The slender brunette in the airport lounge had just ended a cell phone call when a young man with heavily gelled blonde hair sat down next to her.

“Do you have Internet on your phone?” he asked. “I’m trying to find out the weather.”

“Sorry, I can’t get a connection,” she replied, polite but curt, in what seemed like an obvious shutdown. Gel Hair didn’t take the hint.

“So, do you live in the city or are you just visiting?”

“I live here.”

“Where are you off to?”

Thus launched a 20-minute conversation in which Gel Hair pried Slender Brunette into a clearly unwanted conversation. Brunette might have ended it with a “please leave me alone”, but Gel Hair didn’t make it easy. One of the ironies of life is that for many of us, it’s not until you’re past the age of pick-ups that you develop the ability to tell someone to leave you the fuck alone.

As an apparently disinterested bystander (laptops make the best cover for eavesdropping) I had no doubt that was exactly what Slender Brunette wanted to do. Which is why I was astonished when Gel Hair, devoutly oblivious, moved to close on his pick-up attempt.

“Can I give you my Facebook in case you’ve got some time when you’re back in the city?” he asked. (“Give you my Facebook”? Is that what the kids say nowadays?)

“Sure,” Slender Brunette agreed.

“And can I get yours, too?”

The resigned tone in her voice as she gave him her first and last names was enough to evoke the Facebook “Ignore” button, hanging above her head like a giant thought balloon. Satisfied, Gel Hair said how much he’d enjoyed talking with her, and went on his way.

Which is when my interrogation began. Was I right in inferring she was utterly uninterested? Oh yes, and we shared our astonishment over Gel Hair’s inability to read the not-so-subtle signs. Do guys now routinely close pick-ups via Facebook? No, that was a first, and she hoped he wouldn’t find her (the advantages of having a relatively common name). And what would she do if he did find her? Stick him on a list where he wouldn’t see her updates, or maybe just ignore his invitation to connect.

This scenario opened my eyes to a whole new set of incipient dating challenges: using Facebook as a pickup tool. Not the now-clichéd approach of creeping on someone (“creeping on” is how The Kidz refer to the act of scoping out someone on Facebook by checking out their profile and reading all their updates — have I got that right, Kidz?) but the phenomenon I witnessed today: using Facebook in place of a phone number or email to close the process of a pickup and provide a mechanism for future contact.

While there’s no shortage of online advice about how to pick up girls on Facebook, there’s a lot less on the art of transitioning from face-to-face to Facebook. But there is one key source: Facebook Dating – A guy’s only guide to the world’s largest online dating site Perusing a table of contents that includes “Do you get how huge this is for meeting people!!!!?????”, “Getting her info”  and “I have her Facebook what do i do with now??” left me fairly certain I had found Gel Hair’s dating Svengali.

Here’s the inspiration Gel Hair might have found in author Michael Masters’ opening anecdote about how he picked up a girl at a Japanese bar:

Let’s say I gave her a big handsome smile and said. “You are such a cutie, what is your number?”…How about if I said, “What is your Facebook?” and I handed her my iPhone FB appplication, already to go. Is she going to say no??? Would anyone??? Of course she didn’t and she happily typed in her name. Later I found out that she had a boyfriend, and if I woul dhave asked hfor her number she might have said no. Now, via FB I know what’s up and it just saved both of us some embarrassment. Not to mention also got to see some killer pics of her in a bikini while on vacation in Guam, drool…

Even in the interest of research I couldn’t bring myself to read any more of this thing. But ladies, I fear that Slender Brunette is not the last gal who will face this oh-so-suave approach…perhaps even from a guy you actually want to date. Here are my tips on how to get ready for the Facebook pickup:

  1. Pick yourself up: Log out of Facebook, and log back in under a fake account that you haven’t friended so that you see how easy you are for a stranger to find. If the stranger searches Facebook for your first and last name, do you come up? How about your first name and your city, employer or college? Figure out how much information you can share before you become findable…and be sure that you share that much info only with someone you actually want to hear from.
  2. Check yourself out: While you’re still logged in as a stranger, take a look at your profile (if you’re unfindable, you may have to navigate to your profile by entering the URL of your profile page, which you can find while logged in as your real self).  Can a stranger see your info? Your photos? Make sure that the only info visible to a stranger is info you are comfortable sharing with anyone.
  3. Create a limited-info list: Create at least two lists in Facebook: one for everyone you want to share lots of news with, and one for people you want to share no info with. Make sure your updates and image uploads are set so that they only go to the people you want to share all your news with, and use the low/no info version for strangers whose friend requests you decide to accept. Lots more on how to use lists to manage your exposure in my guide to Facebooking the kids.
  4. Create a custom Facebook URL: Make sure to claim an easy-to-remember username on Facebook so if you do want to share your FB deets with somebody, you can give him or her a URL like Here’s how to do it.
  5. Decide on a fake Facebook URL: Decide on a fake Facebook URL you will give out to any hard-to-discourage pickup artists, the same way you might give out a fake phone number.
  6. Embrace the “ignore” button: There is nothing wrong with ignoring a Facebook friend request. If someone follows up on a pickup operation with a FB friend request, only accept the request if you are actually interested in dating. No, accepting a friend request from someone who is trying to pick you up — even someone you would sincerely want to be friends with, otherwise — isn’t being nice.
  7. Give a username, don’t ask for one: If you’re the one doing a pickup, give out your Facebook handle — don’t ask for hers. The same protocol that applies to phone numbers (give her your digits, and take hers if offered, but don’t put her on the spot) applies here.
  8. Read the offline signs: If you are using Facebook as a way to follow up on a face-to-face pickup, make sure you take advantage of the in-person context. Is this woman or man responding like s/he is interested — or are you getting the minimal level of response that your insistent conversation requires? If you’re not getting an enthusiastic reaction offline, there is no reason to expect an enthusiastic reaction online.

I realize that all this advice amounts to so much backseat dating: after all, I have been off the market since before Facebook was invented. Literally.

But as long as it’s been, I well remember both the pain and anxiety of trying to connect with someone new, and the awkwardness of trying to extricate from unwanted attentions. While Facebook may seem like a way of attenuating both sets of problems, that’s only because it obscures the underlying truth that the person at the other end of that friend request is a living breathing human being with an emotional agenda that may or may not align with your own. Approach a Facebook pickup with the same caution and courtesy you’d apply to an old-school request for digits, and everyone can emerge with their dignity intact.