As ubiquitous (and addictive) as dating apps and sites are, I still like to think of them as love life supplements — meeting someone at a bar, party, or any other social setting would be my ideal situation. Whenever I hear that someone met their significant other at the bar, I basically turn into the emoji with little red heart eyes. Tell me everything! If you've already met your friends' friends (and coworkers, siblings, neighbors, and that waiter who they gave your number to one time) a social setting sounds like the next perfect meeting place to me: you're having fun, you're relaxed, there's music playing, your friends are by your side, and it's low-pressure. There's no opening message or clever-ish bio that took you four days to come up with. But how does it turn into something more than a casual hookup or drunken makeout? How are people unearthing love at the bar? Actually, finding a relationship at the bar is even more common than you probably thought.
According to a 2015 Mic survey of 2,373 18- to 34-year-olds, meeting someone in a social setting is the second most popular way couples meet, right after meeting through mutual friends. In fact, 22 percent of people surveyed met their current significant others out in a social setting, and only 9.4 met online or through dating apps.
I've been single in New York City for a few years now, and I'll go through all the stages of loving it (the whatever-happens-happens-let's-dance! phase) to being traumatized (the you-know-what-I'm-just-going-to-move! phase) every few months. Yet, I'm convinced it's the best place to be single, but the type of single where you want to be alone. If you're single and looking, New York (and I imagine lots of other big cities) can be a tough place to find people you actually want to date. And regardless of what stage of singledom you're in, I think many of us still want to be meeting quality people when we're out. So how do you do that at a bar?
That's where Thomas Edwards, founder of The Professional Wingman, comes in. His service helps people find love by working with them on their social skills. In six years, Edwards has been responsible for 27 marriages and engagements. While he works primarily with straight single men, he does have some women and LGBT clients. I met Edwards when he was on Bustle's Sex and Relationships podcast, "I Want It That Way" last summer. I was fascinated by his tips, which ranged from body language advice to the exact time of day to go to bars to meet quality people. I realized that as social as I am, it's been awhile since I've met someone I could even picture myself dating. I was starting to feel jaded, which was bugging me because I think single life can be extremely rewarding — and it's something I want to cherish. That's when Edwards came to the rescue.
Edwards is not a pick-up artist, and he's not going to teach you how to play games or seduce someone from across the room with your eyelashes. He's much less The Game and a lot more Will Smith in Hitch . There's no one-size fits all formula to his service — just some strategies to help you meet someone when you're out. Through experiential conditioning, he'll show you how to approach people, be approachable, engage in conversations, and be confident AF — whatever it is you need to work on.
"It’s very easy to meet someone at a bar," says Edwards, "They're a great place to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t be able to meet. You just have to lie to yourself to be willing to meet strangers with the chance that you might not be accepted. I think we have that risk with everything we do. It could be sales or even writing an article. Sometimes people just aren’t going to like what you write, that’s just part of it."
Edwards says the magic number to go out with is three, which is why he's starting a program this year for groups of three women. This way, if one person starts talking to someone, the other two have each other. Plus, they can go off and meet people together. So with two single friends by my side, Lindsey B. and Lindsey S., I went with Edwards to some of his favorite bars for meeting people.
Here's what went down during a night out with Edwards and the Lindseys:
Bar 1: The Nomad
We Shared Our Stories
We met Edwards at the Nomad Hotel after work on a Wednesday evening, and we wasted no time getting down to business. Sitting on comfy couches in the lobby, we told him all about ourselves, our dating history, our current frustrations with the dating scene in NYC, and what we were looking to work on personally. As often as we discuss our exes, awful first dates, and WTF Hinge conversations with each other, it was kind of heartwarming to hear everyone speak so candidly. We've each had such different experiences being single in New York, but one thing was for sure: we were frustrated and wanted a change.
Lindsey S., who is comfortable approaching people, wanted to work on meeting someone outside her usual type. Lindsey B. wanted to meet someone she's actually into. As for me, I wanted to work on meeting more quality people (Edwards says the best time to meet people are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays between 5:30-8 p.m.), and I also wanted to feel more comfortable approaching strangers. Next, Edwards told us what to do.
We Learned Some Strategies
Edwards explained some of his strategies on both how to approach people and how to be more approachable. While it may feel weird implementing these tips at first, the idea is that after some practice it'll become muscle memory.
"Context is really important because it allows you to enter a conversation as seamlessly as possible based on a common context. It’s not a context you’re creating, it’s actually a context you’re both familiar with," Edwards says. So what if someone you want to approach is not wearing a T-shirt with your favorite band on it or there's no funny song in the background to joke about? What do you say?
"If you have to create your own context, my fool-proof rule is to be open and honest with your intentions because at the end of the day you’re approaching a stranger in that particular scene," he says.
One example? "Hey! I know this is really random but you know I thought you were really cute and I wanted to say hi.” Or you don’t even have to add "I thought you were really cute" and say, “Hey, I know this is random but I just wanted to come over and introduce myself.”
Another option, which I tried out at the second bar, is to position yourself at the bar next to someone you want to talk to and say "Hey, do you mind if I cut in and order a drink?" Conservation from this point is much easier.
Pay Attention To Your Body Language
Edwards taught us a few tricks to being more open in social situations: SOLD: it's the life-saving acronym that can increase your approachability.
S= Smiling aka not the time for RBF
O= Open body language
See that drink you're holding up to your chest? We all do it! Edwards says this, along with crossed arms, signals that you're guarded. Put the drink toward your side instead.
While leaning and listening show you're engaged in a conversation, they can also convey you're approachable and open to meeting people you're not talking to yet.
Edwards says to face the direction (and even point your feet) toward someone you want to talk to. Sounds simple enough, but it's an easy one to overlook.
This Is The Best Spot In The Bar
If you're sitting down and your back is toward everyone, that doesn't make you approachable. Edwards points out that standing at the bar is better, but where you're standing matters, too. There's a part of the bar with a constant social flow, like traffic. With people walking back and forth, it's probably crowded but it's a good place to stand because it increases your chances of finding people to talk to. "If that’s where the most movement is, then that’s where you should be, even though it may be the most logistically sound (finding a place to stand, place your coat, not cramped, etc.)," Edwards says. "After a while, once you're exposed to that environment enough, you’ll be much more comfortable."
Some Confidence Hacks:
Sure, confidence is key, but it's not always easy to feel like a million bucks when you're approaching a total stranger. Edwards' hack to feeling good is one I really love: Act like you would when you see someone who knows you but forgot your name. "You have the hindsight of them already knowing you," says Edwards. "That projects familiarity, so it comes off like very comfortable and very safe. And the good thing about these acts is that it modifies our behavioral habits that we’ve grown and are hard to break and they can help us in the bar scene or any social scene. Assuming that you already have this natural rapport with someone will automatically make you more confident."
We Went Into The Trenches...
We walked into the bar and grabbed a table (right next to Ramona Singer, for all you Bravo babes). Edwards encouraged us to look around the bar and see if there was anyone we were attracted to. We spotted one guy we were into — and then his date joined him. As Edwards put it, there wasn't enough pedestrian traffic to support our efforts here, so we bounced to a different part of the bar.
The next part of the bar was packed. Edwards pointed out where the social flow was aka the part of the bar you'd most likely try to avoid. He reminded us that the idea is to meet someone there and then make your way out to talk somewhere less crowded.
Like Kindergartners leaving our moms on the first day of school, we nervously parted ways with Edwards and dove right into the mosh pit.
Unfortunately, the bar was so crowded that we kept getting separated from each other and pushed around. Most of our time in the war zone was spent trying to find each other. We had a hard time "embracing the chaos" as Edwards suggested. This social flow was overflowing. We re-grouped on the side of the bar and discussed our next strategy — talking to the group of guys in the back corner.
... And Put Ourselves In A Corner
There was a group of six or seven guys we all found attractive toward the back of the bar. They were all different ages so we guessed it was a group of coworkers grabbing an after-work drink. We discussed our options: We could go over and talk to them or we could position ourselves near them and see if they'd approach us. Feeling a bit shy and distressed from the traffic jam, we decided to see if they'd approach us first. We left the crowded part of the bar and stood by them in the corner, which was pretty much empty aside from them.
We started laughing at first because it felt like we were hovering, which is a no-no in Edwards' book (and most people's I'd think). We started making our way closer, with open body language, of course — and then they put on their jackets and left, leaving us alone in the empty corner. Edwards who had been watching every move, came over and playfully scolded us for being in the actual worst part of a busy bar. Whoops.
He did praise us for communicating well: "Constantly communicating with one another will always keep a good grasp of the situation and potential situations one may not be seeing."
OK OK, next bar!
We Found An "Anchor"
Walking into the Ace Hotel, one of us spotted an old friend with his coworkers. Edwards informed us this friend was no ordinary friend — he was an Anchor aka our connection to meeting other people at the bar. Jackpot! We walked into the Ace Hotel Lobby Bar and went right to where the social flow was.
Our Body Language Spoke For Us
OK, so turns out, none of us were into the Anchor, his friends, or the guys visiting from Mexico who approached us as well. Edwards, who was watching us from the side of the bar, pointed out that he could tell right away from Lindsey B.'s body language when she wasn't interested.
"There will often be guys who will approach you who you don’t want to talk to — that’s just how it works," says Edwards, "You can definitely show body language of disinterest but don’t do it too much that it looks like you’re not having a good time because surrounding guys will be paying attention to how you treat him, in order to decide if they should try approaching you at some point later. (In other words, if you find yourself in that situation, always keep smiling, but give short answers and not do the OLD in SOLD.)"
I Approached A Guy Sitting At The Bar
I confessed earlier in the night that I was afraid of approaching people because I was worried they'd have a significant other and I'd feel like an idiot if they did and then the whole bar would laugh at me and the world would be over. Edwards reminded me I didn't have to hit on anyone and that I could simply strike up conversation. After one and a half drinks, I was feeling pretty good about life and I decided it was time to talk to the hot guy sitting at the bar in the Breslin.
Using Edwards' approach of squeezing in and ordering a drink right next to him felt like something I could handle. The thing is, I approached him when the bar wasn't very crowded. So when I said, "Hey, mind if I cut in?" I imagine it was pretty obvious that I was just trying to talk to him. Also, I already had a drink in my hand, so I ordered a water from the bartender. He started laughing and asked why I was getting water. I reminded him about the importance of hydration and the conversation went from there. We chatted back and forth for a bit and then I saw it — a RING. Dun dun dun. My big fear! I finished my water, ended the conversation politely, and then ran over to tell Edwards everything. Much to my surprise, I felt great.
Bar 3: The Garret
We Worked The Strategies
Making our way to bar number three in the West Village, we were ready to ~bring it~. We were getting the hang of things and Edwards' feedback was sinking in. Standing where the social flow was, we worked on opening up our circle and keeping our drinks away from our chests.
At one point, I looked over at Lindsey B. and saw her standing like this:
I asked what the hell she was doing. "I'M SOLDING!"
We'd come so far.
Lindsey S. Approached Someone
Lindsey S., spotted a cute guy talking to his friends. We were getting tired — it was past midnight at that point — but she decided before she left she was going to go over and say something.
"Hey, I think you're cute," was her line (go Lindsey!) and they started chatting. She came over about 20 minutes later. He had a girlfriend.
Bonus Bar 4: Catch
Next, Edwards took me and Lindsey B. to a surprise location. More of a club scene, this stop in the Meatpacking District wasn't to meet anyone but just a fun way to end a great night. When we got off the elevator at the roof, I saw Luis from Million Dollar Listing New York, which I got a little too excited about — two Bravolebrities in one night! We danced to Justin Bieber and called it a night.
JK, Lindsey B. and I went to a diner at 3 a.m.
So, How Did We Do? Here's Our Performance Review From Edwards
Currently, I see you as the most approachable of the group. You have a sweetness in your overall essence that I think should make you the point person of the group. What I mean by that is if there’s a chance to position the group near guys you want to talk to, you should be the one farthest from the group so if guys turn, they see you and it increases their chances of starting conversation with the whole group. Or if you want to take it to the next level, you could initiate yourself and play more of a facilitator. We could always talk more about the strategies behind that if you want! Also, I loved the fact that you wore a colored top as it made you and the group stand out more.
My little social analyst. Once you understood the strategy behind the things we’re doing more, you picked it up almost right away. I’d say your focus should be on continuing to apply these things into your everyday life so it becomes your new behavioral habits. Because you’ll be working on smiling and showing more open body language, it should be noted that you’re the least approachable of the group. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing! All this means is that you need to be proactive in letting guys know they can talk to you like a normal person and not freak out. Smiling, introducing yourself and keeping conversation light and fun will do the trick.
The kind of man you’re currently attracted to is going to cause some hiccups along the way because it’s your habit right now. I saw a few times when you’d look around the room and had a sense of uncertainty of the kinds of guys you could be into. You’re also someone who is very used to guys approaching you so in order to REALLY shake things up, you’ll want to be more proactive in approaching certain guys, just to get more experience of interacting with a variety of guys until you start to get a better understanding of what you could like in men that’s not what you’re attracted to now. I loved the fact you approached that guy at The Garret and although he was taken, don’t let that discourage you (or any of you) to do that again. When you’re in an environment like that, it's harder to tell those kinds of things (unless you can blatantly see the ring) so it’s better for you to approach and find out than not and wonder what if.
What We Learned:
While we didn't get numbers, dates, or proposals during our night out, it was an especially memorable night for all of us. Edwards felt like a life coach, not just giving us confidence and direction but he got us hopeful about meeting new people, which was something I hadn't been that excited about in a long time. His confidence hacks make you feel like you can — and should — talk to anyone.
Getting feedback in real time was eyeopening. Edwards often stood far enough away so that no one else at the bar would catch on, but close enough so that he could pick up on our body language.
A lot of us want meeting someone to be an easy, natural thing, and the three of us initially worried we were overthinking things or trying too hard when implementing these strategies. Edwards reminded us that with practice approaching people and where we're standing at the bar will just be apart of our normal routine.
Sharing our stories, building up confidence together, taking risks — it all felt empowering. Most importantly, it gave us exactly what we needed: A positive outlook and a solid support system.
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Images: Michelle Toglia; Giphy