How to Read Social Cues

This is not the way to behave.

So by now I hope everyone has had a chance to see this excellent street harassment video¬†which shows how many catcalls and looks a woman gets walking around New York City for 10 hours. While there has been much *ahem* debate over whether these were catcalls or just guys “being polite” (um no this is not polite), an interesting thing that cropped up (in my mind) was the complaint by many men that “what, we aren’t ever allowed to talk to a women in public?!?!?!?!” Congratulations, but no, of course you can talk to women (and men and whoever) in public, but only as long as you get social cues that they are also interested in talking to YOU!

The thing about people is that your desire to talk to me does not trump my desire to NOT talk to you (or anyone else). And okay, I get it, maybe that girl who is running to catch the train is clearly your soulmate, but honestly, that is just too bad and you really need to let it go. So here is a nice handy, fun primer on how to read social cues to tell if someone is interested in talking to you (also most people do this intuitively, by what? age 15? It’s not that hard).

Signs Someone is Not Interested in Talking to You:

  • They are reading (caveat, if they keep looking up over their book and making eye contact with you and only you and smiling, etc).
  • Walking fast- clearly on their way somewhere in a hurry.
  • It’s the morning commute (personally I think morning subways should be absolute quiet zones, but I certainly do not want to chat)
  • Sunglasses on, earbuds in.
  • They are actively avoiding making eye contact with you.
  • If you do speak to them and they give one word answers or mmhmms.
  • They shake their head at you (okay this is more for sidewalk canvassers than people wanting to make small talk, but hey, it applies)
  • They are crying (being able to cry in public without anyone questioning it is a New Yorker’s right)

Signs Someone is Interested in Talking to You:

  • They keep trying to make eye contact with you.
  • They smile at you a lot.
  • You say something benign and friendly (see below) and they are pretty chatty in their answers.

Things You Can Say to A Stranger in Public:

  • The train hasn’t come for 15 minutes= “The G train, amirite?”
  • “Excuse me, you dropped this.”
  • “Does this train stop at Canal street?” (I actually had a great chat on a subway with a guy once where the conductor was saying the wrong station name and we were trying to reassure each other that we were in fact on the right train.)
  • Compliments…cautiously- if they really are wearing a stunning dress or whatever, then that’s probably okay? As long as they aren’t exhibiting any of the “seriously, do NOT talk to me signs.”
  • “Hi” “Hello” “Good Morning” BUT and this is seriously important, if you are the friendly type of person who likes to say hi to people, make sure you say it to a WIDE range of people and not JUST people you are attacted to, that makes it more predatory than friendly. Suffice to say, “heeeeeey baby” is not the same thing as a chipper “hi.” And again, don’t do it if it’s pretty clear they aren’t interested in human interaction at the moment.

Things You Cannot Say to A Stranger in Public:

  • Honestly, it’s too long to list.

It’s also really important, especially if you are a man talking to a woman to not use words or talk in a tone that you wouldn’t use to speak to a man.

And please, just be realistic. If you are a kind of average slumpy joe, and you really, really want to talk to that amazing supermodel looking girl who is a good 10 years younger than you, do you REALLY think she is going to be that interested in talking to you? I mean, sure, maybe, but statistically it’s just not that likely

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