I'm going to reveal some secrets that normally would be held by the Girl Code, where we all get together and decide what's acceptable and what isn't, and then we agree not to tell anyone outside the special Girl Meeting so that we can make them guess about what's acceptable and what isn't, and then we can punish them when they guess poorly. But I got a special Hall Pass for this one from the Girl Council because of special circumstances. So listen up, because it's not very often one of us gets to break ranks and reveal our special secrets.
Ok guys - this is for all cis men, straight men, bi men, trans men, gay men, and anyone of any gender or orientation who takes on the "aggressor" or "pursuer" role, but ESPECIALLY those who think of themselves as "gentlemen", or as guys who are capable of putting the moves on a woman. Since most of those types of guys insist on retaining the sexist terminology like "gentleman" because they refuse to see how objectifying it is, I'll use that terminology if it's the only way to make you think that this should apply to you.
Should you find yourself in a heternormative situation, such as a nightclub, where it would be reasonable for you to talk to, flirt with, hit on, ask for a phone number from, ask out, or try to fuck someone who appears to be female, there are some lessons in classy from the ballroom dance scene that you should utilize if you don't want to actually freak her out, piss her off, frighten her, traumatize her, or have her male friend beat the shit out of you for.
So let's talk about how to treat a lady in these situations. Anyone who is biologically female, appears to be female, calls herself a woman, or is otherwise a person whom you are targeting for talking to, flirting with, hitting on, asking for a phone number from, asking out, or trying to fuck will be referred to in this discussion as a Lady. No matter how she's dressed, how she acts, how she talks, or even whether she herself likes or doesn't like the term "lady"; for succinctness, they are all "ladies" for this post.
Now gentlemen, let's say you see a lady across a smokey nightclub. She's attractive and you'd like to connect with her on some level. This is how you do it.
DO: When you see a lady, you may approach her, but only in a manner that does not trap her. Stand side-by-side with her so that she can leave you if she wants to. If it's not possible to stand or sit side-by-side, then stand or sit at a diagonal to her, or place your body in a position that is 90 degrees to the direction her body is facing, so that she has a clear path of escape. The exact placement of your body is less important than giving her a path that she can use to leave you that doesn't require you to move out of her way at all and that doesn't require her body to touch yours as she exits.
DON'T: Do not face your body to her squarely or front-on. Especially if her back is to a wall or she is seated with a wall or chair back behind her, do not face her squarely with your body. Most especially, DO NOT LEAN IN AND PRESS HER INTO THE TABLE BEHIND HER, forcing her to physically push you back to escape.
DO: When you speak to her, turn your face only (not your body) so that she can clearly see your eyes and mouth, being cautious of her personal space bubble. Pay attention to whether she leans toward or away from you and adjust your proximity so that she can sit or stand upright.
DON'T: Do not lean your face into her face. It is nearly impossible to tell if that move means you are trying to be heard better or to kiss her. Keep your face out of her space. Think of it this way - she may have a contagious illness that is spread by air like a cold; don't put your face in close enough to feel her breath, or for her to feel yours where she might catch whatever germs you're carrying around or be forced to smell the cheap beer you just drank or the cigarette you just smoked. Don't lean in so close that she can't focus on both your eyes and mouth at the same time. Avoiding these things will also prevent her from thinking that you're trying to lean in and kiss her. Don't lean in and try to kiss her.
DO: If it is too loud to hear properly and you need to lean in just to communicate, turn your face to the side and OBVIOUSLY aim for her ear. Keep your face out of her face. Again, pay attention to which way she is leaning. If she is leaning away, you are either too close or you are speaking too loudly for the proximity to her ear. Back up.
DON'T: Do not take advantage of your necessary proximity to touch your mouth or cheek to any part of her body. Absolutely DO NOT fucking kiss her neck or ear.
DO: Please do talk about relevant topics, such as the music, the atmosphere, the food or drinks available. If you saw her dancing prior to speaking with her and you admire her dancing, it is OK to compliment her on her dance skills. It is also OK to compliment her on an article of clothing she is wearing or her hairstyle.
DON'T: Do not compliment her on her appearance or her body. Even if she is doing things that you think invite complimenting, such as wearing revealing clothing or dancing in a suggestive manner. Especially do not tell her that you think she is "hot". Ladies who appreciate hearing compliments will also feel complimented if you stick to the "do" guidelines on complimenting and, at worst, won't notice that you didn't reveal to her the state of your arousal at the sight of her body. At best, she is probably used to hearing that she is "hot", so your unique and creative compliments will stand out and make YOU stand out from the crowd. Don't be one of the many jackasses that she's had to fend off forever and don't tell her that she's hot. Or that you love her. Or that you want her to be your girlfriend. Or anything at all that you wouldn't say to your younger sister, if you had one, or that you wouldn't want some strange drunk guy saying to your younger sister the moment he meets her. Because, apparently, you can't put yourself in her shoes and treat her with respect just for being a human being, otherwise you wouldn't need to be told to think of a family member in order to consider respecting her.
DO: Do feel free to ask her to dance at a venue where there is dancing. You do so by backing your body away from her space and towards the dance floor while extending your hand, palm up, as if to ask her to put her hand in yours, bow your head slightly in a "questioning" gesture, smile, raise your eyebrows, and ask her politely if she would like to dance. Practice this in the mirror until you get it right. Watch Fred Astaire movies for reference. A self-depreciating comedic flare will probably go over well if humor is comfortable for you and also give you a face-saving way of accepting a rejection by making light of the situation.
DON'T: Do not grab her hand, arm, or any other part of her body and try to physically move her towards the dance floor. If she declines for any reason or using any method, including saying "no", shaking her head in a negative fashion, ducking her head and looking embarrassed, or explaining that she doesn't know how to dance, DO NOT cajole her, harass her, repeatedly request a dance, grab the hand she just pulled out of yours, or demand "aww, why not?" Do not respond to a rejection in any way other than a graceful acceptance.
DO: If she accepts, lead her onto the dance floor and proceed to dance in the manner common to that venue. Holding her hand to guide her if she placed her hand in yours is acceptable, as is placing a hand on the middle of her back if you walk behind her to gently steer her and to let her know that you are still behind her.
DON'T: If she accepts, do not attempt to dance with her in a more sexually suggestive manner than is common to the other dancers on the floor (excepting those couples who are obviously in a preexisting relationship). Don't break with the protocol of the venue by going "down" or more sexually suggestive in dancing style, although if you have formal partner dance skills, it is OK to break the informal protocol to dance more formally. Especially if you have seen her dancing with other people and she clearly knows how to partner dance, do not immediately devolve your dance with her to a sexually suggestive style. If she has skill or dance training, going straight to the grinding is decidedly unimpressive.
DO: It may or may not be common etiquette for the venue to include body contact while dancing. Use the lightest body contact possible for the style of dance and/or music for the venue and allow her to close the distance if she wishes. Many dance styles require body contact and even placing the legs between the partner's legs to bring the hips and groin into contact - that is not necessarily an invitation. Remember, many of the best partner dancers are siblings and family members who nevertheless perform classic dance moves that require familiarity with each other's physical presence. She may be willing to allow body contact that is more than what she would be comfortable with if it weren't for the sake of dance protocol, but it doesn't mean she is consenting to anything else. Keep your hands above the waist and on her back only.
DON'T: Do not grind on your partner unless she initiates it by moving her groin into yours. Do not touch her below her waist on either her front or her back. Do not touch her on her front above her waist.
DO: To look really classy, keep your right hand on her shoulder blade and use your left hand to gently hold her right hand (in a way that conveys enough pressure to give her leading signals but that allows her enough freedom to remove her hand if she wishes - no closed grips!) in the air about her shoulder height and maintain a firm frame with your arms so that she can follow your dance lead. A proper dance lead will be able to lead a partner even if she has no idea how to dance, or how to partner-dance and she will be really impressed if you make her look like an experienced dancer through your leading skills. If she expresses discomfort with that position because she's not used to proper dance hold, it is acceptable to allow her to place both of her hands on your shoulders or around your neck in the more common, informal closed dance position, while you place your hands in the middle of her back or the sides of her waist and NO LOWER. If she exhibits discomfort with being in a closed hold, it is acceptable to allow her to break the hold and dance on her own in your proximity even if you were being the epitome of gentlemanliness with your proper dance hold.
DON'T: Do not take advantage of her willingness to accept body contact while dancing to kiss her. Anywhere. Not on the mouth, not on the neck, not on the ear, not on the breasts ... in fact, do not touch her in any traditional erogenous zone or secondary sex characteristic at all. Even if she presses them up against you, do not take the initiative and do not try for anything more than what she is actively requesting of you. If she wants more but doesn't indicate so, too bad, this is about how you can be a gentlemen and impress the ladies with your gentlemanliness.
DO: At the end of the song, step back, slightly bow your head and thank her for the dance. If your dance included dancing in a closed hold position of some sort, it is acceptable to gently squeeze the hand that you are currently holding while you bow your head and thank her in a sort of modified or implied handshake or hug-by-proxy. If you are in the more informal hold with no hand-holding, it is acceptable to reach up to remove her hands from around your neck and offer the light hand-squeeze then or to pull back from her while running your hands from behind her back, along the length of her arms, to her hands, where you can then offer the light hand-squeeze - both with the bowed head and verbal thank-you. If you ended your dance in a position with no body contact, it is probably safer to limit yourself to the bowed head only. Then walk her back to where you found her. Dance only one song at a time. If you began dancing more than 2/3 into a song, it is acceptable to extend the 1-song rule to the second song and no further. After several dances (not in a row), it may be acceptable to offer a light hug in place of the head-bow while you thank her for the dance, prior to walking her back to where you found her.
DON'T: Do not monopolize her time. Do not dance for multiple songs in a row. Especially do not move straight from one song to the next song with no break. This traps her on the dance floor with you and she may be frantically signalling to her pretend-boyfriend over your shoulder to come rescue her because she doesn't know how to break a dance-in-progress without seeming rude or causing a scene, even if she thinks you're being rude.
DO: When you have reached the place where you found her, excuse yourself with an explanation that is clearly not about her and indicate that you'd like to reconnect later without demanding a commitment from her to do so. An example may be "if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get another drink. Perhaps we can dance again later?" or "I'm so sorry, but I have to go say hi to my friend who just walked in. We'll talk more in a bit?" Give her a chance to miss you.
DON'T: Do not sit yourself down in her space and command her attention. She needs a chance to decide if she wants to continue to be in your presence or if she needs a respite or a rescue. Especially do not beg or harangue her for more dances, particularly if she was the one to initiate leaving the dance floor.
DO: Wait a few songs before approaching her again, but then approach her again if you said you would - she may not feel comfortable approaching you, especially if you really are talking with someone else. Pay attention to her body language - is she leaning towards or away from you? Are her eyes scanning the room or looking at you or looking down or away? If she is not exhibiting signs of wishing you were dead or that a hole would open up in the floor and swallow her up to get away from you, now you can choose to have a conversation or ask for another dance - both of which should use the methods already described.
DON'T: Do not think that if she is smiling, she's happy for your presence. Look for other clues. Ladies are constantly told to smile regardless of their feelings and they are regularly punished for rejecting men, so many of them will be conditioned to smile even when they are uncomfortable. Don't rely on a smile alone for confirmation of her feelings. Especially don't give her shit for smiling while exhibiting discomfort or giving "mixed signals" - it's because of guys who desperately need this guide and don't have it or ignore it that she has that habit in the first place. Some of those guys may even be you. At any rate, it's not her fault that she does that.
DO: Do feel free to dance with other people in between dancing with her. If you do, be especially mindful to allow her to see you treating other ladies with the same respect, including not dancing more than one song in a row with any given lady, so that she doesn't mistake your gentlemanly behaviour with disinterest and so that she doesn't feel intimidated or awkward accepting dance requests from you or from other people. This establishes a friendly, open connection that reduces anxiety about feeling trapped or unwillingly committed. If she exhibits signs of jealousy when you spend time with other people or dance with other ladies, considering how early this is in your acquaintanceship, you can use this as your own escape and congratulate yourself on dodging a bullet so early on.
This is just to get the front door open - etiquette on how to approach a lady. There are whole other chapters on what to do now that the door is open and how to get your foot inside, and then the rest of you inside.
In ballroom etiquette, the gentlemen are required to ask many women to dance because there are often more women than men, so it is polite to give dancing opportunities to as many of the ladies as possible so that they are not left out of the event. Even if a gentleman arrives with a special lady, he is still expected to make the rounds, even if he saves certain dances or more dances for his lady. A gentleman asks for the privilege of dancing with a lady and accepts her rejection with grace. A gentleman escorts her onto the dance floor, dances one dance with her, and then escorts her back while thanking her for the opportunity to dance with her. A gentleman then politely excuses himself so as to give the lady opportunities to dance with others while he does his gentlemanly duty to ensure the other ladies are having their own opportunities. A gentleman only touches where is necessary for the dance and nowhere else. A gentleman does not take advantage of the proximity that the lady offers for the sake of the dance - a proximity that she would not otherwise offer if it weren't for the sake of the dance. A gentleman expressing his interest may then approach the lady several times throughout the event to give her the opportunity to respond to his interest. A gentleman also graciously accepts attention and requests to dance from ladies in the same vein that the ladies generally accept it from him and rejects with grace.
Ballroom etiquette is no longer in favor in nightclubs and pickup spots, so you are not necessarily crossing any social taboos by not knowing or following this etiquette. But someone who is concerned about whether or not he makes other people uncomfortable by his presence will want to take the safest route when dealing with unfamiliar people and ballroom etiquette is designed to minimize social discomfort even with the most ... sensitive ... of us.
If more people still followed ballroom etiquette guidelines, I wouldn't have had my ass grabbed tonight on the dance floor, I wouldn't have had one guy grab my hand 3 times after I pulled it away from him, I wouldn't have had someone tell me "but I love you, I want to dance with you!" repeatedly after I repeatedly rejected him, I wouldn't have had someone try to kiss me on the dance floor and when I turned my head aside and pulled back, had him pull me back towards him and have him kiss my neck because that was all he could reach, and I wouldn't have been pinned against a table as yet another guy ground his groin into mine forcing me to put both hands on his chest and physically push him back to get enough space to escape. I also wouldn't have had a friend see what was going on in that last example and rush over to rescue me only to have the asshole get offended that I ran off with another man and shout "what the hell?" and complain to his buddy who was next to us and saw the whole thing, then had the two of them shoot me dirty looks the rest of the night, prompting my friend to insist on walking me to my car at the end of the night.
Look guys, I know some of y'all think you're all smooth with the ladies once you've had some liquid courage, but you're not. I'm sober, I can see what you think is "smooth". You're not. If you're not a sociopath, you'll care whether the ladies you hit on in bars think you're an asshole or not. The advice I give might make you miss an opportunity with a more passive lady who doesn't know how to deal with someone who values consent and autonomy and personal space, but it will prevent you from being an asshole, whether you like the label "gentleman" or not.
Some people think that having some chick they hit on in a nightclub bitch about them on Facebook later that night isn't a big deal. So what? You didn't know her anyway, right? Most reasonable people care about not making people feel uncomfortable, especially people they were hoping to connect with in some way, but if you need a purely self-centered reason, these tips will help you to be your best self. If you like to brag about being a "gentleman" or you like to think of yourself as a decent person, this is how you start. This is how you start being a decent person and have the side effect that other people like you and like being around you because you're a decent person who can at least fake empathy and compassion while doing your best to respect other people's autonomy and space, if caring about their feelings isn't enough of a reason.