PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- If you have 20 minutes to kill and need a laugh, do an Internet search for pickup lines. There are scores of Web sites devoted to the perfect icebreakers.
They range from cheesy ("Your eyes are blue, like the ocean. And baby, I'm lost at sea.")to direct("Your place or mine?"), with some that sound like they actually might work ("Hi, my name is Will. I'm funny, financially stable, and have a very interesting DNA structure.")
A closer look at the pickup process reveals how some aspects of gender relations have changed through the years, while others probably never will.
In the Field
The second-floor catwalk at Spinnaker Beach Club is the perfect spot to observe the sociology of the Spring Break nightclub scene. After 20 minutes spent there on a recent Thursday night, it became clear that the overwhelming majority of pickup attempts end quickly. And poorly.
To wit: Stephanie Florence, 22, sat at a cocktail table overlooking the dance floor with a few of her University of Illinois classmates. As the tan brunette sipped her beer, a drunken young man in jeans and a blue t-shirt stumbled past.
He stopped and eyed Florence from behind. Game on. As he walked over, he tripped, bumped into Florence and said "Hey, you're pretty cute."
Florence laughed, not with her would-be suitor, but at him. An awkward pause followed. "Is that it?" she asked. Even in his drunken haze, he apparently could sense the impending rejection. He walked away. "I've heard some of the worst pickup lines ever this week, so I'm like 'Come on, give me something to work with,' " Florence explained a few minutes later on the back deck, away from the blasting music and seizure-inducing strobe lights. She was joined by her classmate Katy Galli, also 22. The girls described themselves and their friends as "classy," with no interest in one-night stands. "When we meet guys, it's fun, but it's not a prerequisite to have a good night," explained Galli. "Some times, as horrible as it sounds, you want to meet a guy because you want a drink." The Birth of the Pickup Line Rebecca Plante is a sociology professor at Ithaca College who studies gender and sexuality. One of her classes is "Field Research on Hooking Up: Sex on Campus." Plante traces the birth of the pickup line to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Prior to then, "the ways in which people would commingle were very socially controlled and constrained. There wouldn't need to be a pickup line because her mother would have already told her he came from a great family."
But the industrialization and urbanization of the 19th century changed the culture of romance, Plante said. "You had a confluence of young, unmarried people who were together in urban settings ... at a dance hall or a nightclub. That's when you had women who were out from under the thumb of their families." To Plante, the importance of a pickup line is overrated. "It's overthought ... The fact that women store them up, and make fun of them ... I think is an indication that the lines don't have the intended effect, which is to start to build some rapport." Plante is working on a study that has surveyed 13,000 students from 17 colleges. The study has found that, despite the fact that societal norms have loosened, one aspect of the pickup process has not: It's always the men delivering the lines. "Men initiate the romance script, the dating script, and they initiate the sexual script. That expectation for heterosexual couples clearly will die hard." The Expert Opinion Nick Daniel is a "pickup expert." A 26-year-old Oklahoma native, Daniel teaches pickup workshops for the company Love Systems all over the world under the stage name "Braddock." One workshop specializes on Spring Break, in which Daniel draws from his experiences in Panama City Beach, where he spent three Spring Breaks while attending the University of Oklahoma. He's written a column, available online (his blog is braddocksblog. com) entitled "Spring Break Game: Braddock's Definitive Guide."
Daniel confirmed that most pickup attempts do falter, despite the hedonistic ambiance of Spring Break. "You have to accept the fact that you are going to be rejected multiple times. There is no sniper fire on Spring Break, because it's not like a normal bar. It's a madhouse," he said. The best pickup lines in this setting are short and direct, Daniel said. "Hey, you're gorgeous, I had to come meet you" is an example he used. The atmosphere is not conducive to guys who specialize in long stories, or deep conversations. "She's not going there to talk about Nietzsche, or if there's a God," he said. "Trying to run deep comfort on her and really get to flush out two personalities is not realistic ... The nature of Spring Break is it's just one big stimulus."