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New York Times Article (2004) by Neil Strauss

9.27.2005

posted by Donovan at 12:06 PM

Neil Strauss,
Sunday February 15, 2004

"Men who struggle to chat up women are turning to online seduction groups where they can learn the fine art of flirting."

I am far from attractive. My nose is large for my face and, while not hooked, has a bump in the ridge. Though I am not bald, to say that my hair is thinning would be an understatement. I have indentations on either side of my forehead, which I like and believe add character to my face, though I've never actually received a compliment on them. When I look down at my pale, skinny body, I wonder why any woman would want to sleep next to it, let alone embrace it. So for me, meeting women takes work. I'm not a guy they giggle over at a bar or want to take home because they're feeling drunk and crazy. I can't offer them a piece of my fame and bragging rights like a rock star. All I have is my mind and nobody can see that.

You may notice that I haven't mentioned my personality. That is because in the last year, my personality has completely changed. Or to put it more accurately, I have completely changed my personality. Researching a book proposed by an editor, I allowed myself to be taken under the wings of the selfproclaimed greatest pick-up artists in the world and entered an underground subculture of men dedicated - sometimes to an unhealthy and troubling extreme - to figuring out the mystery of the opposite sex. For lack of a better term, they refer to themselves simply as 'the community'.

For most, entry into this cult-like cross between self-help group and locker room begins on the internet. Type 'seduction' or 'how to meet women' into a search engine and you will find hundreds of sites trying to part you from your money. But the lucky few, able to wade through enticements to 'meet models now', may find one of the free usenet groups, internet mailing lists or message boards where hundreds of men labour day and night to turn the art of seduction into an exact science.

From New York to London to Croatia - places my reporting took me - many of these men meet offline in groups known, without irony, as lairs to discuss tactics and techniques before going out to bars and clubs to put their theories into practice.

It is a world with its own jargon (AFC, for example, denotes an Average Frustrated Chump, PUA a Pick-up Artist) and luminaries known by pseudonyms like Mystery and Juggler. Those who manage to earn the respect of their peers through online postings or real-world prowess can make money writing ebooks or running workshops. This has given birth to a seduction industry in America marketed almost entirely through online newsgroups and mailing lists. Some have turned it into a full-time career with six-figure incomes, others into a lucrative sideline allowing them to collect a few thousand dollars here and there.

One of the pioneers of the seduction community is Ross Jeffries, who, describing himself as unattractive and frustrated, wrote a small book called How to Get the Women You Desire Into Bed in the Eighties. His method was based on an adaptation of neurolinguistic programming, a school of hypnosis which believes that one can communicate with the subconscious through seemingly normal conversation. When a student of his created an internet newsgroup, the seduction community was born.

'I don't know if anybody can really understand the community until they get involved in it,' said Juggler, a comedian from Michigan, who teaches his own method, focused on approaching women directly and mastering the art of natural conversation. 'They view it as guys trying to be players and lying and doing anything for sex, and there are some people in the community who take that tack. But I find that the people who get really good at this aren't like that. That's because to get good, you have to believe you are the prize. And when you are the prize, you start doing more giving instead of more taking.'

Born Erik von Markovik, Mystery is known for spitting out long, detailed postings that read like algorithms of how to engineer social situations to meet and attract women. In detailing his social life online, he has singlehandedly invented much of the jargon and tactics that men around the world are using to meet women.

The 'neg', for example, is his invention. Neither a compliment nor an insult, a neg holds two purposes: momentarily to lower a woman's self-esteem and to suggest an intriguing disinterest. ('Nice nails. Are they real? No? Oh, they look nice anyway.') Mystery cautions online, however, that negging is only for exceptionally beautiful women who are used to a steady stream of compliments.

Speaking in a booming voice that he said was modelled on Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker, he explained his theory to me. 'Normally, the whole concept of meeting a woman is walking up to her when she's by herself and trying to seduce her. The game doesn't work that way.'

If a guy wants to meet a woman who is sitting at a table surrounded by men, he continued, he will most likely be rejected - or beaten up - if he walks straight up and asks for her phone number. He will be much more successful if he befriends the men first. After winning the goodwill of the group, he will be able to talk to the woman one on one, especially if he has already shown a lack of interest with a well-placed neg.

An extraordinary amount of effort seems to be needed to achieve something so shallow, raising a question: what, exactly, do men expect to get out of this? After talking to more than 100 would-be Casanovas, I rarely heard the same answer twice.

Some students - in their twenties, thirties, even forties - said they were virgins who had exhausted most other options in trying to meet women. 'My goal is to get comfortable with myself and show who I truly am,' said one 20-year-old. 'I feel like a Ferrari that is stuck in first gear when I know I have a sixth gear.' A millionaire I talked to said that he was looking for a wife. He soon succeeded - his first child is due this week. And one pick-up artist, who did not want to be identified, said his entire goal was to be in a committed three-way relationship consisting of himself and two beautiful women.

When I asked some women among my friends what they thought of socalled 'seduction coaching', most had no idea how much work men put into getting lucky. Danielle Rose, a student who had exchanged numbers with Mystery after meeting him in a bar, recalled: 'He came over a little like he was trying too hard. But he did seem like a nice guy, which is why I talked to him.' Informed of Mystery's sideline, she said: 'It doesn't change my impression of him, because some guys need the help.'

Juggler's ex-girlfriend, a 21-year-old student, admitted that his involvement with the community had caused problems in the relationship. 'The second or third time we saw each other, he said he had this job and taught guys how to pick up girls,' she said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'So I got on the web and found the community. My initial reaction was disbelief. But the more I read, the more I felt that there was a huge objectification of women. And I started having pretty big problems with the entire community and his involvement in it.'

Several months after learning about the seduction industry and following many hours of coaching, I went to the VIP lounge of a bar in Miami. Two well-tanned women with matching platinum hair and white figure-revealing tanktops walked in, turning every head.

The women were talking to a man so, in keeping with Mystery's technique, I walked toward the group without even glancing at the women, focusing on the guy instead. I greeted him as if I knew him. Now that I was in range, I tried to break the ice. Nervously, I said the first thing that came to my head. 'You know what?' I told them. 'You both look like strange little snowflakes.'

It was nonsense, but I had their attention. I continued with what I knew all along would be my true opener, the neg: 'Is your hair real?'

The shorter girl looked shocked, but then recovered her composure. 'Yes,' she said. 'Feel it.' I tugged it gently. 'Hey, it moved. It's not real.'

'Pull harder.'

I complied. 'OK,' I said. 'I believe you. But how about your friend there?'

The taller woman's face reddened. She leaned over the bar and stared at me. 'That is really rude,' she said. 'What if I'm actually bald? That could really hurt someone's feelings. It's disrespectful.'

I had provoked a negative reaction, but now at least we had a relationship. I just had to turn her anger around to make it a good relationship.

'I'll tell you something,' I said. 'I live in Los Angeles. It's where the most beautiful women in the country come to try and make it. And do you know what I've learned? Beauty is common. It's something you're born with or you pay for. What counts is what you make of yourself.'

Her face relaxed. 'And you know what?' I added, as an afterthought. 'You have a great smile. I can tell that underneath all that, you're probably a good person.'

The shorter girl sidled up to me and said: 'We're sisters.' I looked very slowly at both of them, evaluating her comment, and took a chance. 'I don't buy it,' I said, smiling. 'I bet a lot of guys believe you, but I'm a very intuitive person. When I look at you both, I can tell that you're both very different. Too different.'

She broke into a guilty smile. 'We never tell anyone this,' she said, 'but you're right. We're just friends.'

Now the hard part was over.

'You're interesting,' the shorter woman gushed at one point. 'We have to hang out with you in LA.'

You may have noticed that I haven't used the women's names. This is because Mystery told me never to introduce myself. Wait for the woman to introduce herself, that way you know if she's interested. It's what Mystery calls an Indicator of Interest, or IOI, and when one gets three or four IOIs, the option to see the woman again is on the table.

The taller one asked what my zodiac sign was - another IOI. She suggested spending time together and gave me mobile phone numbers for both of them. But what pleased me even more was that she bought me a drink. I was excited not because I needed the free cocktail, but because she confessed that she and her friend had made a pact before the trip to trick guys into paying for all their drinks.

My days as an AFC, it seemed, were finally over.

© New York Times

Read "The Game" By Neil Strauss, uncovering the world of pickup artists. Check the sidebar for additional resources, like Mystery, and Double Your Dating.

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