In some recent blog posts, articles, and tweets, I've noticed I've had to defend pick-up artistry from a slew of detractors deeming it inherently inauthentic and manipulative. They posit that PUAs get by on "tricking" people into sleeping with them through lies, hypnosis, and sneaky language patterns. (Please note: You cannot trick someone into fucking you. People are smarter than that. You can only be a person they will probably want to fuck and then create the context for fucking to potentially happen. This is the crux of pickup.) It's frustrating to me because I know the material that's out there nowadays in the PUA community, and the angry muggles smearing pick-up have it all wrong. Nearly everything I read or watch from any company that is actually successfully selling products today is focused on genuine self-improvement, confidence building, and being an awesome person who contributes something cool to the world at large.
It's this idea that pick-up and authenticity are at odds that makes me get on my soapbox. Which is why I'm pretty stoked about writing this blog post tonight: because I get to back it up as to how authenticity, honesty, and communication actually make people more attracted to you, and are therefore cornerstones to any successful seduction. Wha-BAM! (Arden drops mic and walks offstage.)
A few months ago I picked up the book Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage With People, Work, and Everything We Do by Ori and Rom Brafman, which presents serious sociological research to explain the factors that cause us to connect with other people. It studies those situations where we feel instantly, magically connected to someone, and then breaks down the external aspects that are necessary for the "click" to happen. Naturally I consumed this book with the fervor of a teenage boy pawing through a hidden stash of Playboy mags.
Immediately the book touches upon the idea of vulnerability:
Vulnerability is perhaps the most counterintuitive. Most of us think that when we make ourselves vulnerable we are putting ourselves in a susceptible, exposed, or subservient position. By revealing their inner fears and weaknesses, many feel they allow others to gain power or influence over them. But in terms of creating an instant connection, vulnerability and self-disclosure are, in fact, strengths. They accelerate our ability to connect with those around us.
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable helps the other person to trust you, precisely because you are putting yourself at emotional, psychological, or physical risk. Other people tend to react by being more open and vulnerable themselves. The fact that both of you are letting down your guard helps to lay the groundwork for a faster, closer personal connection. When you both make yourselves vulnerable from the outset and are candid in revealing who you are and how you think and feel, you create an environment that fosters the kind of openness that can lead to an instant connection -- a click.
The book goes on to chart a scale of five categories of statements ranked in vulnerability.
1. Phatic statements are social pleasantries such as "Hi, how are you?" or "Nice to see you," statements that don't really mean much beyond acting as a social lubricant.
2. Factual statements are statements of objective bits of information about ourselves. My name is Arden. I live in New York. I have a cat named Wesley. And so on.
3. Evaluative statements are expressions of opinions, such as how we might have felt about a film or a piece of art. They're riskier because we may face disagreement, but still pretty mild.
4. Gut-level statements start to heat things up a bit. These are expressions of emotions that are personally revealing, such as "I miss you when you're not here," or "I feel happy whenever I spend time with you."
5. Peak statements form the top of the vulnerability spectrum. They're deeply revealing and are also the most risky in terms of how the other person may respond. When we put our hearts out on the table and tell someone our scariest innermost feelings for them, such as, "I love you, and even if you're not comfortable accepting love right now, that doesn't change my feelings for you," or "I was hurt when you criticized me because I'm worried maybe you don't think I'm good enough and that I might lose you," we are making a peak statement. Peak statements are hard.
But they're also effective, according to Click's authors: "We can help to create magical connections simply by elevating the language we use from the phatic to the peak level."
I've been jumping into the scary conversation pit a lot over the past year. It's my newest adrenaline rush. Making approaches doesn't make my blood pump much anymore; I've pulled off so many of them that the idea of rejection centered around an approach just isn't a big deal these days. And since I'm apparently an adrenaline junkie, I've pushed myself into newer, scarier territory by revealing the shit that terrifies me to the people whom I really give a fuck about what they think of me.
This doesn't have to happen just in the context of meaningfully established interpersonal relationships, btdubs. You can go peak on someone in the same night you meet them. Last year I managed to pawn my way through security and backstage to meet the rockstar who was my teen idol, whose music videos I used to rush home to watch on MTV, who in a Platonic ideal kind of way is probably the reason I have been attracted to 90% of the guys I've been attracted to in the last decade. I used the cookie gambit to cross the final hurdle into the dressing room, and there he was, flat-ironing his hair. (N.B.: If you're ever trying to meet a band dude, bring cookies. You won't get backstage unless you have a tangible object that you need to bring in to them. Also, be nice to your friendly neighborhood venue security guys. Offer them cookies too.)
We hung out and chatted, and soon he started busting on me. "Whatever," he said to me, "I bet you bake cookies for like every band that plays here."
I slowed down, looked him straight in the eye, and said, "You're right. I have a lot of friends in the local music scene here in New York, and I do bake cookies for their shows because I think it's a nice thing to do. But there's something you should know. When I was seventeen, I printed photos of you off the internet and hung them in my high school locker. I watched your videos every day after school. You were my first crush. So when I bake cookies for you, it's different. Now kiss me."
And did he kiss me? Fuck yes he kissed me! And then later we boned. And he still texts me. Say what you want about the perfect morality behind authenticity; I'm here to talk about its efficacy. Self-revelation works on a deep, deep level.
I often talk about the instance three years ago when a guy I was in love with left me when I was in the hospital on my birthday. It's become like a flagship of the most awful rejection I've ever experienced and is fun to joke about nowadays in that manner in which humor is the only way of making such a severe wound manageable, and also which makes me a badass seduction poster child since if I survived that rejection, you guys can survive anything. Also it's funny that I have a giant scar from the hospital visit because it's like a big metaphor, and allows me to use words like scar, cut, bleed, and wound both literally and figuratively, and as a writer that makes me happy. I may or may not have listened to that Leona Lewis song "Bleeding Love" repeatedly throughout that month.
But what I didn't talk about was how I handled it. At the time, I had just inked my book deal and was fresh out of a four-year relationship that had seen a painfully slow death, and frankly I was pretty sure I was more fraud than I was seductress. So when this guy I was seeing began the gradual process of not returning my texts, I ignored it, because it was easier to pretend that I didn't care about him than to put my heart on the line and have him tell me he wasn't into me. I couldn't even ask him to come visit me in the hospital (even though it was only ten blocks from his house); I just asked my best friend to text him what happened and where I was, crossing my fingers that maybe I'd open my eyes in the recovery room and he'd be there at the side of my bed. Nor did I even text him from my party where he didn't show up (even though he was slated to dj); I just downed several of my newly-prescribed vicodin with a bunch of the party's free vodka so that I could get through being fun with all my guests like nothing was wrong, and then I went home and cried alone.
Three weeks later, the news of Alexander McQueen's suicide broke, and it hit me hard. And I wrote this boy a long and tearful email about how life is so short and precious and we should never let things go unsaid until it's too late. And before I could click send, I fucking deleted it.
When we finally talked about it, a full year later, he told me he'd disappeared not because he wasn't into me, but because he was afraid I was going back to my ex. But by then it was too late. He was already in a long on/off relationship with a girl who, he later admitted, treated him horribly throughout. (See? Had I been honest about my feelings for him, I probably would have been doing him a favor. This is why I believe that seduction is an essentially generous action.)
A few months ago, a guy I was seeing who I was also super into decided to break things off with me romantically -- over a text message. Everything in every shitty 90s bestselling relationship book out there would have told me he just wasn't that into me, would have chanted "Next!" and told me to text back and say, "K, bye!" But I'd learned my lesson by that point. So I wrote back, "Um, can we talk about this?" And when we talked about it, he was shocked by my reaction. He told me it wasn't because he didn't care about me that he'd sent that text -- it was because he didn't think I liked him enough to be hurt by it.
So I said to myself, fuck it, and decided to use that opportunity to tell him everything that I felt. I told him that I did have intense feelings for him, but that if he felt he needed to be alone I would support his decision to do what he needed to do to take care of himself, and that the door would be open when he felt he was ready to come back. And then I also kind of maybe wrote a blog post about it which I think he maybe might have kind of read, which, although I knew that was a possibility since my work is on view to the public, wasn't really something I'd had in mind while writing it. And that was all kinds of scary and awful and awesome.
When we next saw each other (which was a while, he lives far away), he brought it up again, said he realized things weren't as black and white as he'd thought, and went in for a kiss at the end of the night. I'm actually scared to even write about this because who knows what's going to happen next, but fuck it, scary self-revelation is what this blog post is all about, right? Maybe I'm even connecting better with you my readers as a result. But my point is, thank fuck I didn't let my pride get in the way and just shut down and go hide somewhere. Because seriously, fuck a bunch of that shit.
And most of my friends who shit-talk PUAs as dishonest douchebags would read this blog post and say, "But Arden, you're not like those douchey pick-up artists. You're a nice, honest, generous person, and of course things will work out in your favor, because good things happen to good people."
To those of you who feel that way, I will refer you to the greatest pick-up artist of all time, Neil Strauss, one of my closest mentors in the field of seduction. In his bestselling book The Game, which most pick-up detractors like to figuratively burn as a paradigm of the most dishonest and manipulative PUA douchebaggery ever enacted, Neil writes a passage toward the end of the book about how he finally won over the woman he was in love with:
I was about the say the most AFC* thing of my life. "Let me tell you
something. The pick-up artists have a word they call one-itis. It's a
disease that people get when they become obsessed with just one girl.
And they never end up with this one girl because they get too nervous
around her and scare her away."
"So?" she asked.
"So," I said. "You're my one-itis."
*AFC is an acronym for Average Frustrated Chump. PUAs love acronyms.
There you have it. That's what clinched the deal for the world's greatest pick-up artist.
And for the record, Neil now teaches both dating and general life-skills to a group of men called The Society, where he touts the idea of finding your best, most actualized self, and then communicating it authentically to the world at large in order to attract quality relationships, friendships, and business partnerships, and to live life as awesomely as possible. It's where the art of pick-up was naturally destined to evolve.
In one of his recent Society classes he addressed some popular women's relationship literature such as The Rules and Why Men Love Bitches, those tomes I so painfully abhor for the way they advise relying on inauthentic states of romantic deprivation in order to avoid rejection, as if a good man will choose to stay with you merely because you didn't do any of the wrong things. He talked about the advice they give, and in one of the awesomest sentences I have heard all year, he said, "Emotionally withholding from a guy and not asking to have your needs met sounds like a great way to keep a relationship you shouldn't even be in."
I have said this before, but in this particular instance, it bears repeating. At the end of the day, you must not be afraid of the truth. You must not be afraid of your truth, or of anyone else's. When you can get used to the idea that being with your truth will open the doors for you to live your life in the most freeing and authentic way possible, you will begin to crave it the way I do. It's a better high than anything else I've ever experienced.