Playing the Game

By Frank George

Photos by Dustin Livesay/The Jambar.

Spending 30 hours per week in the basement of Fedor Hall — huddling over a computer screen and occasionally dancing like a clown to dad rock — has, over time, taken a serious toll on my love life.

My human interactions have been markedly limited; they include only mindless banter with co-workers and lengthy phone calls with the 90-year-old former state senator Harry Meshel.

People tell me that I’ve even lost touch with how the rest of the world dresses. Some time between fourth grade and now, wearing basketball shorts and T-shirts, they say, has become unacceptable; it’s not appropriate for a 21 year old.

As you may have guessed, my social degeneracy — coupled with my strikingly average looks — never really resonated with the ladies.

So, I decided to embark on a mission. I decided to go to great lengths to up my game, break out of my shell and become an irresistible stud. I decided to become a player or, as some would say, a playa.

But, if I wanted to succeed, I was going to need to seek some expert advice. So, before I went out on the town to pick up Youngstown’s hottest babes, I decided to talk to a council of women, a married man who met his wife at a bar and a professor of gender communications.

Council of Women

The council of women was comprised of five individuals: Amanda Tonoli, Alexis Rufener, Madison Sudon, Mary Beth Earnheardt and Marissa Dell’Arco.

During our conversation, one thing became immediately apparent: if I was going to experience success playing the dating game and picking up women in social settings, I was going to have to alter my wardrobe. Everyone agreed; I had to trade in my shorts and T-shirts for jeans and button downs.

“Dating is not that authentic an experience. Relationships are, but dating is all about putting your best foot forward and trying to get someone on the hook,” Mary Beth Earnheardt said. “Be the best version of yourself.”

Tonoli concurred.

“If you go out with the intent of finding somebody, have jeans and a button down on. Look nice,” Tonoli said.

But, I was going to have to do more than just dress well. After conducting simulation bar experiences with Liam Bouquet — the editor in chief of The Jambar — filling in as the targeted woman, the entire council decided that everything from my sense of humor to my posture was going to need tweaked.

“You got to be funny. If you’re funny, you’ve already won,” Tonoli said. “But, if you’re not funny, I’m not interested.”

Others, though, are looking for intelligence.

“Come off as smart. Girls like smart,” Sudon said.

Still others want a man who is self-assured.

“To me it’s about confidence,” Mary Beth Earnheardt said. “I like a little bit of cocky. … I don’t want to see your vulnerable side.”

Perhaps the advice I gleaned from this council can be best summed up like this: start up a natural and lighthearted conversation with a woman while looking nice and demonstrating confidence and intelligence. And this should all be done — as Mary Beth Earnheardt explained — while trying “to be cool.”

Married Man

After a council of women pointed out my many social shortcomings, I realized I was going to need a lot more advice. So, I sought the help of Dustin Livesay, a photographer at The Jambar who met his wife at a bar.

According to Livesay, his wife made the first move, slapping his butt while out at a local bar. When Livesay positively responded to the slap, a flame was lit and the chemistry eventually led to a happy marriage and two children.

Cognizant of my lack of game, Livesay had one staple piece of advice for me: be outgoing.

“You have to be outgoing. And you have to be willing to talk to people and not really care what their response will be,” he said. “Be yourself and be willing to talk.”

When I admitted to Livesay that I sometimes have trouble starting a conversation, he suggested that I look for common ground with a woman I want to converse with.

“Observe them for a minute, and you can usually come up with a good topic to talk about,” he said.

And, when in doubt, Livesay ensured that “compliments go a long way.”

Professor of Communications

Having spoken to a council of women and a happily married man, I was beginning to feel more comfortable about approaching women in social settings. But, before I was going to test their advice in the field, I wanted to seek advice from a professional as well.

Adam Earnheardt, who designed the gender communication class at Youngstown State University, proved to be the perfect source. Whether you’re meeting women in the classroom, online or in the bar, Adam Earnheardt said that humor consistently yields the best results.

“Whenever it comes to meeting people, humor is key and connecting on some personal level is key,” he said. “Women respond well to [humor] because women want men that they think they can have conversations with.”

But he also insisted that there is a delicate balance between “being real and being fake.” So, if humor isn’t your strong suit, Adam Earnheardt suggested playing to your authentic strengths.

“I think you just play to your strengths. If you’re the intelligent guy, you play to that strength,” he said.

And, when holding a conversation, Adam Earnheardt told me to focus all of my attention on the woman at hand.

“You want to make her feel like the most important person in that entire bar,” he said.

Following my discussion with Adam Earnheardt, it was time to compile all the expert advice I had received. Here’s what seemed most important: be funny and outgoing; dress well and look nice; play to my strengths.

Fieldwork: Day One

Billy Ludt, an Arts and Entertainment reporter at The Jambar, agreed to go downtown with me for my first night of fieldwork. Despite having done thorough preliminary research on the topic, I was not feeling too confident about my first attempt at actually picking up women.

This lack of confidence turned out to be damning. Though I approached three women over the course of that night while wearing a button down shirt and jeans, I completely struck out, experiencing absolutely no success with the ladies.

Perhaps my experience can be best summed up by retelling one particularly disheartening anecdote. I was at O’Donold’s — a Youngstown bar that fosters a loud, crowded and, in my opinion, uncomfortable environment — when two very attractive women sat down at a table not too far from my own. I decided I’d strike up conversation.

At first, everything went according to plan. I was jovial; I was funny; and my jokes seemed to have garnered a positive response. But, just as I was starting to muster up a degree of confidence, another man, wearing a trucker hat and sporting multiple neck tattoos, approached. The girls’ attention instantly diverted to him.

The following realization then dawned on me: I was eclipsed by a man who has a grand total of two possible career options. Based solely upon his looks, he can only become either a tattoo artist or a rapper. However, he did seemingly have more game than myself.

The night ended at the Draught House, where Ludt and I lamented over my failure.

Fieldwork: Day Two

In the days following the disappointment that was my first night out, I gave serious consideration as to why I had failed so miserably. I decided to make two major adjustments to my approach.

First of all, I wasn’t going to try to talk to women in atmospheres in which I feel uncomfortable. If I was ever going to harbor the confidence necessary to approach women, I would need to be in a comfortable environment, where I could at least hear myself think.

Second, I needed to be surrounded by a group of people — not just one friend — who would encourage me to be outgoing. So, on my second night out, I brought along co-workers Liam Bouquet, Justin Wier, Dustin Livesay and his wife Heather Livesay.

We began at the Draught House, a bar that is much better suited for conversation than O’Donold’s. Right from the get-go, I experienced more success than on day one of fieldwork.

Aware of the fact that I was going to need an infusion of energy and confidence, I decided to pump myself up by purchasing a song at the bar’s jukebox. Naturally, I selected Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland.”

As I shouted along with the lyrics and played the air guitar, I entered a conversation with a group of strangers. My obsession with Springsteen seemed to really work with the crowd, and — while Clarence Clemons’s truly beautiful saxophone solo began to play over the bar’s sound system — I wrapped up a conversation with a girl by obtaining her number.

The night came to a close at Warehouse 50, where I continued to break out of my shell, having a blast kicking my legs wildly, flailing my arms in the air and meeting a host of awesome people.

At the end of my journey, I realized that advice obtained from a third party can only go so far. Yes, you must employ humor, be outgoing and dress nicely, but you must also be unapologetically yourself. For me, that happens to mean rocking out and dancing to dad rock. It may not resonate with every girl, but the girls with whom it does resonate are the girls who matter.