The One Pick-Up Line That Works Every Time, Research Shows

John Quinn
·3 mins read

Approaching someone you're interested in–whether virtually or in person—takes courage, confidence, and yes, the right pick-up line. But a specific line that's good for a twenty-something in college is likely not effective for a forty-something who's getting back out there after a divorce. Plus, the dubious "advice" of pick-up artists who work their magic in bars is unlikely to lead to success when you're opening a conversation with someone on a dating app. But the truth is, there is a kind of pick-up line that is guaranteed to work. What's the trick? It has to be a pick-up line that intrigues and initiates. (And if you think your romantic prospect has a great sense of humor, you can try one of these Pick-Up Lines So Cheesy They Might Actually Work.)

On her website, behavioral expert Vanessa Van Edwards, the best-selling author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People, points out that pick-up lines are not in and of themselves a bad thing; it's just that people tend to use ones "that are awkward, confusing, and/or just flat-out inappropriate." From her research, the pick-up lines that work are those that both "intrigue someone enough that they begin to reciprocate your interest" and "initiate a conversation." She adds that "the mistake people make with pick-up lines and other ways of approaching people is that they forget to consider what the other person would be comfortable with."

This means thinking about the other person, rather than yourself, and then it's a case of looking for what Van Edwards calls "comfortable commonalities"—questions that relate to the environment that you find yourselves in together. So, if you're at your friend Amy's party, ask, "How do you know Amy?" Or if you're at a bar and they're ordering something unusual, ask them, "What's that drink you're having?"

Woman flirting with man using facial expression
Woman flirting with man using facial expression

A 2020 study out of Saint Mary's University and Bucknell University found that "the initial communication that occurs between prospective romantic partners is critical in determining whether an interaction and subsequent relationship will continue or not." To find out what kind of initial communication works, the researchers looked at three different types of pick-up lines: innocuous lines that "hide the intention of the speaker and act more as conversation starters" ("Can you recommend a good drink?"); direct lines that clearly indicate you're interested ("Can I have your number?"); and flippant lines that are silly icebreakers ("Can I get a picture of you so I can show Santa what I want for Christmas?").

Their findings, which were published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, show that the kind of pick-up line you should use depends on who you're trying to approach: Women are most receptive to innocuous lines, like the ones Van Edwards highlighted, while men respond best to direct lines. Flippant lines are always your worst bet. In terms of perception, "flippant line users as the least likable and responsible, as well as being the most selfish, domineering, and promiscuous," the researchers concluded.

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Ultimately, Van Edwards stresses, people talk more freely when they feel truly comfortable, so have a real interest in their response, ask follow-up questions, be genuine, and be aware of how your words or actions might come across. And don't be afraid of some pick-up lines that feel a little old-fashioned. "We know, 'Do you come here often?' is overused," Van Edwards writes. "But the sentiment is great." And if you want to know what to wear once you nab that first date, know that Wearing This Color Instantly Makes You More Attractive, Studies Show.