How Pickup Artists Work


Neil Strauss, "The Game" author and pickup artist master, relaxes in his gold cowboy boots.
Neil Strauss, "The Game" author and pickup artist master, relaxes in his gold cowboy boots.
Dan Tufts/Getty Images

The pickup artist (PUA) lives to "sarge." In PUA parlance, that means he lives to stroll up to a woman he doesn't know and initiate a successful conversation. But in the realm of pickup artistry, making small talk with an attractive gal is far more complicated than merely saying "hello." There's a specific order of events that must occur in order to maximize the chances of success. And what constitutes a successful sarge? That depends on the PUA's intentions, but generally, it involves a telephone number, a kiss or a one-night stand. If the sexual target -- aka the woman -- is "lucky," the suave guy just might contact her again.

Due to the heteronormative male-chasing-female dynamic inherent in pickup artistry, women can't flip the script and start sarging into conversations with men, either. Instead, women are often characterized as the passive prey, gussied up and hoping to be hunted down by a handsome hunk.

In 2005, former celebrity interviewer and biographer Neil Strauss unveiled the PUA and his sexually strategic lifestyle to the public in his best-selling book, "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists." It's often referred to as the bible of pickup tactics, and like the bible, "The Game" is something of a personal salvation story about Strauss.

In his pre-PUA existence, Strauss described himself as physically undesirable to women and socially awkward to boot [source: Strauss]. Then, like a fervent disciple, he embedded with PUAs for two years initially as a magazine assignment, following in their acronym-spouting, pseudonym-bestowing footsteps. Under the guidance of dedicated PUAs around the world and continual practice hitting on women and building up his self-esteem in the process, Strauss transformed into a bona fide lothario, allegedly wooing dozens of women with his stealthy seduction maneuvers [source: Strauss]. His conversion complete, Strauss even adopted the PUA nickname "Style."

Since publication of "The Game," the seduction community, as PUAs are collectively referred to, has attracted massive publicity, as well as skepticism. Yet what many people don't realize is that these guys have been trading tips well before Strauss stumbled into the ranks.

A Pickup Artist Is Born: History of the Seduction Community

Strauss and "The Game" also introduced the world to Erik von Markovik, better known by his PUA alter ego Mystery. The Canadian magician-turned-pickup artist served as Strauss' primary guru, introducing him to the aforementioned seduction community. As Mystery's personal mythology goes, he spent seven years honing his flirting skills, slowly figuring out what worked and what didn't, whittling it down to a semi-science (and book) called the Mystery Method [source: Belknap]. Due to his prominent role in "The Game," along with a two-season PUA reality show on VH1, Mystery is one of pop culture's most famous members of the seduction community. But he wasn't the first man to make a name for himself by teaching men how to talk to women.

Former comedy writer Ross Jeffries is considered the godfather of the modern-day seduction community. Although Eric Weber's 1970 "How to Pick Up Girls!" is a seminal title in the PUA library, Jeffries planted the seeds for tactics like those featured in "The Game" with his 1988 guide to getting women. Jeffries' "How to Get the Women You Desire into Bed" centers on a concept called Speed Seduction, a type of verbal hypnotism that supposedly amplifies a man's attractiveness. Teaching techniques, such as mirroring a woman's breathing patterns, deepening the voice and employing a host of sample pickup lines, Jeffries essentially encourages men to exert confidence and keep on trucking if a woman rejects an offer.

In 1994, Lewis De Payne, a Ross Jeffries fan, started the online group alt.seduction.fast, and the PUA community was born [source: Clift]. For the first time, men who had been reading and practicing pickup strategies could finally hop on Internet forums and message boards to learn from each other and share tips. Better yet , an online cloak of anonymity whereby men select screen names -- Mystery, Style, Juggler and so forth -- freed PUAs-in-training to share their fears, hits and misses regarding flirting with women. By the early 2000s, when Neil Strauss' editor caught wind of the phenomenon, the seduction community had spawned multiple blogs, Web sites and self-published e-books [source: Clift]. Offline, some groups of PUAs organized into local "lairs" or hangouts where they could talk "targets" and "field reports" in-person and chart out their next pickup ventures. Because when you're a PUA, practice makes perfect -- in theory.

How to Play "The Game"

Ross Jeffries' Speed Seduction technique echoes throughout Neil Strauss' "The Game" and Erik von Markovik's "The Mystery Method." Certain nuances might differ, but each share the same premise of teaching hapless men how to seek out, isolate, approach and converse with women. Moreover, most PUA strategies are framed in evolutionary theory to serve as supporting evidence for why women inherently shouldn't be able to resist a PUA's advances [source: George].

In a nutshell, the common PUA line of thought is that women seek out strong-willed, domineering mates who can protect them and their offspring, just like our primitive ancestors did [source: Clift]. Due to the heavy reproductive investment women might make if a one-night stand results in pregnancy, some women might resist PUAs' sexual advances. That's why these men must be so skillful at demonstrating masculine worth. Also, this theoretical foundation of PUAs as a male-by-nature hunting game explains why female PUAs don't exist [source: Harrell].

Von Markovik outlines the best-known PUA game maneuvers in his book "The Venusian Arts Handbook." If a Romeo-in-training goes to a bar looking for a lady to chat up, here's the step-by-step breakdown of the interaction:

  1. The PUA spots a "set," or group of women to approach. According to Mystery's "group theory," attractive women are always out with company, not alone.
  2. He approaches the set within three seconds (the "three-second rule") to evoke spontaneity and self-confidence.
  3. Next, he delivers an opening line, such as "Oh my God, listen to you guys, this is just like watching 'The View,'" or "I've only got a minute, so I've got to tell you about ... " [source: Markovik]. Mystery recommends including a false time constraint in the opener to stoke a woman's anxiety that her potential suitor might leave.
  4. After ignoring the romantic target by talking to her friends, the PUA tosses out a "neg," or a critical remark her way to give the appearance of being disinterested. Something like, "Your hair is beautiful. Is it fake?" would work.
  5. Once the target assumes the PUA isn't into her, she'll naturally want to gain his physical affection. At that point, the PUA can use magic tricks, mind reading, word games or other such "chick crack" to provoke her sexual interest further.

Of course, PUAs' slick -- and not-so-slick -- stratagems don't always stick. For that reason, "The Game" also teaches men how to handle rejection, which is arguably as important as finessing their way into a woman's bedroom. How PUAs perceive a woman's refusal to accept their advances also strikes at the heart of why "The Game" is often characterized as misogynistic and unhealthy.

Winning and Losing "The Game": Pickup Artist Controversy

PUAs aren't innate "ladies men," endowed with the physical attractiveness and panache that draws heterosexual women like moths to a burning hot ember. No, PUAs start out as AFCs: average frustrated chumps who have trouble interacting with women [source: Thorn]. "I was so unhappy with myself," Strauss writes in "The Game," summarizing the common plight of the AFC [source: George]. Yet with that displeasure also comes a type of aggression toward women who are perceived as the sexual gatekeepers. Writing in "How to Get the Women You Desire into Bed," Ross Jeffries urges men to go seek and destroy their sexual targets, urging "Let's go to battle, men!" [source: Jeffries].

And when they inevitably lose the battle along the way, PUAs are trained to become desensitized to rejection by transposing the unattractiveness onto the woman. Suddenly, a lovely target idly perched on a barstool becomes a "sleazoid slut" [source: Jeffries]. Or, in the case of the Mystery Method, women are often characterized as nonhuman creatures, such as cats, that can be trained and manipulated [source: Markovik]. Not only does that create protective psychological distancing, but also fosters the notion that women are entirely disposable since they merely represent individual parts to a homogenous mass. At the extreme end of this misogynistic spectrum lies the Gunwitch method, which Strauss describes in "The Game." Coined by a PUA named Gunwitch, the idea is to "escalate physical contact until the woman says no" [source: Strauss]. In January 2011, Gunwitch was also arrested for allegedly shooting a woman in the face [source: Stewart].

Characters like Gunwitch and the PUA premise of "negging," or insulting, a woman in an attempt to sexually entice her have understandably attracted controversy to the seduction community. Neil Strauss in particular has defended PUA training, claiming that its pop culture portrayal has emphasized the misogyny and ignored the "inner game" or self-esteem buildings that it accomplishes. Becoming a master PUA relies on a man accepting and appreciating himself as a person -- rather than being a self-loathing AFC [source: Thorn]. Strauss has even described "The Game" as a socially acceptable form of male self-help since it revolves around sexual pursuit and hyper-masculinity [source: Thorn]. Lesser-known forms of pickup artistry, such as the Authentic Man approach, also direct more focus on building rapport with other men and understanding how to socialize with women, rather than needing to seduce them [source: Decker].

At the end of the day, considering the profits Strauss, Mystery and other PUA gurus have enjoyed, one also has to wonder whether "The Game" is a results-driven dating tool or a money-making device. After all, these men aren't preaching the gospel of "The Game" for free.

Is pickup artistry worth it?

Do Mystery's goggles and "guyliner" really bring him sexual success?
Do Mystery's goggles and "guyliner" really bring him sexual success?
Ray Tamarra/Getty Images

J.T. Tran, who goes by the PUA handle Asian Playboy, is something of a specialist. He's spoken at Yale, Harvard, the University of Chicago and elsewhere about how Asian-American men can attract beautiful women -- particularly white women [source: O'Connor]. Beyond motivational speaking appearances, Asian Playboy also organizes seduction "boot camps" for men, delivering the nuts and bolts of pickup artistry in a weekend, in contrast to Neil Strauss' two-year PUA pilgrimage for "The Game." Learning from the master isn't cheap, though. Asian Playboy's tuition costs $1,450 [source: Yang].

Tran isn't the only self-proclaimed ladies' man cashing in on his skills. Master PUAs often host workshops and boot camps, in addition to motivational speaking at conferences and events; some also serve as private dating coaches. Certainly, the heart of the seduction community remains in online forums and members-only sites, but a cottage industry has also emerged for men who desire real-world, hands-on training in pickup artistry. For instance, Jeremy Bonney -- who goes by Soul -- rakes in $1,500 a head for his eight-hour seminars [source: Harrell]. The entrance fee to the Love Systems Superconference, which promises to trot out a laundry list of PUA masters for a two-day seduction extravaganza, runs $3,997 [source: PUA-Conference.com].

For all of the time and money that some men invest into becoming a genuine PUA, is it worth it? Anecdotally, all the related handbooks, message boards and first-person accounts maintain that, yes, the system works. They started out as the average frustrated chump (AFC) and, like Strauss and Mystery, evolved into more confident, domineering Casanovas. Although no empirical studies can verify purported success rates, a recent academic survey indicates that some women are attracted to the PUAs' typically sexism-fueled pursuit. The communications researchers from the University of Kansas found that women who demonstrated sexist attitudes toward other women were more receptive to PUA-style aggressive pursuit [source: ScienceDaily].

Pop culture has also given PUAs a negative reputation. Reality shows and other publicity have emphasized the quirkier aspects of the seduction community -- loud wardrobes, nicknames and PUA lingo -- as well as its latent misogyny. Informing a woman that he's a PUA might earn a man instant rejection rather than an IOI, indication of interest. Opining about PUAs in the Washington Post in 2010, Ezra Klein also observed that online dating may have rendered pickup artistry obsolete [source: Klein]. Who needs to study up on how to walk up to women at a club when you can message one online? At the same time, Klein might not have realized that plenty of PUA message boards are buzzing with how to "sarge" in cyberspace. After all, the object of "The Game" is to never come down with a case of "oneitis"; the only way for Sisyphean PUAs to win is to keep on playing.

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Sources

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