A few days ago on Facebook I liked and shared this xkcd webcomic, ( http://www.xkcd.com/1027/),because it spoke volumes to me. It spawned a discussion on my feed and I decided to respond here as my response requires more space than Facebook’s comment section allows.
Full disclosure, this was me a few years ago, back in ’06-’07. I’m not whining here; begging for sympathy or pity. Honestly, I was acting like a douche for even thinking that the Pick-Up-Artist, game would even “work”. At its core – when you stand back and look at it – “social dynamics”, as infamous P.U.A celebrity “Mystery” calls it, is armchair, pop-culture-sociology that assumes that human interactions can be boiled down to basic mathematical algorithms in which someone can make predictions and “game” the system to their advantage. While there may be an algorithm that can predict human interactions -I’m not a mathematician my estimation is that it would have to be a much more complex one to account for the massive amount of variations in human behavior, experience, cultural and economic background, environment, etc. etc.
Now before I go any further with that, I want to back up. To understand why I think this way now, when I had previously dipped my toe into the world of the P.U.A, you have to know a bit about my dating history.
The quick and dirty is that I grew up being the stereotypical TV nerd; at least I felt that way on the inside. I had no idea how to interact with women. I was shy and awkward when talking with women and reserved about my feelings and intentions. I was popular in the sense that a lot of people knew me and thought I was a “good” guy while in high school, but I was not the guy dating the captain of the cheerleading squad – who I had a huge crush on back then ironically – or the hot “bad girl” that hung out with the rebels. My experience about women was the culmination of gentleman etiquette handed down from my mother and father, sex education – mainly from pornography but also from my parents and school, TV, friends and finally, trial and error from real-life interactions. In hindsight, this was a huge potential for mass confusion, contradictions and general all around misunderstandings.
I looking back on it now, I think my introverted personality and penchant for being empathic to other people is what saved me from an even harsher kick-in-the-pants later on down the road. On the one-hand, I had close friends and family that confided in me stories about their past experiences with men. Asshole boyfriends, cheating fathers, etc, etc. I listened and genuinely felt horrible about what these guys did to them and wanted to make things right; better. However, to my friends, I was screaming inside, “I could treat you sooo much better than him!” but on the outside all I did was nod and listen. Today some guys would say that I was “friend-zoned” and blame the woman for not recognizing “ a good man, right in front of them”.
No. I wasn’t being honest.
While those women were confiding – about something intimate and painful – in someone who they thought was being sincere, I was thinking about what I could get out of it. That’s called being selfish and self-centered.
I also listened to the guys in the locker room and outside at the smoke-pit, talk and joke about their latest sexual and/or romantic conquest and I grew more and more disgusted with the attitude I was seeing and hearing. That was the war going on inside of me throughout my teen years. Flash forward to my twenties and I had a string of one-night-stands, short-term relationships and sexual adventures on up through my military service.
It was about 2007/2008 when a few close friends brought a “self-help” book home that they were curious about that promised to help get men more dates and sexual adventures with women. The book is titled “The Game” by Neil Strauss. Even then I was skeptical, but I had developed an attitude – from Bruce Lee’s famous saying “Be like water; take what you need and leave the rest behind”, that useful information could be mined from anywhere if you stay open to it. So I bought the book and devoured it. I read it from cover to cover.
[WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD, if you care.]
In short the book is basically about how Neil Strauss, while writing for Rolling Stone, went to LA to investigate on the Pick-Up-Artist phenomenon and interview the – then unknown man named “Mystery”. Neil gets hooked into Mystery’s scheme and soon drops his writing gig for a years worth of traveling around from club to club on Mystery’s coat tails. Neil and a few other guys become Mystery’s right-hand men as they work night after night to try to crack the “code” of how to get any woman into their bed anytime they wanted. After about a year, it all comes to crashing halt, when Mystery ends up falling deeply in love for one of the women he’s gamed; who has consequently gamed HIM and he has a mental breakdown. There after, Neil is unofficially crowned “The best Pick-Up-Artist in the world”.
In talking with other men who have read it, my estimation is that most don’t even get all the way through it. They stop at the mid-point where Neil starts to breakdown how the P.U.A system works. In spite of my reluctance and with the help of the enthusiasm of my close friends, I got sucked in. The promise of “finally getting that hot girl”; of being the popular guy, was just too strong and so I began following the instructions.
The tips about getting your life in order, exercising, learning to approach and talk – with confidence – with any random person etc, etc. was great. Of course, I was also realizing that I had about ten other books that had already given me all those instructions (IMO, that’s all any self-help book really ever offers), so I was getting frustrated, but I pressed forward anyway.
My lowest moment came when I followed my friends to a club one night, met a random woman at the bar and I tried “negging” for the first time. I’ll skip the details, but to be clear; I was A COMPLETE JERK to her. Not only that, my friends informed me later, I completely “blew” the skill.
Suffice to say, afterward I never felt worse about an interaction in my entire life. Luckily, one of my close friends swooped in quick and with some smooth talking, rescued me enough for me to be able to offer an apology to her and bid her goodnight. After that night, I quit “the game” and boxed up my copy of the book. Consequentially, I quit the club scene as well. I never really felt comfortable at all in it, so it wasn’t that much skin off my back.
About a year later, I met a – now close friend – who introduced me to a brand new community and network of fellow geeks, nerds and alternative lifestyle people. People who loved to sit around, talk about and analyzing anything and everything. People who cared about understanding how things worked and wanted to fix things that didn’t. For the first time in my life, I felt comfortable in the crowd. I wasn’t constantly conscious of what I looked like and conversation flowed easily and effortlessly. I wasn’t worried about “fitting in”, for the most part. I walked away from most of those parties feeling elated, satisfied and excited to attend the next one.
One of the biggest things I realized early on, was that none of “The Game’s” tactics would work as easily in that crowd. The “social dynamics” were so different, that a whole new set would have to be created and even then, it would fail, because treating people like pieces on a game board is what the community was on the look out for. A large part of the community felt that’s how they were treated growing up and instead of ignoring it and “conforming” to society’s demands, they questioned it, analyzed it, and made their own standards and rules. Is the community perfect? No, not by a long shot, but they’re working on it.
I started questioning why I did the things I did in my younger years. I still do. I sat down, alone and was brutally honest with myself about my intentions and feelings. I realized that through my teens and twenty’s, I began to look at women as a means to an end, rather than as human beings. I looked for ways to “crack the code” so I could get an attractive woman to like me. I was convinced I was missing the talent, the looks or the secret to “getting a woman”. I analyzed women, rather than the social structures that pressured me and my friends to act the way we did.
So this xkcd comic hits home because it reminds me of how far I’ve come in such a short time span and how far I still have to go. I’ll be honest, I still have no real handle on the whole flirting thing. I’m still shy, still quiet, awkward and reluctant to announce my attraction to any woman I’ve just met. Some of that comes from my new-found awareness of my innate sexism and my attempts to eradicate those thoughts and behaviors that have been socialized in me, but a larger part has to do with an inner battle of self-confidence. It has nothing to do with the women I interact with. They owe me nothing, they do not have to be nice to me for taking on that battle.
I’ve been to parties where women walked around naked; talked and flirted with whoever. There’s no special clothing to wear, no secret lines to say; mind-tricks or anything. It’s simple, if you want to have any kind of interaction with someone, you just have to ask. Secondly, and most important, you have to respect their answer of “NO” if they say that. It’s really amazing, when you think about it, that there is a book out there with a set of instructions on how to interact with women that’s making money. Yet, small groups of people have figured out a simpler answer: create a comfortable and safe atmosphere for all people involved and respect every person as an individual human being.