Elizabeth Haag used to work for a pickup artist. After we wrote about female pickup artists (or the lack thereof), she contacted us to tell her story of misogyny, sex in bathroom stalls — and a growing sympathy for men.
For legal reasons, Haag couldn't name names or reveal her employer's trade secrets. But she could tell us about the disturbing manipulations she witnessed — and about how her feelings about pickup and men in general changed over the course of her job. Here's her story.
Last July, I found myself in a Manhattan vodka bar surrounded by pickup artists, dating coaches, a "sex god," and a handful of novices practicing their newly learned skills. It was just another day at the office, smack dab in the middle of the year I spent as an assistant to a pickup artist. I shopped, filed, helped with customer service and aided in the production of our new products. For the most part, my job was a lot like any other assistant's — only our products helped guys get laid. I loved it, especially at the beginning. It was a young, laid-back company, and I was one of the boys. The guys spoke openly in front of me, and while I heard some pretty gruesome and graphic sex stuff, I felt like I was privy to the secret world of men. Over time I began to feel differently, but for a while I felt right at home.
The company was very small. There was the PUA (pickup artist - we referred to him as a "dating coach"), myself, several trainers, and a very small support staff. The PUA was about 30, average-looking, publicly quiet, and unassuming, certainly not what you'd expect. And while he may not have fit the stereotype, it didn't take too long to recognize his intelligence or get swept up in his charm and charisma. Working for him was a lot of fun, and the company, by design, was a place people wanted to hang out. He had been perfecting his method for years, and now provided clients with books, CDs, and coaching, so that they too could become girl magnets. Our method was different from what a lot of people think of as "pickup." The advice was based on building men up, as opposed to denigrating women. I suppose that's why I didn't mind it at first. A lot of it made sense . Don't get me wrong, the people I worked with were not "sweet" guys. There was one trainer that spoke publicly about how much he loved women, but privately believed any woman approaching thirty was trying to get pregnant and trap a man. Others considered themselves "old-school" in that they remembered when the community was more about making men better men, but many still had questionable preconceived notions about women. Still, for the most part, they didn't approve of what a lot of popular PUAs were putting out into the seduction community, (as far as negging, etc.).
During the course of my time there, I learned a lot about PUAs, their customers, the industry, and myself. Each PUA has a specific persona for a reason, and in most cases these personas work for them and only them, there is a reason the PUA has chosen his particular façade. For example, the most famous PUA, Mystery, worked as a magician before he got into pickup. He was comfortable as a magician, so he incorporated it into his pickup artistry. It worked for him, but it's also why we now see men flubbing magic tricks in bars hoping to impress the ladies.
Upon being hired, I was handed some of our material to study. I asked my boss if it would it make me hate men. He thought about it, and with a genuine laugh said, "No, but it may make you hate me." I went into the job expecting to be disturbed and disgusted, but was surprised to find that for the most part I wasn't. Weeks of hearing about how to get women into bed, and how to get them addicted to you didn't phase me. That changed one evening, when a trainer mentioned an article on how to get your ex back. My blood ran cold. The thought of my exes having this information was terrifying. But when I heard the advice, to me, it was sort of common sense. It was the sort of thing we women tell each other to do all the time. (Also, it probably wouldn't have worked on me, anyway. I'm a fierce breaker-upper.) What I came to learn over time was that many men are really clueless about dating, sex and relationships. They genuinely don't realize that they stand too close, or touch your arm in a weird way. They're baffled by the difference between our flirtatious ribbing and straight-up rejection. They're afraid to go in for the kiss because they're oblivious to all the signals you've been sending. Ninety-nine percent of the curriculum didn't bother me at all.
However, the tactics of the trainers and PUAs themselves were a different story — a far more sinister one. For them, manipulating women was often a game. They enjoyed seeing how far they could push the limits of their skills. I met girls that were being cheated on. I saw texts from women begging to be taken back. Some of these guys were seeing more girls at one time than you could think possible. They knew how to get women into bed (or a bathroom stall for that matter) in just hours or even minutes. They had tricks to get girls to pay for things, and techniques to get a girlfriend to agree to a three-way. They had girls declaring their love after only one encounter, without any reciprocity. There were stories you could tell a woman to make her panic about losing you every time you left a room, and while I never witnessed this in action, I don't have a hard time believing it's the truth. There are also many men in the seduction community (not necessarily my company) that talk a big game, but never see much action themselves. There were ups and downs regarding how I felt about my colleagues, and at times, men in general. It's worth noting, however, that most guys who go to these companies for help are not going to end up sleeping with three different women a day. They may hope to, but ultimately, they really just want to hook up with a few girls, or find a girlfriend. I can't fault anyone for wanting that. Seduction is like any other skill. Many people study painting, but very few become Picasso. For the most part, the PUAs and their customers are in different leagues. The guys that go on to work in the field are generally more skilled with women than their clients will become. It took a while, but at some point I realized that if I ever wanted to date normally again, I would have to leave my job. I had a nagging feeling that it was starting to change me.
So, back to that night, in the vodka bar: I was bantering back and forth with an Australian dating coach, and after receiving a few jabs I joked to the other guys that he was "just mad because I rejected him earlier." He flipped his shit. He got loud and aggressive, and very serious about letting everyone in the group know this was untrue. He followed me around the room for hours alternating between trying to prove my comments hadn't bothered him, trying to convince me he had been kidding, and earnestly yelling at me. Then it dawned on me. He couldn't deal with public rejection. It is no secret within the seduction community that most PUAs, trainers, and the like are insecure. Most men get into pickup after a lifetime of rejection, or even being hurt badly by just one woman. They begin learning pickup as a means of control. The professional PUAs seem to control every aspect of every relationship they get involved in. It becomes a defense mechanism gone awry. Fortunately, they're the exception and not the rule. I guess I had always known this, but seeing it play out in real time really solidified it for me. I'm happy to no longer work for this company, but I am thankful for the insight it has given me. Having spent the past year working with our customers (including guys that just want a girlfriend, guys that got divorced and have no idea what to do, and men trying to get their marriages back on track), I have a new point of view. I have a lot more empathy and respect for a guy that walks all the way across a dance floor to say hi, because I realize how hard this can be for many men. However I'm also more apt to see the darker side: the depths some men will go to control a woman. And I assure you, they are deep.