I Took A Class on How to Pick Up Women - But I Learned More About Male Anxiety
Sleazy. Everyone thinks the “trained” pickup artist is a sleazy, predatory lizard stalking women. The truth is some are like that, but quite a lot of them, I can tell you, are painfully shy guys who break out in sweats at the thought of even speaking to a girl.
When I joined an intensive weekend course in London in picking up women, all I had to go on was the The Game, the bible of the pickup artist. It had been a publishing sensation a few years previously when it lifted the lid on the international “seduction community”. It was full of terminology: “negs” (comments designed to subtly reduce a woman’s self-esteem so that she seeks your approval); “HB10s” (hot babe or hard body 10/10); “F-closing” (getting a girl into bed). But that weekend opened my eyes to the reality of the scene, which is a lot more downbeat and often a lot more depressing.
The course was run by a celebrated pickup artist known as Gambler (real name Richard La Ruina). He wrote a book a few years ago entitled The Natural Art Of Seduction – a more British approach based on less aggressive techniques than The Game, but with the same intended outcome. His methods certainly have nothing in common with the violent techniques espoused by Julien Blanc, the US pickup artist who was banned from entering Britain last week.
So 15 students, aged 25-35, assembled in a private bar in the centre of town that had been hired for the weekend, eagerly awaiting our induction into the pickup artist lifestyle. It became quickly apparent that the class split neatly into two groups: there were a few wannabe Don Juans, who claimed they were already having quite a lot of sex yet felt they should be having more, and a much larger group of shy and very genuine guys who would normally panic if they were within five feet of a woman.
For them it was a form of anxiety disorder. Most admitted to being virgins. They were there to learn some techniques that would act as armour so they could at least talk to a girl. Gambler empathised with their plight. “Most of you know my story,” he told us. “Until I was 21, I was a shy, geeky virgin. But then I changed.” And now he was going to change us in the same way. He explained that if we believe we are “a force of nature” then women “won’t be able to keep their hands off you”. To do this we need to dominate the physical space by standing with our legs apart, cut out any fidgeting, and wave our arms about when dancing.
Once you had taken ownership of the space, there were other tricks for getting closer. You could be distracted by her earring, reach out and touch it and say: “This is nice. Is there a story behind it?” – because there would always be a story behind it and you had then made physical contact. “Be bold and assume she’s attracted to you,” Gambler explained.
Alongside him were a number of trainers who were apparently specialists in certain aspects of pickup artistry. One would give us a 30-minute seminar on body language, then another on opening lines. “Your opener is the first words out of your mouth. Most guys leave it to chance. Not us,” said Gambler. We then got to try them out on a team of female models hired for us to practise on.
We were also taught to confidently make decisions for the group, such as where to go next after the bar. Women love a leader. Gambler told us to watch Don Draper from the 1960s-set drama Mad Men for a masterclass in old-fashioned male dominance. The character may be a better model than he intended, because Don Draper turns out to be a fraud who has built a fake persona that slowly unravels.
And this fakery is not just for girls in bars. The pickup artist industry is built on self-mythologising – it’s all about marketing. Marketing yourself to girls, sure, but also to younger and more desperate guys in their bedrooms who want to be like the character you have created, who watch your online videos and buy your DVD tutorials.
This became apparent when the course culminated in a trip to a nearby bar where we had to try out our new skills “in the field”. We had been encouraged to make up our own openers, so with my “wing man” I approached a girl who was laughing with a friend.
“Hi, this will only take a second,” I said – a time constraint means she won’t worry about you outstaying your welcome – “We’re going dancing, do you know the best place near here?” I ended up dancing the tango in the street with her and she gave me her phone number.
Meanwhile, a couple of the other more confident students were happily chatting away to the girls they had targeted, but most of the dozen or so painfully shy students were just standing at the bar watching the rest of us, unable to get over their nerves. It was apparent that they had paid £700 for the weekend and were going to come out of it with little to show but a dent in their bank balances.
The pickup artist scene is a house of self-myth. The “master pickup artists” really don’t have much more going for them than a bit of self-confidence and, it seems, enough time on their hands to approach hundreds of women in bars and play a numbers game. After all, the videos they post on the internet don’t tend to include the times they are politely ignored.
And for their part, the acolytes, the guys who spend a lot of money on these courses, are often living their lives vicariously because they have low self-esteem. They watch their idols in the same way that teenage boys watch James Bond and hope one day to be just like him. It just doesn’t work out that way.