Ever find yourself in conversation at a bar, party or work with a woman, and the exchange is pleasant, even enjoyable? But as the chat goes on longer than you might’ve intended, you start to wonder: Is it just you, or does she seem to be flirting? It’s confusing. After all, you’re seeing someone, so as far as you knew, you were just making polite conversation. Is this innocent banter? Or did you give off signals that you were open for business? Is she about to ask you out?
Shit. What if you’re wrong? At best you look presumptuous. What if you’re right? You probably want to spare her the embarrassment of rejection, or at least risk the appearance of having come across as on the make. The question is how?
As with all things, a little humor, grace and humility go a very long way.
The ability to casually reference your significant other in conversation without seeming awkward or conceited is a special skill that ranks up there with complimenting a woman you’re not sleeping with or offering any woman advice.
It’s particularly important when you’re in a relationship — because you’re still a person who can enjoy talking with other women, but you also don’t want to seem like a skeeze.
Assume Neither Interest Nor Disinterest
It is weirdly, unfortunately axiomatic that the more taken you are, the more attractive you seem, so it’s likely that you’ll be more alluring when you’re locked down. This goes for men and women. Singleness emanates from some people like bad cologne, whereas exclusivity tends to breed confidence. That means women may just enjoy talking to you more, or may simply be more likely to approach, even when the shop is closed.
But it also might not mean anything of the sort. Just because a woman is chatting you up or even joking around and laughing doesn’t mean she has a shred of interest in your dick. Women are human people just like you, but also particularly conditioned to be pleasant, smiley, upbeat beams of sunlight with everyone. Sometimes, even just asking a man a question will make him think a gal is DTF, when in reality she just really needed to know where the restroom is. Maybe she’s passing the time. Maybe she just thinks you’re funny and interesting. Maybe she does think you’re the bees knees.
But since you have a girlfriend, it doesn’t really matter if this woman you’re chatting up likes you. What matters is you’re just being polite enough to be pleasant and conversational, but pragmatic enough to not be misleading.
Play It Extremely Casual
Guys who shout “MY GIRLFRIEND” every chance they get sound freakishly insecure, so go the casual, organic route when bringing up that you are settled down. No need to awkwardly wedge it in, but if anything in the conversation comes up that would naturally track back to your girlfriend, that’s the easiest way to deploy the girlfriend mention. If you’re talking about upcoming movies, mentioning that your girlfriend wanted to see the new Spiderman movie too would make perfect, logical sense.
Online, men gave me some examples of how they’ve approached the casual girlfriend mention.
“I don’t know how graceful it is, but in the past I’d pop in something along the lines of ‘My girlfriend lives near there,’” a man named Patrick told me on Facebook. “Or, ‘I saw that place when I was walking my girlfriend’s dog,’ or something relevant and hopefully not forced.”
Another man, Tom, said his habit has always been to brag on his wife as a way of showing sweet devotion to her, and also mentioning the fact of being taken.
“Why yes, I’m impressed that you can tie that Maraschino stem in a knot with your tongue,” he said. “You ought to taste the Old Fashioned my wife makes!”
Jerry said he works off the woman’s comments to reinforce being married. “I would wait for them to comment on something and then respond with, “My wife says the same thing,” he says.
Admittedly, it could backfire, but a few men offered funny jokes as a way to be charming about it. “I make a reference to ‘my wife,’” a man named Jeff said. “But do it in the Borat voice so it’s fun for everyone.”
Just don’t take it too far. “‘My girlfriend, who coincidentally died the moment we started talking,'” a man named John advised.
“‘My girlfriend is looking forward to completing her handgun-permit training,’” another guy joked. Yuk yuk yuk.
Do You Really Have to Say Anything at All?
“That said, you don’t exactly HAVE to do that if it’s just polite conversation,” Patrick pointed out in his comment.
He’s not wrong. There’s really no requirement that you must mention having a girlfriend at all. Why does some total stranger need to know that someone, somewhere is willing to sleep with you when you’re only here for the free shrimp and small talk?
For starters, we can consider it from the other side of the equation. Writing at Thrillist, Lauren Boldt described talking with a dude and mistaking the easygoing, fun rapport as romantic interest, and then getting denied:
Picture this: I was at my favorite local Midtown bar with my best friend, grabbing a few pints after work. It’s a cozy craft beer bar replete with beer-drinking men. My friend and I started talking to a group of said men and within minutes I found myself deeply engrossed in conversation with one of them. Our back-and-forth was only interrupted once, by an invitation from one of his friends for us to all take shots. This man and I were undoubtedly enjoying a mutual attraction. My friend confirmed this suspicion when, after excusing herself to go to the ladies room, she texted me: “It looks like you and this guy are hitting it off! Should I get outta here?” Surely if my overly supportive best friend saw a spark it couldn’t all be in my head, right?
So she jotted down her digits on a napkin and slid them over. Wrong move.
“He looked down at the napkin, and then back at me,” she wrote. “He shook his head. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I have a girlfriend.’”
To be clear, that guy didn’t do anything wrong. Having a good conversation is not cheating or misleading. Nor is it so bad that Boldt took a chance and got rejected. Such is the risk of anyone making a move, and it’s not necessarily our job to anticipate every outcome with hypervigilant prevention in mind.
Still, most of us tend to mention our partners reflexively in conversation because they’re part of our lives. While none of us has a crystal ball into another person’s feelings and motives, usually at some point, a platonic conversation resolves and you both move on. Sometimes the conversation presses on, though, and you find yourself talking at length with someone and you get a feeling that they may be open to more. The girlfriend mention doesn’t have to be seen as some kind of heavy strategy. The point here is that if it starts to feel like you should bring someone up, you should. A valid second layer is the awareness we have about ourselves to the extent that we participate in conversations with others without unnecessarily leading them on.
But if you don’t mention it, that’s fine too. And things may organically wrap, or someone may take the opportunity at conversation’s end to ask you out. Then you’ll need to casually say, as Patrick told me, “If they ask for your number or something, you can just say, ‘Oh, I’m seeing someone,’” he said.
You can add that it’s flattering, though, and you enjoyed the conversation. But in an ideal world, we can prevent the embarrassment of letting people put themselves out there, when there’s no there to reach for. The easier way to think of it is like this: If you were the guy chatting with a woman and feeling the sparks fly, wouldn’t you want to know she was taken before doing the same?