with a bad breakup and some less-than-savory hookups has put my Men-Shields to 100%. My casual misandry level is currently somewhere between The Aunts from Practical Magic and Mallory Ortberg, Avenging Gay Fury.

    So you are more than welcome to take this comment with a grain of salt and the knowledge that it is only one person’s opinion.

    There are a few “markers” in the OP that have a correlation with people I don’t want to be around. The first is the breaking-the-touch-barrier approach to creating intimacy. That has a high correlation to other types of nonsense like “keeping frame” and “classifying males in an increasingly-complicated Greek Alphabet system”. The second is the game-playing of not texting. I err to the side of Text All The Time, and I tend to hope that people who like me will act like they like me (thanks cap!) and reply to my texts. Creating the intermittent-response-rat-pellet-button-anxiety doesn’t make me happy. It makes me an insaneperson. If you had a great time, TELL HER. USE YOUR WORDS!

    Ditto “establish a welcoming persona”. Being a welcoming, open, and safe person is a great thing. PRETENDING to be a “welcoming person” in the hopes that your date will welcome your junk on/in her parts is not so good.

    Based on the conclusions that I can draw and some of my own anecdotal evidence, I would say that the awkward pauses come from her not knowing how to respond to you. Don’t be LW 689’s date! https://captainawkward.com/2015/04/13/689-did-i-overreact-when-my-date-told-me-a-story-about-rape-and-then-wanted-to-get-me-alone/

    Now, I am not saying you are a creeper or this gross PUA MRA redpill fedora person! Correlation is not causation. It could be that she feels passionately about tea and you don’t care about leaf-water but instead prefer bitter bean-juice. If could be that you spent an hour explaining how great Sherlock is and she feels that Moffat is gaybaiting while simultaneously being a biphobic misogynist douchenugget. Or it could be any number of mismatch vibe things.

    How can you tell? I have ideas!

    a) Are you asking each other questions back and forth? Is there reciprocity in the intimacy level of the questions and the length and openness of the answers?
    b) Did you explain to her something that she has studied a lot/is proficient in? I would much rather have a conversation with No I Don’t Know About Wug Testing, That Sounds Fascinating dude than I Took A Linguistics Class One Time Let Me Tell You My Theorems dude.
    c) Did you express a view that has a high correlation to danger for ladies/queer people/POC? Again, I’m much more likely to continue talking to Can Actually Respect Other Opinions Than My Own guy than Well I’m Not Racist But Black On Black Violence guy.
    d) Have you tried to guess what type of person your date is based on very little data? We all hate “I can tell you are guarded because I work in the food industry” guy (oh, how we hate him). I am awkward and forthright and I will straight up tell you “I am an Awkward Type Pokemon who is thinking about making out with you, how do you feel about that?” (Side note – that is really and truly my line and it has a great success rate of 100% either makeouts or no one being offended at no makeouts)

    Apologies if this comes off as harsh at all (and oh my lord did I just realize how long this is). I def don’t want to internet diagnose you with anything, just trying to add another data point.

    1. Oh lord do I hate I Can Tell You’re X guy. I had one guy who kept telling me I seemed nervous and trying to “reassure” me. I started out totally relaxed but by the end I was stressed and frustrated because I couldn’t figure out what he /wanted/ from me, like what I was supposed to do to demonstrate I was sufficiently calm. The more he tried to “make me feel comfortable” the less comfortable I felt.

      Don’t be that guy, buddy.

      1. That’s when I leap onto a chair, a spotlight goes on, and I sing-shout “you must not know ’bout me! You must not know ’bout me!!”

      2. Yessss. This would majorly upset me, probably not in an ‘where do you get off describing me to myself’ way (this would not kick in until later when I was alone and had a breather to think about it), but in a ‘shitshitshit you’re being weird again, okay, relax, stop being tense about how you CAN’T relax, and while you’re at it don’t think about a purple elephant on a unicycle’ way.

  75. LW, you sound like you’ve picked up a lot of misogyny. You should stop dating women until you’ve dealt with that. No woman deserves to be treated the way that you have been treating your dates.

    1. Wow, that’s pretty harsh, and I’m not really sure where you’re getting it. It seems to me more like the LW is kinda clueless and has therefore gone looking for dating advice online, and was unfortunate enough to end up in some less-than-savory areas of the internet. He’s picked up some not-so-great ideas, but given that he hasn’t showed up in comments to mansplain to all of us why we’re wrong and none of our suggestions are usable (can’t remember which LW that was, but boy oh boy was that an… interesting… comment thread), I’m inclined to think that he’s an ok guy who’s been steered wrong, rather than a budding PUA asshat.

      1. Dude thinks women’s apparent lack of desire to be touched by him is a barrier to be broken. That’s misogynistic and textbook rape culture. He’s also admittedly been touching them without their permission in a way that most of the women on this thread have mentioned would make them uncomfortable. Until he sorts this out, he should not be dating women, because he is a threat to their safety and comfort. I’m not really sure in what universe this would qualify as harsh. It’s just a statement of the facts.

        1. I did wonder if ‘breaking the touch barrier’ might have been meant in a less pushy way, more like breaking through social conventions or your own shyness that can make it feel like touching is just not something you can do even if you _do_ both want to.

          Which doesn’t really change the advice much, because doing a lot of uninvited, unreciprocated touching of a stranger you just met isn’t a very good way to do that, and is likely to have unintended side-effects (make the person uncomfortable instead of at ease like you presumably are going for).

          1. I read it as a point in the relationship transitioning from “two people who don’t touch each other” to “two people who sometimes touch each other”. Regardless, that’s something that will happen on its own if it’s going to, not something you can make happen.

        2. In all fairness, he seems to think that “breaking the touch barrier” is what happens on a successful date because some kind of manual told him it was, and therefore he needs to make it happen in order for the date to work out. It’s still not the greatest headspace, nobody is defending that, but it’s not feeling entitled to women’s bodies because he’s a man so there, either. But if he takes these comments to heart and disregards the manual he read, he’s probably back on the track of being an average if awkward dude, not a horrible misogynistic creeper.

  76. I also wanted to point out to the LW that you’re actually doing really well in some areas — you’re getting first dates! That’s a big deal. That means that people ARE interested in you, and are willing to invest quite a bit of time and effort to meet you. So assuming that you’re failing on the first date because they aren’t immediately wanting to jump your bones is… pretty nonsensical! Dating takes time and trust and effort. Some folks manage this easily, some folks have fantastic chemistry with each other, but trying to force it to happen is not going to do so.

    You want to turn your first dates into second dates. Assuming that by the end of the first date, if xyz hasn’t happened, you’re not considered a desirable person to date is working against you. The fact that you’re on the first date has already proven this wrong! Instead of expecting milestones, go in with a little confidence that these folks are interested in you and getting to know you (or at least ensuring you’re not waving all the red flags ever), and return that interest in them and getting to know them, because you’ve already passed the first (and likely second and third) rounds of online vetting and feeling out how “safe” you are.

    Now, if a first date with someone involves them interrupting me constantly, saying “No, you’re wrong” to everything I say (including stuff I do for a living and they have no idea how it works), and is otherwise rude and unpleasant, no, I’m not gonna do a second date. I’m probably going to blow off partway through the first. Same goes for them trying to touch me while I’m asking them questions about places where our interests align. Letting a silence stretch is also an interrogation tactic, so if you’re the one letting the conversation hang awkwardly, it’s better to pick up the ball and change subjects than leave it laying there and worrying about looking awkward.

    It’s okay to be awkward. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to be shy. It’s okay to admit all of these things. This is the exact kind of person a whole lot of people would like to date.

    1. And to add to that: four dates, by online dating standards, is pretty early days. Lots of people see a first date off a dating site as a quick, low-investment experiment, because ‘compatible online’ and ‘compatible in person’ are two different things. Under those circumstances, the odds of a second date after meeting only four people are actually pretty low. Hardly a disaster!

      I agree you should forget the ‘touch barrier’ idea. Cor one thing, even if a woman does accept you touching her once, she catn still change her mind – touching isn’t planting a flag – so it doesn’t mean all that much. But you might also be more attractive in person than you think, and just need to keep meeting people till you meet one that clicks.

      You may have to meet a lot of people – don’t take it too personally. A first date off a site is really just a first pass, and nothing coming of it doesn’t mean much more than it does when someone reads your profile and says, ‘Nah, not for me.’ Keep your hands at ease, and relax a bit!

  77. I hope this isn’t too off-topic; I’ve actually been wanting to talk about this somewhere for a while, and this post has given me inspiration. I hope this isn’t TMI.

    Background: I’m to all appearances a cishet man (If I had to get super-specific I’m something like heteroromantic demisexual and lean slightly agender, but if people ask I tend to call myself cishet for shortcut). I was certainly socialised as a cishet man, and grew up as such. I am also very uncomfortable being touched, even with family.

    This is about a bit more than hugs but I still think it’s relevant. Bad touch is bad touch.

    A few years ago, when I was in graduate school, there was a local bar I liked to frequent. I was enough of a regular that the bartenders all knew me and I was friendly with the regulars, anyway. As bars go it was one of the more sedate ones; at least, you could generally hear yourself think and people tended to go there to have conversations (I even had a decent amount of success getting into discussions with people about typically verboten topics like politics and religion, which I’m quite nostalgic for now). Point being, this wasn’t really a hookup-type bar (although I’m sure some of that still happened there). Anyway, one night I went there and ended up chatting up a woman I’d never met before. I don’t really remember how it started, except that it was a bit weird – I seem to recollect she said something offhand about Bigfoot, I interjected with skepticism 101, and we were off; we ended up having an interesting conversation that went on for at least two or three hours. I know she was drunker than me; she’d had several drinks before I arrived there according to the bartender and continued to drink throughout. Anyway, after a few hours of mutually enjoyable conversation she started going on about how attractive she found my voice and angling to get me to go home with her, in very explicit terms.

    I didn’t dislike her, and I didn’t feel averse to getting to know her better. But I’d just met her and I really wasn’t interested in sex, and tried to say as much, but couldn’t for the life of me get her – or anyone else – to believe me. I tried the “I’m seeing someone and don’t want to be unfaithful” gambit (which wasn’t entirely untrue – I’d met my current partner about six months earlier, though we had yet to meet in person and were still feeling out whatever the hell we were), she didn’t give a shit. I tried telling her that I wasn’t ready, we’d just met and I didn’t appreciate her being pushy; no luck there either. It didn’t matter how much I protested or what I said, she just kept escalating – at one point she started running her hands all over me, with a focus on the crotch (thankfully only outside my clothing; that was bad enough). This did not help. I panicked, and largely froze. I got a horrible case of the awkward giggles. Laughing uncontrollably while trying to say “no, stop, stop touching me” does not help make it convincing. At one point she shouted ‘I want to suck your cock, why won’t you let me’ loud enough for everyone to hear.

    This was going on in public view, right at the bar, and almost everyone present – including people I knew, patrons I was friendly with and staff – were laughing at me by this point, and openly wondering what was wrong with me. Heteropatriarchy strikes again. Here I was being sexually assaulted (something I didn’t realise until much later), and the consensus amongst all the observers was that because I was male and a woman was offering sex to me I’d have to be crazy not to take her up on it. At the time, I was more concerned that she might be too drunk to consent: yes, here I was being assaulted and I was more worried about her! I wasn’t even really interested (though I’ll admit that, as I was a virgin, there was a small part of me that did wonder if I should just give in for the sake of having a new experience) and I was more concerned about her than myself, more worried about assaulting her than the fact she was blatantly assaulting me.

    My memory of the rest of the night is fuzzy. It went on for a while – her touching me, me laughing and protesting feebly, the other patrons laughing at me. I don’t know exactly how I extricated myself; I think I ended up having to give her my contact information, and she left at the same time (I remember asking another patron to help see her home safely, but in retrospect that bothers me and I hope he didn’t assault her). Even now, looking back I find myself weirdly more concerned with her safety than the fact she treated me the way she did, and don’t really bear her any ill will. Although on some level, it also bothers me that I don’t resent her.

    I’m not entirely sure why I’m relating this story, except here are some messages to take from this: DON’T TOUCH PEOPLE WHEN THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO. ESPECIALLY STRANGERS. LISTEN WHEN PEOPLE TELL YOU THINGS. Also, body language can be pretty easy to misinterpret so don’t rely on that. What you do may seem innocuous to you, but it also might stay with them for a long time.

    (Another takeaway: look how rape culture and the commodity model of sex makes people laugh at the very idea that men/male-presenting people need to consent, and enables other forms of sexual assault too!)

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I offer you jedi tea/coffee if wanted in lieu of hugs.

      1. Thank you. It’s appreciated. (For the record, I’m fine with jedi hugs – there’s no touching involved 😉 )

    2. Oh gosh, mcbender, I’m so sorry this happened to you. As a cis woman, I’ve noticed (and mentioned above) the social expectation that men be okay with any kind of female attention, which of course inhibits your ability to meaningfully consent and is SUPER TERRIBLE – but I’m so, so sorry that you experienced such a very awful example of the problem. This woman’s behaviour was way beyond the acceptable. The behaviour of the other people present, while socially conditioned, was also unacceptable.

      Any feelings that you have about this are okay. There is no correct or incorrect way to feel or think or process this.

    3. Oh god, that sucks so bad. I’m so sorry you had to deal with it.

      I know what it’s like to worry more about the wellbeing and safety (and feelings!) of the person who assaulted you than about yourself. It can be really, really hard to start finding the anger to go, “That was not okay, and you should not have put me through that.”

    4. A reframe that might help: Sometimes the laughter is ridicule, but sometimes it’s general discomfort. You said yourself you were giggling, probably out of discomfort. At least some of the people at that bar understood what you were going through so well that they were laughing because they’ve been there before themselves. They weren’t intervening because it was obvious that you were handling the situation well on your own. And you DID handle the situation well. I’m sure you wish you’d gotten her out of there sooner, but you did manage to get her out of there (and you did manage to lose your virginity later in a situation that brings up happier memories). You sound like you’re blaming yourself for not realizing it was a sexual assault in the moment as it was happening. I’m sure the should-have-dones loom large in your mind, but really it’s rare for any of us come up with the perfect retort right then and there when faced with something so bizarre and new. If there’s any lesson for any of us, it’s that much of the time the trick isn’t in saying the right thing, it’s in walking away at the right moment. Extricate ourselves from the clutches, and if we have to say anything, say “I have to go now” while leaving the room.

    5. Oh my God, I’m so sorry she did that to you D: you were more than clear in stating your boundaries, it was she who decided to keep assaulting you. It’s not your fault she decided to ignore your negatives, your words were impossible to misinterpret.

      Your story reminds me of how rapists will twist and profit from social conventions to access other people and get away with their crimes. I guess people of all genders use the same strategies to violate boundaries 😦

      1. So sorry that happened to you! That was SO not okay, and the fact that you’re male doesn’t change that fact/

      2. Sounds like a horrid experience! Hope you’re getting the respect you deserve now.

    6. Jesus, I’m sorry that happened to you. I hope you have some excellent people in your life, romantic and otherwise, who respect your boundaries and would help or support you if you needed it.

    7. Also takeaway: Listen to peoples words when they draw a boundary, if their words conflict with their body language/reactions. Physical reactions can be involuntary (laughing) or misinterpretend (blushing: “they are shy” instead of “they are angry/hot/are having an allergic reaction”).

  78. “In short, I get the sense that even though we agree on a lot of topics and hobbies, I can never get my dates to “want” me like some other suave guys can do.”

    This was what stood out to me the most after the hugging thing. As a nerdy girl who’s been on quite a few OKC dates, I am So. Tired. of men who think that because we can both quote Star Wars that means we will be perfect relationship material. No. I really don’t care that we both play video games, and I had to take down the picture in my profile showing me playing D&D because it was pretty much all the guys would ask about. Seriously, every other message was “Wow, you play D&D!” like it was some rare thing, completely ignoring every other thing in my profile. Yeah, I really get the feeling you like me for my personality. When I took it off, the new focus was “Wow, you mentioned RPGs!” which was one tiiiiiny little line in the favorites section.

    I don’t hate nerds – I AM a nerd – but I am so, so sick of dating them.

    1. Oh Ducky, me too.
      Also I find you have less to talk about like, I have friends I can talk about role playing games with, or writing with, or movies with, failing that I have te internet. We are not soulmates because I prefer the old broken version of Vampire the Masquerade over the rebooted world of darkness rules. Give me some other reason like you because there are seemingly hundreds of guys out there who like the same shit we do. You’re not a special snowflake and I’m not a special snowflake. If I wanted someone identical to me ho I’m not attracted to is have dated all the geeky male roleplay friends who immediately tried to ask me out that I wasn’t attracted to.
      I find myself actively going after guys who are doing something like cycling or surfing or travelling in ther profiles – even guys ih Ink are out of my league – because I have had it up to here with traditional geeks who hone in one one hobby (or guys twice my age and two cities away who insist that saying they’re ‘sweet’ is an instant solution to my not being attracted to them).
      So I leave feeling like a shallow bith-queen who will never find love because these are my propel so why shouldn’t I give them a chaaaaaance?
      But yeah. So. Bored.

      End rant

    2. Yeah, this is reminding me of middle school “dating” where if you liked the same bands, clearly it was Meant! To! Be!

      I kind of DON’T want to date someone who is super into what I’m into, because 1. I already have friends with shared hobbies 2. Dudes can get way to competitive/know-it-all-y and I don’t want my hobby ruined by that ish 3. I want a reason to try new things with a new person 4. I don’t want a hobby community ruined if I date a guy and it doesn’t work out.

      1. Yeah… I had my heart broken by a guy I was so incredibly in love with, and the main reason why it didn’t work out was because we had so much in common that we had no space to learn and grow from each other. Which is, essentially, what a relationship is.

      2. The worst relationship I ever had was with a guy who played the same MMO as me, but enjoyed it in completely different ways and for completely different reasons than I did. I like to RP and explore the game world collecting all the things, doing all the quests and achievements; he liked to troll the chat channels and PK characters much lower level than his. Our attempts to play together failed miserably. Also, I eventually came to realize that the way he enjoyed this and other hobbies formed a pattern and the pattern was that he enjoyed being mean to people.

    3. Matching is not enough. You really do need to bring something new to the table.

      I’d say, interest-wise, the best relationship has:
      1) Stuff you already have in common, that you can talk about at the beginning
      2) Stuff you can teach them
      3) Stuff they can teach you
      4) Hobbies you both like that you can grow in together
      5) New things you can start from Page 1 together
      6) Hobbies you each enjoy doing by yourself, and probably won’t ever link up, because you will always need some “me” time and some “me” things.

      That doesn’t all need to come in on the first date, but a relationship where you both only like the same things just sounds like it will stagnate and grow relationship mold.

      It’s weird, too, because when asked about my relationship, I always say “we’re just big old nerds together!” but we both also ski and backpack, and we learned to fish together. Most of my favorite memories with him are either hiking, or traveling.

      1. Exactly – my ex was a friend an we liked a lot of the same stuff sure, but I found him his most interesting and cute when we shared new things, like watching Battlestar Galactica together when I’d never seen it, or playing Castle crashes. Most of all when he talked about politics which I had no interest in, but be lit up and was so passionate about it.

        The same is with my sisters husband. He’s an opinionated little sod (which is why we love him) but his passion for what he like and hates is so endearing and brings new things to the table. Even wen you don’t agree you can respect it. Same with how his background growing up is complexly different to how me and my sister grew up.

        Having similar values and natures is important I think. But too similar is not great

      2. Exactly – my ex was a friend an we liked a lot of the same stuff sure, but I found him his most interesting and cute when we shared new things, like watching Battlestar Galactica together when I’d never seen it, or playing Castle crashes. Most of all when he talked about politics which I had no interest in, but be lit up and was so passionate about it.

        The same is with my sisters husband. He’s an opinionated little sod (which is why we love him) but his passion for what he like and hates is so endearing and brings new things to the table. Even wen you don’t agree you can respect it. Same with how his background growing up is complexly different to how me and my sister grew up.

        Having similar values and natures is important I think. But too similar is not great

  79. LW, you haven’t explicitly stated whether you want a relationship or are just hoping to hook up. Most of the people who have commented have done so from the perspective of looking for a relationship, and their advice is solid. But in case you’re looking to hook up, and don’t think the advice is relevant, I’ll offer you my perspective as a woman who enjoys casual sex and one night stands.

    My attitude going in to a date which might turn into a one night stand is ‘will bang, pending approval’. The pending approval bit is important.

    Observe if you will these two examples.

    The first man struck up a conversation with me on a train. I decided I would like to bang him pending approval, and we swapped numbers. So far so good, and we arranged to meet for coffee. But during coffee he kept winking and making weird kissy faces at me, and when we finished he unexpectedly engulfed me in a hug and tried to kiss me. I squirmed and said no and had to fight my way out of his grasp. This was all in the space of 15 minutes. I left immediately. Approval: Denied.

    The second man I met in a coffee shop and he asked if he could see me sometime. I looked him over and decided I would like to bang him pending approval, so I invited him to sit down for a chat. We had a great conversation and agreed to go for dinner. After the initial approach, he did not make any further moves. The first time he touched me was after we had finished dinner, after I had already invited him to my room, already invited him to sit on my bed and drink some beer with me, already played him a song about how nice one night stands are, and already put my hand on his leg. Approval: granted.

    Look, it’s not hard for me to know when someone is interested in sex. What I need to know, in order to have sex with them, is that they will respect my boundaries, and not pressure me or manipulate me or force me into doing things I don’t want to do.

    So yeah, I’m joining the chorus of people saying do not lead with a hug, do not tap people on the shoulder (except to say ‘excuse me, you dropped this’), do not try to ‘break the intimacy barrier’. Whatever it is you want to get out of a date, demonstrating that you respect personal space and are not pushy will improve your chances of getting it, but trying to establish physical contact from the start will get you exactly nowhere.

  80. Hey LW, fellow nerd and awkward dater,

    Would you like to learn about actual science about humans interact, that might explain how human connection and intimacy are actually created, as well as give you some insight into why you feel so weird?

    Please let me introduce you to the wonderful world of interpersonal neurobiology. Yes! People have dedicated years to breaking down the science of why humans like other humans (and why we feel such a desperate need to be liked, and why it’s so devastating when we aren’t.) And what it really boils down to is: it is desperately important to our mental and physical health to know that other people see us, hear us, and care about what we think and feel. Our brains know on a very visceral level that if other humans aren’t paying attention to us, we’re gonna die. Not long ago, for every single one of us, that was true: When we were all babies, if our caregivers didn’t notice when we were hungry, and feed us, we’d starve.

    So you really want your dates to see you, hear you, notice and like you as a person. But what they need in return is for you to see them, hear them, notice and like them as people, and that includes noticing if they want to be touched or not, and if they feel safe or not. You’ll actually have a better chance of creating intimacy and liking if you back off the boundary violations–which don’t create that sense of attunement to each other’s mental states, just sometimes induce the freeze/fawn response, which is about compliance for survival–and focus on making sure that your date knows that you think she’s interesting and cool, and that you’re paying attention to what she likes and thinks about. Play to your strengths! Your intellectual attunement to her (asking good questions that prompt her to talk more about her experiences, sharing your feelings about how awkward a date is, suggesting activities it seems like she’d enjoy based on previous statements) can make up for your lack of physical suaveness.

    If you want, there are actual books on the physical and mental processes of successful relationships.

    So, you will notice that there is an overwhelming voice of “NO HUGGING” from these comments. However, I’m sure you’ve also noticed that many women happily hug perfect strangers! What gives? So that? That’s sampling bias. We’re all nerds. It’s a nerd thing. That’s part 2 of the neurobiology relevance.

    The brain is like a muscle: it grows in proportion to how much it is used, and atrophies when it is not. I was born with the ability to learn Chinese, and if someone had consistently spoken Chinese with me when I was young, I would have learned it. However, nobody did, so that part of my brain withered away and the optimal age of learning was lost. (No, really. It’s called “synaptic pruning”) Now, as an adult who never learned a tonal language, I can only learn to tell the different tones of Chinese apart with extreme difficulty.

    Here are other things the brain has to learn, or not, during childhood, that are much harder to learn as adults: Interpreting touch as pleasurable. Physically matching one’s heartbeat/physiological arousal/heartbeat/mood to another person’s. Mimicking the body language as others. Communicating nonverbally. Using touch as a means of communication. Interpreting nonverbal signals. And this stuff is basically all best learned before the age of 10, in relationships with our caretakers and in groups of our peers. Basically, if you didn’t get a shitton of practice in that as a child, it’s really hard to learn as an adult. And God help you if you have a disability like Autism Spectrum Disorder that makes learning that social shit way harder for you even if your entire peer group isn’t treating you like a leper.

    So when most kids go away to Kindergarten, they don’t just learn about reading and math–they learn about when somebody’s body language says “I like you” or “go away”, they learn about how friends roughhouse or use touch to comfort each other, they learn how to tell when someone says one thing and means another. Most young kids. But nerd kids? Are overwhelmingly bullied and ostracized. I myself had no friends in grades 3 and 4–so for two years, while my agemates were running around together, hugging and whispering and teaching each other how to socialize, I wandered the playground with a book while the interpersonal bits of my brain withered and died. So as an adult, touch and nonverbal communication don’t come easily to me; unless I know and like someone and their presence makes my brain give out lots of soothing and bonding chemicals, being touched by them is overwhelming and dysregulating.

    If you want more information on that part of neurobiology, I recommend the work of Bruce Perry (I was at a conference based on his model last week, it’s on my mind all the time now): Born for Love and The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog.

    So, CA’s commentariat is overwhelmingly geeks and nerds, and geeks and nerds are, far more frequently than average, people who, thanks to genetic neurotype and/or deprivation of early experience through abuse, neglect, and/or bullying, share my interpersonal deficits. People for whom nonverbal communication is difficult and awkward, for whom touch with a stranger is overstimulating and upsetting. These are the people of, “NO HUGGING ON FIRST MEETING.”

    So. Do you want your dating process to select for neurotypical girls or do you want nerdier girls? Introducing yourself with a hug will inadvertently weed your dates. Do you want to chase off the girls who are more likely to share a brain type with you? (Some guys do, IDGI but they do, in which case hugging will do it.)

    1. Hey, thanks for the food for thought! Psych graduate here too, and the synaptic pruning thing makes so much sense to me. I was that kid with a book as well, and as an adult I’ve struggled to learn how to socialise “properly.”

      1. Childhood! Such an awful time for me. I only found out last year, at 48, that I am nonneurotypical, and that wasn’t the only thing I was bullied & ostracized for. In grades 1&2 I had zero friends. Through grade 6, my friends (a new one each year, not multiple at the same time) were always the one other girl in class that nobody liked.
        Middle & high school were a lot better, and I learned how to be social by overcoming my shyness enough to let my ADHD personality out, LOL.
        I’ve caught a few recent reruns of Mork & Mindy and realized that one of the reasons I loved it as a kid was that I identified with Mork- I knew about as much about social interactions in human society as he did.

        1. Oh wow, you sound just like me. I’ve identified as autistic since I was diagnosed with Aspergers in my mid twenties, although recently I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m maybe not autistic at all but just have a lot of lasting effects from being emotionally and physically abused throughout childhood. Whatever, the main thing is I’m comfortable now with who i am and much better at developing coping strategies to deal with social situations.

    2. Oh my goodness I’m sure you didn’t mean it, but please don’t confuse neuroatypicality with nerdiness, haha

        1. THIS. I am not socially awkward. I am not a nerd. That doesn’t mean I want to be hugged by strangers and while I appreciate that a lot of CA’s advice is kind of geared towards the nerd community, I think the fact that this guy is a nerd is really a red herring. Even if he wasn’t, he’s still a dude who is trying to touch strange ladies without (as far as I can tell) their consent.

          Frankly I am getting a-wearied of people trying to use “social awkwardness” or “nerdiness” as an excuse for bad behavior. Dating doesn’t actually come naturally to anyone.

          1. Yes, not liking overbearing or nonconsensual physical contact is not a sign of poor social skills or childhood trauma or non-neurotypical development.

            I do second the recommendation of Bruce Perry’s books, though. They are brilliant, extremely well-researched, and riveting.

            In fact one of the myths he very eloquently destroys is the idea that you can ever create a trusting relationship with contact that isn’t freely given, which he addresses in the context of adult-child relationships.

    3. Mmmm, I’m a multifaceted geek/nerd with a Ph.D. in one of my interests–sf and fantasy lit, hardcore nerdery there–but my social skills are fine.

      I think your comment is interesting, and neurobiology is interesting, but as someone else said, neuroatypicality should not be conflated with nerdiness. There’s more.

      1. Neuroatypicality should not be conflated with nerdiness.
      2. Nerdiness should not be conflated with social awkwardness and shyness. There’s a correspondence, but they’re not synonymous.
      3. I’m not really sure I’m cool with framing disliking touch as a deficit rather than simply another way of being, and normalizing the touchier types.

      1. We’re not even talking about disliking touch. We’re talking about disliking touch from a stranger, which is usually a pretty ‘standard’ behavioural setting in most highly social species. Touch (and more generally personal space) are almost never indiscriminate. The most social, highly socially bonding, high-physical contact species often are also very avoidant or territorial outside their bonded social group.

        And to a large extent, that tends to include humans.

    4. Eek, I was that kid with a book, in the library, because the library was the only place at recess where the other kids didn’t play fun games like “how many times can we strangle Caraval befroe she passes out?” Not kidding.

      1. That’s horrible! Jedi hugs for your child self.
        I had already reached an adult’s height by 3rd grade, so while it was one of the things I was bullied for, it also protected me from people who wanted to do me physical harm. Seriously, at that age there were only two kids, 6th graders, in the entire school, that were taller than me. The girl tried to stick my head in the toilet, but I was big enough that I could resist her. That was the only time anyone tried.

        1. Funny, I was bullied for the exact opposite reason. Even in the top year i was still one of the smallest in the school. According to the chart in my doctor’s office, I am now, as an adult, the height of the average twelve year old 🙂

    5. I was so buried in a book/computer growing up! I thought people only talked to me because they were nice, not because I was someone they wanted to spend time with /get to know.

      My senior year of high school, I was voted both the friendliest and most studious girl. It gave me a huge confidence boost going off to college. I was probably a bit too snuggly with my male friends the first couple years, but they were super sweet and considerate and gentle with me.

    6. “And God help you if you have a disability like Autism Spectrum Disorder that makes learning that social shit way harder for you even if your entire peer group isn’t treating you like a leper.”

      I know you’re being rhetorical, but can you turn down the doom on that? My young son’s autistic and I work very hard every day to keep optimistic for him so I can support his social learning without burning myself out. He does indeed need a ton of extra help and a well-monitored environment, but let’s not talk like it’s just DISASTER TIME, if you’d be so kind. 🙂

  81. LW, other people have already said it so I’ll not continue on in the “creepy touching on first date: don’t” chorus, but most women are very well aware that this is how men show possessivessness. Not just cishet men either, this is a misogyny thing.

    One time I went out with a guy who basically wanted to tell me in person that he wasn’t interested, which is maybe a considerate thing. Except, it massively came across as “let’s meet up so I have an excuse to touch you” because of all the lingering hugging. Like, yikes. Bullet dodged.

    1. Why would there be a need to touch you when he wasn’t interested anyway? Ew, that guy…

  82. Dear LW,

    Dating sucks and is confusing, but here is some perspective that echoes the above but is from a slightly different angle. Part of the way I decided my partner was right for me is that I feel like I can be myself around them. I trust them. Part of building that trust is knowing they respect how I feel about my body, that if i yell a safe word during sex or flat out change my mind, they will stop. I mean, how can I trust them enough to want to build a life together if I am physically or emotionally uncomfortable?

    This touch barrier stuff you read is making people feel uncomfortable, which means they do not want second dates. It is red flag material in a world where women have to watch for red flags.

    The Captain’s advice is spot on, truly.

    Also, LISTEN to your date. Who is this person, what makes them tick? Do you feel comfortable around them? is also a question worth considering. LISTEN to yourself. Do not listen to these creepy PUA books.

  83. Aside from all the great advice about touching/no touching on dates, I want to highlight the importance of the first half of the Captain’s advice, that is: PLAN AN ACTIVITY FOR YOUR DATES! Even if the extent of the activity is “this is one of my favourite bars, I reserved a booth for us”, turning up with a plan makes a good first impression and minimizes initial awkwardness. Seriously. If you ask someone out, it’s your job to plan the activity.

    I have been on enough “let’s just find a place to chat” dates that they’ve becomes a huge pet peeve of mine. It goes like this: Man asks me out on a date, I show up at the appointed place and time, turns out that he has literally zero ideas about where to go or what to do. So we wander around for a while trying to find a venue that isn’t too loud/crowded/expensive, usually with me making the final call. This has happened to me multiple times, but on one particularly non-memorable incident, we ended up traipsing around a mostly residential area for nearly half an hour while he shrugged at me apologetically, before we eventually gave up and got some Starbucks to drink a scrubby little park. After that, the conversation was actually pretty good, but I was already cold and irritated and ready to go home.

    The first time I went on a date with a dude who had actually planned an activity based on what he knew of my interests (whiskey tasting!), I was so impressed that I asked him out again, in person, at the end of the evening.


    1. I have been on first dates where the actual plan was to go for a walk around a neighbourhood, and in that case it was fine – it’s funny how different it is when it’s intentional.

    2. AAHHH YESS THIS. Pet peeve! The person who does the asking out plans the date!

      I ask cute person out with “Hey the expat bar in [city halfway between us] is having a live show Friday. Wanna go?”

      It is that simple.

      Cute person asks me out with “Giant inflatable rabbits are invading downtown, do you want to go assess the threat level?”

      Boom. Dates acquired.

      “Let’s go out sometime” with absolutely zero planning involved would give me THE MOST annoyed anxiety. I am a plan-type pokemon. I can hang with someone who says “Let’s eat at the tapas bar for happy hour and then if we are having a good time figure it out from there.” I cannot hang with someone who picks me up and says “so what should we do tonight?”

      1. When I was a kid (an embarrassingly old kid, I don’t even wanna say how old) I thought that asking someone “want to go out sometime?” and receiving a positive answer meant that person was now my boyfriend. I cannot tell you how much awkwardness that led to where I thought we were In A Relationship and he thought I was just some girl he knew who’d expressed a vague desire to hang out at an unspecified time.

        My only explanation is that I’d seen smoothies on TV asking people out with that line, but

        1. I probably only avoided this by going on no dates until I was 23, and in fact still to this day have friends my age who, after three dates with a guy, are like “We just don’t really click, I think I’m going to have to dump him.” I’m like … *are* you really?

          Must have been something in the water. Or, as you propose, the airwaves.

    3. ALERT: If you stay with the non-planner (say, marriage/LTR/what-not), they will expect YOU to plan and/or decide every. last. thing. you. do. together.

      Forever. Always.

      It’s the worst.

      1. Ain’t that the truth. My husband isn’t exactly a non-planner, but he’s a “keep my options open until the last minute, which is way later than what most people would call the last minute” person. I, on the other hand, am a “plan meticulously to the last detail as soon as I know something is happening” person because I get tied up in huge anxious knots if I have to be somewhere but don’t know the details well in advance.

        I can live happily with him because we established this very early on by taking it in turns to plan dates. I have some strategies that work for me,but yeah, it’s still hard sometimes.

      2. We’re back to the emotional labour conversation, right? Coming up with ideas about what to do on a date is often fun, but it’s still emotional labour. If someone expects you to do that work on the very first date even though THEY asked YOU out, they’re sure as hell not going to be doing their fair share of the emotional labour in any subsequent relationship.

    4. The apologetic shrugging epidemic is real. I’ve gotten stuck in a couple of situations like this, and I always, always end up picturing the vultures from the Jungle Book. ‘What do you wanna do?’/’I dunno…what do you wanna do?’ Worse, when I subsequently try to come up with things, there’s usually vague reasons given why they’re not into said plan…but no counter-plans are proposed. Cue more vulture dialogue. Cue eject button.

    5. Yep. The last person I dated, for date 1 we went to a local bar’s trivia night. During the evening they mentioned that they missed their dog, who still lived with their parents on the other side of the state. For date 2, I said, “I’m taking my dog to the dog park, wanna come?” They enthusiastically agreed. We had a nice afternoon playing with my dog.

  84. It sounds like you might be thinking “none of my dates seem very into me or want a second date, I’m probably either be doing something wrong or be undateable”? It’s okay! It really can take a lot of dates for any one to “click”. Having zero of four so far doesn’t imply anything’s wrong at all.

    Well — do hear what people have said, like about your touching routine. But what I mean is that don’t get too concerned if after you ‘fix’ stuff you stil have another four meh dates.

    (This is secondary but one thing you might consider at some point is if you can improve your odds in who you date in the first place. This might just mean, is your online profile giving a clear idea of you so you are meeting the right people. Or if it turns out you can find your people better in person, like while volunteering against anti-Muslim prejudice. But you don’t need to go changing your profile too actively either, just keep meeting dozens of people. This may be a downer, but consider the math: whatever “one out of N” of your local population would click with you, you don’t have to date all N quite, but it could be close if your profile is not very specific about you…)

    1. Honestly, even if your profile is very specific, you are more than likely going to end up going on a lot of first dates and not many second ones.

      Also, if you tend to be very specific about what you want and you go on a lot of first dates with people who are what you think you want and no second ones because you don’t click with anybody…for a long time…probably try going on dates with people who aren’t what you think you want and see what happens.

  85. With my experience of awkward dating, I usually expect the guy to go for a touch at some point – usually a hand touch – because that is a way of testing out of there’s are physical spark. Usually it would happen after you’ve been in the date at least an hour, in other words youve been getting to know each other and feel it’s going well enough to see, basically, if it’s something the both of you like. The guy or the girl can do it, it’s for me that gesture of curiosity as to whether this feels like a date-date or just getting to know a person in a friendly way you’re not interested in. For me it’s acted as a catalyst and I dont find weird because brushing hands once is a respectful way of touching, leaving you open to reciprocating or not. ive gone with it if I felt it, and I’ve pulled away if I didn’t, as in both cases that kind helped focus down on whether there was actually a spark or not. But it wasn’t a game these guys played for points – it was a gesture of curiosity that either person could try to see if either person is feeling it.
    Would it have been better for them to say “hey can I hold your hand?”…probably? Though I have automatically said no because bluntness like that would uddenly make me feel like I was in a test and is panic. The latter way lets me withdraw and save face or reciprocate without it being labelled as a “big thing”. You may notice, LW, that indifferent to a lot of ladies here with that opinion yet a lot of ladies would share it.
    We’re people, basically. You can’t apply one blanket move.
    I think everyone would agree though that the key is having already worked out whether the two of you feel comfortable with one another, and approaching whatever you do with respect and gently. Think of it as approaching a cat with your hand outstretched and waiting for it to sniff and bump your hand. Not roughly petting and poking the cat until it hisses and runs off.

    Potentially important note: I had a second date with the guy I held hands with and then didn’t make a third. Turned out I don’t feel much of a spark, I was just tipsy and had a selfish slightly horny need to feel contact. The guy who touched my had experimentally in a. Restaurant and I withdrew awkwardly also didn’t get a second date because there was no spark.
    If there ain’t no spark there’s no spark, you can’t force it by prodding at a woman. Maybe a forced gesture helps her make a quicker descision, but quick descisions are more likely to be weighted towards ‘no’ than ‘yes’. Be organic and just focus on having a good time instead eh?

  86. Yeah, I know it’s almost ridiculous to jump in with the BACK OFF WITH THE TOUCHING thing at this point, but I wanted to add one thing: treat touch like a game of tennis (or ping pong, badminton or volleyball). Once you’ve made a ‘touch,’ the ball’s in her court. She decides to touch you back, great. Ball’s back in your court, you can serve it back. Then, wait again, because the ball’s back in her court. I don’t mind hugging at the beginning of a date, but if a guy then taps my shoulder or otherwise touches me, and then does it again when I don’t respond in kind? Nope. Nope, nope, nope. I’m uncomfortable and I’m leaving.

    Lack of a favorable response is not a signal to do the same thing again and hope this time she’ll be into it. Stop doing the thing. That is all.

  87. I don’t know if this has been addressed, but…. I have a young daughter so I’ve scanned the PUA stuff to give her a sense of what to ward against. And I know that the “friendly shoulder taps” are a things that PUAs do. They are also — as has been noted above — really *weird* on a date setting. If you’re an awkward/geeky guy, they are going to come across as super forced. (I think they’d come across as super-forced if Tom Hiddleston did them, frankly. So, if you did that to me, I’d think “That’s odd as shit. Why did he do that? Oh, he’s a PUA dude!” and I would RUN AWAY very fast.

    Many women know about those strategies. If I see them, I am going to assume (perhaps unfairly) that you have all the PUA baggage and that’s the ballgame. Because that PUA baggage is really awful: objectifying women, rapey attitudes, etc. etc.

    1. Haha so true. Hope often do people’s tap other people’s shoulders for general purposes? Where I’m from that’s not normal, it’s almost invasively disruptive. It’s almost a command to attend to what you think is really important, ignoring what the other person is already attending to.
      The people I’m physically close to i might tap on the forearm if they’re into dogs and they haven’t noticed OMG PUPPPY! but here’s some physically for you – a tap on the shoulder is close enough to the head to evoke a startle reaction from a lot of people. That’s a deeply embedded fear response, not a happy friendly sign.

  88. The comments and advice here is great, but other than echoing what others have already said about NONONONONONONO to hugging at hello, I’ll just add another couple of cents:

    – Interpersonal physical contact can be cultural. In my culture, people do NOT hug on a first meeting. Particularly for male-female contact, there is usually very little unless: a) they are in an exclusive romantic relationship; b) they have been very close friends for years and years; c) they are family. This is worth bearing in mind in case you go on a date with someone who may be from a different cultural heritage / different country / different part of the country / different family culture (yes, different families have different cultures) from yourself.

    – Also, please don’t assume that the women are not interested in you simply because they are not initiating physical contact on a first date. As the comments here show, many (most?) women are not keen on contact on a first meeting. A better way to gauge her interest, in addition to actually listening to what she says during your date and talking to her, is to see how she responds AFTER the date.

    1) Post-date, you can send her a follow up text: “That was really fun, I had a great time! I hope you enjoyed yourself too.” If she’s interested in you she will reply, and may even suggest a second date.

    2) If she doesn’t reply, or she replies without suggesting a second ate, wait a few days and then send another text: “Hi, how are you?”

    3) Have a conversation with her (if she replies), then ask her out on 2nd date. At that point, she should have figured out if she wants to go out with you again or not. If she does, she will say yes. If she says no, respect that and let it go.

    4) Likewise, if you get radio silence after that second text, take it as a “No” and move on.

    Caveat: everyone is different and some people may react differently. But this texting schedule is based on what I, as an introverted cis-het woman, would feel comfortable with. Hope this helps.

  89. Cisgendered straight man and hug exponent here from Australia. Handshakes feel so weird and business like and awkward. I’ve greeted a ton of first dates with a hug and it’s usually felt really normal to go in for a super brief, one armed friendly hug kinda thing. To me this seems really non sexual and common here and we usually end up going out again, but maybe I’m obliviously being a creep and things have just gone ok in spite of this faux pas.

    I dunno, we’ve usually joked around for a little bit online after matching on a app so there’s some sort of chemistry before meeting. Once in a while I’ll get greeted with a kiss on the cheek which is a touch out of my comfort zone because to me that feels like expressing a romantic intention too early, while a brief hello hug doesn’t. But I guess men don’t have their comfort zone and personal space invaded traumatically as often as women do so sorry if I’m being obnoxious.

    I don’t know if there’s any women from Australia here, but I reckon men and women here are much less confident and pushy about romantic intentions than in the US, so maybe that’s kind of defanged the (non lingering) hug because we’re so bad at actually making any moves?

    1. I would say that you are right inasmuch as there are definitely cultural differences in the average/typical how-close-is-too-close personal distance, and in the average/typical levels of social touch (e.g. for a Brit I’m relatively touchy – which here means I really like to hug-goodbye people I am already on friendly terms with even if only quite casually. Other people here sometimes find this a bit OTT; on the other hand in some other cultures that would probably make me relatively touch-averse!).

      But these cultural variations, imo, though they are indeed a thing, absolutely don’t change the underlying basics that so many people in this thread have expressed very eloquently; looking out for, and respecting, your interlocutor’s individual comfort zone, whatever that may be. (And of course, if in doubt ask! 🙂 )

    2. Aussie chick, here. *waves*

      I would find hugs at the start of a date offputting and weird, but expect the end of a (good) date to include a hug – at least.

    3. strayan ere ahahah

      yea I think hugging someone I just met would be weird and uncomfortable. At the end? sure, i’ll probably even bring it up first!

  90. Yet another person here who is going to tense up and be the opposite of relaxed if a total stranger I am meeting for the very first time tries to touch me in any way other than a handshake within 60 seconds of meeting me. I’m very friendly if I feel safe around someone, and touching me intimately (a hug is intimate in my book) is not going to make me feel safe. I am going to tense up in anticipation of yet more overly intimate attempts to touch me. This is not going to make me enjoy the hugger-toucher’s company. In fact, I will probably be looking for reasons intellectually to explain to myself my immediate bone-deep dislike of this brand new person, and there will probably be no second date, all because I loathe feeling unsafe and pressured.

    Someone who is following a playbook in his or her head (“now is the optimum moment so I touch hir elbow twice while smiling”) is also not actually paying attention to their date, while also objectifying them as “attractive enough to try to score with.” People sense that kind of inauthenticity and don’t like it.

    There’s a reason 90% of my ex-BFs were friends or friendly acquaintances before we dated. We didn’t go through that mess artificially. Since there was no pressure on either of us to find each other attractive at the time (say, I was dating a friend of a friend or we kept going to the same hang-outs and chatting), we got to Hugs Stage organically and were already comfortable Doing Stuff Socially Together before dating. That reason is that I, like a lot of people, really, really hate blind dates, dating, interviews, the whole awkwardness and discomfort involved. It’s better not to make an already uncomfortable (for many people) situation worse by adding “escalating touches and intimacies” into it. Just chill out and see if you actually LIKE the person you’re dating, fer Pete’s sake.

  91. Your mention of “awkward pauses” made me think of LW #648, the one who felt they were making all the conversational effort and asking all the questions. Could that be what’s going on here? You think you’re leaving a pause for them to “process what’s happening”, but maybe they’re expecting you to ask a question. Maybe you’ve just answered their question and now they’re expecting you to reciprocate with a question of your own. Or maybe they’ve just mentioned something and they’re waiting for a follow-up question from you to show you’re interested. Are you asking your dates questions about themselves? Are you listening to and responding to the stuff they’re telling you? Or are you so focused on making a good impression that you’re putting on the You Show and forgetting this is supposed to be a two-way thing?

  92. Dude, you are setting your goals too high for first dates. Just try to get to know her! Don’t strategize or deploy psychological maneuvers. Just… hang out! Talk about yourself, but also LISTEN to her talk about herself. If there’s a lull in conversation, take a deep breath while you think of a question to ask her (you were listening, right?). Your only goal is to learn enough about her to judge for yourself whether you want a second date.

    Also you talk about making yourself desirable, but are you checking in with yourself to determine whether she is desirable to you? Dating is a two-way street; I realize it’s nerve-wracking to go through these auditions for someone’s affection, but you have to realize that she’s going through the same thing! Stop trying to impress her–if she’s not impressed with you just being yourself, then you know that it wasn’t meant to be.

    Also, try to hang out with women more in general. Anxiety around women is extremely common among men (especially geeky ones), and like most phobias it’s because of a lack of familiarity. There’s a lot of messaging out there breaking society up into The Women and The Men as two competing monoliths with vast differences between them and little variation within. But it’s just not true, and it’s a harmful idea to have internalized for multiple important social reasons INCLUDING that it makes dating into some kind of zero-sum competitive sport.

    1. Wow, this is really helpful to me as a mostly-lady who is anxious around men but would like to maybe date some of them. I didn’t have any brothers or really very many guy friends growing up, and have continued that pattern into adulthood. Guess it’s time to seek out some male friendships.

  93. Captain Awkward, you are such a good writer with a kind soul.

    No advice, just wanted to say that.

  94. Oh my god, don’t hug people on first dates, especially when you first introduce yourself. I am actually a hugger in my usual life and a dude introducing himself with a hug on a first date always FREAKED ME OUT. If I haven’t met you before and you aren’t someone I love’s mum or auntie, I 100% do not want to hug you. Also, don’t expect a hug at the close of a date. Even if the date went well, the best way to make me block you is to stand there all Christo Redentor outside the pub until I cave, quickly hug you, and then run away, quietly freaking out. Hugs will happen organically, or not, on a first date. Trying to force them ends up making all your behaviours seem pushy, because you are in fact pushing.

    Stop touching people you’re on dates with in a calculated way. Don’t do it. It comes off very creepy exactly BECAUSE of that “advice” you’re following about escalating touch and hacking social boundaries to force unwanted intimacy. Another word for “hacking social boundaries” is “creeping”.

    Here’s dating as I experienced it as an adult widow: I went on a lot of first dates. I went on very few second dates, because I am picky, and so should we all be. I had a number of short dating relationships where I peaced out at the 2 1/2 to 3 month mark because it became obvious I didn’t actually want to be around the person once they started relaxing their best behaviour. You can’t expect to meet your person first time out. It happens for some people because statistically speaking everything happens to someone. But you can’t expect that to be you. Also: don’t expect to be good at dating. Dating is a skill entirely apart from the skill of being a good partner, and most of us are just good enough at dating to find someone we like who likes us…eventually. You don’t have to be awesome at it.

    And the closer you are to your real, most genuine self on dates, the more likely you are to find someone you click with, mutually.

      1. Totally happened once–dude just stood there, arms outstretched, for long enough that it got super awkward. Not talking. I was like ohmygodohmygodohmygod *tiny weird sidehug* “Sonicetomeetyouhaveagreatbandpractice” *flees*.

    1. had to look up Christo Redentor … anyone posing like that AT me would have me backing up slooowwwwwllllllyyyyy until I was out of grabbing distance and could get away fast.

  95. I am a hugger and a hug at the beginning of the first date just freaked me out last week. Seriously, guy walked up – so much taller/stronger than I am and hugged me immediately. YIKES! Now, I like hugs so I didn’t react as much as many other people for whom that touch would be overwhelming, but my hackles were definitely up. I still agreed to the second date because he was funny, told good stories, seemed like a nice guy if a little fast on the hugs.

    At the end of the second date, I went to kiss him on the cheek and he pulled me in a such a way that it was a lip kiss. He will not be getting a third date. At all. Ever. Because he’s managed to trigger every “this guy is bigger than you are and can do what he wants” fear I have. Is he a rapist? Highly unlikely, but I’m not taking that chance.

    1. I had to duck out of a kiss on a first date–it landed in the neighbourhood of my earlobe–and then ran around the corner and hid. I initially felt kind of stupid as I scampered around the corner, saw a handy bush, and plunged into the middle of it. Then I saw his car roll slowly past as he looked all around for me. This was a dude who arranged to meet me outside one place, and then didn’t go in–and I’d told my safe calls the place we were meeting up–in favour of getting drinks at three different places. I think he was trying to get me drunk. Unfortunately for him I have the liver of a god.

      So yeah, LW, these are things that happen from dudes who do hugtroductions, which is part of why they’re suspicious.

      1. in my head there was another lady in the shrubbery with you.

        “oh! hey.”
        “inappropriate kissing. you?”
        “ugh, oh my god, pretending to take hair of my shirt and touched my boob.”
        “ugh, i HATE that one. wanna swap phone numbers in case we need a witness later?”
        “good idea, sure.”
        “aww jeez, look, there goes the kisser, cruising by.”
        “oooh, can i get his number too so i can block him in advance? with my luck he’ll be the next one to message me on okcupid.”

        1. This needs to be written into a TV show script. I can visualize it all so perfectly!

        2. I see this turning into a fabulous female friendship movie, where the shrubbery ladies end up living together in the country and having their gentlemen friends come to visit while they tend to their alpaca herd and teach crafting workshops.

      2. That’s awful! I’m impressed with you thinking of hiding in a bush though. I once had someone drop me off half-way across town because I so very much didn’t want him within a mile of my actual apartment. I then power walked home and took the world’s hottest shower.

        1. He’d insisted on “taking me home” and already knew the neighbourhood I lived in because it came up over drinks (I’d just moved to City), so I told him an intersection that was in Neighbourhood, but nowhere near my actual apartment, and also a VERY short ride away because while I wasn’t tremendously worried about getting out of his car okay, I just didn’t want to be in it very long. I walked the opposite direction of my apartment, very confidently, once I had dodged the horrible kiss. The bush appeared and I was like “…this suddenly seems like an AWESOME IDEA” so I whisked myself into it pronto, and would probably have felt very silly had he not done exactly what I was concerned about.

          I was never really worried about my safety, but I REALLY didn’t want him knowing where I lived, because I knew midway through the night that I was never going to see him again. I probably would have left earlier but he kept getting worse as a human being and I was *fascinated* to see how far it would go. It was also super amusing that he was trying to get me drunk. I have a casual habit of resting my hand on the top of my beer, and he kept wanting to sit at the bar so I wasn’t super worried about getting roofied. Also he was so awful that two different bartenders made lots of bar-polishing reasons to hang out listening to him talk at me (and meet my eye and make faces) so I felt pretty well watched over.

          1. I once climbed a tree and hid out from someone who wouldn’t leave me alone. He circled friend’s house several times and couldn’t figure out how I had managed to disappear so effectively.

            That’s some seriously awful dating you’ve experienced. I guess it gives you endless hilariterrible stories to share.

          2. Wow, you both get an awful and somewhat scary dating story certificate. Also good on you for quick thinking and finding hide-outs.

    2. Ugh, this – also, I am very thin and have no padding between me and the world, have a lot of wonky back/neck problems, and have big fake boobs, so full frontal hugs are often *painful* if they’re too squeezy, especially if you’re exerting any pressure on my shoulders.

      You know what’s a great way to make me never want to see you again? Causing me pain at the start of a date because you just had to violate my space bubble for your hug.*

      *same with hand-crushing handshakes.

      1. Ah, don’t get me started on crushing handshakes! My partner had some old acquaintances who met up again with him after many years and for some reason were hostile to me from the start. (Perhaps they thought I broke up his marriage, which ended two years before I even met him – something they could have found out by simply asking a few questions). She froze me out of conversations, he crushed my hand very painfully the first time we met and smirked when I yelped. People who squeeze too hard in handshakes are definitely trying to express their contempt for the person being crushed. It’s a dominance thing.
        My partner is now on blood thinners and really gets it – some guy in his church does the crushing handshake thing and left his hand bruised for a week.

        1. It’s such a gendered thing, too. Men having “strong handshakes” and all that, and there’s definitely a cultural trope about a weak one making you a wimp. I’m an American who did not grow up in the U.S. but we used to go there every few years (to Texas no less), and when we did, I met a lot of new people in a short time in semi-formal situations, and I remember when I realized you were supposed to squeeze people’s hands hard when you shook. I was a thirteen-year-old girl, and squeezing grown men’s hands with all my strength was just enough to register as “Wow, that’s a noticeably strong handshake from a girl.” I got joking compliments on it all the time. I hadn’t caught on that it was masculine behavior, but looking back I can hear the amusement in those guys’ voices…

        2. And a full-frontal hug with me is sort of like reenacting that scene from Mean Girls where Cady hugs Regina’s “cool” mom…. 😀

        3. I had a wonderful opportunity recently, when running an audition workshop for teenagers, to give an impromptu hand-shaking lesson. A few of the students were being audtioned while others watched. I shook hands with one audition girl who had a real “limp fish”, which gave me the opening to shake hands round the class and teach them how to do it properly (the class was a lot about self-presentation). Big Ego Dude who was also auditioning gave me a full-on crusher, partly I think as a “corrective” to all the weedy ones I was helping the others to improve, and I was able to give him a firm, good-humoured correction himself, which he completely accepted and which everyone in the class enjoyed because they obviously both liked the dude and totally had his Big Ego number. Very satisfying, I wish I could teach every teenager the same class!

        4. It’s not necessarily contemptuous, to be fair: it can be a ‘don’t know your own strength’ thing. Or at least, I seriously doubt all those big burly guys who squished my hand at my grandfather’s funeral were trying to put me down!

          But still, whatever the reason, it hurts so don’t do it.

      2. When I was a martial arts student, we learned how to defend against the crushing handshake. When you fit your hand into the other person’s hand, slide your hand all the way up. The crushing happens because the other person has enough room to put their whole hand around your fingers and apply pressure; when your hand is locked into theirs, all they can do is squeeze the broader part below your knuckles, where the bones are attached and can’t be ground against each other. Hope this makes sense.

      3. YES. I like wearing rings. I have a firm handshake, sure, but I know not to grind your bones into dust. If you actually CRUSH MY HAND when shaking it, my rings will cut into my fingers and I will associate you instantly with discomfort and pain. That goes double if you crush my rings into my fingers and then DON’T LET GO. So maybe don’t go for the Kung-Fu Grip, just a nice firm up-down once-twice shake, then give the person back their hand.

        1. I wear very large rings on my right hand on all dates. Good for punching, and also for scratching and pulling DNA from any attackers. Because if I’m going to be left for dead in an alley, I’m going to make sure there are lots of clues pointing towards the perp.

          I get asked about the rings, because they are spectacular. I’ll tell the secret to trusted men. It always takes them aback, as well as the fact that I go armed on all dates. The men I know just… don’t even think about things like this.

          1. Unfortunately, I do not think most men think about things like that.

            I read a very powerful, well-written piece a few years ago (I cannot find it anymore) where a teacher asked the men in the room to write on a white board what they do to protect themselves on a daily basis. They didn’t come up with anything. Then the teacher asked the women that same question, and they responded with a ton of things (which you can find in the many lists online) like holding your keys like a weapon, stay in well-lit areas, etc. The men were astounded because they realized they never had to think like that. This piece really stuck with me and it aggravates me to no end when men question my safety habits or make fun of me for being “paranoid.”

          2. Out of nesting, I think, but @rhythia:
            I’m lucky, the men that I have trusted with my secret have never accused me of being paranoid. Of course, I know trans men and women who concealed-carry firearms at all times because of the alarming rate of violence against trans people, and I know men who were beat up with alarming regularity in High School… being attacked isn’t just a women’s problem, but I do think women are forced to think about their physical safety so much more than men usually have to. And since the men don’t think about their physical safety on dates, they are taken aback that so many women are not only thinking about it, but putting proactive strategies in place beforehand.

          3. When I lived alone, I *always* left a light on in my apartment when I went on a date, so when I came home, if they’d followed me, a light wouldn’t go on in a window allowing them to see which apartment was mine. I’d been doing it habitually for years when one night a few days after a date with someone who turned out, upon meeting, to be a creep of the first order, I heard someone on the sidewalk outside my building scream my name intermittently for fifteen minutes. Maybe it was a coincidence.

  96. Hi LW!

    I want to expand on the idea of asking, which many people above have recommended. I agree! As a result of my reading Captain Awkward, I have been making a deliberate effort to Ask For Things more in my life, both in dating and friendly relationships, and it’s been an awesome change.

    So, as someone who has been working on Using Her Words, I want to say that it can be really hard to start. We get so much cultural pressure to assume rather than ask. In movies and tv shows, sex and romance just happen, and it’s really obvious when it’s the “right time” because there’s music and sexy eyes and of course it’s exactly what she wants. We’re fed this idea that we’re supposed to just know what the other person wants, and it’s probably even harder for you because it’s especially targeted towards guys who want to date women. The thing is, in real life I have NEVER lost the mood because someone asked first. It may not sound like it does in the movies, but asking for what you want (a hug, a kiss, a hand to hold, etc) can be sweet, endearing, romantic, or sexy. Even when it’s awkward and/or funny.

    The most important thing about asking, though, is to make sure it’s a real question. As in, “no” is a totally OK answer! It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong, and it doesn’t mean you messed up. It DEFINITELY doesn’t mean “try harder” or “ask differently–maybe if you asked the ‘right’ way she’ll say yes.”

    1. When I think of any situation where I’ve ever done something potential scary, whether it’s a new martial arts technique, climbing a high object, or a social situation (and dating is 100% in that category)…

      The single biggest common thing to all the situations where I was adventurous is knowing I was not trapped, and could easily stop _at any moment_, _immediately_, with _zero negative consequences_.

      Seriously, that is so incredibly freeing. And yes, it absolutely works in social situations, including with guys in dating situations.

      If you want to make women (or any other human) feel truly free to say yes to you, the most powerful thing I think you can do is completely accept all their ‘nos’, both small and big, in the most casual, low key, not-putting them on the spot way you can muster.

      It will still take you time, you will still need to date many people before you find the right one for you, but THAT is how you ‘break down barriers’!

      You will get lots of nos. But those nos are not a failure, they’re a sign that those people feel safe enough to be honest with their nos. And sometimes you will get some yesses and some nos from the same person, which is also good.

      But also, if you are hoping for yesses, this is the nearest thing to a ‘hack’ I can give you for increasing the frequency of them.

  97. Ok, I just wanted to write a note to this poor LW who probably feels like a total dirtbag by now! I think his heart is in the right place, he’s looking for help — in the *right* place! not another PUA site — and has got his own insecurities to deal with. I myself am guilty of reaching out to terrible “how-to” dating advice: “Ask him for help” and “ask him about himself” and “10 compliments guys love to get” “wait x hours/minutes/days before responding” etc etc. It’s all bullshit, sexist, terrible – for both genders – and I 100% endorse everything above that references “treat your date like a person.”

    So my three cents:

    First – navigate to Doctor Nerdlove. 🙂 Not-an-asshole dating advice for the cis-male set.

    Second – Margaret Atwood said it best. “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” (or some such). True, it’s not likely in any given human interaction that the aforementioned outcomes will ever happen. But these are the fears driving our animal brains – and for legitimate reasons. (though I suspect the man’s fear of being the object of ridicule comes from dialogues with other men, and not because any woman has actually ever laughed at him…) As long as each party to a hetero date keeps these things in mind, we can avoid causing unnecessary discomfort, pain and fear.

    Third, I want to double-emphasize the Captain’s advice on “taking stock.” During the date, try to find out about things that genuinely interest or amuse you. Try to learn something new. Not only does this check the “treat them more like a person” box as well as the “find out whether I actually like this person” box, but also, as a side effect, it makes *you* look more interesting, engaging, and confident. And in saying all this, I realize I’m at risk of instrumentalizing the “Getting to know you” thing. Pace to Emmaneul Kant and treating each other as means and not ends.

  98. “I have realized that the girl that I’ve chatted with for a while online just doesn’t seem that interested in me. […] One of the main indicators that she just wasn’t interested in me was the fact that she wasn’t really trying to establish any physical contact.”

    Entirely possible! But the fact that she isn’t touching you is not a very good indicator of whether or not she’s interested, because Women Are Not a Monolith. On the first dates that I* have been on with men, even when I’m quite into them, I tend to be restrained with touch at first in case they get the wrong idea (i.e. that I am cool with them pawing me with abandon just because I showed a glimmer of interest). She might have had reasons other than a lack of interest for not touching you, is what I’m saying.

    “I have a hard time creating intimacy on the first date.”

    Is that really what you want to do? At least for me, my serious relationships develop at a glacial pace and spring from a base of STRONG friendship and mutual attraction. What’s more, I have been *ahem* intimate with folks on the first date, and I didn’t end up as friends or romantic partners with them afterward. Not only was it not my plan to do so, I realized that I just didn’t have the requisite chemistry with those people. Whether it be emotional or physical, intimacy on the first date does not guarantee anything longer-lasting.

    Also, I cannot second what the Cap and John said about paying attention to yourself hard enough. It is really important that you like the women you are attempting to date! If not, nobody is going to have a good time. (Seriously, I’ve read GameFAQs entries with more emotions for the game than you seem to have for the women you’ve met so far.)

    Your goal here is twofold: you are trying to help your date have a good time and enjoy your company, and you are trying to find somebody who rocks your world, who makes you feel like a million bucks. A lady that wants to date you will be drawn in by your interest in her, too. The person that she is will mesh well with the person that you are.

    You’re thinking really, really hard here. It sounds like a lot of work–as an overthinker with an anxiety disorder, I know that it is. Please try to focus on mindfulness and being present in the moment, not on strategy. Be as patient as you can manage. Don’t be looking for cheat codes, other than cheat codes to having good conversations. Creating/ stumbling into a romantic connection is sometimes a slow process, and it cannot be forced–which may not be what you want to hear, but that’s how it is.

    And if you want to stand out in a dating pool of socially awkward geek men, I do actually have one major tip for you: As other commenters have said, ask your date about her interests and then listen to her. Respect that she has expertise about things, too, and let her teach you about something.

    I’ve kind of soured on self-identified geeks because too often it feels like they’re auditioning me for the role of Cool Chill Gamer Girlfriend*. They want to tick off the correct boxes–which games and TV shows I like, do I do tabletop gaming, do I do X, do I do Y. They position themselves as the ones who consume media and perform geekhood correctly, and they want to see if I measure up. Their disinterest in what is important to me is blatant and unattractive. You’re tarred with the same brush as these crappy dudes just by being a geek, which gives you an immediate opportunity to get a leg up on the competition by not doing that thing. (Seriously. It’s not an automatic sex dispenser or any BS like that, but I think that if I met a nerd dude who genuinely wanted to hear what I had to say about the things I love, or one who would let me teach him something instead of going into Flirt By Teaching mode, I would be so much more attracted to him regardless of anything else about him.) (Also notice how I’m talking about this in the hypothetical, because in my experience, it doesn’t happen. I wish it did.)

    If you’re carrying the Cool Chill Gamer Girlfriend fantasy–the pretty girl who loves all your hobbies but is worse than you at all of them, who loves all the same games and shows that you love but lets you teach her all about them, who is your soulmate because you are the same kind of nerd–put it down. You’ll be better off if you let women be smarter and more knowledgeable than you, and if you shoot for overlapping interests, not identical interests.

    * (I am not female. I am nonbinary, leaning masculine, but I have a serious rack, so I get a lot of straight dudes.)

  99. Can’t add much to what other people have said, except this: if you want to find out what a woman wants, ask HER. Don’t ask other men, especially those who fancy themselves pickup artists, what women want. If they really knew, they wouldn’t have to keep trying and trying and trying to meet ever more women. They’d have already found someone that they felt comfortable with and established a relationship with.

    1. Or multiple someones 🙂
      Nothing wrong with polyamory or casual sex, but definitely don’t trust anyone who tells you that women have to be tricked into it. It has been recently revealed to mankind that loooots of women can and do enjoy sex (some initiate it, even!), so anyone who needs to trick a woman into having sex with them is someone who thinks lying, manipulation and ignoring people’s wishes are valid life strategies. I don’t think that’s a good role model to have.

  100. “Thanks for making this awkward thing really fun! ” omg, what a great line! Swoon! 😃

  101. Hey LW!

    I just wanted to say, first of all, that you’re going to be fine. It’s going to be okay. If you’d asked my extremely awkward, nerdy husband 5 years ago, he probably would have said he was going to die alone, oh so lonely, because he was so awkward. He didn’t get less awkward, but he did meet an awkward woman. And if you ask him about his relationship status now, he’s married and his wife made him an awesome Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition cake for his birthday yesterday.

    I just want to comment about the One Size Fits All approach to dating. One Size Fits All clothing sucks. Honestly. Sometimes, it literally won’t fit onto your body. Even if it does, it never feels as good as an actual Size X pair of pants that cradles my Size X butt. Be yourself! You’re offering a Size Y relationship, and you’re looking for a woman with a Size Y personality. Most women won’t even try on that sketchy-ass OSFA pair of pants/relationship, because they already know it’s going to suck.

    There are a couple things that do apply to most women. Maybe the scarf of this analogy? Scarves are almost always the same size?

    1) This goes along with CA’s advice about going to a bookstore, picking out things for each other, and making sure you actually give her the space to be an expert about something. Nerds love to be experts about things, and they love to go on rants about it. “Nerding out on [topic]” is a phrase for a reason. I will be you money right now that every single Nerd Woman you talk to is having the same problem within their chosen topic: many Nerd Dudes are trying to out-nerd these Nerd Women, and aren’t letting them actually get to talk.

    Maybe you’ve never done this. Most likely you’ve accidentally done this at least at some point. But if you ask the women you know, they will tell you this has happened to them over and over and over. The Nerd Women that you are trying to date are dreading you doing this, because it happens all the time. Ask her about something, and make sure she’s had a good chance to actually tell you about this cool thing. Do this more than once. Do this at least as often as you tell her about cool things.

    2) I mostly mention this second thing because it happened to me in a non-dating context recently. Some guy assumed that I had 0 knowledge about electronics, and literally started explaining to me what resistors are, and how light bulbs work. I was there to talk about 3d printing. It was the most awkward thing, and I had a really bad allergy headache, so I just kinda stood there with an increasingly incredulous frown instead of telling him to stop talking.

    This second thing is make sure you’re not telling her something she already knows. I have a history degree. Someone telling me who Stalin was will probably result in me leaving mid-conversation. If you’re talking about Game of Thrones or Doctor Who, and maybe you want to discuss an obscure character, maybe ask if she knows who that is before you assume she has no idea and you start explaining it to her. Don’t start telling her about “cool hobby board games that are better than Monopoly” without first finding out if she owns about 50 different board games and wins more than she loses at the local Board Game Meetup Group. (Okay, that’s me again). Again, whether or not you’ve ever done that, it’s happened to her constantly. If you don’t over-explain to her and talk down to her, it will just make the whole interaction better,

    (Oh no. I’ve lurked here for a while, but I’ve never commented, and now I wrote forever.)

    1. OMG i must see a photo of the Twilight Imperium cake (if you’re comfortable with that).

      1. Awww. I only have the photo on facebook and Instagram, and I don’t think I can really post from either of those here. 😦

        You’re not missing out on much, though, I’m not a great cake decorator. I just made a batch of marshmallow fondant, colored chunks of it purple, blue, red and green. I rolled the purple out into a sheet and cut it into hexagons. The other colors I rolled into balls and flattened. I think I made about half of the hexes to look like actual game hexes, and the other half just made regular planets because I was running out of time. I made a tiny bit of gray fondant for Mecatol Rex.

        I’ve only played TI3 twice, but I won both times. I think I technically won the cake, too, because when I looked down at my slice, I had the majority of Mecatol Rex

        Point being, nerd marriages exist, and they can happen to you.

    2. LW, Raptor is spot on here.
      Mansplaining is deadly, whether the man is a nerd or an “alpha.” I doubt there’s a woman alive who hasn’t been mansplained at. You are obviously a smart fellow so you’re interested in smart women, the kind of women who get it all the time.

      If your date mentions a topic that you love, *listen* to her; too many men grab the topic and run with it.
      If you do catch yourself doing it, stop, admit it, and apologize. If a guy is mansplaining at me but catches himself and confesses, I’m okay with it, because he’s working on breaking the habit. If she calls you on it, apologize.

    3. Agree! There’s nothing wrong with geeking out about something, but figure out whether this is a “sharing your interest in board games the other person has never heard of” conversation or a “Oo, you like Pandemic, too? What’s your favorite role card?” sort of conversation. I’ve been in plenty of conversations that could have been an enjoyable second type but the other person wouldn’t stop talking long enough to let me tell them I didn’t need the 101 lecture. I’ve also listened to delightful 101 lectures; I love listening to people talk about stuff they’re passionate about.

  102. A might-be-humourous aside to this: I initially read the headline as “Dating strategies that don’t involve breaking the sound barrier” and was completely astounded about what could possible have happened to the LW.

  103. LW, what I get from your question is that you aren’t comfortable dating, so you’re trying to figure out standard things to do that will work in the moment without you having to figure it out.
    1. I totally get that. The Awkwardkind like rules and standards and flowcharts.
    2. Don’t do it. It won’t work.
    There are rules, I suppose, but an awful lot of them are negative, and they’ve been covered by other posters. Don’t hug or touch without permission, which could come from from context and body language, or, better, from an actual express question and answer. Don’t try to use artificialities like the “touch barrier.” Don’t read too much into the nontouchy, nonforward behavior of a woman who is on an awkward first date. Give her a chance to say yes to another date or whatever, and accept the answer ‘no’ with grace and zero pushback (or maybe -.5 pushback, if you can do that.) If she’s interested in another date, she’ll say yes or otherwise make it happen, and that is a better judge of her actual interest than whether she wants a hug.
    You are who you are. If who you are is a bad fit the particular woman you’re with, then no amount of smoothness and touch-barrier-breaking and NYT-Review-Of-Books quoting will produce a good relationship. And if who you are is a good fit, then you’re affirmatively getting in your own way by trying to be the smooth, desirable nonexistent guy in your head instead of your real self, who is surely smooth sometimes, desirable to some, and not desirable to others. A major purpose of dating is to figure out if you’re compatible, and if she can’t see who you are, then she can’t decide sensibly and no one involved will be happy with her choice. If she’s reacting to a pretend you instead of the real you, then you can’t see her either, so, ditto.
    Good luck.

  104. I’m just going to point out that Dr Nerdlove – who does seem like a decent kind of guy and whose advice I do read – is one of the many, many people (including a surprisingly large number of women..) using the exact phrase “break/ing the touch barrier” with reference to “creating intimacy” on a first date or first meeting with a potential date-friend.

    Read his advice, yes. Take with much salt.

    If ANYONE including me, including the other commenters, including the Captain and every single Agony Ankle person ever tells you dating advice that works for “all women” or “all men”, Lw please completely disregard that advice. Nothing works on all and only members of a particular gender. NOTHING.

    Whether or not you and your date decide to keep doing the dating thing, whether or not things get intimate, whether or not there’s “chemistry” is largely out of your control. That may sound scary but in practice it can be pretty liberating! Just don’t be a jerk, have fun and show an interest in the other person and be open to seeing what happens. Try not to have a goal beyond that and then decide afterwards if you’d like to do another thing with that person. See what happens 😀

    I am a queer guy and I’m about to move in together with a boyfriend I met 14 months ago. Neither of us had a goal in mind with our early dates beyond having fun and seeing if we’d like to have fun together some more… And have found ourselves in a committed long-term relationship after it became pretty obvious that we didn’t want to stop having fun together.

  105. When I met my husband, he established intimacy (after a few hours acquaintance and dancing) by offering me his neck. Vulnerability can work, but mostly because I already knew he was interested in me, as a person, not a set of interesting genitalia.

    1. Between your comment and your username, I just got the awesomest Addams Family fanfiction idea stuck in my brain ♡

      1. I would love to see it.

        Back on topic, I would like to highlight and emphasize a notion that has been brought up a few times in these comments: if you initiate touch wait for reciprocation to do it again. That is a huge pet peeve of mine. Most women are socialized to offer a soft no, and the easiest soft no is not to touch back. Please, LW, always respect the soft no.

        Ironic side note: the worst offender for not accepting a soft no I know is the female member of a couple I know who swing. She is constantly touching, rubbing and pawing me, and has yet to notice that my soft no to her is normally accompanied with tense posture and shoulders up above my ears. I finally managed to choke out “Please stop”, and that she respected. But it should never have had to come to that.

  106. Hey LW – I think the people have the advice on hugging pretty well covered here. I want to address the awkward silences. When they crop up, ask your date something about herself. Has she read any good books lately, seen any good movies lately, what’s her favorite TV show, and then just listen. I tend to prattle on about myself when I get nervous, and it’s good to remember to invite the other person into the conversation during those awkward silences.

  107. As an introvert, I’m also growing tired of hearing some version of “I’m an introvert/a geek/not the most socially skilled. Someone please teach me how to trick people into liking me.”

    As if that’s how extroverts or socially adept folks go about it.It’s not.

    Not that this is what LW is asking. This person seems to me like they just genuinely want to get better at the process which is a much better start. It’s just that the kind of overthinking about minute details of the date as if one of them might magically change the outcome often morphs later into searching for magic tricks.

    I’ve also seen way too many instances of people thinking that it’s okay to employ some level of dishonesty, coercion or other things normally seen as shitty because they think it only makes the playing field “fair”.

    LW, particularly with introversion or geekery, if you stop thinking of these things as handicaps, you’ll do better at presenting your real self and be better at spotting people who might be a better fit for you as per the Captain’s advice.

    1. This is absolutely true!

      I think part of it, too, is this odd perception that socially savvy people get to be that way by being Fascinating, or Hilarious, or Magnetic, or what have you. And if you think that, the pressure is intense! If you think that the only way to get people to like you is to be the Most Interesting/Funniest/Most Mysterious Person In The Room, hollllyyyyyy crow, of course every interaction feels crushing. And of course you’re going to start looking for ‘hacks’ to make that impossible task easier. (This is compounded by the fact that a lot of geeky types were ‘smart kids’ back in the day, and thus already feel pressure to be the Smartest Person in the Room, so….)

      But once I started paying attention to the people around me who I’d think of as socially skilled, I realized that what they were doing was actually much less… well… impossible. Yeah, they generally had some conversational skills, but a lot of those were tuned towards actually listening attentively to the person they’re with. They were paying attention, rather than performing. They were less focused on being interesting and more focused on being interested.

      I think introverts and geeky people would find it a lot less intimidating if they let go of a little of that need to manage every situation, to position themselves perfectly, to play a role. It’s when you feel that kind of pressure that you start hunting for cheat codes and hacks.

    2. As an introvert, I’m also growing tired of hearing some version of “I’m an introvert/a geek/not the most socially skilled. Someone please teach me how to trick people into liking me.”

      This! A thousand times this! As a fellow introverted shy geek with sometimes-iffy social skills, I am so tired of the idea that people like me are fundamentally unlikeable and therefore entitled to trick people into liking them instead of working on their social skills. I think my fellow introverted geeks are great and generally prefer them to extroverts, who are often lovely but can also be exhausting for me.

      For me, introversion and geekery are huge assets in a date. There’s a reason I married a fellow introvert, that’s the kind of person I’m compatible with. So LW, I have some totally counter-intuitive advice: be picky about who you go on dates with and be totally upfront about anything that might be a dealbreaker about you in your profile. The reason I recommend being picky is that it’s easier to show enthusiasm about your date when you feel enthusiastic about them, and the reason I recommend talking about potential dealbreakers (like introversion, shyness, geekyness, social awkwardness) is that will actually attract people who are right for you and weed out people who aren’t.

      1. I agree with this dating advice! This is roughly what I did as a very (omg so very) inexperienced dater, last year, and it worked well for me 🙂

        I was also really lucky, and met a For Me person quite quickly, which realistically no advice is going to magic up within a short period of time unless they just happen to be single and local and interested and on the same site and actively using it and… etc

        But before I met him I had relatively little bullshit to deal with* from Completely Definitely Not For Me People, because most of what they don’t like about me was out there ready to put them off before they wrote in and annoyed me or made me feel inadequate or whatever.

        *I’m a conventionally attractive straight cis woman of “marriageable age”, so too many unpleasant responses is more of a concern for my demographic than not enough interest. However, the very nice, shy, Professional Geek I met ALSO met a For Me person (me) a year ago and is still seeing her (still me), so yay 😀

        Oh yeah, and his first message was a thorough (bulleted!) response to my various deal-breakers, plus enough conversational stuff about other things in our two profiles to give me things to respond to, nicely written, kindly and amusing. I recommend this too. Even though I am personally too chicken to write more than “Hi.. um ignore me, sorry, sorry *delete*” and I actually don’t know how he did it (he says beer – YMMV).

  108. So much great advice here. One thing I don’t think I’ve seen, after skimming a ton of responses, and this would follow after “no forced touching on first dates” and “Don’t listen to PUA’s, listen to your date, listen to her body language, listen to your intuition,” is this: True intimacy – wanting to be near someone, wanting to touch – is something that is formed over TIME. First date, second date, third date – too soon. If you are finding after a couple of dates that you like someone and they continue to want to go on more dates with you, this is an indicator that they probably like you as well. Depending on that person’s unique personality and history, it might be many dates before she makes it clear that she welcomes hugging or hand holding from you. Lack of this indication on her part does not necessarily indicate failure on yours — there may be lots of things that you don’t know about her past or her personality that make her uncomfortable with being hugged or touched by someone she doesn’t know well enough yet to feel safe with. The focus of your dates should not be getting them to let you touch them — the focus should be getting to know more about this person and enjoying your time with them to see if you might be interesting in spending even more time with them.

  109. So many good things have already been said about touching, boundaries, respect, and personhood or I’d say the same things, too. Instead, I’d like to mention what good advice Captain Awkward gave about dating! Super well done as usual.

  110. So, for me, personally, a first-date hugger isn’t a dealbreaker (although as you can see from the comments, never assume someone wants a hug!). That being said, I have been on dates with guys who acted like the LW- and clearly well-intentioned guys, not pick up artist types-and it was very evident to me that they were so focused on enacting some sort of system and ‘levelling up’ a date that they weren’t paying much attention to me as a person at all, or whether I was responding favorably or in kind. And that was really unappealing, and was a reason I decided not to go out with them again. LW, I will give you the best advice that someone gave me: listen, be respectful, and spend more time thinking of what might make the other person feel welcomed rather than trying to elicit a certain response or outcome, and you will be good enough just as you are.

  111. LW, I wonder if it might help for you to mentally lower the stakes for first dates. When I go on a first date, I am not looking to be swept off my feet, or for intimacy, or “suaveness”. I am looking to see if I want to hang out with this person again. That’s it. And hey, not everybody wants to spend time with everybody else, and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong! Think of all the people you’ve met, chatted with, and didn’t become friends with. No big deal, right? So don’t artificially inflate the importance of this particular first meeting just because it’s called a “date”. Give yourself some room to be a little awkward and unsure of what she thinks of you. It’s uncomfortable, but you’ll be fine! It’s just a first date!

    1. When I was dating, I figured that if I went on a second date with one in ten of my first dates, I was casting my first-date-net wide enough. In general I wanted a second date with maybe 20-25% of my first dates, and about half the time I wanted a second date, they did also (the overlap is surprisingly small–a lot of the guys who wanted a second date with me I wouldn’t have touched with someone else’s bargepole).

      My attitude was that first dates were kind of an interesting way to spend an hour, and if I was lucky I’d get my drink paid for, so hey, free booze. And bad first dates are GREAT stories. 🙂

  112. Dear LW,

    I’ve just read your line about what you consider “slight” intimacy and I’m extremely uncomfortable. Literally leaning back in my chair ready to go over the back of it. I’ll finish reading the letter and Captain’s (naturally) brilliant response in a moment, but I have to say, you’re creeping me out through my computer. Pull it back.

    READ IT: Yep, Captain nailed it.

  113. LW, you seem like a nice person who has adopted some dubious advice without realising the Not Very Nice things underpinning it. I’m going to explicitly call out the “breaking the touch barrier” thing, which PUAs call “escalating kino”. The moment you swallow any assumption about trying to break a barrier, you’re turning dating into an adversarial situation where *she* is putting up hurdles and *you* are trying to overcome them.

    There’s been a bunch of research done on rape, and how serial predators function. One of the key tactics they use when trying to pick a victim is to continually test boundaries and assess how (usually) a woman reacts. They’re looking for someone whose socialisation about Not Making A Fuss is stronger than their Hey This Makes Me Uncomfortable And I’m Going To Make That Your Problem drive.

    PUA advice doesn’t put it in those terms, of course, but that’s essentially what all the “escalating kino” and “maintaining frame” stuff is designed to do – see if a woman will let a PUA get away with pushing things further and faster than she’s ready for without calling it out.

    Now I don’t think you’re a rapist or a serial predator, LW. But I do think some of that advice you’ve read comes from some similar base assumptions about dating being an adversarial confrontation, and a Blitzkreig approach being the way to “succeed”. Pro-tip: if you’re constantly thinking about how to “succeed” on your date, you’re missing the point of a date – which is to have fun with another person and see if they’re someone you’d like to have fun with again.

  114. “I always introduce myself with a hug”

    OH HELL NO! LW, don’t ever force a woman to hug you. You may not think that’s what you are doing, but you are. Most women have been socialized to go along with it, but that doesn’t mean they like it. And the shoulder taps are invasive as hell too. I hope you listen to the Captain and the other commenters and knock that shit off.

  115. This is kind of off topic, but your comment about how you “can never get [your] dates to “want” [you] like some other suave guys can do,” made me want to address a misconception that I’ve seen, especially in PUA or PUA adjacent spaces, which is that all women want to be with “alpha” men; suave, confident, dominant men who have an almost otherworldly charisma and good looks. And yes, some women are attracted to them. But there are also a very large number of women who are attracted to “betas”; the shy, sensitive men who are not necessarily super confident and not necessarily super good looking, but who are caring and compassionate and willing to be vulnerable in front of other people.

    All those men out there who complain about how women are only interested in “alphas” and that’s why they can’t get a date? That’s not their problem. Their problem is that they are shitty at being “betas”. They may be shy or awkward, but they aren’t caring or compassionate. They don’t think about their partners’ well-being or emotions, and in fact often don’t even think of women as people. They’re generally not willing to have the sort of vulnerability and openness with someone that you really need to forge true intimacy and partnership. In short, they bring nothing to a relationship.

    If you think that the “beta” label fits you best, than my advice is to double down on being a better “beta”. Get really good at the skills you need in order to care for people. Learn how to cook tasty food. Clean things. Actively listen. Do favors for people. Volunteer. Make sure that when you plan dates, you take into account her need for safety (ie, public place, she has her own transportation, etc) and if she voices concerns, take it gracefully. Make sure that you are each getting equal talking time, and that you’re not talking over her. Look at her profile ahead of time and come up with a list of things you can ask her about in case one of those awkward pauses comes up. Be willing to say, “I don’t know very much about that. I’d love for you to tell me more!” Pay attention to her body language and alter what you are doing accordingly. Ask for her permission before you touch her.

    Don’t pretend to be someone who you think women want to date. Be the best version of yourself, and see what happens.

    1. This is very true. I’m poly, and married, with one primary “other” partner. I’m actively seeking a third partner on various dating sites, and let me tell you, it’s those Alpha types that put my hackles up immediately. They are the ones who are so full of themselves they expect immediate compliance. They’ll message “Dinner, Saturday night. 7pm. I’ll meet you at XXX” before they even say Hello. They are the ones who’ve *obviously* not read my profile, using OKC as a JCPenny’s catalog and messaging the “pretty girls” without caring who those women actually are. They try to pressure you into sexting, berate you for your life choices and still expect you to go out with them, and, my personal favorite, call you a slut and hope you get diseases when you turn them down for sex (wait, I’m a slut because I *didn’t* jump on your cock? I think you have it backwards…).

      While my husband is more of what those MRAssholes would consider more of an alpha type, my boyfriend is a definite beta. A little shy, a little awkward, extremely caring, great snuggler… and I’ve found that best dates I’ve had recently are from those beta types. Those have been the only people who’ve gotten to meatspace with me. The thought that women will only date alphas is a myth.

    2. “Don’t pretend to be someone who you think women want to date. Be the best version of yourself, and see what happens.”

      This. You can’t keep up a charade forever, LW – if you snag someone by pretending to be someone you are not, you will be miserable, eventually the act will slip, and the other person will (rightfully!) feel misled and angry.

    3. Whenever I see stuff about alpha males and how women love these smooth, charismatic guys who exude confidence and are good at sports and have megawatt smiles, I just think, okay, whatever floats your boat. These guys frighten me. Sometimes I find them creepy. Other times I just feel my own confidence shrivels up and runs to hide behind theirs. I’ve never found these guys attractive.

    4. There’s a mistaken idea about confidence out there that is very similar to the mistaken cause-and-effect reversal of “people who are intimate hug each other, therefore if I hug someone we will be intimate!”

      The whole PUA industry is based around noticing that women like men who are confident (i.e., who like themselves and genuinely believe they are a worthy romantic partner), and then trying to find tricks to fake a specific kind of confidence – the loud, boisterous, extroverted kind. Faking the outward signs, but not actually being confident, usually sets off people’s spidey-sense, and it’s even worse if the confidence you’re faking isn’t a sort that’s natural to you.

      If you are a quiet, geeky, introverted person *and you like yourself* then you will naturally project a quiet, geeky, introverted confidence that will go over a lot better than a bad impersonation of an extroverted bro.

      1. One of the most confident people I know is also the nerdiest, by far, and is also very visibly disabled, overweight, and short – all things that PUA bullshittery would have us to believe is the antithesis of a confident person. But he’s confident because he likes himself and if you do, great, if not, it doesn’t matter too much to him.

        If you can learn to like yourself and you kind of radiate that to the world, people will pick up on it.

        Or, I guess, to quote RuPaul: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

  116. I don’t know if you’ll read all the comments, LW, but since the “ugh no touching” ground has already been covered (and yes, I’m a touchy feely hugger but NOPE to what you’ve been taught to do), I want to highlight the Captain’s advice on getting her opinion and ACTING ON IT (” it’s actually an attractive novelty when a geeky dude says “I don’t know, recommend me something!” and then actually reads whatever it is”).

    I haven’t dated much in my life, but I’ve had a lot of guy friends. And let me tell you, a guy a) asking my actual opinion is pretty damned rare, and b) then actually checking out whatever I’ve recommended is… almost nonexistent. Even when trying an “I’ll read yours if you read mine” exchange, they never. freaking. do. I don’t care if he hates it, and then wants to tell me why he hates it – the act of having looked at the thing I recommended is a gift of time and indicates that he trusts that I might have some validity to my own thoughts. That’s huge. And rare. And inspires and creates a lot more of a real connection than chucking someone on the shoulder or forcing a hug or whatever all it is you’ve been told to do by the negging bro world.

  117. LW – I’ve skimmed the comments and one thing I didn’t see addressed as much was your concern of seeming “clingy”. I think this is something everyone can relate to! While everyone’s different, I know it’s nice to have some general guidelines.
    — As captain awkward said, and I want to stress, if you liked hanging with someone, it’s good to send them a text / message to that effect. Maybe right after the date, maybe the day after, but as soon as you feel like it. Don’t wait a week or some other arbitrary length of time. If they’ve already messaged you, great!
    — stick to ONE message at first. Even if fates conspire to have your date actually not get that message, if they like you they’ll probably be in touch with you anyway.
    — If you get an enthusiastic response then great! Message away as long and as much as feels natural!
    — however, if you get no response, then yeah, probably best to assume the person is not interested. If you get a polite but neutral response, again, that’s a gray area; may be worth asking if they want to do ___ some other time, but if they don’t take you up on it, back off unless/until they offer up something on their own.

    In my experience, when you do meet someone you like and who likes you back it’s kind of impossible to message to much or to spend too much time together. By which I mean it’s probably going to feel natural and not like you’re guessing what the other person wants all the time and trying to curb your enthusiasm to match it; they will tell you what they want and it will be in rough alignment with what you want. A relationship that is a continued slog or guessing game is probably not a good fit.

    Also, agree with everyone above to nix the unasked-for test-touches, especially a full-body test touch like a hug! I won’t address further as I think that’s been covered plenty above.

    1. Yes, agreeing with this. One text is unlikely to appear clingy. I might even go so far as to say that if, say, a few days later you hear about something that you think this particular date would be into (her favorite group is coming to town, there’s an ice-cream tasting event at her favorite ice cream spot, etc.), then a second text a few days later might be okay. Beyond that, give her a chance to respond. But an initial text saying, “I had a good time last night!” (if you did) should generally be okay.

  118. Just adding I also would hate a hug upon first meeting I am not a touch person with people I do not know well and like
    I also had a first date where the guy was constantly touching me or trying to hold my hand. I told him it made me uncomfortable and he continued to touch and then i told him again he basically called me a prude. Don’t be this guy

    If you are a touchy feely person maybe feel the other person out in a chat or upon meeting be all I am a really touchy feely person can i give you a hug if they are anything less than super enthusiastic just be all well maybe another time I do not want you to be uncomfortable because I like my consent enthusiastic or whatever It is a big plus for me if date isnt pushy with affection

  119. Hi, LW! If you’ve made it this far, I salute you. I doubly salute you for asking Captain Awkward about these things instead of anyone who uses the phrase “breaking the touch barrier”.

    Personally, all of my relationships arose from hanging out together in a regularly-gathered group until suddenly we ended up making out, but I am given to understand that it’s not just me: LOTS OF PEOPLE first dates to be awkward, simply because I find that many people are not immediately comfortable being one-on-one without any kind of buffer.

    You’ll notice that the things the Captain suggested as date ideas have a natural buffer involved that will give you neutral topics of conversation. THE CAPTAIN IS WISE. People like to have the option to withdraw available. It doesn’t mean we’ll use it, but having it stripped away makes us uncomfortable. For you, in meeting-people-from-the-internet mode, “option to withdraw” includes everything from “we both have our own transportation in case one of us turns out to be an internet person of the murderous type” to “other people are around in case someone needs to call for help” to “neutral subjects of conversation are available” to “eye contact optional”.

    Not to go all Schrodinger’s Rapist on you (although, yes, that is exactly what I am gonna do), but there’s a lot of those things that I just mentioned that cis male-presenting folks tend to not have to deal with. Guys have to worry about whether or not their date likes them; women have to worry about whether or not they’re going to be raped and/or murdered. Your first job, then, is to make sure that you’re not stripping away your date’s option to withdraw– from your company, from your conversation topic, from your eye contact, or from your physical proximity / touch.

    And yes, I am saying that the best way to help your dates get comfortable with you is to make sure they can get away from you. (This is not anything against you, seriously, this is actually something from the psychology of place-making that happens to coincide nicely with dating advice.) First dates are rife with uncertainty and nerves, and for a lot of women the topic of “is this guy going to be weird and controlling, or treat me like a person who makes my own decisions and has my own opinions?” is REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT. Starting out the date by respecting (without being told to do so!) the importance of their safety and their decisions– even if that decision is “nope, gotta bounce, nice chatting with you”– is a pretty great first impression.

    Beyond that, just embrace the fact that this is gonna be hilariously weird and that there’s a high probability that you guys have nothing in common! IT IS OKAY! Make it so that your worst-case scenario is “welp, I still had fun learning to pot plants / playing mini-golf / singing B-52s songs at kareoke”, instead of “I want this person to succumb to my wiles”. People like other people when they have a good time with that person! If you have fun, and you prioritize the other person also having fun, then people are more likely to enjoy being with you. This is not to say that you’re gonna get married, let alone get a second date out of it, but if you are a guy who gives GREAT first date, things are more likely to work out for you in the long run.

    Go and have fun. Give your date the option to withdraw. And please do not tap other human beings at regular intervals; we are not xylophones.

  120. Hi, LW! If you’ve made it this far, I salute you. I doubly salute you for asking Captain Awkward about these things instead of anyone who uses the phrase “breaking the touch barrier”.

    Personally, all of my relationships arose from hanging out together in a regularly-gathered group until suddenly we ended up making out, but I am given to understand that it’s not just me: LOTS OF PEOPLE first dates to be awkward, simply because I find that many people are not immediately comfortable being one-on-one without any kind of buffer.

    You’ll notice that the things the Captain suggested as date ideas have a natural buffer involved that will give you neutral topics of conversation. THE CAPTAIN IS WISE. People like to have the option to withdraw available. It doesn’t mean we’ll use it, but having it stripped away makes us uncomfortable. For you, in meeting-people-from-the-internet mode, “option to withdraw” includes everything from “we both have our own transportation in case one of us turns out to be an internet person of the murderous type” to “other people are around in case someone needs to call for help” to “neutral subjects of conversation are available” to “eye contact optional”.

    Not to go all Schrodinger’s Rapist on you (although, yes, that is exactly what I am gonna do), but there’s a lot of those things that I just mentioned that cis male-presenting folks tend to not have to deal with. Guys have to worry about whether or not their date likes them; women have to worry about whether or not they’re going to be raped and/or murdered. Your first job, then, is to make sure that you’re not stripping away your date’s option to withdraw– from your company, from your conversation topic, from your eye contact, or from your physical proximity / touch.

    And yes, I am saying that the best way to help your dates get comfortable with you is to make sure they can get away from you. (This is not anything against you, seriously, this is actually something from the psychology of place-making that happens to coincide nicely with dating advice.) First dates are rife with uncertainty and nerves, and for a lot of women the topic of “is this guy going to be weird and controlling, or treat me like a person who makes my own decisions and has my own opinions?” is REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT. Starting out the date by respecting (without being told to do so!) the importance of their safety and their decisions– even if that decision is “nope, gotta bounce, nice chatting with you”– is a pretty great first impression.

    Beyond that, just embrace the fact that this is gonna be hilariously weird and that there’s a high probability that you guys have nothing in common! IT IS OKAY! Make it so that your worst-case scenario is “welp, I still had fun learning to pot plants / playing mini-golf / singing B-52s songs at kareoke”, instead of “I want this person to succumb to my wiles”. People like other people when they have a good time with that person! If you have fun, and you prioritize the other person also having fun, then people are more likely to enjoy being with you. This is not to say that you’re gonna get married, let alone get a second date out of it, but if you are a guy who gives GREAT first date, things are more likely to work out for you in the long run.

    Go and have fun. Give your date the option to withdraw. And please do not tap other human beings at regular intervals; we are not xylophones.

  121. It’s simple, OP. At the start of the date you smile and say hi. At the end, assuming it’s gone well, you say “can I have a hug?” and if the answer is no, respect that and listen to the reasons if any are given.

    It may not be personal. For example I’m in a lot of pain which you can’t tell from looking. If someone touches me they might get a scream. It has nothing to do with whether I like you.

    And if someone touched my shoulder – or did any physical movement to try to “reflect” or “put me in rapport” or any other artificial “I’ve read about body language” move, it would just feel freaky / creepy.

    Touch should be natural and instinctive as and when the moment arises, and mutual.

    It’s a first date . You don’t need to touch at all. Offering to carry my bag or get the door would be far more welcome and show that you’re a decent human being. Leave touching until you know each other well enough for it to feel right, without any analysis.

  122. This is one vote only, but I hate “can I have a hug”. I’ve heard it too often from guys who are performing geekiness in order to pretend that their wish to disregard my boundaries is charmingly unfinished, or excuseable, or plausibly deniable, or anything but selfish. If you can’t use body language — you’ve tried, you’ve sought formal instruction, you cannot learn it — how about “would you like a hug”?

    I.e. offer to share one with me, instead of asking if I’ll vouchsafe you one. Hugs are collaborative, they’re not something I’m hoarding a supply of and if you’re worthy or lucky or tricky enough I’ll give you some. Unless you’re actually intending to open a price negotiation, it feels very wrong to me to be asked for contact as if it were a transferable good.

  123. “In short, I get the sense that even though we agree on a lot of topics and hobbies, I can never get my dates to “want” me like some other suave guys can do.”

    I’ll let you in on a secret. Those other guys aren’t “getting” women to want them, either. The women are actually in charge of their own pants feelings, and can decide all on their own if they’re interested in the man who is in front of them. Once you stop trying to manipulate your date’s feelings and boundaries, your dates will probably start going a whole lot better.

    (And you’re hearing only the man’s side of those stories. I’ll bet a lot of the women found those guys to be pushy, manipulative, fake, insensitive jerks.)

    And I’m adding one more vote to the NONONONONONONONONONONO on the greeting hug, and 10x the NONONONONONONOs on tapping your date’s shoulder. If my date started poking me to command my attention, I’d start counting the seconds until I could get the heck out of there.

    I’m sure you haven’t looked at how your approach might seem from your date’s point of view, and it’s great that you’ve come to Captain Awkward and her Army for advice. It means your heart is in the right place. But it doesn’t sound like the goals of the PUA sites (bang as many women in as short a time as possible) and your goals (find someone who I like and who likes me enough to want a second date) are the same. That’s a good thing! But following their advice, as you’ve found, is just likely to drive most women away.

    The whole approach of violating someone’s personal space to force a false sense of intimacy might make sense from the aggressor’s point of view in a pick up bar, if all anybody wants is a one night stand. Icky, but a weird kind of sense. But if you’re after an actual relationship, setting out a personal dynamic where you’re the predator and your date is prey is NOT going to get them to like you, or want you. It’s just going to make them not trust you.

  124. Sorry if this has already been beaten to death: I agree with the general direction of this advice, but think it’s too black and white.

    There are wonderful people who are really quite heteronormative and that often doesn’t preclude them from dating shy-introverted-awkward-nerdy people that are willing and able to meet them halfway. Not talking about these folks creates too much cognitive dissonance when exiting our filter bubble into a world of diverse values.

    The interaction scripts we’re advocating are the right default scripts because they respect people’s diverse boundaries. But often people will tell you they prefer different scripts, and it doesn’t have to be 100% explicit and you don’t have to be 100% right.

  125. On a first date, I want to do the following:

    1. Find out if the person likes tea or coffee or hot chocolate best.
    2. Learn their favorite author (if it’s Ayn Rand, then I know we will not suit.)
    3. See if there are any horrific dealbreakers.
    4. Figure out if a second date is something we’d like.

    Things I do not want to do:
    1. Be hugged when I’ve just met the person.
    2. Have someone try to break my touch barrier. That would be a dealbreaker, because if they aren’t respecting my boundaries now on date one it’s only going to get worse later.
    3. Have someone try to “create intimacy.” It’s not created, it grows naturally and someone pushing it would be very awkward and forced feeling.

  126. “Your optimal dating pool is most likely made of geeky introverted women who also feel awkward about dating.”

    Speaking as a geeky introverted person who feels many things she does are awkward, it can be very nice to date a geeky introvert who rarely feels that things are awkward. The person can reassure you and help you to feel more confident.

    But you don’t get to that point by pretending you are calm, confident, and cool, and know all the answers (which just makes you more stressed– is it working??!! Also the person will probably catch on that you are hiding something and worry about what it is).

    You get to that point by being open and genuine with the person. You say things like, “I have this idea for a date but I’m worried it would be awkward/I’m not sure you’d like to do it,” so they can say things like, “I’d love to do that with you,” or “You’re right, I don’t really want to do that. Thanks for asking me.” You say things (further into a relationship, maybe) like, “I’m a little worried you’re going to think I’m silly for this,” so they can say things like, “There’s no such thing. This stuff is a lot more fun when you don’t lock yourself into trying to be cool or serious. Like, if I was worried about that I probably wouldn’t have done Y (which is a thing you found very cute, and the person knows it).”

    If a person is going to date, they’re going to find out what you’re really like sooner or later. It might as well be sooner, so you can find out if you’re a good fit.