May 01, 2014 / How to Remove Your Foot From Your Mouth
Tips on how to avoid offensing a woman, and advice on how to recover if you do.
Ultimately, approaching a woman you’ve never met before means you’re approaching a stranger. Everyone gets offended or upset by different things, and you have no way of knowing what they are ahead of time. So you may find yourself in a situation where — despite your best efforts to be politically correct — an otherwise promising interaction with a woman goes south because you said something and then her face scrunched up and she just totally shut down on you.
I’ve heard these topics called "landmines" before, but I think the more appropriate analogy is quicksand. Like landmines, it’s hard to tell where quicksand is, and it’s very easy to step in it without realizing it. But it’s possible to identify quicksand, and even if you step in it, it’s possible to get out as long as you keep your cool and make some adjustments. So I’ll be discussing how to do both in this article.
How to Avoid Offending Her
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While I don’t advocate constantly worrying about whether you’re being politically correct, you should have a good idea of what topics and words you should avoid at all costs because of how many people (not just women) find them offensive.
1. The Taboo Topics
- Sexual orientation
Hopefully the first item on this list isn’t surprising. When I say "race," I don’t mean being overly politically correct and saying things like, "I don’t see color." But if the girl says, "the bartender was really rude," you probably don’t want to say, "well that’s probably because he’s Asian, those guys are always rude."
Sexual orientation is another topic to avoid. If you’re used to saying "that’s so gay" or using the word "gay" as an all-purpose word for anything negative or annoying, you probably want to stop doing that. I understand that if you’re a heterosexual male that mostly hangs out with other heterosexual males, you could be used to saying "that’s so gay" without anyone being offended. But for all you know this woman could have a gay brother or best friend, and it’s not likely she’ll hear "that’s so gay" as benignly as you do.
I listed "politics" because while mentioning politics in itself isn’t offensive, you never know if you’re going to trigger some deep-seated political beliefs. You may consider yourself Democrat but think things like GMO labeling aren’t that important, and she may feel very strongly about organic foods and treatment of animals. Meanwhile, there’s absolutely no upside to any discussion about politics. Even if both of your political beliefs are aligned, being in agreement on the national debt or Obama’s foreign policy is hardly the attraction-building conversation you want to be having.
2. The Taboo Words
It’s simple. Don’t say these words in your first few hours of interacting with a woman, ever.
Don’t even use them in a non-feminized context. Don’t say "my boss is a giant pussy" or "I got raped by my last exam." If you don’t believe me, talk to any females you know and ask them to mention any words they don’t like, words that make them feel like they’re listening to nails on a chalkboard. 90% of the time, they’ll mention one of those three words.
I’m not saying you can never say these words. Not every woman is upset by all of them. Some women even like using them themselves. Once you’ve dated a woman for enough time, she’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say, "Hey, can you please stop using the word ‘cunt’? It just really bothers me." But before then, using one of those words risks triggering that "nails on a chalkboard" feeling and destroying all the attraction you’ve built up prior.
How to Recover Once You’ve Offended Her
Despite the advice above, you may end up triggering her anyway for something you thought was completely innocuous. Recently I approached a woman and at one point we started talking about 80s music. I told her I went to a Depeche Mode concert last year, and I said the concert was great and they were "insane." All of a sudden her face twisted up like I was a piece of spoiled fish, and she said: “I have family members that suffer from mental illness, and I find using the term ‘insane’ like that very insulting.”
If this happens, don’t lose your cool. You’ve just stepped in quicksand, but you can get out of it. And the best way to do it is…
A brief apology, then change the subject
In the situation with the girl who took offense to me saying "insane," I responded: “I’m really sorry to hear that, I didn’t mean any offense at all. So you been to any concerts recently?"
And that’s it. You want to express an apology to avoid seeming totally inconsiderate and acknowledge that she’s offended. But you also want to change the subject as quickly as possible.
There’s no value on a long-winded apology, or expressing how deeply you care about mental illness yourself, or trying to describe that you have a cousin with mental illness so you empathize. You’re in quicksand, and while these things may help you sink less slowly, they also keep you in the quicksand! You’ve hit upon an upsetting topic, so you just want to change topics. In other words: get out of the quicksand.
Even if you said something more justifiably offensive like one of the taboo topics or words, this is still your approach. The pattern is always the same. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. [Subject change]." It can help if you have a natural transition to changing the subject, but it’s fine to just change the topic entirely. In my example, I asked her if she had been to any concerts because we were talking about music, but I could have just as easily asked her where she grew up or if she had any siblings. If you can do any emotional response linking in the subject change, even better.
Only try a ‘save’ if it’s natural
Assuming the woman you’re talking to has a short-term memory longer than ten seconds, your attempt to change the subject isn’t going to just cause her to forget what you previously said to offend her. So you may be tempted to try and perform a ‘save’ on what you just said — a verbal akido move to try and reverse and negate your statement completely.
Don’t do this. This works in sitcoms when one of the characters tries to pretend he said "pussycat" instead of "pussy" and the other characters buy it and then Ross breaks up with Rachel for the fourteenth time. But you don’t live in a sitcom, so this won’t happen. She’ll probably just think you’re insulting her intelligence on top of offending her, and your promising interaction with her will go up in smoke faster than a Friends laugh track clip.
The only exception is if it’s actually natural. If you did say "pussycat" instead of "pussy," then, sure, tell her that. Chances are it will be a lot more believable because it’s actually true. But otherwise, stick to the "apology, then change the subject approach." You’ll have to build up her attraction again, but it’s a lot easier to do that if you don’t insult her intelligence in the process!
In the Event of Failure, Don’t Dwell on It
This advice is largely based on my own experience, because I’ve definitely bombed my fair share of approaches with women by saying something offensive. At first I’d always beat myself up mentally. It can be really frustrating when you’re hitting things off with a woman, and then one verbal slip and she completely shuts you down. It feels like a classic "choke" job. Sometimes I’d be so pissed off I wouldn’t want to talk to any other women for the rest of the night. "What’s the point?" I’d think, "Even if they’re attracted to me, I’m just going to say something stupid and offend them anyway."
Well, get that attitude out of your head. It’s not going to feel good when you blow it like this, but focus on the positives. You approached, you built attraction, and it was working, and all you have to do is make a very minor fix next time around. If the only flaw in your approach was using the word ‘gay,’ that’s very easy to fix: stop saying the word gay! That’s much easier problem to solve than things like fundamental approach anxiety.