Last week, an essay I wrote for XoJane.com on how I became a female pick-up artist became the subject of much controversy and rampant disgust. I had rather anticipated this to a certain extent, as I was essentially endorsing arguably the century's most so-called misogynist community in front of a mostly female readership, and I felt that both the boldness and vulnerability of opening myself up to that criticism was part of what would make the piece compelling.
What bothered me was how much of my message was misconstrued, and how much of seduction as both a concept and practice is misconstrued. It bothered me how apparently off-mark I was in explaining my lifestyle and practices to my audience, to the point where my character was attacked on a personal level. I don't at all mind if people don't like me, but if they're going to dislike me, it should at least be for a reason that's true. (And there are plenty: I am an incorrigible narcissist, I'm kind of self-obsessed, I am ferociously strong-willed and stubborn, I'm a control freak, I am by nature impatient, I'm hypersexual, I am terribly materialistic, I'm devastatingly capricious, I'm occasionally sadistic, I am ambitious to the point of antagonism, and I'm blatant in my means of seeking attention. Worst of all perhaps, I talk about my flaws like they're brags because I think that it's funny and that the candor with which I admit them sometimes actually makes me more attractive. Handicap principle!) But if you for one moment try to tell me that seduction isn't one of the most generous, brave, truthful, earnest, and noble practices one can possibly pursue, then we are going to have some serious disagreements.
Part of the controversy heralded in the comments on my essay was of course spawned by the fact that most of what I discussed was my time studying the art of pick-up, which is a particularly contentious branch of seduction. The editors at XoJane who supervised the piece were particularly interested in my experience with pick-up artists, even to the point where they added my mentor Neil Strauss's name to the title of the essay before publishing it on the site. (I'm frank about my relationship to Neil and mentioned him in the piece as he was a necessary part of the story, but it's not my style to add a friend's name in for the sake of sensationalism.) Obviously everyone expected for things to stir up a bit.
Pick-up is easily vilified, particularly by women. Many people construe pick-up as a way of using dishonesty to manipulate its target into sex under false pretenses, and some men are attracted to it for the very reason that they see it as a cheat code to get to sex as quickly as possible. Because of that, there are certainly shitty, dishonest, insecure, manipulative PUAs out there. Pick-up is a skill set that can be used in a constructive manner or a destructive one. Like pretty much anything, really.
One of the things brought to my attention by a personal friend when he read the essay was that I've been lucky to hang out with the good PUAs, the ones who focus on genuine self-improvement rather than insincerity, who use its tactics to playfully and confidently approach women rather than put them down in an attempt to exploit their insecurities, who studied pick-up as a means to create quality relationships with quality people instead of just trying to bed as many hot girls as possible in an attempt to either avenge all their previous rejections or validate their fragile egos. So yeah, I'm biased. I ignore much of the misogynist crap that's out there because I have no use for it. I stuck with the parts of pick-up that felt good to me.
By all this I mean to say that I am not in any way endorsing pick-up artistry across the board, as there are obviously branches of it that are really awful. What I am instead saying is that it hurts me to see people lump all of pick-up into that one terrible category, because by dismissing it so quickly and vehemently I feel that they're missing out on some potentially awesome stuff, stuff that changed my life so dramatically that it basically inspired the epicenter of everything I do today.
And here's one of the most important truths of seduction, what ultimately all good, successful PUAs learn: Tactics like manipulation, dishonesty, agenda-pushing, misogyny (or misandry), disparagement, deception, and general meanness are never actually seductive. And things like integrity, honesty, vulnerability, communicativeness, reliability, and candor are seductive in that along with just being generally good things to do, they're also necessary to forming a functional relationship with any decent human being. Not only are such qualities not at cross-purposes with pick-up, but they're actually crucial to its most elevated levels as an art form.
It's just that there's a lot of superficial training wheels often needed to get a PUA up and running in the first place. I certainly needed them. I needed to craft a "persona" so that I could give myself permission to live life as the person I so passionately wanted to be on the inside -- even though nowadays everything I embody is just an honest expression of my identity -- because I was lost, scared, and just hadn't really thought about it that much. I needed to learn different kinds of "openers" so that I could practice approaching attractive strangers who would have once intimidated the shit out of me. Now I just go talk to people, because doing a bunch of scripted cold approaches gave me the confidence to actually just go talk to people. I needed to break down phases of "kinesthetic escalation" because doing so gave me an innate sense of when someone is going to enjoy being touched and when they're not. And I learned to "close" and discovered that when done artfully, with intense attention paid to your target's level of desire, people actually love when you assume the scary burden of making the first move.
Basically I was really dumb about all this stuff for a long time, and pick-up broke it down for me in clear, Hooked-On-Phonics-level terms. And like any productive learning process, pick-up helped me to frame my failures as lessons and to shape my strategies based on what worked and what didn't (a mentality that I still maintain to this day). And eventually it became second nature to me, an inner compass that shows me the way when desire takes over. I start feeling something for someone, and I know where to go.
Do you have any idea what a boon, what a blessing this is to me? The sad part about learning pick-up was looking around and realizing how many people, when they start feeling something for someone, react with total panic. Because they don't know what to do with it. And that's what really crushes me these days, is seeing so many people miss out on so much happiness because they never learned to manage that fear.
So, yay, go me, I slayed my dragons and I'm all self-actualized and shit. It's easy to frame pick-up as good when you talk about it in the sense that it helps you achieve your own goals. But I'm going to go even further in my defense of seduction, and talk about what a blessing it is to its targets -- the very people whom pick-up's detractors think they're standing up for.
A former colleague of mine once quipped, "Seduction is an essentially generous action because at its core it is considering what the other person wants." Even the crudest of pick-up tactics is at least geared toward a hopeful expectation of how its recipient is going to react. Seduction is a means of giving someone whatever they want or need in order to feel a desire for intimacy.
And yes, sometimes what someone wants, deep down, is not actually constantly pleasant. They might want to feel like you might be unavailable, that they're not sure whether you really like them, or whatever, because their desire for you will increase and they will feel greater joy when they finally do possess you. The degree of this varies from target to target obviously, but it must be addressed, because confusing the idea of giving someone what they want with going around trying to make people feel good by putting them on pedestals is obviously a mistake, one made by every man who bores a beautiful woman by approaching her and asking if he can buy her a drink. But don't mistake those moments of cat-and-mouse as inherently bad, and don't mistake immediate transparency as inherently good, since the latter can amount to "Nice shoes, wanna fuck?" or "Hi nice to meet you, I want to be married with two kids in the next five years, how about you?" Seduction brings pleasure on a level that gets at people's deepest desires, often the ones they can't even articulate to themselves. And yes, it requires a great degree of skill to discern those desires that are so deeply embedded in a person, but that is seduction's noblest aspiration.
This is a hugely underrated quality when you consider how many people in the dating world are so caught up in their own heads, approaching each other with skepticism, checklists, defensiveness. Some people are so caught up in their own insecurities that they allow them to get in the way of making a connection with the person across from them, and that's not doing either of them any favors.
Yes, that's right: a seducer puts her insecurities temporarily aside as a favor to her target, so that she can grant him a more meaningful connection and pleasurable experience. God, do you know how many insecurities I have? Do you know how much I would just love to crawl under my bed and hide sometimes? Do you have any idea how many panic attacks I have had that have gone unseen in the privacy of my own home; how many times I have shaken, cried, felt my heart pound deafeningly in my chest worrying that the person I want might bail out on me at any moment? But you know what? I don't go hide under my bed, because it's fucking selfish. Because the people I fall in love with fucking deserve better of me than that.
Insecurity, when improperly managed to the extent that it prohibits a profound and mindful presence with another person, is selfish. It is selfish because what it condones is a person's foremost preoccupation with themselves, letting them off the hook for actually being present with the person in front of them. It's like the equivalent of walking down the street trying to have a conversation with someone who is constantly checking their own reflection in the glass to make sure they look okay.
The sad thing is that we all have the same goals: we all want to be loved, accepted, respected, cherished. Underneath a person's fear, no matter how much of a dick it makes them act like, is a deep desire for communion. Obviously. We're all human. We're built to crave loving relationships, romantic as well as familial, communal, fraternal. And the things we are built to crave are also built to terrify us. It's a cruel dichotomy.
What sets the seducer apart is that she goes out of her way to make it happen for her loved ones as beautifully as possible. She assumes the burden of potential rejection in order to further the chances of happiness for both herself and her target. She brings not only excitement and pleasure but also the potential for extraordinary emotional fulfillment.
And the douchey PUAs my readers were so appalled by? Come on, trust your judgment of character a bit more. Pick-up won't override someone's douchiness, because as I've explained, douchiness is just another manifestation of improperly managed insecurity, and pick-up will only help you conquer that if you're willing to face it.
But truly my sincerest defense of seduction lies in how desperately I wish someone would seduce me. I am really a very simple puzzle to solve, but very few people actually pay attention. They see what's on the surface of me -- a sexually confident, conventionally attractive, successful, self-sustaining woman who lives by the principles of getting what she wants -- and they assume I don't need/want them (which is a manifestation of insecurity and therefore selfish), feel intimidated (insecurity, again selfish), let fear of rejection override their desire (also insecurity, also selfish), or figure that I'll make all the moves myself (just plain fucking selfish). I know I'm going to have a tough time making the case of "oh what a hard life I have because I became a seductress," but do please step into my shoes for a moment and consider the workload that I take on every time I start dating someone.
Sometimes I think that's the driving force behind almost all of my writing, is the desire to be seen. I'm forthcoming about my feelings here not only because my dedication to authenticity better serves my work and you the reader, but also because I am handing the fucking keys over to anyone with balls enough to get in the car and drive. I'm an open book here -- literally and figuratively -- and I so wish that someone would come along and exploit all my deepest desires to make all my fantasies come true. It's all there if you want to figure it out. Til then, I'll keep figuring you guys out, and yes, you're fucking welcome.
So yes, seduction (and by default, pick-up) is in my estimation the noblest possible lifestyle for a person to choose.
Earlier this summer I seduced a woman I was attracted to, and we had an exciting, pleasurable evening together. We're in distant cities but we still flirt online from time to time. Not too long ago I made a cutesy comment on her social media referencing the time we spent together, and she replied to me, "If only I could re-live that night. It was the most luxurious experience I've had since I moved to this city."
That. That is why I do what I do.