Love in the Age of the Pickup Artist

There is a lot of psychology at work in Neil Strauss’s book on picking up women The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists.

While there are many aspects to ‘picking up,' the key to the method is, unquestionably, that the pickup artist ignore, tease, or even insult the targeted female, accustomed as she is to constant, beleaguering attention from men. If you think that's not going to work, it's exactly what Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman used to do.

So how does it all work?

It all starts in a bar. For the most part pick up artists, or PUAs, operate alone.

A ‘target' is chosen and she must be approached within three seconds — this is the three-second rule. One of Mystery's inventions.

The thought behind it is twofold: first, if a man looks for too long at a woman, she might begin to think he is creepy, or, possibly worse, a coward; and second, if a man looks for too long at a woman, he might indeed become a coward, he might lose his nerve.

The approach should be made at an angle, preferably from 10 o'clock as this is the least intimidating way. Always smile.

Usually the ‘target' will be in a group, which makes sense. Beautiful women are rarely alone.

The first words should be an opener and a false time constraint. Something along the lines of ‘My friends are waiting for me so I have to go in a few minutes' serves to eliminate any anxiety that you're going to stay all night.

If you've ever been approached in a bard, I'm sure you know the feeling.

The PUA opener—what follows the “but” in the time constraint—is unlike the come-on lines we have always heard: “Come here often?”; “What’s your sign?”; “I must be in heaven, because you are an angel.” The PUA opener seeks instead to start a conversation, nothing more, nothing less. Typically, it asks for an opinion, which both makes the intrusion plausible and, even better, allows women to offer their advice (because who doesn’t love giving advice?). One opener that has been “field-tested,” the “jealous girlfriend” opener, asks the group what a friend (imaginary, of course) should do in the following situation: his new girlfriend has become more and more opposed to his continuing contact with his ex-girlfriend from college. Now, of course it makes sense that the current girlfriend should have pride of place. But the ex-girlfriend is just a friend at this point—and anyhow, they are still such important figures in each other’s lives! Is that really fair?

In the meantime, of course, the pickup artist needs to watch his body language—or train himself into the proper body language beforehand. PUAs are quite fond of watching movies with famously “alpha” protagonists—James Dean, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt—and routinely copy their stances and gestures, practicing in front of a mirror. They seem to know everything that one could possibly desire to know: where to put their hands, where to put their feet, what to do with their weight. They know how to manipulate a woman out of her barstool so they can slide into the seated position (the position of power). They know how to rock backwards slightly when delivering openers—again, so that their interlocutors fear they might leave at any moment.

Soon it is time for a “neg.” Here is the insulting, the teasing—the alienation, as Mystery put it. When the opportunity arises, the pickup artist finally acknowledges his target, whom he has either been ignoring or only addressing as part of her group. But it is hardly an acknowledgment: it is a mild insult, or a backhanded compliment, and always delivered in as casual a way as possible so that the intention to insult can never be detected. At the target’s first attempt to join the conversation: “Whoa, your friend is pushy guys, is she always like that?” Or after she smiles: “Your nose is so cute; I love the way it wrinkles up.” The thought is that depriving a woman of attention and validation will lead her to seek it from you; Strauss puts it best when he says that to neg a woman is to treat her like a bratty little sister.

But the victory of the pickup artist can only be guaranteed by demonstrating value. In the abstract, this involves establishing that the pickup artist is different from other men, intriguing in some way, superior. Most of the time, however, because of the historical accident of the culture’s foremost practitioner having been interested in magic as a child, this is achieved via a number of pseudo-mystical “routines”: ESP, handwriting analysis, various personality tests. (In Mystery’s own case, there are actual magic tricks involved, but he knows better than to introduce them as “magic tricks.”) In one routine, “the cube,” the target is asked to picture a cube in the desert. Then she is asked: How big is it? What is it made of? What color is it? Then she pictures a ladder, a horse, flowers, a storm. Sure enough, the cube represents her ego, the ladder her friends, the horse her lover (or her own sexuality), the flowers children, the storm her problems. Is the ladder leaning on the cube? Her friends depend on her. Is the horse bigger than the cube? She wants her lover to dominate her. And so on. That the details of the routine are purely arbitrary is not lost on the pickup artists—there exist bountiful variations, in which the terms are shifted around according to whim, the flowers representing one thing, the ladder another.

And it's never too early to use rewards and punishments.

The solution dog trainers have formulated is this proven procedure: After the correction for bad behavior, structure a challenge for the dog to do something correctly. Right after you shake the jar [of pennies, to punish the dog], say, “Sit,” and help the dog sit. Then reward it with love and affection: “Good girl!!!” “Yes, good boy!” … Humans are the same way. … [W]hen we correct a woman’s misbehavior, we must then immediately structure an opportunity for her to jump through an easy hoop, thereby rewarding her for it.

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Still Curious? Try reading: The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup ArtistsThe Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women Into Bed and On Love.