A Bud for The Ladies

Veteran wingman Jay Jentz, a senior at George Washington, and Lindsey Hamilton get to know each other under a beer at the Adams Mill Bar and Grill. (Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
By Laura Sessions Stepp
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

In the back of the club, on a bench built for two, a short college guy with a baby face is putting the moves on a miniskirted beauty whose shapely legs, crossed just so, rival Katie Couric's. The only thing between him and his destiny is her girlfriend, squished between the two of them, large lips in a pout.

Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" is blasting from the speakers at U Street's Republic Gardens, rented out for an end-of-school-year bash. There's not much dancing going on, but lots of drinking and flirting among what appear to be mostly students from George Washington University.

The young suitor is neatly dressed all in black, his long-sleeved shirt tucked into pressed cotton trousers. In this casual crowd of colorful polo shirts and frayed jeans, he might as well be wearing a sign that says, "Trying too hard." As he presses his end of the conversation, the beauty nods slightly but her eyes roam the room. He ignores her friend, whose pout grows ever more pronounced. If anyone ever needed a wingman, this guy is it.

You know the wingman. He's the guy who accompanies his buddy to a bar to help him pick up babes. He does whatever it takes to give his friend some time alone with the girl of choice: telling flattering lies about him, enticing away the sidekick girlfriend, running interference at the approach of a rival male.

He's like the fighter pilot flying beside and slightly behind the lead pilot in a hostile environment -- thus the term. You saw the prototype in the 1986 flick "Top Gun": Anthony Edwards's Goose (who was married!) to Tom Cruise's Maverick. You've seen him in a Coors beer commercial, "taking one for the team" by baby-sitting a plain Jane while his pal grinds it out with a hottie on the dance floor. You've heard country singer Toby Keith complain on his latest album about being a "Runnin' Block" for his buddy. You can go online now and rent a wingman or even a wingwoman (who softens up the target first by saying something girly like "Love your shoes!" before turning her over to the guy).

Some of you may have been the wingman in middle school, sitting in the back of the movie theater occupying the attention of the clarinet player so your friend could make out with the pompom girl. If your pal got lucky, you lived through him. And when it was your turn to play the game, your buddy became the wingman.

"A mutual back-and-forth man love" is how Tony Moniello describes wingman camaraderie. Moniello, 22, and two buddies, Jay Jentz, 22, and Philipp Waclawiczek, 21, have been wingmanning for each other from the first week of freshman year at GW four years ago. They're sitting in Moniello's apartment, talking over plans for the party that night on U Street. Grey Goose, Southern Comfort and Everclear bottles line the bookshelves.

Exams are over, graduation is approaching and each of them has several young women on his year-end wish list. (Some senior women, by the way, keep similar lists.) Once they start work in the real world, clubbing will become an occasional thing as opposed to a four-night-a-week addiction. They may actually have to ask women out on dates, take them to dinner. Wingman skills will still be needed, but not as often. Bummer.

At college, a good wingman has been as important as a popped-collar shirt. This is a generation that, in large part, dismisses the idea of courtship. Many move fast through relationships: face-booking, instant-messaging, text-messaging.

A guy who spots a girl has five minutes to break the ice, another five to decide if he likes her and maybe 10 more to impress her before she moves on. That's a lot to ask of a young man who, his pose to the contrary, is terrified. (At any college bar, says Jentz, guys are the first to start throwing back drinks, particularly if the drinks are free early in the evening, as is sometimes the case at Republic Gardens. "It's all about needing a little confidence," Jentz admits.)

Occasionally, both guys will walk over to the target at the same time. More frequently, the wingman makes the first flyby. Say the target has arrived with another young woman who, like Pouty Girl, would not win any beauty contests. "The wingman talks to that girl," Waclawiczek says, "and the girl that your friend is after is like, 'Oh, what's going on? Why isn't he talking to me?' That's when your friend moves in."

The wingman delivers the introduction, knowing that his job is to make his buddy look cool.

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