Wingman (or wingmate) is a role that a person may take when a friend needs support with approaching potential romantic partners. People who have a wingman can have more than one wingman. A wingman is someone who is on the "inside" and is used to help someone with intimate relationships. In general, one person's wingman will help them avoid attention from undesirable prospective partners or attract desirable ones, or both.
The term originated in combat aviation in various international military aviation communities shortly before and after the advent of fighter jets. Pilots flying in formation, especially when in combat training or in actual aerial combat, refer to the pilot immediately next to them (traditionally on their right, sometimes on either side) as their "wingman" (the man on their wing). In actual aerial combat pilots are often trained to attack and defend in pairs watching out for each other, thereby making the term even more clearly demonstrated.
The term is also very commonly used in combat aviation on longer range aviation patrols which are often carried out by only two fighter planes, sometimes manned by only two pilots depending on the type of aircraft. On these two plane patrols (Air Force) or "watches" (Naval Aviators flying protective patterns around surface vessels on timed intervals) referring to the pilot that an aviator is teamed with on patrol as their "wingman" is very common.
In 2007, sociologist David Grazian interviewed male students at the University of Pennsylvania on their dating habits, and postulated that the wingman role was part of collective "girl hunt" rituals that allow young men to collectively perform masculinity. Grazian writes:
"the wingman serves multiple purposes: he provides validation of a leading man's trustworthiness, eases the interaction between a single male friend and a larger group of women, serves as a source of distraction for the friend or friends of a more desirable target of affection, can be called on to confirm the wild (and frequently misleading) claims of his partner and, perhaps most important, helps motivate his friends by building up their confidence. Indeed, men describe the role of the wingman in terms of loyalty, personal responsibility and dependability, traits commonly associated with masculinity…"
Popular media and informal discourse describe a situation in which a pair of friends are socialising together, approaching other pairs and groups while avoiding the awkwardness or perceived aggression of acting alone. The wingman strikes up conversation and proposes group social activities, providing their friend with a pleasant and unthreatening social pretext to chat or flirt with a particular attractive person. The wingman can also keep their friend safe by preventing them from drinking excessively or behaving in a reckless or socially embarrassing way.
The wingman can occupy the attention of any less attractive people in the other group, allowing their friend to express an interest in the most attractive group member.
Despite the name, wingmen are not exclusively male; women can also act as wingmen. Wingmen also do not necessarily share their friend's sexual orientation; gay people can be wingmen for straight friends, and vice versa.
Certain sources describe the wingman role as a part of pickup artistry, with women referred to as "targets" and men as "pilots". Others highlight the ability of a wingman (of any gender) to step in and rescue their female friend from unwanted persistent sexual advances.
American entrepreneur Thomas Edwards founded a dating service called The Professional Wingman, in which he performs the wingman role for socially reticent clients, coaching them on the social skills needed to approach potential romantic partners in bar settings. Edwards emphasises that he is not a pick-up artist.
In fiction and popular culture
The term wingman was popularised by its use in the 1986 romantic military action drama film Top Gun, in which US Navy pilots are shown in a bar pursuing women in pairs, similar to their in-flight tactics. Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) is the best friend and wingman to Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise). At the end of the film, Maverick's former archrival, Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer), shows his respect to Maverick when he says, "You can be my wingman anytime."[non-primary source needed] Other characters have been called wingmen in literature, film and popular culture.
- DiDonato, Theresa E. (February 21, 2014). "The Evolution of the Wingman". Meet, Catch, and Keep (blog). Psychology Today. Archived from the original on March 12, 2014. Retrieved April 3, 2017. Formerly "Do Your Friends Help (or Hurt) Your Chances to Find Love?".
- Ackerman, Joshua; Kenrick, Douglas (2009). "Cooperative courtship: Helping friends raise and raze relationship barriers" (PDF). Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 35 (10): 1285–1300. doi:10.1177/0146167209335640. hdl:1721.1/52388. PMID 19458093. S2CID 14105582.
- Grazian, David (2007). "The Girl Hunt: Urban Nightlife and the Performance of Masculinity as Collective Activity". Symbolic Interaction. 30 (2): 221–243. doi:10.1525/si.2007.30.2.221. JSTOR 10.1525/si.2007.30.2.221.
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- Smith, Eric (3 December 2013). "The Greatest Wingmen (and Wingwomen) in Classic Literature". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
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