A writer in a cocktail dress faces a pickup artist in a leisure suit, in an all-night battle royal.
My dress was bright red, I was wearing an obscene amount of eyeliner, and I was surrounded by thumping music and flashing lights. As part of the research for my book on pickup artists (PUAs), I'd spent my evening hanging out with a bunch of them in their natural habitat: a nightclub. They were a mixed group. Some seemed shy and awkward, some blustery, and some completely confident. One of them took a shine to me: David, a PUA instructor who wore a lavender rhinestone-studded suit to the club.
Most of the PUAs departed the club around one a.m., except for David, still hilariously out of place in his sparkly suit. We hit the dance floor again until David asked, "Want to go get something to eat?"
"Sure," I said, and left the club with him. On our way out we ran into one of my non-PUA friends, who gave David a sharp look. "You get her home safe," said my friend.
"Of course," David said amiably.
We jumped into David's car, and within ten minutes we were driving through an area that was definitely not the twenty-four-hour-diner district. "Where are we going to eat?" I asked, and then my circumstances caught up to me. "Are you taking me to your apartment?" I demanded.
"Yep," he said, and laughed.
I couldn't help it… I laughed too. "I've read that you guys do stuff like this," I said, "but I can't believe you decided to take me to your apartment without even asking. You know that I read PUA materials, right? Look, I'm not going to have sex with you, okay?"
David waved one hand airily. "There are so many different definitions of 'sex,'" he said.
"Seriously," I insisted, "I'm not going to have sex with you."
He changed the subject. I took a quick mental inventory: I felt alert and not-drugged. One of my friends had seen me leave with David. David seemed pushy, but I didn't feel threatened. My internal safety warning bells weren't going off, even though he was a pickup artist. Still… "I don't know if I should trust you," I said aloud.
"You were referred to me by a good friend," he pointed out. "I wouldn't mess with you."
David is reminding me that he's trusted by someone I already know… and, well, that does happen to be true, I concluded. Let's go home with him and see how he acts. I felt like an old-time anthropologist venturing into the jungle.
David's apartment was a masterpiece of PUA layout. "We can't sit in the living room," he said as soon as we got there, "because my roommate's asleep and if we talk, we'll wake him up." Of course, the only other available room was his bedroom. Where there was nowhere to sit except the king-size bed.
"I thought we were going to eat something," I said.
"Oh, yeah," said David, and rummaged around until he found a half-eaten chocolate bar.
Seriously? I thought. It was so sleazy, but I was more entertained than appalled. David sprawled on one side of the bed. I perched on the other edge, as far away from him as possible, and kept my spine ramrod-straight.
"Tell me PUA stories?" I said, and he did.
My personal favorite anecdote involved his roommate. Apparently, at one point the roommate brought home a girl and had sex with her. Afterwards, the roommate decided to leave the apartment for a cigarette, so he and the girl came out into the living room and chatted with David. Five minutes into the conversation, the roommate addressed David in German (which they knew she didn't speak): "Dude, I think she's into you."
"Do you mind?" David asked in the same language.
"Not at all," said the roommate, and departed to smoke his cigarette, leaving David to seduce the girl.
"It didn't take much effort," David told me cheerfully. "She was totally into it."
I complimented him on some candles. "Oh, do you like them?" he asked. "I have a giant box of them. You can have some! This one girl followed me home one night, and she had this big box of candles. She accidentally left them behind in the morning."
"Why didn't you call her to give them back?"
"I didn't have her number." In a more serious tone, he added, "I never take a girl's number unless I plan to call her."
I got the impression that this was an ethical boundary for him. In one way, it made sense: taking a girl's number without the intent to call could be seen as leading her on. On the other hand, sleeping with someone and then never speaking to them again seemed harsh. I wondered if this girl had left the candles behind in an attempt to get him to track her down. (Yes, I took some candles home with me. My mom loved them.)
Then there was the tale of the girl who attended a PUA lecture and slept with three PUAs the same night. I had to admit, David was fun to talk to. Within an hour, I was tired of sitting up on the edge of the mattress, so I took the chance of lying down… still keeping three feet of real estate between us. Regardless, he was on me in a moment.
"Stop that," I said, and he pulled back. "Look," I said, "I really am not going to have sex with you. I just want to talk. Also," I added, "I should go home soon. It's late."
"You're totally sleeping over," David said firmly. "I'll drive you home in the morning."
"No, I'm going home tonight," I said.
Again, he changed the subject. I wondered if it was wise to let him do that, but it didn't seem like I could say any words he would take seriously.
We talked until five or six a.m. He continued lying next to me. I continued to rebuff his advances. Every time I said I would go home, he said I should sleep over. Finally I said, "I'm just going to walk."
"That'll take you hours!" he protested.
"Watch me," I said. "I'm pretty sure I know how to get there from here. Plus, we can't be far from public transit."
"No, okay, I'll take you home."
The sun came up as we drove across the city. The conversation shifted to my writing and my thoughts about sex and sexuality. I talk about sex a lot in a cerebral, non-hot way; I'm used to discussing my own sexual desires that way, too. This is what we do in the S&M subculture, and sex writers do it a lot, too.
But David made it clear that for him, the conversation was extremely hot. I hadn't meant to tease him — really — but as we pulled up to the corner near my apartment, I looked at David thoughtfully. His voice had gone husky. He gazed at me meaningfully.
I didn't feel attracted to him. I had no intention of having sex with him. If he hadn't been a PUA, I would have continued to keep him at arm's length. But there was something so incredibly hot about pickup artistry in general…
…I leaned over and kissed him, and he groaned.
I realized that the thrill I felt was a power trip. I'm the first to admit that I fetishize power; and I knew, in that moment, that my feelings about interacting with PUAs really were similar to S&M feelings. Except that the difference was this: if I were playing S&M mind games, I'd discuss it explicitly. I would try to respect everyone's emotions. If I were looking for a real relationship, then I would try very hard to be honest and honorable.
In contrast, I stepped out of David's car without a word. In that moment, I felt zero compunctions about messing with his head in a completely non-negotiated way.
He was a PUA, right? He'd spent the whole night pushing my boundaries and trying to manipulate me. I dreaded to imagine how well his tactics could have worked on a younger, more naive, more insecure version of myself.
This was war.
And besides, it wasn't like PUAs had feelings or anything.
This may have been my first omen that learning about PUAs was making me more cynical and manipulative, and encouraging negative attitudes about men. Alas, I paid it no mind.
This is an abridged excerpt from the brand-new ebook, Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews with Hideous Men, by the feminist S&M writer Clarisse Thorn. You can buy it right now at Amazon! Note that if you don't have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle app for your computer or smartphone and read it there. If you would prefer a paper copy, Clarisse will be releasing the book in physical form within the next two weeks. Also note: you can become a fan of Confessions on Facebook.
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