Ever have those days where some spectre from the past looms unexpectedly in front of you? You’d forgotten it existed until a comment or sight causes memories to rush back? We all have regrets, whether mild or severe, but without a time machine it’s impossible to erase the past. Today I remembered that pick up artists existed.
I remember reading Neil Strauss’ The Game with rapt attention. In whatever pale defence I can muster, I was all of twenty years old, virginity firmly intact. Not to shit on virgins whatsoever, but when life around you seems to echo that your manhood is defined by your ability to make yourself desirable, it’s hard not to drink the Kool-Aid. I supped from that well heavily and as such, the notion of finding a way to easily relate to women was not only enticing, but enthralling. This book was saying that I could finally explore the connection I’d been seeking? I could be in a relationship, despite crippling anxiety of putting myself out there in a sexual capacity? It wouldn’t even cost me five easy payments of $49.95? Given that I didn’t even pay for the book, this was all icing on the cake.
So I read and was absorbed. Not least because Strauss painted himself well as the protagonist going through his own Pygmalion transformation. It was hard not to identify with the elements of self-improvement (and despite all the toxic shit in there, it wasn’t 100% without merit. There were a cluster of positive messages about respect for your own self-identity and the path to self-confidence). I can’t look back and say how well written it was (and I’d find it hard to burden myself with a re-read), but at the time the story had me hooked. It had clear antagonists and a journey following a steady through-line. Nuggets of development came to Strauss throughout the plot and, as someone down on myself, it was enough to make me take notice. To think that if only I worked at it, I’d be able to find someone out there looking to get to know me intimately. For a lonely guy, the promises of abundant emotional riches felt impossible to ignore.
Of course, by the end of the book I found it hard to endorse Pick Up Artist techniques. They were heartless and manipulative, reducing women to physical attributes and stats rather than three dimensional humans with their own motivations and personalities. The numbers game of running the same routines again and again took any kind of organic element out of meeting someone. The idea of throwing “negs” (backhanded compliments) to weaken their defences and play with status, peacocking, or that stupid fucking “C or U shaped smile” bit to make yourself seem interesting held zero appeal. If you were trying to get a girl’s number, would any part of the exchange consider her agency? Or was it just about finding any cute face to lie next to you for a night? Lonely as I was, I never wanted to “trick” someone into liking me. Plus why the fuck would I want to be going out clubbing?
I’m not remotely knocking people who just want to go out and let their slut flag fly. If that’s what you’re into, you’re getting zero shame from me. My big issue, as someone with a propensity for long term connection, was with the sustainability of PUA sparked relationships. At its core, Pick Up “Artistry” is about trying to pretend to be someone you’re not. You’re running pre-written scenarios and inserting this new person as the second character. Any creativity you’re exhibiting is someone else’s, like a comedian stealing jokes. What would you think the outcome would be? What happens down the line when they discover your wittiness starts to run out? That you’re not the cocky dude you’re putting out there? Would you expect them to fall so deeply for “This Charming Man” that they’d forgive you down the line for being a different person altogether? Why represent yourself as something that you’re not in order to use somebody like that? Because every part of this equation seems to be about what you want and zero about her needs.
This kind of mentality seems to be endemic to the dating culture at large, the idea that representing a persona is the key to having people like you. To pique their interest then trap them into loving you. It’s fucked up. The hard truth is that if someone wouldn’t like who you really are, then they’re not right for you. Don’t delude yourself into chasing after people who like the person you are. That’s a dip into an ocean of misery. I’m not breaking ground telling people to be themselves, but if you’re in search of long term happiness there’s no other valid path. Maybe instead of working the numbers game with verbal trickery, take that time to work on yourself. Become an interesting person who’s interested in others. Treat people with kindness, respect and humour. Find what it is that fascinates you about the world and dive in deep. It may sound intimidating, but working on yourself is way more effective and rewarding than working on others.
Then maybe I can finally forget that this PUA bullshit exists for once and for all.