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How To Banter (Without Being an Asshole)
Is there anything quite as sexy as someone with wit and a way with words?
There s a reason why a sense of humor is almost always at the top of everybody s lis
t of most attractive attributes; being able to make someone laugh makes them fee
l good. Humor builds rapport, and finding things that we both find funny is way
of finding commonality. Humor helps us have fun, and we appreciate people who ha
ve the ability to bring the fun. Of course, if you just roll up on someone and s
tart delivering Patton Oswalt s routine about KFC turning fried chicken and mashed
potatoes into a $4.99 bowl of gravy-drenched bowel liquifying shame, you re not g
oing to be getting anybody s number. At best, you re going to have people wondering
why this strange person is performing guerrilla stand-up comedy at the bar.
The key to the effective use of humor when it comes to flirting is wit. It s about
playful teasing and a back-and-forth. It s about knowing how to banter.
What Is Bantering (And What Is It Not?)
Bantering is defined as: The playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks . In
many ways, it s a verbal back-and-forth; it s more dance than duel, where the goal i
s for both parties to enjoy themselves rather than one person or the other wound
ing or insulting the other. It s as much an exercise in improvisation as it is fli
rting, both of you riffing on a topic, whether it s a temporary role-play or treat
ing your partner like they are your bratty little sibling.
What bantering is not is being coarse, rude or insulting. One of the biggest iss
ues I ve seen in dating circles are people who seem to mistake being an asshole fo
r being funny. This was only made worse when the concept of cocky-funny and negging
were introduced through PUA circles to the general populace. As a result, people
got the idea that the key to a woman s heart was to be an unbearable prick and pl
aying fucked up status games and trying to play off supposed low-self esteem or
proving that you re somehow better than them because you were willing to give them s
hit in public.
Banter is spontaneous and playful. Even if you re being risque or pushing the boun
daries of good taste, the idea is to have fun. If your partner suddenly seems up
set or insulted, you ve likely gone too far or hit a sensitive topic.

Pro tip: The appropriate response when having accidentally insulted someone or p
ushed the line too far is Hey, I m sorry, I didn t mean to upset you, not C mon, you can
take a joke, can t you? Bantering is not an excuse for acting like a bag of dicks.
Body Language And Delivery
The key to banter
even more than the actual words
are your body language, your
tonality and your delivery. Most of human communication is non-verbal; we are fo
rever coloring the meaning and intent of our words with hosts of micro-signals,
whether it s through posture, eye-contact, facial expressions or tone of voice. Wh
en you re bantering with someone, you want to carry the sub-communication that non
e of this is serious, even when you re calling him clumsy or telling her that she s
clearly only talking to you because she s a sexual predator.
At the same time, you don t want to be seeming as though you re seeking their approv
al or affirmation of your worth as a human being. Too many people
especially tho
se who are less socially experienced or may be a bit more nervous talking to som
eone they re attracted to
can come across as though they re desperately trying to ge
t you to like them.
There is no surer way of killing sexual attraction than by giving off the scent
of desperation. People are looking for partners (even if only for ten minutes of
anonymous dirty sex in the club bathroom) not for a puppy following them around
hoping for a biscuit and a belly-rub.
To avoid coming off as insulting or approval-seeking, you want to project an air
of easy confidence; you want to be standing straight, not hunched. You want to
be relaxed, not tense and jittery; in fact, you may want to consider leaning bac
k a little (if you re sitting) or against a convenient wall if it s available. You
want open, friendly body language
angling yourself towards the person you re talk
ing to with your shoulders back and your arms loose and a big, friendly smile on
your face. You keep your tone light and friendly; assuming familiarity and trea
ting them as though you re already friends makes it easier to have the same tone o
f voice you would use with your best friend when the two of you are riffing back
and forth at each other. You want to convey the feeling that the two of you are
in on it together, that you re having fun with him or her rather than at their ex
Just so you know, I m planning on sleeping with you despite your tie.
Even when you re being self-deprecating, you want to keep the attitude of nah, I m ju
st fuckin with ya ; you don t want to come across as though you really think you re a l
oser, you want to make it clear that it s a joke through your tone and behavior.
Bantering, Teasing and Antagonistic Flirting
I m a fan of teasing as a part of flirting. Teasing is the art of telling someone
you like them while saying something mean in a playful way. The antagonistic asp
ect of teasing follows the push-pull dynamic of flirting; you re giving a complime
nt and putting up a barrier or disqualification at the same time. You re the most a
wesome person I ve met so far. Dude, you re hilarious it s too bad you re such a dork.
one properly, it invites a response or comeback rather than sullen silence. For
example taken from my personal experience:
Oh, I m the dork? I didn t realize someon
e wearing a Star Wars tee-shirt was allowed to cast judgement on somebody else.
(In fairness, that shirt was vintage and it was awesome.)
In the cold text, this can seem insulting, even combative; if you were to read t
his without any sort of descriptors, you would think these two people disliked e

ach other. However, when you factor in outside elements: sitting together at the
bar, her knee up against my thigh, her smiling and delivering a playful punch w
hen she said it
it s not an insult match any more, it s bantering back and forth.
The subtext of the conversation
beyond the fun that was
ing at one another was simple. I was saying I like you
eady, so I m going to make you work for it a little. She
hat you re doing and I m going to volley it right back to
ep this up.

to be had by gently digg

and I know you like me alr
was responding with I see w
you, let s see if you can ke

So tell me, have you ever put someone s eye out with your sideburns?
In general there are two ways of handling this sort of banter: volley it back on
e more time
The girl rocking the Rachel haircut shouldn t be trying to give me fas
hion advice, or to agree and amplify: Hey, don t knock the shirt, the shirt gets the
ladies interested. Then it s the Star Wars sheets that seals the deal.
When she dropped her glass and splashed her vodka soda on me, I joked that she h
ad a drinking problem. She told me to be careful with that joke because it was a
n antique. I said she wouldn t know a joke if it bit her on the ass, and she told
me that if someone was going to bite her on the ass, it had better have bought d
inner first instead of using cheesy pick-up lines. We poked and prodded and dug
at one another for a while before settling down to a deeper rapport. We continue
d to banter and make jokes after all, we were enjoying ourselves and it always u
pped the sexual tension
but the point does come when you set aside the playful p
oint-scoring and spend time getting to know one another.
One of my favorite examples of this form of flirting comes from the movie The Ad
justment Bureau with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt:
For all that they are straight-up insulting one another, their tone and smiles t
ell the truth: they re enjoying the interaction. The attraction, the sexual chemis
try is unmistakable, even when they re cutting down each other s taste in clothes or
playing silly games of keep-away with phones.
(For the record: Dr. NerdLove does not advocate the destruction of personal prop
erty as a means of flirting.)
Once again, if you re teasing someone and you re getting back silence or hurt looks,
you ve made a mistake and need to backtrack.
To Get Better at Banter, Learn to Think On Your Feet
Part of the point of banter is that it s spontaneous and of the moment. It s possibl
e to build up a repertoire of specific banter lines that you can haul out as neede
d, but it can be difficult to make that sound natural and unplanned. It s better t
o learn how to work with what you have on hand than to try to reach through the
mental rolodex for the right joke at the right time
or worse, to try to force th
e conversation in a direction where you could use your line.
This is why I recommend improv classes as a way of getting better at banter.
Improv isn t about being the funny guy or about creating increasingly absurd scenari
os, it s about how to roll with the punches. Improv teaches you how to respond to
what your partner gives rather than to try to force a particular result; the key
words in any improv exercise are yes, and
It teaches you how to react quickly and
instinctively rather than overcomplicating a moment by analyzing it to death or
being too concerned with trying to be funny . Thinking too much about trying to be

funny kills the mood; banter is

ot everything the two of you say
u by the ghost of Oscar Wilde at
u re enjoying yourselves, you re

all about quick responses. It s a verbal joust. N

is going to be a gold bon-mot handed down to yo
the exact moment you need it, but as long as yo
going to find yourselves smiling and laughing.

That having been said

Steal Learn From The Experts
Much like other aspects of dating, banter is a skill and one that improves with
study and practice. Part of what counts in banter and wit is timing and delivery
as much as the actual lines, and it certainly doesn t hurt to have some examples
to study while you re working on being able to respond quickly to a straight line.
One of the best examples I ve seen for banter come from classic movies; thanks to
the restrictions at the time, writers couldn t fall back on vulgarity or shock as
easily as they can today and had to put more emphasis on witty repartee, timing
and the ability of the actors. Having verbal role-models that preclude touchy su
bjects (blatant sexual references, race, religion) can help you sharpen your wit
s without relying on comedic crutches. Plus, you get to watch some classic movie
s in the process.
The obvious example for banter would be Some Like It Hot with Tony Curtis and Ja
ck Lemmon or It Happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. The T
hin Man series with Walter Powell and Myrna Loy are also excellent examples of b
antering back and forth within a couple.
But some of the best examples of banter, both in terms of wit and performance, c
omes from the Marx Brothers. Groucho and the others came from a vaudville backgr
ound and it shows in the zippy delivery and absolutely perfect timing of their m
aterial. A Night at the Opera and Duck Soup are some of their most beloved works
and can help you get a feel for the back and forth.
although I don t recommend him as your style avatar.
And if you happen to pick up a line or two for your own use
Going back to Oscar Wilde:
Oh, I wish I had said that.
Don t worry Oscar, within an hour, you will have,

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