Flirting versus pick-up. Where to begin?

Buyin the game

Since the moment the concept of doing a flirting and pickup workshop was kicked about, there’s been a silent backlash from different quarters… One of the people most vocal has been @Maznu who’s been writing about the whole thing on Twitter quite a bit. In actual fact, we’ve been going back and forth for a few nights on twitter. But Maz also wrote on Simon Carters blog and my own. After reading her (I’m assume shes a she) reply I had to blockquote it as its a very well executed argument, and crystallizes a lot of what I don’t like about the game and pickup.

I’m in two minds because I feel Simon Lumb might have been unfairly singled out by people like Maz, when actually he’s a nice guy who happened to dabble with pickup a while ago. Then again, Maz kind of covers that too. Anyway, he’s the comment with my thoughts between

…First I suppose I ought to outline what I believe these two things are.

Flirting: to deliver a compliment to somebody in a way that says, “out of all the people right here right now, I’ve noticed you, there’s something special about you, and maybe we should talk a little longer.” Flirting is something that anyone can do regardless of the nature of the “attraction”: gay guys flirt with girls (who they have no intention of taking to bed), and vice-versa. I flirt with friends, lovers, former lovers, would-like-to-be lovers, people I am not attracted to, anybody. It’s a “compliment++”: it doesn’t mean “I want to have sex with you” (though there can be that connotation). From what I’ve read of Nicole’s presentations, and her website, I think she’d agree with me.

Yes I think Nicole would be in total agreement…

Pick-up: by the definitions of The Game (the book), this is all about steering conversation and interaction with someone as quickly as possible from initial meeting to sex. Don’t get me wrong: I have absolutely no problem with promiscuity. I have no problem with “one night stands”. You and I and Simon and Ian and whoever are quite welcome to shag whoever they want… but there has to be respect and honour.

On respect: The Game (or rather the book “The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists”) is about a short-cut. Using techniques such as NLP, reframes and others, the goal is to proceed from initial encounter through seduction to sex in a swift manner. And the people that Strauss writes about in The Game seem to have a secondary goal: validation amongst their peers. This is where The Game falls down for me utterly, and where my offence at Sexy Geeks’ “Flirting Workshop” (as originally advertised) stems from.

Its worth mentioning Simon Lumb did email me after we posted the description for the event and say he wasn’t really happy with the description. Without getting semantical, the description was written by myself with another guy in mind. Originally it was meant to be Simon and Andy but Andy had to drop out at the last moment and so Simon inherited what was planned by Andy. Now to be fair, if Simon had been a little more in touch he could have crafted the session a bit more, but I had to go with what I had on the table, which was mainly Andy’s plan.

Although it hurts me to say, I think your right short cutting people with NLP techniques does bother me greatly, specially when there not shared in a open way. Its gives one person the upper hand and thats not good in my book. Dare I say a lack of respect. But I have to say, Simon’s really not like this.

The pick-up seems (to me) to be more about the PUA’s “self esteem” than something which, frankly, is more equal. The result is that many will see the PUA as sexist, misogynistic, etc. Personally I don’t differentiate on gender, so I just see this smarting of lack of respect: it’s about using someone. I always feel that you should party company with someone — be it saying goodbye or ending a relationship — leaving the other person in a “better state” than when you found them. Pick-Ups don’t achieve this; but further, the behaviour of Strauss and his peers actually distances them from the female company they seek. Theirs becomes a completely male-dominated society: they only ever seem to earn or seek respect from their fellow PUAs. Therefore I find their approach to be completely incompatible with the sort of thing I thought “Sexy Geeks Manchester” is about, namely “helping make good relationships”).

I was once called a misogynist because I didn’t act like most guys with a bunch of (lets say) lovely girls. They expected me to try my luck and I wasn’t having any of it (I think this is about the time when I discovered the Rules). They were the centre of most guys attention at the time and place but not mine. They later concluded that I wasn’t gay, married or in a relationship so I must hate woman. Simply because I exercised control over my feelings and sexual organs.

I guess I’m saying in that example is woman can be equally bad at making the opposite sex feel crap. Not that this equals or squares things off. Just a thought that I imagine a lot of guys may have come cross and so they turn to things like the Game to help them get the upper hand. This is the reason why I bought it up to start with.

On confidence: personally I believe that the attribute of people that is most commonly “attractive” is confidence. Unfortunately we are all too easily fooled by bravado, mistake it for confidence, and realise this about our new boyfriend/girlfriend/lover/etc too late. Bravado is covering up an insecurity with a projection of confidence, and a lot of PUA techniques seem to be about doing just this. Sadly, as a “self help book”, The Game doesn’t really address the underlying confidence problems. The educated reader might do that themselves — I hope Simon was one! — but what The Game teaches strikes me to be more about “casting a glamour” rather than self-improvement. The strange and subtle thing about confidence is that confident people don’t usually appear confident… because they don’t need to!

Ok you got me… I think your right on this one. Me and other pickup artists (certainly not Simon) have debated this to death. And your right the projection of confidence aka Bravado bugs me greatly. You need to be comfortable in your own skin, if your not no matter what front you put on it, it will still be there when you look in the mirror tomorrow morning. I think Simon’s confidence may have took a serious knock back in 2002 (is when he said it might have been) but I can’t help but imagine what he was like before I met him. I’m sure he was always a nice guy with a passion for games.

I did say to Andy a while back when we were planning the workshop that I’ve always been happy to talk to the opposite sex. It just wasn’t a big deal… This is part of the reason why I find it hard to understand the need to put on a game face or bravado. I am who I am and if you don’t like it, well tough… 🙂

I also wonder about casting a glamour, I mean at what point do you have to give up the bravado and get real? First date, 2nd date, after meeting the parents, after meeting the friends? When your engaged, when your married or maybe even when your dead? If its not really you, then why bother? Is that other person worth that much trouble? Surely doing this must cause massive problems down the line.

But perhaps the PUAs you had speak at Sexy Geeks weren’t “bad” PUAs. You talk of a heart-warming story. I can fully get behind anybody who is pushing through a self-esteem problem, as your speaker Simon says he was after a horrible break-up. Unfortunately I have several questions, or perhaps hesitations, about this. For instance: “Simon talked about it and suggested he also doesn’t really like it but sees what its trying to do,” but in my book if you don’t like it, then why are you doing it? “Finally Simon talked about moving away from the pickup artist title”: is that because he internalised sufficient PU techniques till they became instinctive, or does he now have qualms with the ethics of “picking-up”? While the “lessons learned” by PUAs might be similar to those things that help with flirting (be yourself, confidence, etc), I think context is key: respect is earned not just from what you’re doing, but why you’re doing it.

I have no answers for you on this one… Only Simon could really tell you whats in his head (besides Halo and Djing). I would only suggest that maybe internalising pickup techniques could be handy in certain suitations like interviews for jobs. I would be a liar if I didn’t admit to using NLP techniques in interviews and to be fair I’ve only been turned down for one or two jobs in my life when I’ve gotten past the CV/application stage.

We can moralise the PU techniques as “ice-breakers” and say “they just help level the playing field” or “but I have low self-esteem, I need something that works.” But at the same time, the presenters at your talk were labelling themselves as “pick-up artists” — to speak of someone as “wingman” very much suggests a PUA lifestyle as per Strauss’ initial meeting with Mystery — and this comes with trappings and potential anti-feminist connotations. Perhaps they would protest, “We’re pickup artists, but we’re nice people! We don’t exploit women!” — but I have trouble believing that, because I can’t imagine someone using that “negative” label in such a manner. Maybe I have it wrong, maybe Chris and Ian are reclaiming the words “pickup artist” in the way that some of us are reclaiming the word “slut”, but if so, that hasn’t come across at all in any of the blog posts I’ve read about their talk; and it’s not part of a wider movement that I’m aware of either.

Yes I think Simon might be in a bit of hard place due to myself again. The description was hard to write and was written in a rush without talking to Simon (he was busy at the time) and once again he did ask me to change it, as he wasn’t happy or even comfortable with pickup artist (I kept because I couldn’t really think of another term).

I would also add Simon is the only person who would not admit to being a pickup artist in the past (I only found out because Andy let slip one day). Maybe there is a fear of the pickup artist stigma but Simon (and total respect to him) did it anyway with a slight push from me.

So generally I think Simon has never really been comfortable with the idea that he might be a pickup artist as such (sure he’s the only one who knows). No one’s certainly try to reclaim the word, although I did try and reclaim “serial dater” away from a player to someone who just goes dating a lot…

Yes, there is a place for discussing these “chat-up techniques” and debating them. I think this is a very interesting topic, and attitudes such as The Rules and The Game should be discussed.

To be honest, I was planning to do “The Rules” at some point in the next geeks talk sexy season because just like “The Game” (and your so right grouping them together). I did allude to it in geeks talk sexy part 2 but the whole debate got hijacked by the notion of the game as so many people hadn’t heard of it.

However, I still feel very strongly that the billing of “Flirting Workshop” alongside “Pickup Techniques” did a disservice to what I believe you’ve been trying to do with Sexy Geeks Manchester. All your speakers up till now had been about forming relationships in which equality, fairness, happiness, passion and fun are a huge part; and some of the “types” of relationships discussed have been quite diverse. I wasn’t there, I might not be reading well enough between the lines, and for these reasons and more perhaps it’s not my place to be so offended…

I totally understand the outrage but also I have to be honest, I’m balancing freedom of information / open information (because I still believe people should know about this stuff) with my distaste of it. The Flirting workshop was always on the cards from the start but after the outrage of geeks talk sexy 2, I decided to push this into the limelight.

As I said on the techgrumps podcast, I’m taking a anthropological view on it all. Its like being Louis theroux I imagine. Never was I promoting the pickup lifestyle, but I do think people should be informed so they can make there own decision without social bias.

As Simon said, some people take this knowledge and use it for there own means, screwing over most of the people around them. Others (like myself and I would suggest Simon) take it and use positively to help people around them and improve relationships. I will admit not only have I read the game, the rules but also as Simon said Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people” and one of my favorites Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Although not dealing with relationships exactly, there also a source of NLP and other techniques. But likewise I’m choosy when I use these techniques and I find them handy for protection when your being social engineered by someone else.

What bugs me is the tons and tons of books and articles on Sudo-NLP techniques which I’ve witnessed in the dark corners of the internet. Anyone who thinks the game is shocking should have a look down the Piratebay’s top 100 ebooks.

  • How to analyze people on sight?
  • How to blow her mind in bed?
  • The Game
  • The body langauge rules: A Savvy Guide to Understanding Who’s Flirting, Who’s Faking, and Who’s Really Interested?

If we don’t cover these type of things, people who might lack the social skills seeking a way to understand the whole process better. I’d much rather someone learn about it in this way that from sudo crappy shadowy book, tutorial, etc…

but I think this combination overstepped a line of taste, somewhere. As I said in my first tweet, “what next? someone talking about The Rules to Geek Girls Manchester?” — and that is still how I feel. Interesting material, but somehow — to me — it seemed the wrong combination of time and place for it.

First up I wouldn’t do the Rules to just girl geeks, it would be open to everyone because it would be interesting for men to know too.

Maybe we did overstep the mark, but to be honest I was planning to push back on Simons talk but it totally surprised me, as it was enlightened and not like some of the other people I know who use the term pickup artist as a proud badge. Geeks talk sexy was always going to be touchy for different people. We’ve had people moan at us about our binary notion of relationships, our over indulgence (there word not mine) in non-monogamy and finally our look at the art of pickup (can’t find a better word)… Locking pickup and flirting together might not have been the best idea but I got to say everyone walked away from the event positive.

Maybe Maz, Josh and others would have felt different if they had come on the workshop.

We are all ears for the next season of geeks talk sexy… I look forward to the feedback…

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.