Love & Sex

I Did It For Science: Female Pick-Up Artist

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Experiment:
To determine the efficacy and adaptability of pop-culture hook-up guides. Can a woman use the rules of "the game" on other women? And how will dudes respond to pick-up techniques that were designed to hustle ladies into bed?

Hypothesis:
Success, according to these manuals, is one of three results, known as "closes": the number-close, the kiss-close, and the f-close. Get a number, get smooched, get laid. Frankly, I will be stoked if I close the experiment without a panic attack; anything else is a bonus.

Your scientist would like to disclose a bias before we begin: prior to engaging in this experiment, I strongly believed that mainstream advice guides were based on little more than misogyny and an eager exploitation of the insecure. I recoiled from materials that treated men and women as irreconcilably alien from one another, and which suggested that little more than snake oil and manipulation is required to bed them.

However, I was also hot off the heels of a number of breakups — one with a person, another with cigarettes — and had no real notion of how to function socially without the latter. I was hard up for a release; this seemed as good an avenue as any.

Materials:
Several self-help guides, and one 450-page, leather-bound, gilded, thirty-nine-dollar book detailing the inner world of pickup artists (that's "PUAs" to the uninitiated; this is a subculture rife with acronyms)
Several reruns of VH1's The Pickup Artist
An alter-ego ("avatar")
A wing woman
A number of pre-planned pick-up lines ("openers")
Accoutrements for "peacocking" (dressing all snazzy to attract mates)
A fully abandoned sense of shame, propriety and personal space

Methods:
Before attempting to pick up anybody, I read the authoritative materials

Frankly, I will be stoked if I close the experiment without a panic attack; anything else is a bonus.

on the purported "art" of picking up women. Distilled, the ideas are fairly simple — generic, even — and for the more socially uncomfortable could be helpful. They advise being confident (or at least faking it), taking some care in your appearance, smiling, physically approaching people in a way that isn't threatening or invasive, and not feeling completely destroyed by rejection — all fairly sound advice for meeting new people.

More problematic is the culture surrounding these basics, as described in detail in Neil Strauss's The Game. It's a culture that describes women as "targets," that calls a mission to go meet women "sarging" (named after a certain veteran PUA's cat, Sarge. Pussy! Clever!), that refers to a woman's desire not to be approached by strangers as her "bitch shield," that encourages making women feel bad about themselves as they are being hit on, so as to make oneself seem larger and more important (a tactic called the "neg"). It speaks glowingly of men who (allegedly — there is a lot of ego here) have manipulated their partners into plastic surgery and sex work, encourages "going caveman," and provides this gem of an acronym:

LMR — noun [last-minute resistance]: an occurrence, often after kissing, in which a woman who desires a man prevents him, through words or actions, from progressing towards a more intimate sexual contact, such as removing her bra, putting his hand down her pants, or penetration.

So consent is just another obstacle to be humped away into pick-up artist mastery. Rapetacular.

Since much of this advice involves reinventing one's current (presumably flawed) self into a lady-killing stud, I had to develop a suave, clubbin' persona. If Mystery can seriously call himself Mystery, if a dude named Neil can reinvent himself as Style, then for a limited time only I will call myself Cash. I chose it along the lines of Wu-Tang's "cash rules everything around me," but as it happens the name provided a segue into an incredibly cheesy line, courtesy of an acquaintance actually named Cash: "Before I was born, my parents used to say that they had love and they had a home, but what they didn't have was cash."

I worked up some other "openers" — including "what are your thoughts on the banjo?" — then practiced my lines in front of a mirror. It was going to be a very long night.

Since a major part of attracting mates is standing out from the competition, I dressed in a style both flamboyant and outsized, a la VH1's Mystery: gold lamé pants, a suggestive belt buckle, a water bra, an enormous hat, lots of eye makeup, and gold glitter spangled across my lingerie-enhanced cleavage. I geared up to go "sarging" by listening to R. Kelly. It seemed appropriate.

Dressed as though auditioning for the slut-cowboy ballet, I was ready to impress folks with my confidence, suavity, and several routines lifted verbatim from my research materials including, uh, magic tricks. But to take the experiment to the fullest, I couldn't just strap on a silly costume, hit on some folks, and call it a night. No, I'd have to live it — a prospect infinitely scarier than, say, wearing a vibrator out in public for an evening. I'd seriously attempt to become someone else — someone able to initiate conversations with strangers without spazzing, able to bang strangers without worry or compunction. It was time to live the game.

I went to the grocery store wearing my finest peacocking frippery, where I attempted to chat up ladies with magic tricks and mangoes. The ideal exchange might go something like this:

CASHMONEY: I couldn't help but notice — do you knit?
HOT LADY: Why yes! How did you know?
CM: Magic. (wink!) Seriously though: by the way you hold those mangoes, it looks like you use this arm a lot. And since you look more like a librarian than a bowler, I figured you were crafty.
HL: (smiles)
CM: Would you like to kiss me?
HL: How presumptuous!
CM: I didn't say you could, you just looked like you wanted to.
HL: Well maybe, now that you mention it…
CM: Also, let's bang!

"By the way you hold those mangoes, it looks like you use this arm a lot."

HL: Agreed! Forthwith!

Spoiler alert: it did not go anything like this.

Observations/Results:
I'm generally a monochrome-wearing, makeup-free person; i.e. not big on flair. I was almost more worried about peacocking than anything else, until I remembered I live in New York, a city in which it would take a crown of radioactive antlers to make me the most ridiculous-looking person on any given block. In a city of peacocks, I could focus on other anxieties, like trying to get strange, hot people to fuck me.

Regardless, the peacocking definitely got people's attention. I went to a party in a museum and caught a dude taking my picture. After I'd engaged him with a few choice openers related to banjos, burritos, and the life of a professional loom operator (my personality of choice that evening), dude proceeded to get embarrassingly drunk very quickly. Suddenly he was smelling my hair, trying to draw on me with a Crayola marker, sloppily putting me in headlock-like hugs, and trying to feel my boobs. None of my source materials touched on what to do when you have worked game only to realize that you can't imagine sharing another drink with your target, let alone the rest of your evening (or ten sweaty minutes). How do I get out of this? WWMD?

I commented on his wandering hands with a "neg" line lifted straight from the manuals: "Have you always been so grabby?" It's supposed to make your target want you more, but he looked incredibly hurt, mumbled something and scuttled away. I may not like the neg concept, but at that moment I was grateful for it.

Other encounters were equally dodgy. At one bar, a woman I was flirting with believed me when I told her I played hopscotch for a living, thought it was cool, seemed charmed, and my brain couldn't keep up with the lies. I started confessing real things about myself, total non sequiturs about Oklahoma and how New York doesn't have decent avocados. I broke the rules and told her my thoughts on the banjo. I was atoning with verbal spillage, which couldn't have been attractive. She walked away.

I also told a woman she had man hands. This was not improvisation, but nearly word-for-word from my reference manuals, a way of making your target feel self-conscious. (Thus breaking down her "bitch shield.") I'd done a variation of the aforementioned mango routine, but with liquor. I was caressing her palm when I said, "You kinda have man hands. It looks like you work with your hands a lot, like… a longshoreman?" To say she wasn't feeling my game would be an understatement. It's a good thing I didn't ask if her boobs were fake.

After several weekends of ill-fated, forced interactions, I also became hyper-aware of the strategies others employed to try to bed me. One night I was approached by a freakishly confident, mustachioed wingman with a pattern on his shirt that looked exactly like sperm. He touched my arm and told me I had to meet his friend. "And if I don't want to?" I asked.

"Oh, you do." Fine, player. It was on.

I spent the next fifteen minutes taking mental notes about how they treated me. Finally over it, I shook his friend's hand and thanked him for the cigarette. Wingman looked at me and said, "I don't like that handshake. What's that all about?"

"I'm sorry," I said, "should I have humped him?" I checked to see if my bitch shield was showing.

He cocked an eyebrow and smirked, "Oh, I see what you're doing." He was negging me! I had been negged! And I guess it sort of made me want to fuck them, if by "fuck" you really mean "punch in the nose."

Being attuned to other folk's game had an unanticipated side effect. I noticed how my targets (mostly dudes, some ladies) responded when they realized that they were in the vicinity of sexy times. When I acted as the female sexual conquistador, almost invariably they started working their own game double-time, and whatever control I was supposed to have over the situation dissipated. I felt more like prey than predator. As a young woman with a pulse, this feeling isn't unfamiliar. But just because it's familiar doesn't mean it's comfortable.

One night, exhausted from weeks of uncharacteristically talking up strangers like it was my job (which I suppose it was), I half-heartedly peacocked and went to a new bar. The prospect of acting my way through another conversation made me want to cry, so I sat at the end of the bar with my wing woman (in violation of the game's rules about body language and approachability), made brief eye contact and whatnot, but largely kept to myself and my liquor.

The game had worn me down.

The game had worn me down; it was time to rock my normal, standoffish behavior and unwind.

And I ended up with a cute woman's face between my boobs on the dance floor, in what was empirically my most successful evening to date. Go figure.

Conclusions:
I conducted my experiments by the book, but scored neither phone number nor smooch nor sexin'. I was an epic failure of a pick-up artist, but the problem was, I no longer wanted to have sex with anyone. Going out on these hyper-conscious, orchestrated hunts for sex basically ruined my libido. I could barely masturbate successfully; I now hated both the player — myself — and the game.

I suffered an existential crisis about identity and authenticity every time I went on a sex-quest. Instead of a smooth master of the romantical arts, these methods had turned me into a character composed of equal parts Manic Pixie Dream Girl and creepy meanster. I tried to tell myself, it's not lying, it's flirting!, a refrain from one of my reference texts. But every time I gave someone a name that wasn't the one on my birth certificate, every time I told someone I was a professional basket weaver — even though it was all done with a wink and a smile — I felt queasy, and expected to be outed as the lying weirdo I'd become.

I'll always be a proponent of safe, casual sex; there's nothing wrong with going out with bangin' on the brain, and working to convince someone that you're worth fucking. But pick-up artistry's put-downs, militaristic jargon, and conquistador approach to relationships invalidates so much of the purported emphasis on self-improvement. Fronting, straight-up lying, and acting cocky just made me feel like a jerk.

Here's the real problem behind all things that promise to magically transform the current (presumably unsuccessful) you into a better, shinier, sexier you: people can be charmed, minds and bodies conquered, if briefly. But eventually the eyeliner has to come off, the big hats and feather boas hung up, the prefab conversations retired for the night. And you're still whoever you were before you started trying to convince strangers that you are grand, mythic and studly — the same person with the same hang-ups and human foibles. Just with more silly hats.

Read more I Did It For Science here.

©2009 Kate Ray and Nerve.com