I recently read an article “When Men Lost Their Charm” by Benjamin Schwarz in The Atlantic. You can probably infer just from the title what the article talked about. However, despite all the bitching from a male’s POV about the lack of charming men, I decided that it isn’t necessarily hopeless. Yes, in some ways, charming men are hard to find. And it is in part because creepy, slick men have raped the meaning of “charm,” creating a false definition of the word that makes women cringe. Why? Because nobody taught you HOW to be charming. You really have no good role models other than George Clooney (who is also cited in the article). But I would argue that Clooney isn’t quintessentially “charming.” “Charming men” have a sense of attainability. Clooney is not attainable, he is “up in the air,” and thus, not truly charming.
So, here’s a quick lesson on charming that I’ve gathered from a collection of personal experiences, articles, and discussions:
1) Be self-aware
Charming men know who they are inside and out. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and have no problem facing their shortcomings. A charming man can make fun of his receding hairline, subtle lisp, or poor hand-eye coordination. He also knows when he can really flaunt his useless trivia, but also admit when he is ignorant about a topic. In a social situation, it’s a give-and-take scenario of admitting what you know, and being curious to know what you don’t know. As the article suggests, “[charm] can’t exist in the undeveloped personality.”
2) Exercise detachment and engagement
Again, it’s the give-and-take feeling that you always want to give off. You always want to engage with the person or persons you’re speaking with. It’s the respectful thing to do, and it’s that “attainability” factor. Listen to what they have to say, and offer what you can to add value. But once the conversation comes to a natural end, politely detach yourself and shift gears. You’re not that attainable. The thing a charming man never does is linger.You never want to overstay your welcome. It’s almost better to leave them hanging than to be “that guy.” But once you detach, you must retain as much as you can of that conversation. It’ll come in handy later.
3) Remember names and key points
I recently had a party where a friend of mine came and didn’t know anybody at the party. Instead of secluding himself in a corner, he scoped out the room and figured out the social hierarchy. Who was everybody talking to at the party? My parents. He found his jackpot. Soon enough, he came and asked, “What are your parents’ names and what do they like to talk about?” After giving him the 411, he successfully charmed my parents who didn’t hesitate to introduce him to the other people at the party. And furthermore, he retained everyone’s name, face, and key interests to use in conversation. “Vanessa, I remember you saying you’re into gardening. Did you know Chuck studied soil science in college?” See the beauty of that? Not only did he manage to remember something about this cute girl he had talked to, but he was also able to link common interests and bring people together. That is the work of a true charmer.
*The article talks about how most men can be socially-retarded because they fail to pay attention: “Even in the most casual conversation, men are too often self-absorbed or mono-focused or- more commonly – guarded, distracted, and disengaged to an almost Aspergerian degree.” I would have to echo this by saying, when a guy seems too “distracted,” a girl is not going to fully engage in the conversation, and thus, not fully evaluate if the guy could be a romantic potential. You don’t have to pay attention to every little word, but know the cliffs notes version of the person you’re talking to.
4) Make eye contact
In another Atlantic article, “The Art of Paying Attention,” James Fallows makes an interesting point. You know how we think kids these days love cell phones? It seems like babies are playing with iPhones before they begin to walk. Well, research shows that babies are not fascinated by these gadgets; babies are fascinated by whatever their parents find fascinating. As he puts it beautifully, “What we’re doing now is modeling a primary relationship with screens and a lack of eye contact with people.”
The most important part of being charming is to make eye contact and not be afraid of it. Practice first with the barista at Starbucks, or the woman who greets you at Macy’s. Get in the habit of determining someone’s eye color; be as specific as possible (light brown, dark green, etc).
In the end, being charming comes from an innate confidence to establish oneself in a room, and an innate curiosity to get to know everyone in the room.