How to Start a Love Affair

When learning how to start a love affair, you've got to know where to find them, and what to say.

How to Start a Love Affair

One of the most exciting things about being single is that you never know when fate is going to set an enticing man within eye contact. He's checking out your assets at the supermarket while reaching for a box of Cheerios, or he's squinting at you from the other end of the bar, or locking glances when he's getting out of his green Volvo just as you're getting into your blue Volkswagen. You feel a certain something–a tingle at the nape of your neck–a signal. Yet you do nothing. You walk on. The opportunity is lost. After a moment's small sadness, most such incidents are forgotten–but a few haunt you forever.

I'll never forget the blue eyes of that young Icelandic Airlines pilot. I was in Paris and twenty-one, and he looked about twenty-five. We made love with our eyes from two separate tables in a restaurant, and as he went out the door with his friend, we exchanged glances so stricken I all but sobbed out loud. Fate may dangle a potential lover, but obviously you have to have enough to reach for kismet's gift.

Within the common comings and goings of daily life, there are those magnetic moments that suddenly, inexplicably, draw you to a stranger, acquaintance, co-worker, or even an old friend. How do you translate these flashes of desire into a gratifying relationship-or at least a fling? It can be done, and the techniques used to heat the initial sparks into a flame vary according to the situation and setting. Change methods to fit the milieu of the encounter.

Dinner Parties

Dinner Parties

The intimate dinner party still offers the most socially acceptable and least traumatic ambiance for initiating a love affair–especially when the host or hostess makes those gracious introductions that are really glossy attempts at matchmaking ("I just know the two of you will hit it off. You're both so addicted to French film directors"). Unfortunately, most parties nowadays are large, deafening bashes where the guests are turned loose on the buffet like so many geese in a pen. If you do spot a man you'd like to meet, such frenetic festivities do offer better opportunities for lighthearted conversation openers than, sау, Grand Central Station, perhaps because most unattached men who bother to attend those free-for-all parties usually have nothing better to do that evening. In other words, they are eager receivers of any signals that promise better days–and nights ahead. 

Which brings me to Principle Number One in connecting with an intriguing stranger: Since most men yearn for the delights of female attention, there's no sin or onus to dropping the first sprightly line on the object of your desires.

My friend Diane, a tall, stunning blond, walks up to anybody she pleases at parties and says lightly, "You look like an interesting person. Who are you?" Though not the pinnacle of repartee, the gambit has a certain straightforward charm, and–Diane claims–it works. For years, whenever I've attended a party and seen an attractive man momentarily alone by the asparagus fern, I've berated myself for not walking up to him and testing Diane's line. But somehow it's just felt silly, so I've come up with an alternative opener–a remark that is honed to casually suit the meeting place. Which brings me to Principle Number Two in starting something with an attractive man: Drop a line befitting the situation.

If you see an interesting-looking prospect loading his plate at the hors d'oeuvre table (the most likely hunting ground for live game at a party), you don't amble up to his ear and blurt, "Do you think Indira Gandhi is a fascist?" or "What do you do?" You want to avoid presenting him with an obligation to make conversation. Instead, you drop a comment–the sort of line that doesn't demand any more than a polite response. That way, if he doesn't want to take advantage of your ice-breaker, he can melt away without rocking your ego or causing himself a twinge of clumsy embarrassment. 

One of the best examples of such an innocuous yet eminently functional opener at the appetizer trough is "Here, try one of these cheese canapés, they're delicious." This particular bon mot has probably launched as many love affairs as any line in history. If he's interested, he'll respond, "The stuffed grape leaves are tasty, too." Whereupon you'll say, "Yes, and so are the Swedish meatballs, except they're a little cold." Bright smiles all around. How natural, after this smidgen of conviviality, for one of you to get more personal: "Do you live near the park, too?"

Other good lines notable only for their workable simplicity include: "Have you seen any ashtrays?" (An interested man will personally search out an ashtray), “Do you have a lighter?" (While he's lighting your cigarette, he'll also strike up a conversation: "Your accent sounds slightly New England"). Of course, you shouldn't take up smoking just to have these arrows in your quiver of ploys. Nonsmokers can always dig up a comment that works within the context of the environment, such as, "If this place gets any noisier, my eardrums will split." That remark might lead to the two of you leaving the party in the quest of a quiet bar where you can "really talk."

Bars and Clubs

Bars and Clubs

Speaking of bars, any single woman looking for a new lover might go into a good bar-restaurant by herself at least once a week. Even though a lone female in a bar is no longer automatically a fallen woman, you should not sit alone at the bar. Place yourself at a table that can be seen from the bar–which is where the single men park themselves. If you can afford to live well, you order dinner, but a drink will do. Remember, you want to give yourself an air of mystery and the unexpected in order to pique interest. And you want to surround yourself with a regalia of items that can seduce polite questions: "Say, I've never read that guy. Is he any good?" (in reference to a new book you've been reading). Unless you're pushing seventy or have green hair, some male or other will soon detach himself from the bar and try making small talk. If he turns you off, you tell him politely you're waiting for somebody; if he's charming, you invite him to sit down.

It was at a bar that a friend of mine recently met an actor who has a running part in a TV situation comedy. She'd gone to a Los Angeles hangout called Joe Allen's, sat down at the only table across from the bar, and then proceeded to eat dinner and read the New York Times. Eventually an attractive man–the actor–came over and said, "Are you going to eat that gooey dessert? I can't bear to look. I'll come back after you've eaten." When he returned she said, "Want to sit down?' And he said, "No, I can't make that kind of commitment." Yet he couldn't seem to break away. He stood by her table and talked for awhile, and finally she asked, "Aren't you with anybody... None of those gorgeous girls at the bar?" "No," he answered. "They're dumb. After you've talked to them five minutes, their hair gets frizzy and their tits collapse." She laughed, "I think I'm going to take that as a compliment." He smiled and sat down.

One good common-sense rule when using bars to initiate liaisons: Don't stick it out until the bar closes. You'll almost surely meet an amorous man, but he'll be more likely seeking a one-night stand than someone to date. If the thought of sitting alone in a bar sets you on edge, try keeping your eyes peeled for something special while wheeling your grocery cart at the supermarket. What better place to spot lonely bachelors than when they're in the act of buying frozen chicken pot pies? The only problem is, how on earth to breach the barriers with a good dropped line?

Supermarkets

Supermarkets

Well, supermarkets are one of the few places you'll have to forget dropped lines suitable to the environment. ("Gee, have you ever seen more exciting parsley?" or "Would you know where they hide the garbanzo beans?" might elicit an answer, but probably not a love affair). Supermarkets call for either more brazen first lines or much patience.

I have one friend who met her husband in her corner A&P, but the process took several months. She first saw him–a tall, redheaded man with freckles–in the next checkout line. He was eyeing her with what seemed to be great interest. They kept connecting glances as they emptied their baskets, but nothing transpired. As she was walking home, she began to think maybe she had known him somewhere, that he looked familiar. If she saw him again, she decided, she would ask whether they'd met before. But the next time she spotted him in the store, he was as distant as a statue of Admiral Farragut. And besides, on second glimpse she decided he was too tall to be the man she remembered. But by then she had him firmly in her mind as someone she knew, and whenever she saw him, she'd smile as though they were distantly acquainted. Once he smiled back, another time he ignored her completely, and once he looked behind him to make sure she wasn't smiling at someone else. Finally, one day, by the light-bulb aisle, she went up to him and said, "I know I keep smiling at you like some sort of mongoloid idiot, but you remind me of someone, and I can't get rid of the feeling that I know you." His eyes lit up like a 350-watt bulb and he said, "Maybe you do. Where could it have been?" They stood there discussing cities where they'd lived, until he invited her to have a cup of coffee... lunch... dinner... marriage.

Moral: Unless you are brimming with the sort of chutzpah that lets you carry off more imaginative gambits with poise (my friend Nancy met a man at her Stop & Shop by asking to exchange baskets with him), your best bet is that traditional old standby, "Don't I know you from somewhere?"

The Street

The Street

Somehow, I've never been comfortable speaking that cliche, so prowling the supermarket aisles isn't my forte. The street is my own personal favorite hunting ground. According to my theory, people are tired of bars and parties, and they're also tired of being solidified into a certain clique. We all wish to broaden our horizons, yet most of us have difficulty breaking away from our usual social haunts, which at least offer the comfort of sameness. But if that sameness is getting suffocating, where better to meet someone from a totally different milieu than on the street?

Since I met my only celebrity boyfriend on Broadway with a simple dropped line, I think that once again your best gambit is to say something utterly banal and in context with the situation (reference Principle Number Two). In my case, I found myself at a bus stop standing beside a handsome bearded man with twinkly eyes and a slight limp. Signals were exchanged. Not wasting a second, I asked him, "Do you know if the Number Ten bus stops here?" "No," he replied, "it doesn't. I'll show you where. Exhausted at the mere thought, I smiled even more brightly and gestured at my watch and the street, conveying that I was meeting someone. We both backed away, still smiling and rather pleased with ourselves for having made some sort of human contact.

Moral: Any man who is going through an art gallery by himself is undoubtedly lonely and would love to be approached. Initiating contact actually amounts to doing a good deed.

A Day at the Office

A Day at the Office

Not just enchanting strangers require deft craft in setting up a connection that can lead to an attachment. Old friends who suddenly look new, your doctor or lawyer, and men you work with all can be kindled into a fiery affair. A lot of women think starting an affair with a co-worker is a disastrous idea ("Never get your meat where you get your bread," a friend once told me), but I've known so many people who successfully married within their offices that I've come to believe that offices are fertile ground for growing an amour.

Most office romances start, not with a dropped line, but a dropped invitation: "You look like you need a cup of coffee." After a hard day at the office, try saying to a tantalizing colleague, "You look like you need a drink." That solicitation is both casual and thoughtful. And once you get him to a bar, it's not many more steps to your place.

 There are other offices you go to aside from the one where you work. Don't forget visits to your lawyer, dentist, or doctor. Though I personally never had a doctor who wasn't middle-aged and fatherly, some of my friends have dashing physicians who can send a woman's blood pressure skyrocketing. My friend Jody fell for her gynecologist. She's a schoolteacher who worked harder luring her doctor out of the office than she did grading homework assignments. "For two months I found reasons to make appointments," she told me. "Once I thought my IUD was gone, twice I invented lumps in my breast. I suspected pregnancies, suffered all manner of strange aches. During my visits, I'd arrange myself on the table-you know–my hair flowing and as much skin exposed as possible. And I'd chatter vivaciously: 'Where are you from? What is it like to work sixteen hours a day?' After my fifth visit, he came into his consulting room, sat down, and said, "I think you should find yourself another doctor. Meanwhile, would you like to go to dinner?'" Right at this moment, Jody is on a two-week cruise in the Greek Isles with that man, who later confided he had many mildly seductive patients but no one sent out as strong a message as she did.

The moral: With your own doctor, lawyer, or dentist you have to be the aggressor. Since you pay for each sporadic opportunity you see him, lightly dropped lines aren't emphatic enough to guarantee a yea or nay response. After all, it's foolish to keep making appointments only to find he refuses to take subtle hints. Save money. Be direct.

Friends' Friends, and Just Friends

Friends' Friends, and Just Friends

Every now and again, a man hung with a "no trespassing" sign gets cut loose and becomes available. That can be front-page news when you've always had a yen for him, but the situation can become delicate if the object of your desires is now the ex-lover of a close girl friend. Even thinking about this question can bring on acute feelings of guilt. I value my female friends, and I know that there is a good chance of ruining those friendships if I start taking up with their exes. Yet the few times I have been in this situation, I found myself determined to maintain my friendship and snare the man. If you never forget to be thoughtful, this delicate dilemma can be resolved diplomatically. You cannot, of course, move in while your friend's psyche is still bloody. Wait a few months, then manage "accidentally" to run into the man. Give him a big hello, and if he seems genuinely glad to see you, hotfoot it to a phone and call your friend. Tell her you ran into him, and ask whether it would put her in a snit if you went out with him. She'll undoubtedly say she doesn't mind-and that's undoubtedly a lie. So strive for the utmost respect for her feelings during the first few weeks of dating her former flame. Keep her informed and call her often and always insert at least one mention of how much you admire her generosity of spirit. Meanwhile, never say anything derogatory about her to him; in fact, heap her name with praise. And should he drop the least little compliment regarding her, pass it on to your friend. This way, not only are you nurturing a new love affair for yourself, you're creating a new friendship–one between your friend and her ex-lover

There are cases when a man who has had "we're just good friends" status in your life takes on a romantic haze that plucks him from the 'buddy' category. Changing a pal into a lover sounds easy, but a man can be amazingly obtuse about grasping that you see him with new eyes. He's probably content with things as they stand, so don't create an awkward situation by making a declaration of love. I have two friends, Eileen and Mark, who started going out together after being friends for nine years. Knowing that the shift in roles was Eileen's idea, I asked Mark how she had sent out the signals that got him on a more intimate track.

"She used nuance," Mark told me. "She never said anything heavy, and she didn't invite me to her apartment and appear in a see-through gown. That would have terrified me. She worked with her eyes and through body language–very subtle. One day I noticed that she was warmer toward me and wondered if I was imagining this change. But she kept it up, creating a sort of cozy, sexual atmosphere between us. One night we started talking at the bar and somehow the conversation turned into a discussion of differences between male and female orgasm. All very intellectual, of course, except that I found myself with an erection. Then I knew–this chick, my old friend Eileen, wanted me! We went to my apartment, and it was all very natural and very beautiful."

Natural and beautiful. That's how sex is when it's with a person you really desire. Why ever let anyone so valuable as a potential lover wander away? Grab him. He'll love you for it.

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