Confessions of An Ex-Pickup Artist
Trying to pick up girls at "Pester Square" wasn't as glamorous as you'd think.
The author as a PUA
Sometime in 2005, a package plonked onto the pile of unopened bills, flyers and takeaway menus by my front door. I ripped it open. Inside was a copy of Neil Strauss' The Game, which charts the author's transformation from feeble geek to master seducer.
Strauss achieved this by joining a sub-culture of pick-up artists (PUAs), namely men who think of themselves as experts in attracting women. I was rapt. If he could do it, why not me? A couple of months later, disgusted by the manipulative tactics outlined, I threw the book in the bin. If only it had stayed there.
A year after that, my sex life dried up. I was 23 at the time and the situation became desperate enough for me to again look into PUA culture. I signed up for a weekend course with PUA Training – a London-based academy run by Richard La Ruina, who also goes by the PUA pseudonym of Gambler.
The course was held at the Tiger Tiger nightclub just off Piccadilly Circus and began on a Saturday morning. There were 12 clients including me – professional, normal-looking guys. Gambler languished on a sofa next to a stunning blonde. He didn't acknowledge us – a tactic I later learned was designed to make us seek his approval – and left most of the training to his assistants.
The first exercise was called "set breaking". Our trainer explained that attractive girls are rarely alone so a key skill to learn is how to infiltrate a group and isolate the girl or "target". The blonde, whose name was Kezia and is herself a pick-up coach, led the exercise by forming us into conversational groups and picking out guys who would practice cutting in and gaining rapport.
The training was thorough. We were given fashion advice, motivational talks and lessons on how to appear confident. Later, we spilled out of Tiger Tiger keen to practice what we had learned. We were taught the "Three Second Rule", which stated that you had three seconds from seeing a girl you liked to approaching her and introducing yourself. The aim was to get their phone number. I felt liberated, as if I had been given permission to follow my instinct a bit more and approach the women I liked. I returned with two numbers (one of which wasn't fake).
The PUA practice of approaching women in the street is sometimes confused with harassment. In my experience, most PUAs place great emphasis on politeness and consideration when making a cold approach – after all, they are trying to get laid so being aggressive wouldn't be helpful. We were taught that if a woman is not interested we should always smile and be polite, even if she is rude – especially if she is rude because this trains us to be non-reactive.
Of course, when a number of PUAs gather in one area a woman can find herself running a gauntlet of gamboling nerds. We even used to refer to Leicester Square as "Pester Square". I remember stopping a girl around Covent Garden. Before I had even begun my spiel, she erupted, "God! You're the third creepy guy who's come up to me today saying that you 'like my energy'. Fuck off!" And she was gone.
In my experience, PUA tactics don't work. They don't produce Bond-esque rogues but grotesque social robots whose jabbering mouths spout programming written by borderline sociopaths. It's insulting to a woman's intelligence to think that a sartorial spruce up and reciting some lines will win her affection.
Some PUAs do a better job by teaching "inner game", though. This focuses on building men up as opposed to dragging women down. For the men who suffer from crushing shyness this kind of work can be helpful; learning confidence and self-respect is a good thing but I'm not sure professional seducers are the best sources of this knowledge.
While self-styled "Pickup Gurus" like Strauss seem to have created one slick personality, the majority of PUAs appear hopelessly inauthentic. Bona fide seducers like Russell Brand are a rare breed whereas PUAs are like hoverflies; they wear the wasp's colours but have no sting. Furthermore, women are adept at spotting fakes so creating a fake PUA personality in order to attract them seems bafflingly counter-intuitive.
Add to that the fact their techniques are unethical. Manipulating people for your own selfish ends is enshrined in PUA culture – a "pivot" is a girl you use to raise your social status, "AMOGing" is a technique used to bully rivals away from girls you like and "boyfriend destroyers" are designed to lay a girl already in a relationship.
PUAs justify this with a muddled appeal to evolutionary psychology, particularly the idea of "alpha" and "beta" males. Beta males are men who want to be with one woman and alphas are those with access to many. So the gold standard of success in the PUA community is the "MLTR" or "Multiple Long Term Relationship", where a PUA has sexual relationships with multiple women at the same time.
Things get darker when you get to "relationship game". Based on more evolutionary psychology, some PUAs believe that all women are subconsciously trying to entrap them in long-term relationships, a process they call "betaisation". Tactics to avoid betaisation involve refusing intimacy (which basically means you can only do "hard fucking" only) and freezing-out partners while you focus on seducing other women (called "nexting"). This is the sad heart of the culture – where insecure men form relationships with women, who allow themselves to be mistreated.
Emerge from the Underground at "Pester Square" on any given weekend and you will spot guys gamely approaching women. Some will grow out of it, some will meet future girlfriends and many will benefit from the confidence boost this kind of training produces. Others will take it too far and become embittered and alienated.
For me, it wasn't all bad. I still get mileage from a tactic known as "the direct approach". The verbal formula goes something like this: "Hi excuse me, I don't usually do this but I think you are really hot and I would be kicking myself if I didn't come up and introduce myself." In fact, I met my last girlfriend this way. But I'm sure it had little to do with the words and more to do with the authenticity that comes with maturity and the fact she digs writers.
The PUA Lifestyle is consigned to my personal history, along with my Korn T-shirts and pierced nipple. I don't need their tactics because now I know that being a happy, independent individual is more attractive than mastering a bunch of psychological tricks. And quite right too, because their system is based on a falsehood – that women are a code to broken instead of human beings.