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Relationship Initiation

Relationship Openers

Some of the more interesting work done on the early stages of relationship development has highlighted the "pick-up" process. Sociologist Murray Davis (1973) suggests that there are several steps in the typical "pick up." First, people assess how "qualified" the other is. Individuals hoping to meet a potential partner try to show their qualifications. Davis breaks qualifications into two sorts: extraordinary and esoteric. Extraordinary qualifiers are special objects or characteristics people have that make them both attractive and different from others. For instance, a young man might walk into a party wearing a lapel pin of the Olympic gold medal that he won a year ago. Very few people have such a pin, yet most people know what it signifies. Esoteric qualifiers are a bit different. While they are distinctive, like extraordinary ones, they are not recognizable by most people. Only those who share a common interest, knowledge base, or experience would recognize how impressive an esoteric qualifier is. For example, a woman may enter a social environment in her military uniform, wearing a prestigious ribbon that signifies exceptional bravery. Few people in the room would have any idea what the ribbon signifies, but for the few who do, it is an important qualifier.

The next step noted by Davis is that the two people have to assess each other's availability. A man who is wearing a wedding ring and who enters a social situation with his arm around a woman probably is not available for a romantic encounter. Similarly, a woman who is involved in a serious conversation with two or three close friends may not be perceived as interested in starting a romantic relationship.

After assessing the availability of a potential partner, Davis suggests that people have to find opening lines—they have to figure out a way to begin a conversation. Psychologist Chris Kleinke (1981) collected hundreds of "pick-up" lines and categorized them into three clusters: (1) cute/flip (e.g., "You know, all my friends think you'll never spend the night with me. Want to help me out by showing them how wrong they are?"); (2) innocuous (e.g., "Excuse me, do you know what time it is?"); and (3) direct (e.g., "Hi, I happened to notice you coming in. Do you come here often?"). Kleinke found that both men and women prefer the latter two sorts of lines to the cute/flippant sort. Most opening lines do not really reveal what the person uttering them actually is thinking. Asking someone for the time, or querying them about how frequently they come to the bar, is not what people really want to know. What they are trying to do is start a conversation.

Assuming that the opening line works, Davis notes that the next step is finding an integrative topic—something that both individuals can easily discuss (e.g., the weather, the entertainment, the traffic). If people cannot find an integrative topic, the conversation quickly grinds to an uncomfortable halt. Davis's final step in first meeting someone is the scheduling of a second encounter. This is when individuals see whether the other person would like to meet again and ask if they can have the other person's phone number.


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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsRelationship Initiation - Theories Of Relationship Initiation, Stages Of Relationship Development, Relationship Openers, Strategies That Influence Relationship Initiation