My Problem with PUAs

photo by VancityAllie on flickr

On Sunday night I became involved in a conversation about the pickup artist (PUA) community. There’s tons of literature around; my friend Elana has written a thesis that talks about the connections the society has with history and details some of the techniques, lingo, terminology, and other aspects of the community. Check it out. Many other books also exist, but Neil Strauss’s The Game seems to be the most famous.

PUAs basically take a methodical approach towards “seducing” women (or just asking them out on dates). They endlessly discuss, plan out, and execute tactics to increase their chances of success in meeting, getting phone numbers from, and possibly having sex with women. They play women for sport by DHVing (Demonstrating Higher Value than other men in the area) and compete to see whether they can “bounce” a woman (that is, get her to agree to go somewhere else other than the pickup location, as innocuous as a midnight snack or as salacious as the bedroom). They post “field reports” and “lay reports” online documenting their experiences in these endeavors. They document tips on overcoming “last-minute resistance” to sex. The community has developed its own lingo, communities, experts (“gurus”), and social hierarchies that rival many cults in their structure.

But talking to women does not seem to be the end goal. My chief problem with the idea of PUA-ness in general is that the only, or at least greatest, source of their self-esteem and ego seems to be derived from their interactions with women. They see women not as individuals but as stepping stools to boost their sense of self-worth; pathways that upon being traversed bequeath an ideal set of feelings or characteristics. Many people find this sense of self, or enjoyment of life, in other hobbies: music, photography, racing cars, cooking, working out, programming computers, etc. That’s all fine and it’s very healthy. But it becomes dangerous when your satisfaction relies on your skill at convincing sentient beings, people, to be interested in you. This end goal may not be conscious to the PUAs, but to me it is inherently visible in their actions and the lifestyle around them. Why else would they spend so much time engaged in, and discussing, this activity?

PUAs may gain confidence but they will lack independent self-respect and self-validation that will serve them well in the long run. And along the way they will leave a trail of women who functioned momentarily as a signpost on that road. I’m not even talking about the extreme PUAs who use neurolinguistic programming, a type of waking hypnosis, to get women in to bed. Even PUAs with the most innocent of intentions are still using methodical, planned-out, almost scientific techniques in order to talk to women and thus make themselves feel … something.

I’m a guy too; I know how good it feels to flirt with women, especially when they respond favorably. Social validation is fun, especially when your perception of that person’s worth is high (e.g., she’s an attractive and/or fun woman). And I concede that the social psychology behind these people and their tactics are intriguing from a scientific point of view. But I would never want to rely on that kind of practice for my self-esteem or sense of self-worth the way PUAs seem to. That seems dangerous, not only to the women but also to myself. The thought of it, and the thought of people glorifying this kind of lifestyle, makes me kind of ill.

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