So Easy My Mother Could Do It

So, my mother has been asking random strangers whether they floss before they brush. Like dozens of them. And so far, no one has “busted” her on it, even though this opener has been all over television, in books, and on the Internet.

It’s funny because she really wants to know the answer. She’s been asking waitresses, neighbors, and even total strangers. She says she’s going to ask the dentist. She’s like an investigative reporter, determined to get to the bottom of the story. Or some scientist in a lab, determined to decipher our genetic code.

As a side note, I tried to discover a definitive answer to this question. And I don’t believe it exists. An issue of Men’s Health quoted David Kim, D.D.S., D.M.Sc, an assistant professor at the Harvard school of dental medicine explaining that you should floss first. His strategy was that flossing stirs up particles in your mouth and then brushing ensures they don’t simply stay there. “With this sequence, you can disrupt plaque and dislodge food particles from between your teeth, which you’ll then be able to sweep out more thoroughly with brushing,” Dr. Kim told the magazine.

However, the American Dental Association’s website states that there is no definitive difference. In response to the question “Should I brush or floss first,” the ADA states, “Either way is acceptable as long as you do a thorough job.” The ADA does say that flossing first increases the chance that fluoride from toothpaste will actually reach all the nooks between teeth.

Dental hygiene trivia aside, the more pertinent point here is that the dental floss opener still works, in spite of how over-used some people may consider it.

“Not one person said ‘where did you get that from?’ my mother told me. “Not once did anyone hesitate or look at me weird. They all answered with interest. And I asked a lot of people.”

My mother’s experience not only shows the power of the opener to elicit curiosity in just about everyone, but the fact that not everyone in the country has memorized the material from television on a word-by-word basis.

The fact is that our old faithful openers, the ones that you might worry are played out, become so ubiquitous because of their effectiveness. It’s like romantic movies where the boy and girl break up but get back together at the end. Or horror films where the slasher hides behind the door. These film setups became a cliché because they work. No matter how many times the audience sees those situations on the movie screen, they continue to come back for more, to buy more tickets, to scream “don’t look in the basement!” in a crowded movie theater.

Effective openers touch on something universal, something that interests people across cultural, class, and education differences. The Jealous Girlfriend opener is a similarly effective oldie-but-goodie. Women across the globe enjoy examining the nuances of relationships and gender differences. The Jealous Girlfriend opener allows them to do that, as well as introducing ideas of right and wrong, possessiveness, honesty, nostalgia and other concepts. It’s an evergreen conversation starter.

The key thing to remember when using any of the fundamental openers is that you have to be curious about your audience’s response. Don’t forget, an opener isn’t designed to generate attraction. Instead, it’s to get you into a conversation in an interesting and memorable way. It allows you to engage people with something that piques their interest, instead of just mumbling “Hi” while staring at your shoes.

And, like so much in the social arts, you have to be non-reaction seeking. You shouldn’t toss out an opener and then hope the woman of your dreams will instantly fall madly in love with you. Go into it with a genuine curiosity about the people you’re talking to. Listen to, and learn from, their responses. Often, their responses will give you content you can use in other openers and conversation topics. After you use the Dental Floss Opener, a lady in a coffee shop might laugh and tell you her great-grandfather invented dental floss. Later, in a totally different interaction, you can say, “I was chatting with a woman descended from the inventor of dental floss…” You never know where an opener will take you and what you’ll learn if you’re genuinely curious about the people you’re chatting with.    

So if you’re holding yourself back from using a particular opener, don’t worry about it. If it works for my mom, it’s definitely going to work for you.

Best,

Neil Strauss

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