They are the moment of ignition, the primordial starting point, the sine
qua non Big Bang that shapes the future and points the two of you on the
trajectory, for good or ill, that your entire relationship will take.
Does that sound like a lot of pressure? Don't worry, we'll walk you through
Getting Past "Hi"
or, What's a Nice Girl Like... Hey, where are you going?
by Colin Lingle
They are simultaneously crucial and irrelevant. Legends tell of the great ones,
an offhand remark carried on the twinkle of an eye, a simple question that can
change your life forever. Some of us never hear one; others use them too much
There are as many kinds of opening line as there are kinds of relationships,
maybe more. But we can submit them to categorization, analysis, and philosophical
evaluation. Today, at Big To Do University (our motto: "Get Out There" in Latin,
whatever that is), we will demonstrate the awesome power of the Opening Line,
and examine the Zen moment that comes after "Hi...."
As always, the Big To Do remains an equal opportunity column. The information
herein will be gender non-specific, despite the conventional wisdom that it
is usually the dudes laying down the rap. Likewise, these guidelines should
be equally useful at your local tavern, the corner hardware store, the observation
deck of the Eiffel Tower,
The science of Opening Lines (not to be confused with Schmoozology, the science
of small talk) evokes the complex biological interplay of a rainforest environment.
So many things can happen at any given time and there's always something to
The Two Species of OL
Our discussion focuses on the two main species of Opening Lines. The first
is what we will call the "Shrinkwrapped OL." This is the variety that is prepackaged,
prepared, waiting on the shelf for the moment you need it. It has been vetted,
evaluated, and -- one would hope -- craftily honed.
The other is the "Live Action OL." This form is spontaneous, both unplanned
and unplannable. It can only exist in the specific set of circumstances that
bring it to life. As such, it is a rarer breed and relies on a different set
1: the Shrinkwrapped Opening Line
"Do you know how much a polar bear weighs?"
"I don't either but it sure breaks the ice."
[Full disclosure: Corny as it is, this OL actually resulted
in a five-year relationship.]
Example 2: the Live Action Opening Line
"Cute ferret. Get him the hell out of my gym bag and I'll let you take me
As you can see, these two types of OL are qualitatively different creatures.
One is easy to deploy; the other is completely dependent on circumstance. One
is predictable, following the set up/punchline form of standup comedy. The other
is unpremeditated, as in improvised comedy. In fact, classes in one
or the other form of comedy maybe
your best training ground for developing your own skills.
of Opening Lines have their strengths and dangers. The Shrinkwrapped OL smacks
of desperation. The Live Action OL, if poorly executed, betrays a certain geekiness.
On the other hand, Shrinkwrap is a low-pressure conversation starter. And clearly,
the well-executed Live Action Opening is one of the strongest tools in anyone's
To be specific, the qualities of "usability" and "effectiveness" in these two
forms are inversely proportional. The more utilitarian your OL, the less in-the-moment
it is. The more spontaneous it gets, the fewer places you can use it. Keep this
continuum in mind as you begin...
Crafting Your OL Strategy
"But Big To Do," you warble. "How can I deftly use an Opening Line?"
All that's required is that you be spontaneous, clever, charming, memorable,
provocative, polite, intuitive, aggressive-yet-sensitive, and above all funny.
If nothing else, aim to make an impression and get a laugh. (NB: we do not need
to have a conversation at this point about the difference between "laughing
at" and "laughing with.")
Putting the Con in Confidence - In an ideal world, the perfect
spontaneous quip would always be on the tip of your tongue. Unfortunately --
as evidenced by reality-based TV programming
and the state of American politics -- this world is anything but. You can, however,
get comfortable in social situations.
A rigorous conditioning program of group outings will sharpen your confidence,
as will familiarizing yourself with a range of hottie-rich environments. Ultimately,
you will simply need a certain amount of... what's a nice gender-neutral word
for cojones? You'll need that.
Why? Because this is this logic circle in which you're trapped: To pull off
a devastatingly excellent Opening Line, you need to feel no fear. How do you
feel no fear? You must become detached from the results. THEN, if you are not
concerned about the results... why bother?
So you care, but you have to pretend you don't care, which makes you self-conscious
about caring in the first place, and before you know it you're standing in front
of a lovely person you'd really like to talk to....
Case Study from Jen W.
My friend Kim and I always had people coming up to us at shows asking random
"Are you so-and-so's sister?" When I said "no," the guy walked away.
"Are you a singer?" When we said "no," the guy walked away.
"If I get some fries, will you share them with me?" And so on.
My advice: Don't ask a "yes" or "no" question and then just walk away!! Lame!!!!
Stay Out of the Zone - That's four exclamation points. Obviously she
means what she says. When something like this happens, yes, you can always walk
away. It's not the best option, but if you find yourself making 1) eye contact
and 2) gurgling noises, then you have real trouble. You are entering the Flailing
Dork Zone, a place no one wants to be, a place inhabited primarily by males
unable to access the subtleties of their native language.
If you do find yourself in the FDZ, you can still execute a successful OL;
you're just working with a handicap. Rule of thumb: every beer after the first
two is another step toward the center of the Zone.
Charm School - Only a deep and readily accessible supply of confidence
will keep you out of the FDZ. Now, we all recognize that raw, untempered confidence
is a wonderful trait in airline pilots. But you will need something else as
well. Call it charm. Because that's what it is.
A "Get To Know You" Workbook Exercise from Jenn T.
Bad: Wow, you're tall.
Good: I like your boots.
Bad: So what are you girls up to?
(Anything in plurals SUCKS; don't approach a whole group of girls, Romeo)
Good: You know, in England... (or any foreign country that has an accent,
Bad: Any hand gesture that implies that I should go over to where
Good: Waving money and saying he needs help picking out juke box songs.
Bad: You look like you could use a shot!
Good: Hi. I'm (say your name). How are you doing?
(Believe it or not, boys, this works)
do you "get" charm? Besides controlling urges to talk with new friends about
Trek, it is largely an innate quality. You can also remember to listen politely,
smile, and pay (especially for the juke box). Beyond that, if your mother didn't
give it to you and your daddy didn't show you how, you may have to go with a
Charm: A few quick guidelines for introducing yourself to others
1) As we've said, "funny" is good.
-Corollary: Not "funny strange."
2) Do not insult their intelligence.
-Corollary: Assume at least a basic level of intelligence. Plan to accomodate
3) Gentlemen: See if you can introduce yourself without using dirty words.
-Corollary 1: Ladies, dirty words will help significantly.
-Corollary 2: Gay men, see Corollary 1.
Now That I've Got Your Attention...
So you've developed your confidence, added some charm, practiced your spontaneity,
and memorized the floorplan to your favorite leisure establishment. The only
other thing you need is... the most important thing of all. In a word, follow
through. Out on the trail, so they say, you never notice a few falling pebbles
until the avalanche arrives. Or something.
However crisp and lively your Opening Line, the moment it leaves your lips,
its work is done. You'll quickly find yourself in another conversational place
altogether, and you want to be prepared for that, too. Because without the substance
to back up your intro, you'll end up with nothing but another chance to practice
saying "hi." In other words, invest all your time and energy in your OL, and
you may find that you're SOL.
In some cases, in fact, you can actually save an otherwise unsalvageable (dare
we say "abominable") Opening Line with a little strategic application of your
shining character. Not that the Big To Do would ever recommend this approach,
Case Study from Marjorie
I was at CBGBs (lemonheads/julianna
hatfield), it was summer, it was sweltering, and I was dabbing my forehead
with my lacy hankie. And this cute guy came up to me and said, "You sweat
just like David Dinkins." And he offered to buy me a drink. I blew him off.
Later he went to my friends and introduced himself and explained that he was
very harmless and a Jewish lawyer and would they plead his case to me for
him. We went out off-and-on for a year.
So by all means practice and prepare. Think about how you present yourself
and work to improve your technique. Find fun ways to get someone's attention
and unburden yourself of the anxiety of just saying hello. Shore up your portfolio
of talents and conversation topics. Feel confident and relaxed.
Then forget everything you know. Leave your expectations behind.
And when you least expect it, for no reason at all, you'll find yourself out
somewhere and something will happen. Something like this...
Case Study from Julina
Eleven years ago I was at a small Irish pub on the Upper East Side and went
to the bar to order a beer. I ordered a Guinness and a really cute guy with
penetrating, beautiful eyes came up to me and said, "Irish beer. Are you Irish?"
Lame line, but it started a conversation that really never stopped. That
guy was John, my hubby, and we're celebrating our 11 year anniversary of meeting
And that, friends, is how it's done.
is getting nowhere with "Did you drop this?" He last wrote about being the
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