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24 September 2010 @ 11:58 am
soft pass vs. directness  
A bunch of folks have commented in yesterday's thread about hurdles to approaching someone that a big concern is that they don't want to make the other person uncomfortable. I totally get that, from both sides, and because there are things that can help your pass not be a friendship-ender or hugely awkward interaction, I'm going to share my totally anecdotal observations and experiences.

When I'm making a pass, it's much less scary to make a soft pass. It involves way less putting myself out there, and it allows the other person to let it go by without actually rejecting me. That makes it appealing! However, imo, that makes it way more likely to backfire. Did he ignore the pass because he wasn't interested or because he didn't even realize that it was a pass? This creates the temptation to keep making soft passes again and again, because there's such a lack of clarity. To me, this is the definition of puppydogging, and as the target of someone's soft passes, it is one of the most uncomfortable ongoing social interactions I've experienced.

The soft pass, from the recipient's perspective, is incredibly hard to turn down in a clear way. Because each approach is indirect, I have to actually go out of my way to say, "Thanks, but, no, thanks." This makes me feel like a jerk, and it makes me feel cornered, and I hate it.

The other problem with the soft pass is that it plays into the notion (both internal and social) that having someone decline my offer of a date (or whatever) is a terrible thing, a rejection. Someone turning me down doesn't mean they think I'm a lousy person; it just means they aren't interested in that kind of interaction with me. If that's all I'm interested in with them, then, well, that's a bummer, but I'm not actually interested in pursuing activities with uninterested partners, so I'd much rather have it all be clear. It can be disappointing, but it doesn't really say anything about me, even though it feels like it does.

All of this means that I vastly prefer the scarier and more on-the-line direct approach, both as approacher and recipient. I like the clarity of it when I'm approaching someone, and I feel that it's a way of valuing myself. When someone's approaching me, a clear approach allows me to respond also with clarity and, I hope, with empathy. It's more satisfying to say yes to a direct pass, and less confusing to say no. And it opens the door for a lot of clear communication, too. For example, maybe you want to say yes to my pass, but you have some points of hesitation, which we can now talk about, because we're both looking in the same direction. Or you want to say no, but you can explain that you're not interested in a date, but you'd really like to keep hanging out. Whatever. There's just so much more information being exchanged in direct communication.

Another benefit of it is that when someone turns me down in a clear way, I can stop wondering! And I can decide either to pursue some other kind of interaction with that person, or not, as we are mutually inclined. My experience has certainly been that directness allows a rejection to be far less substantial and traumatic than a soft pass does. I have never lost a friendship or friendly acquaintanceship to direct communications in this realm, but I have lost or come close to losing several when the lines are fuzzy and there's confusion or lingering hope on one person's part or the other's. In my opinion (and ymmv, etc), that's the situation where people are most likely to feel uncomfortable about someone's unreciprocated interest.

What's your take on this?
I'm feeling: thoughtfulthinky
Randy Smithrandysmith on September 24th, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
My take is basically complete agreement, but my sense is that there are a fair number of people out there who pretty strongly disagree. And I'm worried about making them uncomfortable :-}.
ruthless compassion: martini handsaroraborealis on September 24th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
So do you just not make any passes ever, or what?
(no subject) - randysmith on September 24th, 2010 05:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
The other side of Deliriumtaura_g on September 24th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
Klingon Diplomat
My husband used to call me the Klingon Diplomat because I could be overly blunt about such things sometimes. To the point of occasionally putting my foot in my mouth.

I do find that direct communication helps to avoid confusion. However, when I have been low on cope (which frankly has been all the time the last few years) I must admit to ignoring/let it pass by. (whether I'm interested or not- see above about low cope)

I am beginning to err on the side of blunt again though.
ruthless compassion: thinkyaroraborealis on September 24th, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Klingon Diplomat
It seems to me that there's an important difference between being blunt and being direct. There's obviously a place for both, but it also seems important to me not to conflate them. I can be direct while also being gentle, and I can be blunt without actually being direct!

But it's true that being direct can sometimes feel like more work than just letting something go by. As always, context is everything.
(Deleted comment)
Re: Klingon Diplomat - aroraborealis on September 24th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
DancingWolfGrrldancingwolfgrrl on September 24th, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC)
I totally agree. The repeated soft pass has been the source of some of my most awkward social interactions, partly because they start to feel intrusive to me fairly quickly.

Possibly on the flip side, I also recognize that this is not always how people outside of my social world interact. When I'm the one making the pass, I figure that it's how I interact and I probably don't want to get in someone's pants if they can't handle that, but when I get a soft pass from someone I don't know well, I'm less likely to think "oh, come on, just say it!"

Also, though, in our circles, I feel like very often a soft pass requires a follow up along the lines of "so did you mean that or were you just flirting for fun?" So I'm not even sure it ultimately saves on direct conversation.

My sometimes-compromise is the very passive voice, as in, "what would you say if I asked to take you out to dinner?"

Edited at 2010-09-24 04:24 pm (UTC)
kinesthetic chutzpahdilletante on September 24th, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC)
Also, though, in our circles, I feel like very often a soft pass requires a follow up along the lines of "so did you mean that or were you just flirting for fun?" So I'm not even sure it ultimately saves on direct conversation.

absolutely. i think those conversations can be slightly easier on the ego, though-- even somebody who didn't mean it at least thought the flirting was fun.
Blue Gargantuabluegargantua on September 24th, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC)

I favor the direct approach as well. I think it's possible to be direct and not creepy and to be direct in a way that lets people decline gracefully. I think I've also cultivated a sense for being direct with people who can handle the direct approach and I've cultivated the ability to hear a no gracefully and move on with the interactions. The offer has been made and we both know it can be picked up again later if things change, there's no need to pitch it again and again.

If I misjudge and offend someone with the direct approach, I'm quick to apologize, but at least now I know how my dealings with them will be going forward. Life is too short to deal with beating around the bushes.

ruthless compassion: happyaroraborealis on September 24th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
Life is too short to deal with beating around the bushes.

And here I went out of my way to avoid using this phrase for this post ;)
(no subject) - spike on September 24th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
harimad on September 24th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC)
I think this is wonderful and clear and works best in a geeky/slightly Asperbergish[1] world. My experience of the larger world is that they prefer more fuzz around the edges. Or maybe they're better at decoding the soft pass and the soft decline.

[1] There's gotta be another way to say this, right?
porpurina: scrabble harlotbloodstones on September 24th, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)
I'm fairly perceptive (well, in the realm of flirting, I'm thick as a brick in other areas of my life) - sometimes I can't tell the difference between oblivious-to-my-interest and just-not-interested, but usually I can, so I tend to start with a soft pass and work my way up to being more direct if it seems called for.

I like this approach because I (when I'm in the headspace for it) really enjoy the game of flirting. I love the give and take and the will you, won't you, and the wondering who's going to make the first move. That dance is fun for me, and is even more fun with a partner who also thinks it's fun.

The downside to this is that I give what I consider very clear, unambiguous no signals to people I'm not interested in who are trying a soft pass on me, and get unfairly offended if they persist, even though I know it's most likely that they're just missing my signals. I also get really turned off by people who try a direct pass without at least some subtle signs of interest first because they're skipping one of my favorite parts. (This usually doesn't apply in situations with friends of friends, but if I'm at a bar or a big party and someone walks up and starts hitting on me without making eye contact first it's a huge turn off, even if it's someone really attractive that I'd be all over if they just made some eye contact from across the room before striking up a conversation.)
ruthless compassion: thinkyaroraborealis on September 24th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I actually agree about the fun of flirting and playing, but I only enjoy it with people who are already skilled at it. And, of course, context is everything. When in doubt, direct is better, though, at least for me.
Stunt Double for the Patriarchystarphire on September 24th, 2010 05:36 pm (UTC)
I'd agree wholeheartedly, except that it probably wouldn't appear to be an accurate reflection of how I have necessarily dealt with that myself, nor of how I might come across to someone now.
For me, it's been a long slow process towards directness, starting from being too shy to even ask a girl out until the end of high school. I've largely gotten over the fear of rejection thing by now. But there is still an aspect that slows me from the direct approach, which allows for the possibility that someone might *think* I'm making soft passes at them when I'm just getting to know them better first.

The problem is that I'm apparently fairly slow to decide if I'm interested in actually dating (or whatever) with someone that I initially find interesting and attractive. Or I simply think they're hot, if I haven't gotten the chance to talk with them much yet. So there may be some initial uncertainty about intentions if I make an effort to have a conversation with them, and take the initiative in interacting. If there's also mutual flirting, I try to keep it light and playful, and I may stop it and explain that it was all in fun if it appears to be misconstrued.
Meanwhile, I'm likely to be taking more time to decide how I feel about them, and particularly these days just what kind of relationship (along several friend/lover/other continuums) I think I would most value having with them. After some conversation, I may find that person to be both interesting *and* (therefore even more) attractive, in which case I probably also want to find out more about their lives, their partners, etc. before actually deciding to make a pass at them. I guess it all stems from a fear of making someone else uncomfortable and possibly missing out on a great friendship or whatever if I *also* made it clear right away by making a pass at them.
Mizarchivist: ExecutiveEddiemizarchivist on September 24th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
When at all possible, I prefer direct when I'm dealing with people. I am usually not very subtle. There's documentation to substantiate this. I have definitely gotten the soft pass, called him on it, and had him huff off never to return. To that, I am mostly grateful. I don't need that, um, ever.

Edited at 2010-09-24 06:21 pm (UTC)
Kcatkcatalyst on September 24th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC)
I waay prefer the soft pass, to the extent of viewing it as necessary _as a first step_. It gives both parties a chance to feel out the land, see how the other flirts, signal some level of interest. IME, people that are so not interested that a direct rejection might be hurtful will make this clear with the first go-round.

It's also true that people who are bad at reading signals will have trouble with soft passes, but for me that's a bit of a positive filter, since I prefer to date people who can distinguish the body language for "I'm mentally fellating you RIGHT NOW" from the body language for "Really, no thanks."

In my perfect world, everyone would start with a soft pass and if they get anything other than an obvious yes or no and are still are interested, then they'd follow with direct.
kinesthetic chutzpahdilletante on September 24th, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC)
the body language for "I'm mentally fellating you RIGHT NOW"

thank you for that image. :)
(no subject) - kcatalyst on September 24th, 2010 06:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
i think i'd like that - dilletante on September 24th, 2010 07:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: i think i'd like that - aroraborealis on September 24th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: i think i'd like that - kcatalyst on September 24th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
David Policardpolicar on September 24th, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
What's your take on this?

I agree with you as long as the context is restricted to your initial framing (choosing between soft pass and directness when it's important to avoid false negatives).

If I widen the context, things become less clear.

Sometimes, it's not important to avoid false negatives.

That is, suppose I make an indirect offer and I don't get enthusiastic consent. As you say, it's possible the recipient didn't realize I was making an offer, rather than that they were rejecting it. But sometimes I don't actually care, and I drop it and move on, and the cost to everyone involved is lower than the costs of a more explicit offer would be.

And sometimes there are other choices. An important one was alluded to by another commenter: getting to know a person well enough to understand how to communicate with them and how to interpret their communications before making the offer.

kinesthetic chutzpahdilletante on September 24th, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
well, your advice reminds me a lot of my first aikido class. :) in which we were advised of the value of projecting a clear intention. (even if you're going to change it later.) in part because it provokes/allows for clear reactions. it seems to be useful advice in a lot of contexts!

in addition to having trouble convincing myself the other person would think i was worth their time, though, i probably wouldn't be interested in asking out someone i hadn't gotten to know at least a little bit first, and that process probably usually amounts to flirting.

do you make a distiction between flirting and a "soft pass"?
ruthless compassion: martini handsaroraborealis on September 24th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
I make a substantial distinction between flirting and a soft pass. I love flirting, and it can even escalate all the way up to a totally awesome soft pass that's direct enough in the evolved language between the people involved, right?

I think, for these purposes, flirting amps things up incrementally, but a pass (whether soft or direct) takes it to the next level in one or two big steps. I've even been involved in big soft passes that were awesome and hot, but they require a lot of skill and sensitivity, and for folks who are concerned that they'll make people uncomfortable, they're probably not the right approach.
(no subject) - dilletante on September 24th, 2010 08:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - aroraborealis on September 24th, 2010 10:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Preraphaelitepreraphaelite on September 24th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)
I pretty much always prefer a soft pass unless I know someone well.

My favorite phrase in early-stage romance is "plausible deniability."

Maybe it's the courtroom lawyer in me, but I've always really really enjoyed having subtextual conversations. I like seeing if someone can take a hint -- I love trying to take a hint just a little ways and see if I'm right. I like communicating more than the content of my words. I love the game of flirting and I do like the lack of risk in a backhanded/sidelong expression of interest.

I had a hell of a lot of fun a month or so ago trying to figure out whether I was on a date or not after some soft passes in both directions with a certain gentleman... the internal debate lasted up through two rounds of drinks, over to a restaurant for dinner, and up onto my back porch until he kissed me. Protip: it was a date.
Elizabeth Hunterlillibet on September 24th, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC)
I've always been fond of "Does it bother you that I'm hitting on you?" In the community of dense geeks I moved in during and just after college, this worked extremely well. I generally either got a beautifully stammered "Does it...? Oh! No. No, not at all," and a big grin, or "Um, actually, yeah," to which I could say something along the lines of "OK, I'll tone it down."

These days it rarely comes up, more's the pity.
Co-conspirator of Squeemuffyjo on September 25th, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)
So I often hit the problem of...I don't want to make a pass until I know them a little better. I also like getting to know people so want more opportunities to get acquainted without the pressure of it having to feel like "a date". So I generally don't make passes at people without some kind of informal "meet and greet" kind of relationship.

There have been a couple of exceptions which have proven to be loads of fun but not relationship material so I think I'm sticking to my current model.
vito_excalibur on September 26th, 2010 02:27 am (UTC)
Because each approach is indirect, I have to actually go out of my way to say, "Thanks, but, no, thanks." This makes me feel like a jerk, and it makes me feel cornered, and I hate it.

OMG SO TRUE SO SO TRUE. It is not nice to make someone say "Look, I can't quite tell if you're hitting on me, but just in case you are, forget it?"
That Chick with the Evil Laughsparkymonster on September 27th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
SO AWKWARD. Also, hard to follow up with anything afterwards other than "Look! Superman!" and then run away.