More than Just Arm Candy

Dear Helena,

I’m a guy, and I’ve got a couple of female friends I’ve known for a long time, and whom I adore. There’s a pattern which forms, though, that I’m having trouble dealing with: They’re “blocking” me at parties.

I’ve gone along as “arm candy” on a couple of office holiday parties, and that’s all well and good; I do my duty as stand-in boyfriend and make sure that they’re having a good time. But there are other times when we’re out at a social function or bar, and I’ll realize that my female friend is holding my arm superclose, or hovering in my personal space rather much. Without listing it all out, it’s basically body language that screams, “Couple!”

I like them and don’t want to be rude or spurn their affection, but we’re both single and ostensibly “looking,” and I feel like my game is getting salted. Am I out of line? Is there a clever way for me to assert my singlehood for whatever ladies might be watching, without stepping on my friends’ toes? Thanks! —Incomplete Pass

Dear Incomplete Pass,

It’s nice to be physically affectionate with your friends, but when you’re out at bars, cocktail parties, and the like, it can send an unintended message. If your female friend clings to you even in social situations, she might be using you as a surrogate boyfriend. In other words, you give her physical affection and emotional intimacy, without any of the challenges of a romantic relationship. So when you tell her to stop, you’ll hurt her feelings. It’s like a surrogate breakup.

Soften the blow with flattery: “I feel like I’m not getting any action because other women assume I’m with you, and since you’re always the hottest woman there, they know they can’t compete.”

But don’t ask your female friend to stay clear of you altogether. If she plays it right, she could actually help you meet other women when you go out to bars and parties. Your female friend gives you social validation in their eyes. A man with a gal pal is obviously interested in women for more than just sex.

Your friend can do more than passively support you. She can act as your “wingwoman,” approaching other women on your behalf. Women are often more receptive to being approached by one of their own. If a guy approaches, they may assume he’s trying to hit on them and put up their guard.

The wingwoman strategy is so effective that you can hire professionals to do it. Wingwomen.com offers helpful ladies for hire at $75 an hour in the New York area (it will be available in Las Vegas in May). With the assistance of founder Shane Forbes, I compiled a checklist of actions a good wingwoman should perform. Caroline Paul, a San Francisco writer who frequently acts as wingwoman, also contributed.

Approach. Forbes suggests your wingwoman can comment on “the long line for the bathroom or on the drinks or the weather or what they’re wearing.” These gambits may seem banal. But all the wingwoman has to do is break the ice. You’re the one who has to impress.

Promote. Your wingwoman should mention your mastery of paella, your rock climber’s abs, or whatever else you have to recommend you. Paul points out: “It’s a way for the guy to share his good points without it looking like he’s boasting.”

Investigate. If you ask if the woman has a boyfriend, it could seem creepy. But as Paul points out, “It’s pretty innocuous when a woman asks, ‘Are you here with your boyfriend?’”

Distance. The wingwoman should indicate your relationship with her is platonic, but subtly. “We’ve been friends since we met in college” is better than “He’s single, you know.”

Evaporate. The wingwoman isn’t there to find a new friend herself. Once the conversation is flowing, she should melt away.

After that, it’s up to you. A wingwoman can only make the first 10 or 15 minutes of meeting easier. She can’t close the deal. Whatever happens, you owe your wingwoman a couple of drinks. It’s a lot cheaper than $75.

Table Manners appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.