I’ve read The Game. I’ve read manuals and articles and websites about pick-up artists (or, irritatingly – PUAs), and their magical and mysterious secrets to ensnaring women. Like a grisly child with a knee scab, I’m simultaneously horrified and fascinated by the whole thing, and I just can’t help picking at it.
Recently there was a kick off because a pick up artist set up a Kickstarter project to fund a book that had some pretty questionable advice in it. The material in question involved such gems as:
“You have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.”
You can read more about it in this Vice interview, in which the author explains that he wasn’t advocating sexual assault or rape, he was simply trying to give shy guys the confidence to ‘be awesome with women’.
And herein lies the problem that I have with every single pick up guide I have ever come across: PUAs think there’s a complex and secret formula. Wait – scratch that. They say there’s a complex and secret formula. Presumably, if they’re the experts on women that they pretend to be, they know that there actually isn’t, but pretending there is one gives them either kudos or, in some cases, money from exactly the shy guys they’re trying to help.
So, in an effort to slightly decrease their revenue, I’m going to tell you what their actual secret is. There’s no complex formula, script or rule book, just one small nudge in the right direction. It’s mentioned in all pick up artist literature but (as far as I’ve seen) the significance of it is never properly explained. Here goes:
The secret to picking up women
Talk to women.
That’s it. That’s the secret. Disappointing, right? The problem is that this ‘secret’ is hidden within a bunch of irrelevant and often obnoxious crap. So, if a guy has success when he talks to a woman and follows the obnoxious crap rules, it’s frequently (and in my opinion incorrectly) attributed to the fact that the crap is somehow magic, rather than the one significant thing that the guy actually did: he dramatically increased the number of women he spoke to.
Shy guys and chatting up
Allow me to explain, using some of the words of Ken Hoinsky, author of ‘A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women‘
He explains that the audience for his book – and indeed the audience for most PUA material – is very specific: “men who were me five or ten years ago – shy, nerdy, maybe introverted.” Men who “don’t have experience in social situations” and “who’ve maybe never kissed a girl“.
Realistically, these are not the sort of guys who will frequently approach women they fancy. They are, understandably, the sort of guys who might hang back in a crowd or avoid speaking up because they’re worried about being rejected. Ken author admits that this is the case – what he’s doing, he says, is not about encouraging men to force themselves on women, but encouraging shy men to take that small step forward.
“The seduction world is self-help in disguise. The majority of it is about developing confidence in more traditional self-help.”
The Game helps that, apparently. Pick-up artists help that, apparently. Because they give men self confidence and tricks and scripts and plans and all the extra bits and pieces. However, the self confidence isn’t the stated goal for the vast majority of people in this community: sex is. What’s more, self-confidence on its own won’t get someone from being a shy, nerdy never-kissed-a-girl type into their first relationship. The thing that will most dramatically increase the odds of any guy sleeping with, or having a relationship with a particular woman, is talking to her.
All pick up artists will tell you to do this, but few will make a big fuss over it. They’ll tell you how to talk, and when to talk, and sometimes what to say, but they won’t tell you that the key to all of their success comes from the simple fact that you’re doing it. That, absent any peripheral voodoo, they’re taking people who never talk to women, and getting them to talk to women.
Applying this secret to the Real World
Is it any bloody wonder that people who implement the PUA’s rules have more success with women than they did before? If they’ve never before spoken to a woman, then of course they’re going to have more success if they start speaking to women. Even if they’re nervous. Even if they don’t know what to say. Even if they’re rejected three out of four times. When you start at zero, anything’s a win.
Don’t believe me? Stop comparing pick-up artists to the ‘shy, introverted guys’ they all claim they used to be. Compare them instead to someone you know who is simply confident enough to talk to new people. Someone who doesn’t use tricks or wear a magic hat or tell the women they’re fat in order to manipulate them into sex. Compare a pick-up artist to your average, decent guy, and see who is more successful at getting a date.
Let’s do some science
Trust me on this, people – it’s a very simple scientific error. If I want to test whether car A is faster than car B, I run them both under identical conditions. I don’t have a different driver in each, on different tracks, with different weights in the boot and then try to claim that the vastly bigger engine in car B is a barely irrelevant factor in its success. Likewise, including a ton of misleading misogynist waffle alongside what is fundamentally good advice (“Hey! Talk to women!) shouldn’t lead you to conclude that it was your value-added bullshit that really made the difference.
I appreciate that this isn’t going to help you much if you’re one of those shy guys – someone shouting “Just talk to women!” in your ear won’t make it any easier to wander up and approach one. All I need you to understand for now is that the journey from ‘lonely dude’ to ‘man who has a girlfriend/wife/shag’ isn’t nearly as long and complicated as PUAs would have you believe.
These guys do not have access to secret knowledge. They are not better than you. They are not magic. Many of them, in fact, are gold-plated bastards. So look on the bright side: if you avoid becoming a bastard and start talking to more women, there’s a fairly high chance that you’ll be more successful than they are.
UPDATE March 2016: if you enjoyed this extract check out my new book – How A Bad Girl Fell In Love.
I’m not very well today. Thumping headaches do not make great blog posts, and I’m feeling about as sexy as a box of rocks. So instead of a blog post, here’s an extract from my book. If you like it, you can buy it from a variety of good internet bookshops. If you’ve already read it, please do review it on Amazon. For reasons I am slightly hazy on, this is important.
Dear all the men on the internet: you complete me
I was recently singled out at a comedy night, during that part of the show where the compère chats to audience members in order to make hilarious jokes about their lives. He asked how long I’d been with the boy next to me, and where we initially met.
‘On the internet,’ I replied, and the audience pissed themselves laughing.
How quaint. I felt like turning round to them and asking just which century they were living in. Perhaps people’s squeamishness about internet dating is a hangover from a time when, in the infancy of the internet, those brave enough to use it to meet potential partners were people of a slightly pervy persuasion, who’d find it hard to meet a match anywhere else. For these people, patiently waiting for a dial-up connection seemed a hell of a lot easier than polling everyone in their local pub to find out who had a matching balloon fetish. But internet dating, while perhaps a novelty ten years ago, is now not only an acceptable way to meet someone but a borderline necessity, especially in a city like London where people you meet on the street are as likely to spit on you as chat you up. Laughing at someone for meeting their squeeze online is like laughing at commuters who trust the mysterious forces that power tube trains, or refusing to visit a doctor in case they might be a witch.
Where else does one possibly meet people? There’s work, I guess, but the idea of having loud, angry, jizz-dripping sex with a colleague then subsequently having to take them seriously in meetings brings me out in a cold sweat. What’s more, you can never quite guarantee that when you break up with each other—as you almost inevitably will—they won’t go showing Dave in IT those photos you took in the bathroom.
How about on the way to or from work? After all, American sitcoms are teeming with people who are willing to stride nonchalantly up to an attractive stranger and ask them for coffee. It’s something I’ve considered before, particularly when there’s been a guy on the tube wearing a tight t-shirt and sporting tattoos that I just want to lick. But this sort of behaviour will probably have to remain in America, at least until we have a huge cultural revolution. Approaching an English person on public transport is not the best way to kick-start a sexual relationship: they assume you’ll either rob them or introduce them to Christ.
So how about a pub? English people are at their most gregarious and cheerful when ever so slightly pissed. But unfortunately with drunkenness comes a serious lack of coordination, making even the most graceful people look like clumsy chimps. More importantly, being drunk affects your own judgement, making you more likely to cop off with people your sober self wouldn’t look twice at. I’ve attempted pub chat-ups before, but the vast majority of them have ended either in someone backing away, terrified, as I regale them with tales of my previous fucks, or red in the face as I rail at them having realised that the Man of My Dreams is vaguely pretentious, worryingly rude or, on one notable occasion, racist.
Nightclubs are barely worth mentioning: the possibility that you’ll accidentally screw a bigot is much higher, given that you are unable to hear a bloody word anyone’s saying. Moreover, the only nightclub approaches I’ve witnessed have involved one person dancing seductively towards another and attempting to rub their genitals on their leg. This is exactly as sexy as it sounds, i.e.: not.
So where else but the internet? The internet is by far and away the best place to locate people who seem like your type. What’s more, it’s useful for screening out those who definitely aren’t your type, those who’d either annoy or terrify you. No more bombshells at 2 a.m., when you’ve been chatting up what seems like a hot person for an hour only to hear them say, ‘I actually find sex hotter when neither of us orgasms.’ Or ‘You know, I think it’s important that the man retains the role as head of the household,’ or even ‘You know, you’d be really pretty if you lost a bit of weight.’
You can cull people without having to go through the tedium of an initial conversation. Did you shorten ‘your’ to ‘ur’? We’re probably not going to get on. Listed ‘clubbing’ as one of your hobbies? No thanks. Included a hilarious joke about how ‘fat chicks need not apply’? Even if I’m not having a fat day, you’re definitely on the ‘no’ list. Sure, I’ve probably ended up ditching a few potential partners with whom things could have worked out, but there’s nothing like a search list full of new opportunities to make one realise that there are plenty more hot nerdy guys in the sea.
And, of course, the same is true from their point of view as well. No man I meet online need worry about whether I’m too tall, too loud, or, as one guy rather excellently put it, too ‘drinky’—I most definitely am all of those things, and I state it up front in my profile so as to avoid that awkward moment when we meet in a bar and he looks around for a discreet window to escape through.
How did it ever come to be accepted wisdom that if a girl sleeps with a guy on a first date she’ll never see him again?
This information, as well as being at direct odds with my own experience, doesn’t even seem to make any rational sense. Presumably if you sleep with someone on the first date it’s because you both want to sleep with each other. And wanting to sleep with each other is surely one of the best signs that a first date has gone pretty well indeed.
He won’t want to sleep with me once he’s had me
The idea that women are something for men to conquer then chuck is certainly pretty widespread. And I suppose if you believe that men are simple-minded creatures who care only about carving notches in their bedposts then perhaps this logic might follow. But men are not simple-minded creatures, and if you truly believe that they are I heartily recommend you go back and study chapter one.
(Seriously, please do read that because it is the most heartfelt thing I’ve ever written)
So why would someone not sleep with you once they’ve had you? Realistically, if you both like each other enough to fuck, the only rational reason why you’d not want to see each other again is if it wasn’t a very good fuck.
And I don’t mean ‘not very good’ in the way that first-time sex usually is – a fumbling exploration of whether the other person likes the things that you like doing – but a fundamental incompatibility. A dramatic mismatch that only becomes apparent when, having erotically doused their genitals in chocolate mousse, they cease all sexual activity to bitch about the mess you’ve made on the valance.
But good news! If the shag wasn’t fun, then by sleeping with someone quickly you’ve not only managed to have a flattering fumble with someone who confirms that you’re a lustworthy creature, you’ve also saved yourself time. If the two of you are fundamentally incompatible, you’re still going to be so five dates in.
But he’ll think I’m a slut!
Will you think he’s a slut? Will you think less of him for being willing to gift his precious sexuality to someone he’s known for just a few gin and tonics? No? Then don’t worry about it.
A guy who is willing to sleep with someone on the first date and simultaneously willing to condemn her for doing exactly the same thing is not the sort of person you want a second date with. So if he does think you a slut, you’ve saved time (as in the above example) by establishing early on that he’s a double-barrelled arsehole. You win, because you haven’t had to force yourself onto repeated dates in which you affect a clumsy mating dance to conceal your desire to sit on his dick.
Do the nice things that other people want you to do
Someone recently asked for my advice about whether she should put off sleeping with someone on a first date. This is one of those sex questions to which, no matter how many times I’m asked it and in what circumstances, my answer will always be ‘no’.
I’m not saying you should sleep with everyone on a first date. You might not want to. You might not be horny. You might not be sure you fancy them yet and require a few more dates before you make your mind up. You might just enjoy the build up of crackling sexual tension.
But however long you want to wait – be it five dates, five pints or five minutes – your eventual decision has to be based on what you actually want to do, rather than what move you think you should be making in a confusing and loaded game of sex chess.
If you want to shag someone, don’t ‘put it off’ because a book you read said that women who hold out are rewarded with future dates. Don’t ‘put it off’ because you think the person you’re seeing might lose respect for you if you give them one of the things they want. You’re not a parent giving in to a child who wants sweeties, and who’ll regret it later when they go on an obnoxious, sugar-fuelled tantrum rampage: you’re an adult making a mutual decision with another adult.
Sleeping with someone on the first date doesn’t make you slutty, easy, or weird. In fact, it doesn’t necessarily have any reflection on your character at all. It just means that – at that moment in time – you’re a fairly horny person who fancies your date and would quite like to shag him. And guess what? That’s not a bad person to be.
I am not a weak person. I am a loud, angry, Siberian tiger of a woman who will tear you into a thousand rhetorical pieces if you even think of implying that I am incapable.
But people have power over me: men have power over me. Most of the time the power of men is used for good – men I love make me tremble and cry and beg with passion. Unfortunately, some men have the power to make me weak with fear by simply saying hello.
Men – do you know you have this power? I suspect a lot of you don’t. I suspect this because I have good friends, who would never knowingly terrify someone, who occasionally do things that they shouldn’t: loudly chat up girls at bus stops at 2 am. Push things a bit too far in a pub, and speak loudly and crudely to women who are shying away. Insist on hugs from women they barely know, who wince at the touch of an over-familiar stranger.
The other day a man said ‘hello darling’ to me on a night bus, and it became apparent that I am not the sabre-toothed bitch that I’d like to believe. The rational part of my brain was telling me that he was a perfectly nice, friendly guy. He didn’t mean me any harm. He was just being sociable, and I should be flattered by his attention. Then he got off the bus at my stop, and my heart beat faster. I put on my cold face and picked up the pace. He didn’t follow me – he’d never intended to. He wasn’t a rapist or a bastard – he was just a friendly guy who did not understand that by approaching me in the middle of the night he was wielding a certain power.
A long time ago…
When I was 16 I had a job at a corner shop. I’d spend Saturday evenings selling lottery tickets to drunk men, sweets to children, and cigarettes to any teenager with enough swagger to persuade me they didn’t need ID. At 8:30 we’d shut up shop and I’d head to the bus stop, and home.
The bus left at 8:55, but it didn’t usually feel like a long wait. In the winter it was cold and dark, but I was never afraid – I’d sit huddled in my denim jacket reading books and watching people go by. Occasionally, drunk youths would run past, taunting each other and shattering cheap bottles of alcopops on the pavement.
But I was never afraid.
One night a man came to join me at the bus stop. He was old – perhaps 40, perhaps 50, I’m not sure – all grown-ups seem ancient to a teenager. He sat at the opposite end of the bus stop bench and said hello. It was 8:35.
I said ‘hi’, and went back to reading my book. At around 8:40 he tried again. ‘So, what are you doing here by yourself?’
‘I’ve just finished work.’
‘You seem too young to be working.’
‘It’s just a part time job, in that newsagents on the high street.’
‘Oh, that’s good. Do you enjoy it?’
We chatted. It was fine. He was a friendly, lonely guy making conversation at the bus stop. I was polite. I put my book away so as not to seem rude, and we continued chatting. I checked my watch and it was 8:45. I wasn’t afraid.
I asked him where he was off to and he said he was visiting his son. His son had just had a baby, and he was going to see it. He paused. He shuffled a bit closer to me on the bench.
‘You’re very pretty.’
And all it took was that one short sentence, those three words, and suddenly I was afraid. I didn’t want this man to think I was pretty, I didn’t want him to talk to me like that. I didn’t want him to say things that I couldn’t respond to politely. I didn’t know how to not respond politely. So I said ‘thanks.’
At that, he shuffled further along the bench, so he was sat within about a foot of me. He slid his hand along the plastic seat and he touched my hand with his little finger. Just a slight touch, then a stroke. He was smiling. It was 8:50.
‘You’re very pretty to be on your own.’
In time honoured tradition, I told him I was off to my boyfriend’s house. He slid his hand on top of mine, and kept stroking. My hand itched and burned and I wanted to pull it away. I wanted him to stop touching me, but I didn’t want to be rude. I told myself it didn’t matter – it was only my hand, for crying out loud: not my tits or my arse. He hadn’t said anything sexual.
Maybe he was just confused, maybe he was just friendly.
Maybe I should just let him keep stroking my hand and then the bus would come and everything would be OK and he wouldn’t touch me anywhere else and oh God I was wearing shorts and I didn’t want him to touch my legs and I just wanted the bus to come.
It was 8:55.
‘The bus will be here soon.’ I choked a bit on the sentence and shifted away from him slightly – like I was making myself comfortable – I didn’t want him to think I was being rude. Above all – more than the fear of being touched – I didn’t want him to know that I was disgusted by him. He moved a bit closer – the side of his hand touched my thigh and I leapt up from the bench.
Never in my life have I been so pleased to see a bus.
I paid for my ticket and got on, sitting near the front in the well-lit section by the driver. The bus was my sanctuary and my safety, the driver had mirrors to look out for me behind him, and nothing bad could happen to me now that the bus was here. I breathed a ragged sigh of relief in that moment – I thought I was safe.
But then the man came and sat next to me.
He’d obviously misunderstood the point of the bus – for him it wasn’t a sanctuary, but an escalation – an opportunity for him to sit even closer. He touched my legs, he stroked the exposed upper part of my arms. He whispered in my ear that I was beautiful, and he kissed my shoulder. I, in the seat between him and the window, trapped in silence by my own misguided sense of politeness and shock that no one on the bus realised this was wrong, cried.
I sat there, mute. I let him touch me and kiss me and I cried.
You’ve got the power
Why did I write this? This blog is supposed to be sexy, ranty, and occasionally vaguely amusing, not an outlet for ancient, emotional stories that I should have got out of my system years ago.
But I wrote it because it’s clearly not out of my system. As I said at the beginning, a man said ‘hi’ to me on a night bus recently. Friendly, smilingly, he asked me how I was and where I was off to. And when I said ‘home’ he said ‘where’s that?’ and my stomach froze inside.
I’m old enough now to have learnt how to brush someone off, or where to run to if someone follows me. Most importantly I’m old enough to know men – I’ve known hundreds, I’ve fucked a fair few, and I’ve loved a couple too. And I know that the vast majority of them are good, and kind, and sweet. No man I know would ever deliberately give anyone that fear.
But the world isn’t divided into good men and bastards. There are the good guys, the bad guys, and then all of the real people somewhere in between. And as surely as I know that the original bus guy was a bastard – not just a bastard, a criminal – I know that there are men who say ‘hi’ on the night bus and mean no more than that.
I’m confident that the man the other night meant no harm – he was drunk, and keen, and friendly, and when I brushed him off he backed away. He got off the bus at my stop not because he was stalking me but because that was where he lived. He walked in the opposite direction, not knowing that I was looking over my shoulder every ten seconds to make sure he wasn’t on my tail.
Don’t be that guy
I don’t want to shame all the men in the world for the mistakes of the many and the evil of the few. I refuse to believe that a significant number of people are sexual predators – deliberately and carefully setting out to make women feel the way I felt on that bus.
But I have known men who, despite wanting to place themselves firmly at the ‘good guy’ end of the spectrum have, unthinkingly, done similar things. Pushed things a bit too far, approached women when it was late at night or when they were vulnerable. Insisted on a touch when they’re too pissed to notice that the girl is grimacing.
You have a certain kind of power, and you need to be aware of what that means for you: if you don’t listen, if you don’t look, if you don’t try to understand how the person you’re approaching feels, you have the power to turn into that guy. That creepy one.
It’s hard for me to admit that people have this power over me. If you corner me in the pub and ask whether I’d put up with being groped on a bus I’d laugh and tell you I can handle myself – I’d scream, or fight, or call the police. I’d invoke a tidal wave of righteous anger to sweep away any man who fucked with me.
But in reality I don’t know if I could. Because whenever men say hello to me on a night bus it’s 8:55 on Saturday and I’m sixteen again. I’m sitting stock-still under fluorescent lights while a man kisses my shoulder. I’m cold and alone and scared and mute, shuddering with silent sobs and waiting for someone to save me.
I’m uncomfortable talking about Nice Guys of OKC. It’s a tumblr blog where the author posts snippets from men’s OKCupid profiles (along with their photographs) and humiliates them. She/he picks up on guys who say they’re ‘nice’, and can’t understand why they’ve been ‘friend-zoned’ by women. Men who say they’ll treat women right and love them and respect them and then answer questions like ‘do you think women have an obligation to keep their legs shaved?’ with shitty answers like ‘yes.’
It’s uncomfortable because I don’t like the idea of humiliating people – real people, alongside photos of their actual face – on the internet. But it’s also uncomfortable because, well, the author has a point.
Nice guys and sex blogging
I’ve met ‘nice guys’ like this before: men who can’t comprehend why I – a sex blogger, for crying out loud – won’t have sex with them. The understandable upset caused by a ‘no’ is compounded by the fact that they’ve previously spent happy hours wanking to the words I write on the internet. Men who’d previously have just been confused or hurt by a ‘no’ become outraged: “but you’re a slut, right? You fuck everyone, right? So why not me?”
Here’s a secret that’s not-so-secret: I love fucking and I love guys, and I am more than comfortable fucking guys I’ve only just met. So when I tell you that I’m not going to shag you, it’s not because I don’t fancy a shag, it’s because I don’t fancy you. Upsetting though that is, I don’t owe you a fuck just because you want one.
Nice Guys of OKC highlights men who find these ‘no’s incredibly difficult to accept: the ones who think that, if they’re nice enough to women and tick a set of chivalry boxes, that woman is not just bound to shag them but – to a certain extent at least – obliged to.
Do you think you’re one of these people? Have you ever been in a position where a woman tells you ‘no, but let’s be friends’ and you want to tear down the walls, screaming blue murder at the sheer injustice of it?
I won’t humiliate you on the internet, but to try and help you understand the situation I’ve constructed a quick FAQ.
Why do women put me in the ‘friend zone’?
They don’t. At no point does a woman meet a decent guy and go ‘well, we could have a relationship but instead I’m going to make a conscious decision to only ever be friends with this person.’ What’s happening here isn’t a deliberate act of malice, it’s a simple fact of life: she doesn’t fancy you.
And it just so happens that it’s easier to say ‘let’s be friends’ than ‘at no point have I ever felt the temptation to sit on your dick.’
Why do ‘nice guys finish last’?
They don’t. Every guy I’ve ever fucked has been nice. I wouldn’t have fucked him if he weren’t. That thing you find frustrating? That women always seem to end up with arseholes? It’s just a trick of the mind, and it happens because women usually end up with humans – flawed humans who make mistakes and fuck up, like everyone does.
And when her boyfriend or lover fucks up, when their relationship ends (as the vast majority of relationships inevitably do), she’ll come to you – her friend – and tell you about his flaws.
Why do so many women I meet just want to be friends?
Maybe you’re a friendly guy. No, I’m serious – perhaps you are someone whose friendship and niceness is valuable to them. In which case: congratulations, you are quite nice.
However, the use of the word ‘just’ in front of ‘friends’? That sort of makes you a dick. Essentially what you’re saying is ‘your friendship is of very low value to me, because it doesn’t come with sexual strings attached.’ Are you fucking surprised that she doesn’t want to have sex with you? You clearly don’t think much of her.
Hey, I’ve been her friend for ages and let her cry on my shoulder and stuff, why won’t she fuck me?
Because, unless you are a sex worker, sex isn’t a transactional thing. There isn’t a rule whereby if you do X and Y, a woman is obliged to do Z. Hug all you like, comfort all you like, at no point is she ever obliged to fuck you.
Aside: at no point is a sex worker obliged to fuck you either. If you pay them for sex and they change their mind, guess what? The most you’re entitled to is a refund.
So, you’re saying that if I fancy one of my friends I’m a dick?
Nope. Just because some guys get angry about being ‘just’ friends with a girl, that doesn’t mean you’re an arsehole if you’re in love with your best friend. Fancying your friends is cool. Acting as if you deserve anything from your friends purely because you have a boner for them? That’s where it all goes wrong.
So how do I make a move on a friend without being a dick about it?
If you’ve got a good friend who you think might just be the love of your life, and someone with whom you can build a beautiful thing together, instead of sitting on the sidelines simmering bitterly about his/her other relationships, how about you just come out and ask?
“You know, I think you’re amazing and I’d really like to take things further. How about it?”
See that question mark at the end, though? That’s key. You’re not at any point going to say “we’ve been friends for ages, it’s about time we fucked” because that is a dick move, contravening the rules we’ve discussed above. It has to be a question – a real question, in which you accept the possibility that there’ll be an answer you don’t like.
What’s the difference between a genuinely nice guy and an arsehole? Both of them hope for a ‘yes’, but the nice guy will accept that ‘no’ is also a legitimate answer.