You don’t sell your soul to the devil, Mark Manson writes, unless a part of you is already dead inside.
In case you aren’t aware, the whole “dating advice for men” thing is a fairly new concept. In fact, it didn’t even exist until a couple decades ago, and really didn’t begin to become a legitimate industry until this last decade. A splinter of this movement is a community that’s commonly referred to as The Pick Up Artist community.
Beginning as some Usenet forums in the 90′s, it was a group of guys who congregated mainly to share pick up lines, strategies and tips in order to sleep with as many women as possible. The prevailing zeitgeist of the time was that there was a knowable “formula” of seduction — that if a man simply knew the correct components and how to press the right buttons, any woman would sleep with him.
Despite all evidence and common sense to the contrary, the idea caught steam and suddenly thousands of men worldwide were dedicating a massive amount of time, energy and effort into “cracking the code” of a woman’s heart and ultimately, her vagina.
The first man who came around claiming to have done this was none other than the famous Mystery himself, creating for himself quite a reputation, a business and later on, a television show to boot. Many others followed in his wake, including Neil Strauss, the author of the best-selling book “The Game.” From there, the floodgates opened. The book was a hit. And soon the few thousand geeks gathered sharing their “secrets” with one another turned into hundreds of thousands, and then millions. A few message boards turned into hundreds. A multi-million dollar industry was born and still thrives to this day.
And as the landscape of “the community” evolved, so did the content in which was created. With the mainstream success of the book and television show came thousands and thousands of normal, mainstream men. Theory slowly drifted away from the concepts of lines and routines. And the idea of there being a formula for picking up women is slowly being rejected in place of advice more focused on getting in touch with one’s sexuality, becoming more dominant and escalating on women liberally.
But despite these positive developments, the scene, as a whole, can be as toxic as it is helpful. The exact reasons why I’ll get into a minute. Hopefully my own story will help you understand my reasoning.
From Heartbreak to Glory Times
In 2005, I underwent one of the most traumatizing moments of my young 21-year-old life. My girlfriend at the time, my high school sweetheart, suddenly left me for another guy. My confidence level with women at the time hovered around nil, and my role in our relationship could have been more or less described as a doormat. I was painfully insecure and blissfully naive. So as you can imagine, I was absolutely devastated.
But despite the glaring flaws in the relationship, at the time — being as ignorant as most of us are with our first loves — I thought everything was perfect up until then. As usual, the last one to realize that the relationship was completely falling apart was the man in it. If you had asked me the day before, I would have told you this was the girl that I would end up marrying. I couldn’t imagine myself with anyone else, much less being happy with anyone else.
A few months later, it was by chance that I stumbled across “The Game” in my local bookstore. It was sitting atop the “New Releases” table in front of the door. I’ve always been a bookworm, so its title and appearance was immediately… well, seductive. I picked it up, and my first reaction was to feel repulsed. What kind of scumbag would write a book about this stuff? But of course, being human, I couldn’t help but read the first few pages. I had to see for myself how vile and decrepit this guy was, right?
Needless to say, within 5 minutes I was hooked. I bought the book and finished it within 24 hours.
And so began my foray into the netherworld of PUA. Little did I know how far this wormhole would take me.
I devoured 3-4 books, dozens of YouTube videos and hundreds of pages worth of forum posts in a matter of days. The prospect of not only taking control of my love life (where I had recently been so hurt), but finally becoming the “cool” player that I had always wanted to be, and having massive amounts of sex with hot girls — it was all too much to resist.
It took me three months to work up the nerve to approach a girl. I was so nervous that I immediately apologized for talking to her. It took another three months to actually get a girl to go on a date with me. And finally, two more months to get one to actually sleep with me.
For the next year and a half or so, I went out 5-6 nights a week picking up women. I posted on multiple forums and continued to consume a monstrous amount of dating advice and pick up theory. There was something deep down driving me, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, it wasn’t completely healthy.
But my emotional issues aside, I can’t lie: I was having a blast. After a year or so I was dating multiple women, something I had thought completely impossible before. I was more confident than I had ever been. Had more friends than I had ever had. Was getting laid constantly, and developing some awesome social skills to boot.
Being a Deadbeat and Re-evaluation
But as another year of debauchery and irresponsibility went by, not everything was peachy. I was becoming addicted to the validation I was getting, addicted to the thrills and forsaking a lot of priorities in my life for superficial kicks and fun. Having sex, something that most people treat as a normal activity had almost reached a point of obsession to me. To give you an idea of the state I was in, I wrote the following in November of 2007:
A realization hit me — what’s the big deal? I get laid a lot. Congratu-fucking-lations Mark, you’re a normal part of society now. So why are you spending hours a day posting on forums, reading theory, dissecting phone calls from girls with your roommates and going out four nights a week? For the love of God, I live on a fucking couch. I ride my bike all day. I don’t even have my own computer to type these blog posts on. I haven’t done anything that didn’t involve alcohol, a vagina or a television screen in months.
I was a deadbeat. I was broke, had a shitty job I hated, lived on my friend’s futon, and was going to bars and chasing women every night. Now, I take full responsibility for my behavior, but I existed within a community that glorified and reinforced this type of lifestyle. And ultimately, it was making me miserable.
I made an effort to start getting my life together, and I even began to flirt with ditching the whole PUA thing and trying to get along on my own. But it was soon obvious I wasn’t done yet.
The main thing that sucked me back in was the prospect of coaching. At the time (late 2007), the industry was still booming, and the average experience-level of the guys coming in was unbearably low and naive. Through no act of my own other than sharing my stories and antics publicly on forums, I began getting consistent requests to be coached and taught.
The Truth About PUA Coaching
Here’s a dirty truth about being a PUA coach: many guys who take coaching don’t actually want to change. They want to be validated. They want to feel cool and be around someone who they think is cool. They want to unload the responsibility for changing themselves onto someone else.
Rather than hiring a coach to help them progress, to them it’s more of a “rent-a-cool-friend” service. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of guys who ARE looking to improve, and there are a lot of guys who do have good attitudes and do get a lot out of coaching. I had many students accomplish amazing things with me. But unfortunately, the PUA market and community don’t promote the proper attitudes… in fact, much of the marketing and hype only encourages this sort of pathetic behavior.
The market promotes fanboyism and idol worshiping. It’s sickening. I started to realize this when some of my students turned out to be these brilliant, successful and amazing men. Men who were far more successful in life than I was, and they’d look at me as some sort of demigod. Why? Because I’ve slept with more women? Because when I walk into a club, people actually think I’m cool? It makes absolutely no sense. Looking for advice and guidance is one thing, but this was something else entirely.
A lot of these guys don’t need a pick up instructor. They need a shrink and maybe some sort of anti-anxiety therapy. They need some confidence and a push to put themselves out there more and more. The technical aspect of picking up women really ISN’T that difficult. It really can be explained and taught within a few days. But it must be practiced for a long time, and to have that practice, a guy has to have healthy mindsets and an ability to overcome his fears.
But there’s a side to this that doesn’t get talked about often. There’s a concept in psychology called “The Over-Justification Effect.” From Wikipedia:
The overjustification effect occurs when an external incentive such as money or prizes decreases a person’s intrinsic motivation to perform a task. According to self-perception theory, people pay more attention to the incentive, and less attention to the enjoyment and satisfaction that they receive from performing the activity. The overall effect is a shift in motivation to extrinsic factors and the undermining of pre-existing intrinsic motivation.
In one of the earliest demonstrations of this effect, researchers promised a group of 3-5 year old children that they would receive a “good player” ribbon for drawing with felt-tipped pens. A second group of children played with the pens and received an unexpected reward (the same ribbon), and a third group was not given a reward. All of the children played with the pens, a typically enjoyable activity for preschoolers. Later, when observed in a free-play setting, the children who received a reward that had been promised to them played significantly less with the felt-tipped pens. The researchers concluded that expected rewards undermine intrinsic motivation in previously enjoyable activities. A replication of this experiment found that rewarding children with certificates and trophies decreased intrinsic interest in playing math games.
This effect is felt too much by instructors. We receive so much external validation and incentive (money, accolades, fanboys, groupies, etc.) that it distorts that original emotional desire to simply meet people and meet women. I also ran into this in music school when I was a teenager. Believe or not, music and art schools have the highest drop out rates in the world (some pushing 90%). And if you think about it, it makes sense. You’re taking something that people have always naturally been inclined to do (create music or art) and start rewarding them tangibly for it through money, grades, prizes, etc. For me it killed all of the passion of music and I dropped out after a year.
There have been some famous studies done on motivation and what they’ve found is this: external incentives create better performance in rote and logical objectives. But external incentives create WORSE performance in creative objectives. Hence the 90% drop out rate of music/art schools.
Well apply that burn out to social interactions and you get a pretty fucked up effect. When your social interactions are the yardstick that your success is measured on, it absolutely kills the joy of socializing, and depresses the hell out of you in the process. When your emotional intimacy becomes a business asset, it completely undermines your relationships. For a prolonged period of time, this effect can lead one to a very dark place. I met many coaches who had been working in the industry for years and years who were obviously miserable people. It’s why my original business partner quit and got a day job. And it consistently tested my resilience for two years.
But both sides are to blame: the consumers for buying into such a false idol, and the instructors for being seduced by it. On the surface, it’s a life of partying, girls and money. The three things a young guy loves most, right? But in actuality, you spend more time hanging out with other men — awkward, insecure and desperately watching every move of yours and judging you. You’re no longer free to just be yourself. You aren’t allowed to have a night where you just want to drink and relax. You aren’t allowed to pass up a girl because you don’t feel like talking to her. You aren’t allowed to be awkward or unsure of yourself or nervous about anything.
The line between “work” and “play” blurs until the two are completely indistinguishable. Your nights out being social are the same as meeting prospective clients and marketing opportunities. Your prospective clients and marketing opportunities, in turn, want to be your friend and go out with you socially. It’s a psychological mess that drags your emotional stability down with it. Thank god I had a serious girlfriend by that time, otherwise I probably would have lost my sanity.
And here’s the most screwed up part: the beliefs on which the community is founded lead to a constant state of mutual discontent. Since the success of one’s sex and emotional life is the standard of success, thousands of men sit online arguing and comparing things that are 100% subjective. And what invariably happens, is everyone merely projects their own personal discontent onto the perceived failures and shortcomings of others. This guy’s girls aren’t hot enough. That guy only sleeps with 3 girls a month. This guy is only good at day game. That guy just gets by on looks. Everyone is deemed a “fraud” in their own way and for some reason, everyone has tacitly agreed to unrealistic expectations that can be met by none. What the community has become is a cesspool of frustrated children with keyboards.
The Pathologies of the Pick Up Artist
There is absolutely NOTHING normal about what a Pick Up Artist does or why he does it. Dating advice is one thing. Self improvement is another. But quantifying your social and emotional life and then measuring it against others online and for money will murder your soul. Plain and simple.
In the beginning picking up women can be a science, but the better you get, the more it becomes an art. Once guys pass a certain threshold or so, the only thing that differentiates them is style. This style is based mostly on your personality and what types of women you like. Improvement only exists in adapting your objective skill-set to your subjective desires. Any sort of “next step” is actually more of a lateral movement, rather than moving up.
Beyond getting the first couple lays, quantifying “game” in any sense approaches the impossible — completely subjective and any arguments about skill-levels, quality, consistency, or styles is arguing past one another — like claiming heavy metal is better than rap just because… well, just because.
Over the years, I’ve dated women that other guys think are hideous. I’ve dated women that guys who don’t know me literally come up to me in bars and give me high fives when she’s not looking. There are a lot of women that most guys consider “hot” that I have absolutely no interest in, and vice-versa.
What I’m getting at, is once you become consistent, the only real metric for “success” is your own satisfaction. We’re always playing a numbers game, and once you get your % up to 1/10 or above, really any objective measure of skill kind of becomes pointless.
Once your % passes that magic threshold, it’s really just a matter of how much time and effort you’re willing to dump into your sex life. Some of us dump a lot of time and effort. Most don’t.
For this reason, the idea of “who is the best?” Or who can close the most consistently, or who has the best club game, the best day game, etc. — it’s a bunch of nonsense and as my friend Doc used to say, “Dick crack.” It gets a bunch of competitive and horny guys and their egos excited. But at the end of the day, whether I can lay a girl in 50 minutes and you need two dates is pointless. If my girl has a 9 body and a 5 face and yours has a 6 body and 8 face is pointless.
You’re getting sucked into the validation trap, which turns into a very dark place if you stay there long enough.
The fact is, what is perceived as “the community,” is merely a loud minority. An elitist and somewhat pathological minority.
You don’t end up in the Pick Up Artist community unless you are incredibly unhappy or unsatisfied about something. It may be conscious, it may be unconscious. It may be short-term, or it may be deep-seated and long-term. But the fact is, the community acts for a lot of men as a diversion or scapegoat from dealing with their real issues — their emotional issues.
We’re men, we’re experts at rationalizing painful feelings away — we hate dealing with them. For a lot of men, all these eBooks and audio courses merely act as rationalizations — a way to escape for a little bit longer, a way to logically solve the unsolvable. Emotions aren’t quantifiable or objective, so these men band together in attempt to quantify and objectify their emotional lives together, under the auspices of “improvement.”
And by their shared metrics, improve they do. “I had my first SNL.” “I banged my first 9 last night.” Etc. But there’s no yardstick for happiness, fulfillment, meaning or significance. This may sound lame and campy, but when you’ve met as many miserable guys with 100+ lays as I have, you may take it seriously.
Some of them forget… they forget that there’s a whole life to these interactions behind the objectification and quantification. They enter the validation trap — where a cocaine-addicted stripper has more value than a Plain Jane with a Ph.D, where a threesome has more value than an engagement ring, where things like acne scars or B-cup tits suddenly become deal-breakers in a relationship.
The PUA community at large is a bubble — it has a propensity to become elitist and to project its own desires and intentions onto everyone else.
They glorify their goals, try to deduce other’s actions and desires into base sexual needs, scoff at guys who don’t get into it as “AFC’s” and look down upon newbies who give up and leave as quitters and men who aren’t “man enough” to persevere the hundreds of rejections just to get their dick wet more often. Yet most guys are pretty damn content with a couple nice girls and a plain-Jane girlfriend who loves them.
Destroying My Demons
As I’ve been saying since 2006, and it’s not a big revelation anymore, but PUA is self-help in disguise. PUA’s can applaud themselves for their social development, their amazing relationships and conquests — but the truth is that they all arrive there because something was/is wrong. And there’s nothing to get all high and mighty about.
It takes a certain kind of man to find the objectification of his emotional life appealing. It takes a certain kind of man to become addicted to the validation of receiving love and affection from women.
The vast, vast majority of men who come to this stuff are the “one and done” crowd. In fact, if you’re reading my site, chances are you’re one of them too. You’re there because you’re nervous about this or that. You have a date coming up. There’s a girl in your class you think is cute, but you don’t know what to say. You’re in the middle of a dry spell and want to get out. You come here for a little simple advice, maybe a little motivation. You go out and get the date you want, the girlfriend you want, approach the girl you want to approach… and then you’re done.
But there’s a loud minority who for them it’s something more.
Something deep down in their emotional fabric drives them much further. They excitedly accept the objectification and relish in the validation. I did. And I see other guys do it too. And really what it is is their way of sorting through their emotional baggage. Some guys it takes 10-15 women. Some it takes 50-100. Some guys are damaged too deeply and never get out. But the truth remains: you don’t sell your soul to the devil unless part of you is already a little dead inside.
I am not an exception, just another casualty. I wrote this in August of 2008:
I had kind of a disconcerting experience tonight. I hung out with some female friends that I’ve known for a long time. And no matter what we talked about, we seemed to always end up back on topics of my sex life, my sexcapades, and in particalar, the threesomes that I’ve had recently.
This actually started to bug me because these are friends I haven’t hung out to any significant degree in about a year, and I felt like we should talk about something more substantial than the vaginas in which I had been sticking my penis. But I realized two things. First of all, I had little else to talk about from the last year and also that my friendships with these girls had ALWAYS largely consisted of me sharing my sexscapades with them. I didn’t realize this until one point when I said, “OK, enough about my sex life, let’s talk about something more interesting.” One of my old friends replied, “But Mark, we ALWAYS talk about your sex life.”
I became horrified. Had my “friendship” with these girls merely consisted of me obsessing over my sexuality with them? Had our friendship just been a repository for me to validate myself — that I’m attractive, that women have sex with me, and that other women like it that women have sex with me?
Sadly, it had.
Your first reaction to this may be, “Shit, I wish I had that problem…” but remember this article and this quote. Because one day you may find yourself there, and you may find yourself as disconcerted as I was.
Whenever I talk about this, most men immediately ask me, “What emotional realities are we running from? What baggage are you talking about? I’m normal, it’s all these other guys who are crazy.”
This is actually an easier question than it may seem. It’s going to be different for every guy, but by FAR the most common deep emotional problems and fears that I come across in the PUA crowd are: ex-girlfriend or ex-wife that broke their heart and/or ruined them, divorced or absent parents, death of a loved one, death of a parent, or just repeated emotional beat-downs growing up — whether it be growing up in the projects, being verbally abused by girls your entire childhood for being fat, etc., etc.
A lot of guys can relate to at least one of the above. I know I can.
It’s painful to go back and deal with a lot of that. Some of it REALLY painful. And we don’t do it. We put it off for years. I came to PUA and was motivated primarily by my ex-girlfriend of four years cheating on me and leaving me. That fucking hurt. I thought I got over it, but I didn’t get over it for years. And when I looked deeper, I just realized that that had just been irritating a deeper wound stemming from my divorced parents and family situation growing up. That one STILL hurts. And I think the circumstances in which I grew up in is the largest reason why I’ve dedicated so much time, effort, thought and emotion to picking up women.
It’s not normal. And I accept that.
I look at myself and I realize now that underneath it all, there was a need for intimacy and love. It was when I finally buckled down and committed to a girl and started a new relationship that was actually healthy and happy, that finally showed me that. Like everyone else on this planet, I’m searching for intimacy and love, I’m just wired in such a way that it’s hard for me to get to that point with a woman. That’s what drives me. Just like I think deep down that’s what drives most of these guys. For whatever reason, we need to traverse some complex and damaged emotional landscape to get there though. And PUA has been an avenue for some of us to do that.
Regardless, I choose to not identify with the Pick Up Artist moniker any longer. The reasons are the two I listed above: I refuse to objectify my social interactions and love life, and I refuse to judge my personal success or have others judge my personal success based on my social and emotional life.
But not only do I choose to continue teaching and coaching, but I believe I can teach and coach from a much healthier and far more successful place this way.
If you were or are part of the PUA community, I encourage you to shed the unhealthy associations that come with it. This site is specifically designed to give dating and seduction advice and direction in a healthy manner: focusing on personal satisfaction and fulfillment with all of your sexual relationships, rather than racking up numbers or conquests, winning the admiration of your peers or attempting to be the “coolest” guy you know.
Personally, I think the PUA thing is a fad. I think in 10 years, we’ll look back and think of it as one of those silly things we did in the 2000′s, kind of like big hair in the 80′s, or dial-up modems in the 90′s. The mindsets the community is based upon are self-defeating, and only the truly damaged or self-loathing would continue to subscribe to them for a whole lifetime.
Dating advice for men, on the other hand, is only growing and will continue to grow. It’s going to continue to expand and become more inclusive and more mainstream. I think everything that’s currently Pick Up Artist related will either transition to a more mainstream audience or fade into relative obscurity. It will run its course, just like the men who make up its ranks will run theirs.
To Be Fair… In Hindsight
I know I’ve been pretty harsh on the whole Pick Up Artist thing in this article. And a lot of this probably stems from my bitterness and being too close to it for too long. But I must give credit where credit is due:
- I would not be nearly as socially confident or competent today, if it weren’t for the PUA community.
- There are HUNDREDS of amazing experiences and dozens of amazing women I would have missed out on, had I not picked up that book on that fateful day.
- Through sheer force and confrontation, I’ve had to face many of my own emotional issues and overcome them in a short period of time — issues I probably would have gone half a lifetime being otherwise oblivious to.
- And of course, I made some pretty cool friends and met some interesting people. Without whom, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
In the end, I suppose this article should be taken as a cautionary tale. There’s a lot to gain from that whole movement, but there’s also a lot that you can get trapped in and sucked under by. A friend of mine put it perfectly when he said, “You can judge a self-help movement by how many people leave it. If people are leaving it, then it’s doing something right.” Well, many people leave the PUA community, so it must be doing something right.
Just make sure you’re one of the ones who leaves.
Originally appeared at PostMasculine.com.