Whatever your views on pick-up artists – harmless idiots in shit hats or the scourge of Leicester Square – it's safe to say the PUA scene is not for girls. Women, by and large, have little interest in milling around outside Tiger Tiger, negging passersby about their shoes. Instead, we're the ones on the receiving end. We're the ones being warned that we better get some pet insurance, because you're planning to "smash our pussy in".
So when I saw a Groupon deal for an event called "Get the Guy", I wondered whether I'd stumbled across the rare female equivalent. Would this actually be what it sounded like – a PUA starter course for women, a gender-flipped version of the male "seduction community", complete with the jaunty scarves and fake palm-reading routines?
I emailed a member of the Get the Guy team to ask, and was told, "Get the Guy isn't a pick-up artist tool or guide – we focus more on self-improvement and personal empowerment to achieve our goals." Still, when the advertised goal is "How to find, attract and keep your ideal man," you could help but think there must be some common ground; both rely on the idea that successfully ensnaring your chosen person is something that can be bottled down to a four-step plan.
Since this "personal empowerment" only cost £7 with the Groupon deal, I decided to attend the event – which took place on Saturday in the Holiday Inn Bloomsbury – to find out if it could help me harpoon a man the next time I'm drinking alone in an All Bar One. As a result I found myself stuck in an airless seminar room for nine long hours, along with 200 other women who seemed much, much happier to be there than I was.
The brand's founder, Matthew Hussey, started out as a dating coach for men, before moving on to women in 2008. Still in his twenties, he is something of a motivational speaking wunderkind, running a life coaching service in addition to Get the Guy. He has co-written a bestselling book; presided as "expert love resident" on the Today Show; made countless TV appearances and become the self-styled "new international guru of the dating and relationship-coaching scene".
In the words of fangirl Eva Longoria: "Matthew is a genius whose magic needs to be shared with the world."
Right now, his magic is being shared with Dallas and San Diego as part of his US tour, meaning he wasn't available to speak in London. But – somewhat surprisingly – Get the Guy is a family business, so his father, Steve Hussey, was there to take the reins.
I wanted to suss out what kind of women would attend this thing – whether there was a defining characteristic to look out for. But casting my eye around the room, they just seemed like a normal cross section of the female British population. There was a palpable sense of excitement and a scent of evaporating Dove deodorant, presumably because the website promises you can "have your love life transformed in one magical day".
Steve Hussey was an engaging and charismatic speaker who knew how to work the crowd. He was also fond of peculiar "energy boosting" gimmicks. Over the course of a few hours I found myself punching the air and shouting "Spartan!", awkwardly half-dancing in the aisle and participating in a 200-person shoulder massaging session to the sound of "Uptown Funk".
After detailing the three main relationship stumbling blocks for women (our ability to find, attract or keep men), Steve instructed us to pair up and tell our partner what we thought our problem area was. My partner, Emily*, said keeping the man was the issue; her relationships all seemed to fizzle out after a couple of months. I contended that maybe they were just the wrong guys for her, rather than pointing towards a failing on her part, but she didn't seem convinced.
Once we had analysed our personal defects, Hussey ran a diagnostic troubleshoot on certain members of the audience. Chloe wanted to know why guys went cold after the second date; Lucy said she'd had four marriage proposals but was yet to feel an emotional connection; and Anneka claimed the last guy she'd fancied had tried to burn her house down. Hussey summed up her problem by writing "ATTRACTED TO SHITS" on his notepad.
For all that "this isn't pick-up artistry" bullshit, he did recommend we stand on Oxford Street and approach men with a set of canned lines. Getting the guy wasn't just about going to bars, he said. Something as mundane as a trip to Pret could be treated as an attraction opportunity.
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In fact, we were advised to be on high alert and looking our best every time we went out in public. This sounds to me less like a recipe for success, and more like the precursor to a pretty severe anxiety disorder. But from Hussey's perspective, why would you go to Tesco to buy sanitary pads in just your pyjamas when you could spruce yourself up a bit and pick up a new boyfriend in the process?
By the time we reached the "sex and commitment" stage, it was no great surprise to learn that, according to the Hussey school of seduction, you were supposed to withhold the first one to get the other. In fairness, this tactic seemed like it might actually work, assuming the guy you wanted was desperately insecure, and that you had no problem purposefully manipulating him into staying with you by denying him physical contact.
Hussey gave plenty of good advice (mostly about projecting a strong sense of self worth), but it was all undercut with an uncomfortable strain of hardline gender essentialism. His words seemed pitched at a world I didn't recognise, one in which men and women socialise exclusively in single-sex groups, where guys only talk about Balotelli, beer and birds, and girls about vino, vajazzles and vegetable smoothies. In this universe, men don't have nearly enough in common with you to be your actual friend; they are your enemy – you must slay them and drag their carcasses to your bedroom, before chaining them there via a set of contrived emotional devices.
Over lunch I got chatting to Caroline, Vikki and Harriet, three friends in their twenties who were nowhere near as cynical as I was. Caroline had come to a Get the Guy event last year, shortly after breaking up with a boyfriend, and had met Vikki there. Vikki was new to London and had treated the event largely as a way to expand her female friendship group. Harriet was getting tired of internet dating, and had been dragged along on the back of Caroline's glowing testimonials.
I was struck by the amount of repeat business Get the Guy seems to generate – a lot of these people said they were here for a second or third time and looking for a refresher course. There's evidently a sizeable market for female-oriented dating advice and, as the brand leader, Get the Guy is taking full advantage.
It also took advantage of how attentive its audience was to squeeze in a sales pitch. I'd seen from the website that Get the Guy runs retreats: five days in Florida or San Diego that are designed to overhaul not just your dating prospects, but your life's very blueprint. What doesn't appear on the website is the price – £2,500 for the retreat itself, plus £63 a night for your room, a figure that I'd imagine seems less galling after the Husseys have poked around in the embers of your romantic dreams.
On leaving the event, I considered popping into Pret to use a line we'd been given about blueberry muffins. But then I remembered a) I wouldn't find this "empowering", b) I didn't want a muffin, and c) I wouldn't be interested in a guy who enjoyed inane chats about baked goods. So those were my chances scuppered. But if you're a man who happened to be hanging around the Bloomsbury area after the Holiday Inn emptied out, it's quite possible you had a very good night indeed.
*Some names have been changed
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