OnDating: Whither the Casual Conversation

(By Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
By Ellen McCarthy
Friday, October 3, 2008

Scenario: It's Sunday afternoon and you're 10 people deep in line at the grocery store. A cute brunette files in behind you and opens a People magazine to pass the time.

Isn't this exactly where the experts always tell you to meet people?

A ring-finger check produces no wedding band. But what does that prove? There could be a significant other. Or a recent, messy divorce. Or a sour, standoffish personality that makes her just want to pay for these bananas and get out of here without suffering through the unwelcome advances of a stranger, thankyouverymuch.

So you save face, and do nothing.

Again and again and again.

This is not a society that makes random conversation easy, at least outside of bars and crowded airplanes. But what if there was a universal sign that indicated an openness to meeting new people?

What if people wore some kind of pin that said, "Go ahead -- talk to me."

That, at least, is the theory behind the Talk to Me Pin, being sold by a new Washington company at http://www.talktomepin.com.

"Don't make eye contact, make pin contact!" spokesman Tommy "The Matchmaker" Curtis urges in an online commercial.

The gold pin, the size of a ladybug, says "TTM" and costs $39.95. A week-long experiment wearing the pin resulted in one random conversation -- with a woman looking for the Eritrean Embassy.

Friends standing more than two feet away, meanwhile, described it as looking variously like "lint," "dirt" and "a hole in your shirt."

So, uh, maybe it's a tad small. Or maybe it needs more time to catch on. Maybe people just don't want to wear their single status on their lapel.

But it does seem like a shame that people have such a hard time talking to one another.

Because who knows -- those bananas could've just been a ruse to catch your eye.

If you have thoughts on how/when/where to best approach interesting strangers, drop us a line atweekend@washpost.com, with "Dating" in the subject line.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company