It's a crude potentially offensive term, I get that. But ever since a male friend used it to define what a guy was doing when he kept sending me vague open-ended hey-what-are-you-up-to little text dribbles throughout the week, I haven't been able to get it out of my head.
Here's what chumming is according to my friend. Similar to when chum is thrown out into the water to attract fish, "chumming" is when a guy or a girl sends out little bits of small-talk questions or comments to see what level of attraction he gets back. It's a feeling out of the other party. Is she interested? Not? Plus there's less humiliation from an unanswered text of, "You are my dream girl and I want you to have my babies" than there is from not getting an answer back to: "Any plan tonight?"
A few good chums I've gotten: "How's your day?" "Have fun last night?" "How was the rest of the party?" "Summer plans?" "Thank God it's Friday, right?"
So do I bite when I get these messages?
Sometimes. But mostly, I just wish I was better at doing it myself.
"The Mindy Project" had a great episode where the male doctors took over Mindy's cell and took the chumming bait to a whole new hilarious level. To wit:
And Urban Dictionary has a lot of crude definitions that have nothing to do with what I'm talking about, but this one comes a little bit close:
But here's the thing about chumming. I've kind of come to respect it. I kind of want to be better at it.
See, I think it has magical qualities for leading to kind of fun places with guys who might be a little gun-shy and uncertain about going after you until they're certain you're actually into them. Chumming allows you to throw at the guy (as Neil Strauss calls it in "The Game") "indicators of interest," without making a total fool of yourself.
For instance, the other day I texted a few friends about some dude I thought was kind of cute. I asked them if I should ask this guy to hang out since he was chumming, and they all wrote back the same thing, which was to essentially shorthand it: "No, dumb-dumb. Play it cool."
Essentially, chum back.
If I were better at it, I'd be able to do it as coyly as guys do it to me. Here are a few chumming moves I've come to respect:
"This weather is finally getting cooler."
"Wednesday should be required work at home day."
"How's your night going?"
"The weekend is not long enough."
"Interesting Friday so far?"
"Fun plans tonight?"
I realize how lame all of those sound, but all the same, I've responded to almost every one of these silly messages when they've come from someone I'm even vaguely interested in talking to (doesn't have to be romantic necessarily). I think the reason I respect guys who are good at the chum is their ability to not overthink the fact of "oh my God, what if she doesn't write back" -- or "oh this has to be the perfect interaction."
When I'm really in the flow and feeling confident, I think I chum fairly naturally. But other times I think about everything as a power equation and an interaction to be won or lost. (Which, um, makes me a loser, I realize.) For example, here's an actual conversation I had over text with a guy I had a casual hookup relationship with, and his last text to me was asking for me to send him something dirty--and I didn't reply.
"See," I showed the texting trail to a male friend of mine. "I won!"
"Good lord," my friend said, looking at my pitifully. "Is that really how you look at the world?"
"No!" I said. "I mean. Sometimes."
He looked at my phone again and re-read the conversation. "OK, you did kind of win that one."
I explained to my friend my own experience with guys chumming me. One of my favorite examples was a guy who sniffed out interest in me, and even when I tried to shut things down because I knew he was unavailable and a waste of time, he kept re-initiating.
When I responded to him with a short email:
"That's the shortest email you've sent me. Is everything OK?"
When I responded to him with a thorough email:
"You sound good. Is everything going well?"
This is another twist on chumming: the feigned intimacy or chick crack version. Like, that dude didn't know me. "I sound good." Give me a break. But did I respond? You bet I did. Chumming mission complete.
But honestly, I don't hate the player or the game.
I just wish I was better at it.