If you’ve been on the internet, you’ve probably run into the “pickup artist” (PUA) community.  If you haven’t, feel free to google, but I won’t be linking anyone here.  Essentially, it’s a group of men (always and only men) trying to teach themselves how to pick up women (always and only women).  Their methods are pretty gross, and they use a lot of dehumanizing lingo, creating acronyms for categories of women and trying to learn psychological tricks; the worst claim to be able to “program” responses via methods like NLP (and no doubt mesmerism, or the ancient techniques of the swamis, or other bullshit magical thinking).  Truly awful stuff.

If you believe what they’re saying, it also works.  Now, no small amount of this is likely due to the fact that they’re teaching these men to actually approach women, which they weren’t doing before.  The dehumanizing stuff is also depedestalizing, and while ultimately toxic I’m sure it initially makes just approaching women easier.  I’m sure most of the PUA gurus would say that in order to get men to stop putting women on pedestals, they have to knock them down a bit (although they’d probably say it in a less savory manner), but I don’t buy it.

Unlike Clarisse Thorn, I don’t think that there are useful bits to these models that need to be extracted and put in a different context, beyond super basic stuff like “approach more women”.  I’d more agree with Amanda Marcotte, that “the PUA mentality is too toxic to be polished into something non-misogynist”, but…


The thing is that there really is a dearth of advice out there on this.  Not a dearth of people trying to give advice, but a dearth of actual, useful advice that doesn’t come from a terrible fashion magazine or an even more terrible lad mag mentality.  Amanda’s suggestions are really more ways not to be an asshole than they are dating/pickup advice. In the 21st century, I can learn how to do almost anything with a quick google, and have done: I’ve brewed beer, written bookmarklets, and boosted my FIDE score 300 points all just through some web research.  But there’s nothing out there that is both useful and nontoxic for dating.

What is out there seems to fall into three categories:

  1. Very basic social interaction stuff, like “treat the other party like a person”(e.g., Amanda’s suggestions), which is probably useful for many men steeped in a misogynist culture who need to relearn how to interact with women. But it won’t get you very far, and it isn’t useful to non-cismen, or to cismen who’ve done the Feminism 101 thing and now need to learn the next steps.
  2. Folks who don’t want to admit that there are skills involved.  Dating is just hanging out with people sometimes with sex at the end, although of course if you go into it hoping for sex at the end you are wrong and bad.  You’re allowed to have sex on the first date, you’re just not allowed to care whether or not you have sex.  There’s a lot of wishy-washy “you’ll only date if you don’t really want to” stuff out there, like an anti-The-Secret.
  3. Horrible claptrap in the aforementioned vein (like the PUA stuff) recommending all sorts of mental tricks to reduce your partner in your mind to something unworthy of you, and therefore eliminate all of the psychological risk involved in approaching someone.  This is mostly aimed at cismen.
Per Clarisse’s thesis (I just wanted to use that phrase), there really is a hole here.  I know I’ve had to try to build from scratch a method and manner of attraction and dating in the time since leaving my last monogamous relationship, and I haven’t been able to find anything that I felt was actually helpful toward that.  And I’m still terrible at it, so I’m in no position to give advice.  And even the handful of slightly-less-awful, somewhat useful links at the bottom of Clarisse’s article mostly just include the very basics of human interaction.
To some extent (and as a corollary to #2 above) there’s this sort of feeling that someone should already know certain things if one is not a broken human being.  I know that, because I felt the same way before I tried it.  But figuring out, say, the correct balance between sexy come-on and careful observance of boundaries in a first contact, be it email or in-person, is actually quite tough, and legitimately so, even for reasonably social people.  I honestly think most people who have this knack forget that this is a learned skill because they learned it so long ago, in that fumbling stumbling bit in one’s tweens-to-twenties when one is supposed to be figuring out how to attract the sexes and genders to whom one is attracted.

I suppose that my intent in creating this blog was twofold (manyfold, really, but only two of the folds are relevant here): I wanted to create a chronicle about my specific situation, getting involved in my first open relationship with someone who’d already been in several, without any other prospects on the horizon, because I couldn’t find any resources to help with that; and I wanted to forge a mutualistic style of dating, which is also something I couldn’t find any help for.  Oddly, I’m doing better with the former than the latter; I still only really ever date people that approach me, so I’ve still never learned how to navigate the approach from the other end.  I would have thought learning to date would be a requisite to learning to relationship, but it turns out that I generally skip that part.

In any event, this hole is something that I think it’s important to fill.  Granted, the tribulations of young, geeky men are not the most prominent social injustice out there, but there’s a need here going unfilled by anyone except the worst the internet has to offer.  Part of the problem with that is that it sets up a cycle like this:
  1. Socially awkward boy googles how to date
  2. Socially awkward boy is introduced to a pile of anecdata about horrible methods of attracting partners that include one or two things that really work, like “don’t sweat it if you get turned down” and “ask a  lot of people out”
  3. Socially awkward boy writes about how amazingly effective these horrible techniques are
  4. Repeat with a new socially awkward boy, with the echo chamber effect further magnified
  • Of course, a woman looking to pick up anyone, or a man looking to pick up men, is completely SOL. It’s assumed to be trivial to pick up men (which, speaking as a man who has been on the receiving end of many a clumsy come-on, definitely not true), and basically everything I can find on women picking up women is, well, porn.
This is problematic, not just for those boys (the better of which will cotton on to their own toxicity and cut it out eventually, and the less better of which don’t get to be targets of pity).  It’s a problem for everyone that they’ll semi-innocently inflict themselves on, and then for those who will have to painstakingly prove themselves not to be the original toxic sort, and then to everyone they’ll date who has to wait while they try to do their careful expression-of-interest-without-seeming-a-creep, and so on. The internet, that great repository of all knowledge, is failing here, and while my immediate, personal concern is of course that I’d like to be better at this, it’s also a form of pollution, just generally drawing down the quality of life for everyone around.  Dating, and romance, and sex, and love, and whatever word wraps all of that together, isn’t a competition, despite what many of the PUA folks will tell you (and this should probably be Tip 1 if and when these things are put together); the world would be a more pleasant place with less competitive macho bullshit in it, regardless of whether that reduction is directly beneficial to any given person.

8 thoughts on “Toxicity

  1. Heh. Glad you’re amused. Apparently, I need to work over the spam settings on here, because your comment got shuffled into spam purgatory; I think there’s clearly a problem with the heuristics if someone who is actually linked in the relevant post gets marked spam.

  2. I do wonder if spam classification is oh, context-aware. It might just be that comments of that length are often spammy.

    A lof ot my friends were stitching together thesis pieces this spring. But do tell about these clumsy come-ons you’ve encountered — it’ll be a “what not to do” sort of learning experience.

  3. Pingback: Clumsy come-ons | Newly Open

  4. Pingback: Clarity | Newly Open

  5. Pingback: The Big Tip | Newly Open

  6. Pingback: Oh, hello, new readers | Newly Open

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