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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 it.

Opening Lines:
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 already.

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, etc.

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 step in.

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 of skills.

Example 1: the Shrinkwrapped Opening Line

"Do you know how much a polar bear weighs?"
"Um, no."
"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 to dinner."

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.

Both kinds 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 dating repetoire.

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 things:

"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, really)

Bad: Any hand gesture that implies that I should go over to where he's standing.
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)

So how do you "get" charm? Besides controlling urges to talk with new friends about Star 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 close approximation...

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 more.

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, but...

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 this week.

And that, friends, is how it's done.

Colin Lingle is getting nowhere with "Did you drop this?" He last wrote about being the new kid.

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