The woman, of course. She has the choice to accept or reject the man who has approached her, or worse, to reject him with vengeance. She is the gatekeeper. She can open the gate, keep it shut, or pour boiling oil on your head.
At least, that’s the conventional wisdom, and not without reason. That certainly is how the interaction appears, but I’m going to put forth the case for men holding the power in approaches. But first, you need to be familiar with two concepts from negotiation theory, the Ultimatum Game and BATNA.
Fair warning: This post is long, and there’s not a tl;dr at the end. But, if you can’t spend a few minutes of your day learning how social dynamics work and why they work that way, maybe that explains your continued virginity.
The Ultimatum Game is a classic experiment in negotiation theory and behavioral economics. In it, two players must choose how to divide up a sum of money, let’s say $100. One person plays the role of the Offeror (O) and one the Offeree (E). O will make a proposed split of the money, and E is left with only two options, to accept or reject the offer. No other communication is allowed, he can’t say what terms he will accept ahead of time, and cannot make a counter offer. If E accepts, the money is split as offered. If E rejects, neither side gets anything and they both walk away empty handed.
A purely rational E should accept any offer that O makes, regardless of how small. If O proposes a $99/$1 split, that sure seems unfair, but E’s options are $1 if he accepts, and $0 if he rejects, and $1 is more than $0, so it’s in his interest to accept.
But that’s not what happens. If the offer is too low, E will feel insulted, cheated, and want to punish O, and he will therefor reject the offer. $1 is a cheap price to pay to keep your dignity and to teach O not to be such a greedy bastard.
Without communicating, O will probably intuit that E would reject an offer that is too low. After all, that’s what O would do. Now the question is just how much does he needs to offer in order to get E to accept. E will always accept a $50/$50 split, and most people in E’s position will accept down to about $20 or $25. O wants to hedge a little bit, and is likely to offer something around $60/$40 or $65/$35.
What’s this got to do with approaching? As the man, you are the Offeror, offering the pleasures of your conversation. The woman is the Offeree, deciding if she wants that pleasure or not. Further on in the interaction things will be a lot more complex, and there are plenty more chances to reject, but at the very first line, the true opening, her only options are to allow the conversation to continue, or immediately reject you.
It seems like she has all the power, but as we can see from the Ultimatum Game, the Offeror always comes out ahead, or at worst ties the Offeree. The Offeree has some power, but the fact that the Offeror typically comes out ahead (usually getting $20-40 more) means that the Offeror is in the stronger bargaining position.
This translates nicely into social dynamics quite well. She has the power to reject an approach, but you have the power to decide if she gets approached at all.
The Pie’s All Wrong!
In the Ultimatum Game, you’re deciding how to split a pie of predetermined value (we used $100 above). In seduction, that of course isn’t how it works. You have the value you bring to the table, she has hers, and you’re offering to swap. You have 70 to offer, she has 85, you make the offer, and there’s an 85/70 split in your favor. Why would she accept that? Because, just like the in the Ultimatum Game, getting 70, even if unfair, is still better than rejecting the offer and getting nothing. That’s why you can see guys who are 7s picking up girls who are 8.5s.
So then why do so many 3s and 4s get consistently blown out, even by girls who are just 5s and 6s? Why instead of taking the 60/40 split do they reject it and take nothing? Because they aren’t actually getting 40 subjective units of seduction value. They see the guy not as marginally attractive, but rather as repulsive. For them it’s more like a 60/-20 split. They’d rather have nothing than go into the red. (Of course this isn’t purely about looks, it’s a total package assessment, or at least as much of the total package as can be assessed form an opener.)
What we’ve learned from the ultimatum game is that your opener will be accepted if (1) she sees the interaction as an improvement on her evening, and (2) you don’t insult her. In the Ultimatum Game insults come only in the form of ridiculously small offers; in seduction it’ll be more in the form of something like rattling off a line that’s plainly rehearsed rather than trying to interact with her as an individual. She might think you’re an attractive guy and witty enough to come up with the line, but you’ve wounded her pride, and she’ll blow up the offer just to get back at you.
And now I think the Ultimatum Game has been done enough, and we can move on to the other concept, which deals with the fact that you two aren’t the only guy and girl in the universe, and not even the only ones in the venue.
Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)
I hate the acronym, but it’s the one commonly used in negotiation theory, so I’m going to stick with it. (I hate it because it should be the expected altnernative, not the best alternative since the best option isn’t necessarily guaranteed.) Just think of your BATNA as your fallback option if you get rejected. If it’s a typical bar crawling Friday night, your next best option is to approach another woman in that venue, or venue change and find someone in the new place. So, your BATNA is pretty much just the exact same thing, minus 5-15 minutes of lost time. That’s one heckuva fallback position. Just imagine trying to negotiate a raise with your boss — and imagine than your BATNA is an offer at another company across the street with the same salary you’re earning now. Not too shabby.
Now consider her BATNA. If she rejects you, what happens? Maybe she’ll be approached by another guy. He might be more attractive, he might be less attractive. Or, maybe no other guys will approach her at all. Because most women don’t have the social toolbox to make an approach, she’s left in a very precarious position. She’s not guaranteed a second attempt with someone else the same way you are.
You don’t need a PhD in Behavioral Economics to see that the person with the better alternative is in the more powerful position. To you a rejection comes with minimal cost, to her it can be substantial. The fact that she has the ultimate Yes/No decision making power on the surface looks like she has all the power, but the totality of the circumstances, the fact that you can go elsewhere and she cannot, really puts you in the stronger position.
In certain venues, the power will shift back into the woman’s hands. It’s a busy club, plenty of time before last call, she’s the tall blonde turbogirl, and you’re not particularly attractive. In that case she’s better off rejecting you because the alternative is that she’ll likely be approached by a more attractive guy.
In smaller venues though, and with girls who don’t have their bitch shields at 200%, really all you have to do to get the set to hook is make the approach, don’t insult her, and be more interesting and attractive than the prospect of spending the rest of the evening alone.
The Take Away
Approach Anxiety is, has always been, and always will be one of the biggest hurdles in the community, if not the single biggest, and it affects everyone from AFCs to experienced guys.
Understanding the actual power dynamics in an approach though can help you to overcome that anxiety. You’re not entirely at the girl’s mercy, you have options, and she’s the one who really has something to lose by rejecting you. That’s a very empowering thought to have as you make your approach. …Now if only you could figure out what to say.