"Go fuck yourself."
That was the moment, with dozens of drunken strangers looking on and after hours of cruel laughter, angry glares and repeated humiliation, that I realized my exhaustive investigation into cheesy pickup lines was at an end.
We've all seen the lists of "pickup lines to avoid." They appear on e-mail lists from time to time or in the back pages of dating handbooks. "Never use these lines," the dating "experts" tell us, and we believe them because the lines are so bad, so over the top that they could never work.
But what if the experts are wrong? The only reason a guy uses a pickup line is to get a pretty girl to talk to him—but what better way to start a conversation than by saying something provocative? Maybe saying something, anything—even something sleazy and awful and perhaps a bit insulting—would bring better results than saying nothing at all.
To find out, I visited the alpha and omega of pickup joints: the Yard House and Pierce St. Annex, both in Costa Mesa. Of course I went to each place on a Thursday night—generally accepted as the best night for hitting on hot women. Then it was simply a matter of playing the role of the player: walking up to a randomly selected babe and using one of three cheesy lines.
Yep, simply playing the role. It sounds great on paper. Too bad I'm so shy I have trouble saying, "Hi" to a pretty girl who's flirting with me. The trick, I decided, was to remember that I was simply looking for a reaction—any reaction. Yes, that's it. Just repeat again and again that I'm just doing research, just doing research . . .
Drinking a lot of booze would probably help, too.
RESULTSLINE 1: Excuse me. If you were a hamburger at McDonald's, I'd call you McBeautiful.
SUBJECT: A slim blonde with shoulder-length hair, a black top and tight black pants. She was standing at the bar, waiting for a bartender to notice her.
REACTION: "That's a good one. I haven't heard that one before." Then she walked away. A few minutes later, I noticed a bald, tough-looking guy arrive at her side.
NOTE: The first time's always the scariest. I hesitated, hesitated again and hesitated some more. Seeing my pals point at her and nod vigorously didn't help.
SUBJECT: Athletic girl with bobbed brown hair and green eyes, wearing jeans and a black top that exposed her shoulders and the top half of her back. She was standing next to her girlfriend at the end of the bar, waiting for their drinks.
REACTION: She smiled and said, "Tell my friend!" I did. Her friend said, "That's so funny. I haven't heard that one yet." Then they both turned away.
SUBJECT: Pretty blonde girl in a black top with a plunging neckline, with hair past her shoulders and a supersweet face.
REACTION: "That's good—I haven't heard that one before. You know, you should publish that one. I'd probably take that as a compliment."
After telling her that, in fact, I was going to publish the line, she asked my name, told me hers and then introduced me to her friend. We talked for a few minutes about things like travel and vacations. We were actually conversing.
Then they said goodbye and took off with other guys they had hooked up with before I arrived.
LINE 2: Excuse me—is that a ladder in your pants or the stairway to heaven?
SUBJECT: A striking tall brunette wearing a red sleeveless top showing about an inch of midriff above her tight black pants. She was leaning against the bar with two friends conversing behind her.
REACTION: She leaned against the bar and laughed, and then turned back to me and said, "Thank you. That was nice. Thank you."
When I walked away a few steps to write down her reaction, she turned to her friends and said loudly, "You're not going to believe this, but this guy just came up to me and said, 'Is that a ladder in your pants or the stairway to heaven?'"
"No way!" her friend exclaimed. "Who said that?"
"That creepy guy standing over there," she said.
"Do you need any help?" her friend asked.
"No, I'm okay," she said.
Feeling guilty, I went back to the brunette and told her I was just a reporter doing a story on pickup lines.
"You shouldn't tell guys to use that line," she said. "That was really bad."
SUBJECT: A statuesque blonde standing at least six-foot-two. Wearing funky red hot pants, a black spaghetti-strap top with an open back and high heels, she was standing near the bar with a group of friends.
REACTION: "That's funny. That was good." Then she wheeled around and ignored me.
NOTE: By this point, approaching subjects involved far less hesitation and soul-searching. The turnaround time between approaches had also been cut dramatically.
SUBJECT: A tall redhead with long, straight hair, seated at the bar next to a friend.
REACTION: After laughing, she immediately turned to her friend and repeated the line. Both laughed for a bit. Then the redhead turned back and noticed I was still standing behind her. "Go away!" she said, shooing me off.
SUBJECT: Cute blonde with pretty green eyes, wearing a beige sweater and jeans, standing next to her friend, who was ordering drinks at the bar.
REACTION: After laughing for a moment, she repeated the line to her friend. Then she turned back to me, smiled and said, "Neither."
LINE 3: Excuse me, but I just have to tell you—If you were a screen door, I'd slam you all night.
SUBJECT: A blue-eyed blonde wearing jeans and a bright red top with a plunging neckline that displayed her more-than-ample chest.
REACTION: She chuckled for a moment before a really disgusted and insulted look appeared on her face, and she said, "Oh, no . . ."
Feeling guilty once again, I told her I was just trying out the line for a story. "You're brave," she said, "but that line was really bad."
NOTE: I ran into this woman later in the evening, but this time, she was standing next to her boyfriend. She motioned me over. "Tell him what you told me," she said.
I did and he laughed, but he agreed it was a bad line.
"Look," I said, "I'm just doing this for a story. I'm being paid to give these lines to beautiful women."
"Oh, you're so sweet," she said.
SUBJECT: A short, incredibly pretty brunette in a black sleeveless top and tight skirt.
REACTION: "Go fuck yourself."
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NOTE: This subject was the easiest one to approach—no hesitation and no nervousness on my part. But after watching this particular subject storm off to a tall, strong-looking guy and start pointing in my direction, I realized that I had gathered more than enough data and it was time to terminate the experiment.
Approaching women for the story became easier as I went along because I convinced myself it was just for the story. The more colorful the rejection, the better the article would be.
Players and pickup artists, though, don't have that excuse. They want to succeed. But they also understand what I learned that night: if they approach enough girls and use enough lines, something will eventually click. The arithmetic is to the player's advantage—if he can survive a dozen or more rejections a night.