Let’s start with the obvious: Sexism is horrible; lecherous dudes are creepy, and anyone who treats women as objects deserves to have his (or her) toenails plucked out with rusty pliers. So when pickup artist (PUA), overpaid lecturer in the art of seduction, and puddle of garbage juice Jeff Allen made jokes about his “rape van” and promised to help guys score threesomes, and Australia canceled his visa and, by proxy, the Australian lecture stop on his world tour, I applauded. When Asheville coffee shop owners Jared Rutledge and Jacob Owens had to shut down their business following an exposé on their disgusting List of Lays blog (veritable space trash in the constellation of the PUA online community), I cheered along with feminists everywhere. I’d never condone sleaziness or PUA culture in general, even if today’s communities are trying to rebrand the whole thing as a confidence-booster for shy, lonely men. But then there was Adam, a trained pickup artist whose name I’ve changed because I genuinely don’t hate the guy. Years ago, when I was interning in NYC the summer before my senior year, he, yes, picked me up at a dark Lower East Side bar, leaning over with an opening line I’ve forgotten and a confident smile I haven’t. He shot off compliments like blow-darts ("I can tell you're bright. Like, broke-1500-on-your-SAT bright."), jokingly challenged me to a mini dance-off, and then exited after 20 minutes of chatting. I was flattered, but I wasn’t hooked. He had a nerdy vibe, and shallow, 21-year-old me was still aiming squarely at the most beautiful man in any room. But he texted to set up a date. When I called to cancel, tired from a long day, he cajoled me into meeting up with him, promising to make it an easy, low-key night. I wore my glasses on our first date, that’s how uninvested I was. And over dinner, he revealed he'd trained with Mystery, the goggles-donning Yoda figure who went on to host VH1’s The Pickup Artist later that year. When Adam and Mystery went out to bars together, he relayed, people thought they were brothers. I’m a journalist, a professional curious person, so I asked him about his methodology; with impressive candor, he relayed tactics that make a good first impression, and it was immediately obvious he’d already used some on me: Approach confidently, give her a playful challenge, make an early exit to leave her wanting more. He was openly manipulating me in real time, and without any whiff of embarrassment. I should've been grossed out, but time with him was sort of addictive: Here was someone so good at reading people, so skilled at going after what he wanted, and he'd wanted me.
Here was someone so good at reading people, so skilled at going after what he wanted, and he'd wanted me.
We dated for the few months I had left in New York before I had to move back to Chicago for my senior year. Even though his income reached echelons mine will likely never approach, he let me pay for rounds and ante up for taxis — since, he once mentioned, research shows that people feel more invested in things they’ve paid for themselves. I flew out to visit him once, and we split the cost of airfare. We drank expensive liquor and ate expensive meals. His fridge was always empty, since, in lieu of preparing food, he ordered delivery or swung by a chic restaurant several times a day. Pop psychology books littered his massive Soho apartment. He told tales of growing up a dork: chubby, shy, and generally disliked. I asked him more about his PUA training. I couldn’t get over how unashamed he was of it. “It taught me that I really can talk to anybody,” he said once. “Now I can literally turn to anyone and say, ‘Hey, are you having a good night?’” I realized that for him, PUA training was a solution, an answer to a problem analogous to the huge stack of takeout menus sitting next to the fridge. When someone with loads of money but no interest in cooking needs to eat, he takes care of business the First World way: with an endless influx of restaurant meals. (I wouldn’t be surprised if, nowadays, he has a live-in chef.) When a dude is flush with cash but lacking in social skills, he pays someone to fix that. I certainly can’t vouch for the PUA community’s “rebranding” — its insistence that it gives awkward, nerdy men more confidence and sociability — especially given recent, disgusting headlines. But in the case of Adam, a good guy by any standards, it seems the classes did just that.
When a dude is flush with cash but lacking in social skills, he pays someone to fix that.
As the school year went on, and my summer in New York felt farther and farther away, Adam eventually disappeared. I wasn’t surprised, especially considering we were never official or exclusive. After I graduated, I moved back to NYC and dated a string of flaky dudes who faded away one after another. But Adam will always have the distinction of being the one ex who reached out years later, dropping me an email out of the blue with kind words and a genuine apology. “I’ve always felt bad about ghosting all those years ago,” it read, in part. “I wanted to say I’m sorry, and you’re awesome, and I was a jackass-idiot hybrid.” Ghosting’s not cool, but I don’t agree with the self-neg. I think he’s a good person, and one I wouldn’t have gotten to know if he hadn’t expertly maneuvered his way into a date with me. Which makes me think maybe, just maybe, his Mystery education didn't teach him to treat women like prey — or at least, that part of the education didn’t stick. Instead, the classes actually helped mold him into someone who could bravely reach out after years of silence to express vulnerability and respect. Not a jackass-idiot hybrid at all.