We’ve all seen it in movies and on TV: the girl with the shiny hair and lip-glossed lips smiles and winks at her crush while turning her head in slow motion. Chances are, she’s also wearing a plaid skirt, carrying an armful of books, and is in a traditional early-2000’s high school hallway with lockers lining the corridor. Then the intended recipient of this action either looks on in awe (if he’s considered the class nerd) or gives fist bumps to all his bros around him if he’s a popular guy. That’s the expectation when it comes to flirting. The reality? Being an awkward female in college is a lot more difficult than that.
Let me relate a short anecdote to reveal just how awkward I am. I believe it was my junior year of high school. After school, I would go to the gym, which was this building that housed activities for old people and children and boasted a very scanty and rather questionable teenage population. However, I had developed my first gym crush on this guy that would work out around the same time as me. The gym area was set up where a long rectangular area housed all the weights and machines, and an indoor track ran parallel to it. The track intersected with a stretch of the weight area for access. Sometimes I’d run a few laps after I’d lifted to get some cardio in. On this particular day, I was wearing spandex shorts, feeling fly, and my gym crush was working out. So I decided to do it how they do it in movies: as I was running around the part of the track that intersected the weight room, I would pull my hair tie out of my hair and let it gracefully fall around my face and then nonchalantly keep running so he would see how glamorous I am. Ideally, time would slow down and this would all happen in slo-mo. In reality, the execution was horrendous. First, I chickened out of doing the ponytail pull at the intersection (which turned out to be a huuuuuge blessing). Then, as I pulled my hair tie out, it got stuck because I have a super thick, un-glossy mane and ripped out a huge chunk of hair. So here I am running with a ponytail bump in my hair, a hair tie in my hand trailing a foot of my hair, and a panicked look on my face. And the intersection is fast approaching. So I did the only logical thing to do: I ripped the hair off that hair tie and shoved down my shorts and just kept running. I proceeded to not make eye contact with anyone for the rest of the workout.
Fast forward three years to me having a job at and working out at the campus gym. I basically live there between the hours I put in behind the desk and in the weight rooms, so I’ve gotten to see a lot of faces, some of which I see more than others because of similar workout schedules. And some of those faces are not bad to look at whatsoever. I learned in social psychology that sometimes we come to like someone through the evolutionary perspective that repeated exposure with no negative side effects means the person is a-okay, and my brain decided to adopt this philosophy by picking out new gym crushes. Add to the mix my recent ghosting and rejection by a guy and feeling like I needed to be more confident, I decided to introduce myself to one of them. But how to go about it without ending in a disaster of me shoving something down my pants? Thus enters my universal guide to communicating that I’d like to call “The Awkward Person’s Guide to Introducing Oneself to Others.” Outlined below is each step backed up by the experience I had introducing myself to Gym Crush #2 (GC2).
Phase 1: The Plan
The first step in figuring out how to flirt or introduce yourself to someone is to make a plan. What will you say? What if they have headphones in? Or turn around right as you get to them? How do you first initiate contact? The plan should be formulated while acting scenarios out in the shower and while trying to sleep at night. Make sure you run through every possible combination of potential situations, even though things never actually go according to said plan. It’s just more fun to agonize about every detail and get super stressed out.
Phase 2: The Prep
Now that you maybe have a plan or list of potential plans, you must figure out how to carry out the steps necessary to initiate contact. For example, I knew GC2 typically worked out when I’d work out in the mornings. Therefore, I must go work out at that time. I knew which weight room he mostly used, so I centered my workout in there. The more stalking *cough cough observing* you’ve done beforehand, the better. I also knew I should wear mascara to slightly enhance my appearance, so I thoughtfully selected waterproof to account for sweat and so I could shower and go to work after without changing my makeup. Also, if you’re an advanced flirter or communicator, in the prep days leading up to the interaction, you may try smiling at them if you make eye contact instead of just death glaring at them.
Phase 3: The Buildup
You’re in location, and crush has been spotted. Heart rate accelerates, and you’re putting out double the reps at twice the weight you were using before. Thank you, adrenaline. And this is just from knowing that you’re going to do it, not the action itself. You are going to touch the other side. This is the time to start playing your pump-up playlist and building yourself up. In my case, I turned into a fully-formed stalker. GC2 left the weight room, and all be darned if I let him reach the locker room and leave without my plan going through. So what did I do? I waited three seconds and then followed him to where he went in the adjacent weight room, and I proceeded to get on a machine in his general vicinity.
Phase 4: The Execution
The time has come. Make sure you’re not interrupting something too important. For example, he would get off the machine between sets and sit somewhere else, so I knew that was the time to do it. Walk with confidence up to them and YOLO the eff out of it. In my case, I happened to be accidentally (I SWEAR it was accidental—I’m not that much of a stalker) matching with GC2, so our interaction went as follows:
Me: I hate to so rudely interrupt, but one of us has to go home and change.
GC2: *looks at me in bewilderment with earbuds still in*
Me: *panicked gesturing at both of our outfits probably resembling having a seizure*
GC2: *takes earbuds out* *laughs*
Me: something along the lines of I’m Richelle; I see you here all time.
And then he introduced himself and told me about a guy that he always sees but doesn’t know his name, yadda yadda. Also, if you’ve only admired from a distance, there’s a great chance that this person will look different up close. This is to be expected. Seeing somebody from far away is a lot different than standing in their personal space.
Phase 5: The Dismount
But then nobody ever gives instructions on how to leave the interaction. Like, I’m pretty sure you’re not just supposed to turn back and take a hike out of there abruptly, but who’s supposed to end it first and what’s the polite amount of time for standing there awkwardly? I always figure the initiator should break contact first since you’re interrupting the person in the first place, and this can be done with a smooth, “I’ll see you around,” or a really awkward, “Well,” with a shoulder jerk towards the exit to indicate that you’re either convulsing or that you should leave.
Phase 6: The Aftermath
This is the stage where you can’t stop smiling at your success and recounting all the things that you could’ve done differently and analyzing everything the other person said and all of their actions. The funny thing I’ve noticed, though, is that I usually can’t remember details. I can’t remember if we were making eye contact or if I smiled or what they said specifically. Hopefully I’d remember if I threw up or passed out or something. Or maybe not hopefully. Additionally, you may start thinking about them even more outside the context of the location where you normally see them. Or, you may be satisfied enough with initial contact to no longer plan your workouts and appearance around them and let them make the next move if they want there to be a next move.
While I am not a professional flirter or even communicator, doing this made me realize how much fun it is to step out of my comfort zone and at least try. All this big mystery about initiating human verbal contact evaporated, and life continued as usual, but I gained the confidence that I can speak to attractive male human beings, albeit however awkwardly. I also know that if anyone ever reads this who witnessed the interaction, or if by some sick twist of fate GC2 reads this, I will most likely be heralded as the gym stalker. But you know what, it just shows my dedication and commitment, much like how I imagine us to be in our future relationship. Kidding. I promise.