I Attempted to Pick Up Men at the Gym & It Wasn't a Total Disaster
There’s rarely a day that goes by when I’m not breaking a sweat in some way. Whether it’s weightlifting or yoga, a 5-mile run around Central Park or an early-morning Spin class, life just seems to make more sense when mornings involve a workout. Which is why it’s kind of surprising to admit that, as a very single woman in my late 20s, I’ve never had a serious partner who was remotely as active as I am. There was an ex a few years back who hit the gym in his building two or three days weekly—but only in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day (#summerbody). There was another one who worked the night shift. Early-morning phone calls were a common way for us to catch up when I was mid-stride coming back from a jog as he was in a cab back to his place to catch some sleep.
A brief disclaimer: I’m not delirious. I know that lack of a mutual love for activity isn’t the only thing that caused these relationships to reach Titanic status. But would things be different if a new guy and I could tackle runs together on a Saturday instead of me harboring some unspoken animosity that we were, yet again, having a lazy morning in? Would we communicate better, or support each other more? Would he find my high levels of determination sexy? Science says so. After tackling a physical activity together, couples have reported feeling a greater love for their partner and more satisfaction with their relationship, according to one State University of New York study.
I made a decision: For one month, for the sake of my personal curiosity (and well, great journalism) I’d hit on guys in my boutique fitness classes. Boxing classes. Yoga classes. CrossFit classes. I learned some important lessons along the way:
Lesson 1: Sneaker compliments don’t work.
Some background. Generally, a majority of my workouts happen at the same CrossFit gym, Spin studio, or yoga studio. Since I’ve been hitting up these spots for the past year or so, I can say with 100 percent confidence that I’m pretty familiar with the clientele. I knew going into this that if I wanted to execute the plan to the best of my ability, I’d need to try some new things.
So, I decided to go boxing. Let me tell you a little something about this chosen boxing gym in New York’s Flatiron. Walk about 13 feet through the front door and you’ll likely be blindsided by just how good-looking every single person is who’s slipping their digits into the studio’s signature hand wraps. I figured this was the perfect place to test out my new strategy and even threw on my favorite Lululemon black crop top for the occasion. After 45 minutes swapping between the boxing bag and weight bench, I took a seat up by the front to cool down and recover with that post-workout glow in tow. I glance up, and see a tall guy with sandy brown hair. Looking down, I see he’s sporting a vintage pair of Asics Tiger Gel-Lyte kicks. Not exactly the most functional shoes for right hooks and burpees, but still, cute. Without thinking twice, I smile at him. “I really like your sneakers,” I say.
“Oh, these?” He says, hardly looking me in the eye. “Thanks.” With that, he keeps walking. Slightly defeated from pushing my comfort zone in an attempt to chat up a stranger, I go down to the locker room and see a small smudge of mascara under my right eye. Dating game 1, Emily 0. Lesson learned: Complimenting a man on his sneakers may not be the most epic conversation-starter. (Online dating more your speed? Check out these 10 Online Dating Tips.)
Lesson 2: Be more direct.
Later on in the week, after asking another cute guy how he fared at a Spin class over a smoothie (he told me, asked me what flavor smoothie I was drinking, and then the mood kind of fizzled from there), I hopped into a yoga class at a CrossFit gym in Gramercy. The smart thing about yoga done at this particular CrossFit gym is that you’ll see a lot of handsome I-can-lift-twice-your-bodyweight CrossFitters who are there to work on their mobility.
Of course, in this particular class, most of the men were swinging for the other team. Still, I did have the chance to talk to a girlfriend of mine (she was teaching the class) about my little experiment. She told me that she was once at a yoga class when she felt like she got knocked over by how handsome a guy was in the row next to her. Before leaving the studio, she bucked up and walked straight up to him and said something along the lines of “I couldn’t help but notice you when I walked into class, I’d love to get to know you better.” While he “had a girlfriend,” she said that he commended her for her confidence. Note to self: These smoothie and sneaker pick-up lines aren’t gonna do me justice.
Lesson 3: When all else fails, run away…literally.
The next week I decided to give this direct approach a whirl. While I intended to do this whole thing inside boutique studios, I couldn’t help but think that Central Park could be worth a shot. Throwing on my favorite pair of Sweaty Betty running tights and a cute half-zip, I laced up my sneakers and hit the ground running. About 2 miles into my run, I stopped by the water fountains and evaluated the scene. At about 7:45 a.m., the park was pretty packed with striders. To my left: a woman holding what seemed to be too many dog leashes for her own good. To my right: two different sets of attractive men doing 100-yard sprint repeats.
Not one to interrupt someone’s workout, I kind of watched on for a few minutes. One guy, wearing a blue Nike sweatshirt and some new Brooks sneakers, struck my interest. The way they were organizing this circuit was that two guys would sprint at once, cross their end point, and walk the length back before hitting it again. After creep status on and off watching them hit a few in a row, I knew I had to take my window while I had it. “You should try those on Harlem Hill,” I stood up and said to him.
He looked thrown off, as if wondering if I was actually talking to him. “We did hills yesterday, so this is just, well, it’s something we decided to do to avoid running around the reservoir for a third time.”
A third time? I thought to myself. This guy can handle some distance. I like it. “Fair,” I said to him. And then it happened, almost like word vomit. “Do you come here often?” I asked him.
DO YOU COME HERE OFTEN?! COME ON EMILY. I tried to hide the amount of are you effin’ kidding me that was happening in my head. He laughed, “Is that the best you’ve got?”
I laughed it off, and said that it wasn’t exactly my usual thing to hit on guys hitting sprint repeats in the park. He told me he did come here often, but usually with his girlfriend. I laughed, wished him good luck, and ran away (literally) as fast as my legs could take me.
Lesson 4: Some things take time.
And then, there was the curveball. In the middle of this entire experiment, I got a random invite over Instagram direct message (the modern-day love letter, really) from a guy I had met at my gym a few weeks back, to check out what’s known to be a very non-guy-friendly workout class. A class that, in fact, generally consists of 98 percent women. You mean to tell me that I’ve been consciously attempting to hit on multiple men in workout classes and now a single guy wants to take me to a class that’s totally outside of my comfort zone, no power cleans, no sprints? A little thrown off, I took him up on the offer, because well, watching an attractive guy in this situation would be comparable to watching some sort of exotic animal in the Sahara.
We decided on Tuesday morning. I felt awkward for him as he walked into the studio, and pointed at the mat behind me so that he could nestle in the back of the class without sticking out like a sore thumb. There was a lot of jumping. Some grunting. Synchronized burpees. A lot of arm waving. I’m pretty sure there was even some Whitney Houston at one point. I couldn’t bear to lock eyes with him during the workout, afraid that he’d curse me somehow for luring him to work out with me despite this whole thing being his idea. It wasn’t until afterward, as we walked sweat-drenched to grab coffee before hopping the subway, that I thought to myself, is this guy actually here because he’s into me?
Unsure, we clanked coffee cups in the middle of a subway car and went our separate ways.
Lesson 5: The gym is a sacred space.
In a conversation with a good friend of mine during this experiment, he told me about a girl who asked him out from his CrossFit gym for after a Friday night WOD. His reaction to the whole thing stuck with me, something along the lines of: “The box is my spot. It’s been my spot for a minute now. Why would I want to mess up the vibe there by going on a date with someone that could go horribly wrong and then there’s awkwardness up in my spot.”
Elegantly said? Eh, not necessarily, but the man’s got a point. Getting your workout in can be highly personal. In the past, I’ve kind of been turned off by men who have made comments between sets, hollered at me mid-run, or stared at me when I was doing barbell rows at the gym. Despite making attempts to break out of my comfort zone throughout the month at different studios, from hot yoga to Equinox, it never felt natural. Yes, people in these landscapes all have a mutual fit-interest. But if you’re there for the right reasons, you’re there to focus on that interest, not the other gym-goers.
Still, do I think having a more active partner could be the secret to some sort of lasting relationship? Definitely. I can say without hesitation that it’s been the elephant in the room for me for years now. While sweating it out with your partner may not be for everyone, I can say with confidence that it’s important to me. My month of poorly executed pick-up lines taught me that talking to someone new doesn’t have to be mega intimidating. If it doesn’t go well, it doesn’t go well. That’s all. Life goes on, you can’t be offended, and the best part? You’ve attempted to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Plus, because of this little experiment, I found myself being more forward outside of the gym too. Forward enough to ask Tuesday morning to grab drinks instead of dumbbells.