updated 12/14/2004 6:07:38 PM ET 2004-12-14T23:07:38

Two friends are at a party when one sees a potential love interest across the room. Immediately, the other friend swoops into action, making an introduction and helping to keep the conversation going — all so the buddy can score a phone number.

It’s long been a ploy in the flirting arsenal. But now, those who ride shotgun for the sake of love have a name: They are the “wingmen” and “wingwomen” of the dating world.

“Every guy’s gotta play the role of the wingman at some point in his life. It’s the unwritten guy code,” says Steve Dybsky, a 25-year-old Chicagoan who works in advertising and has been a wingman for friends — and had them do the same.

It’s become such a popular concept that people are even posting ads online, looking for wingpeople to accompany them on a night on the town.

At Arriviste Press, a small Boston-based publishing house, writers have launched a Virtual Wingman service on the company’s Web site. All clients have to do is plug in a few details about themselves and what sort of date they’re looking for and, using that information, the virtual wingmen will craft a personal ad, free of charge.

Wingperson by the hour
Meanwhile, in cities such as Chicago and New York, a person can rent out a real, live wingperson on an hourly basis.

Wendy Ralph, a self-described “wingchick,” is founder of the Chicago company Mr. Right Now Inc., which began by providing dates for a night — then quickly expanded when an increasing number of clients started asking for a wingperson.

“I’ve always been that girl, the one whose friends ask, ‘Will you go talk to that person for me?”’ Ralph says. So, she figured: Why not make a buck doing it?

Now she and the wingmen and women who work for her charge $50 an hour for their services, accompanying clients to parties and bars and helping them meet people who catch their fancy.

Others who offer such services are finding similar success.

Women seeking women
Shane Forbes, a computer programmer who founded the New York-based company Wingwomen a year ago, says his business has been such a hit that he now has more than 25 women working for him and, at any one time, more than 300 male clients.

He opted to work with wingwomen only because he says they’re often more subtle — and more successful in approaching other women on a client’s behalf.

“If a guy talks to a girl, she knows she’s being hit on,” Forbes says, even if that guy is a wingman.

Jay O’Sullivan, a 28-year-old software developer in Montreal, can attest to the advantages of having a wingwoman along, especially with a group of guys.

“When you throw a woman into the mix, guys get competitive and try to be funnier,” he says. “So the whole night just sort of takes off.”

When O’Sullivan was planning a birthday party for a couple of co-workers last month, he posted a query on Craigslist, a popular online bulletin board, looking for wingwomen. “We just need some responsible girls to help keep the drinks topped up, the lines to the clubs short, and the cars idling. We are NICE GUYS who like to party hard,” the ad read.

He had three responses and ended up choosing one of the women, who — for $100 Canadian and free drinks — helped the two birthday boys mix with the crowd.

“Ultimately, they didn’t seal any deals, so to speak. But it was a good time,” says O’Sullivan, who plans to use the wingwoman concept again sometime.

The perfect pal
Though it’s becoming a paid gig for some, many wingpeople are still just friends who do it as a favor. Paul Reiter says that since he met his fiancee three years ago, he’s become an ace wingman for his friends.

“Now I will even talk to the hottest women without being scared, since I’m there just to shoot the wind until my friend comes in with a coy remark,” says Reiter, who’s 27 and lives in Philadelphia.

Not that every wingperson always plays it smoothly, as Dybsky — the Chicagoan who works in advertising — discovered three years ago.

He was a senior at Villanova University, and his roommate was playing the role of wingman when they met two cheerleaders for the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team.

“We were going out of our way to make myself seem like a fun guy — and things were going well,” Dybsky says. Then his roommate, who’d gotten a little too drunk, abruptly threw up all over the table.

“I thought he ruined my chances,” says Dybsky, who can laugh about it now. But as it turns out, he still got the phone number he was after — and a few dates with one of the cheerleaders.

Wingman’s mission accomplished.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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