'Do You Wanna Kiss Me?'
How New York's women are wising up to The Game's pickup tips
by Nick Sylvester
February 28th, 2006 11:42 AM
"It was Saturday night, we had just had sex," recalls Caitlin, a 22-year-old private tutor living on the Upper West Side. "I went into the bathroom. He had, of course, stacks of The New Yorker and some other random books. Underneath the New Yorkers, I saw what I thought was the Bible. And the first thing I thought was, 'Oh my God, he has the Bible in the bathroom.' But it was The Game, the picking-up-girls book. So I flipped through it a little bit."Five minutes in, Caitlin felt like she was reading a script of her night so far: Apparently, she'd been negged, cubed, kino'd, then f-closed by a PUA. She stormed out the bathroom, book in hand. "He sort of didn't want to discuss it."
A neg is a backhanded compliment; the cube is a sleazy "interactive demonstration of value" routine; kino is short for kinesthesia, i.e., physical contact; f-close is sex. That leaves PUA: pickup artist.
"Somewhere along the path of life, many men have picked up bad habits, social awkwardness, and a lack of confidence around women," writes Game author Neil Strauss in an e-mail. "Why aren't they allowed to change these bad habits and start putting their best foot forward when they meet women?"
Ask anyone: The nice guy loses; the jerk gets the girl. Since last September, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists (Regan/Harper Collins) has broken down this truism to a foolproof science.
Softbound in black faux leather to resemble the Bible, The Game reveals the field-tested lines and techniques Strauss learned during the year and change he spent interacting with the world's finest pickup artists, leading "sarging" missions (wherein AFCs, "average frustrated chumps," practice their moves at bars on unsuspecting women), and eventually living with a few PUAs in a Los Angeles mansion they called Project Hollywood. Clearly explained, the book's tricks are easy to learn and deploy, and quietly devastating in their success.
"I met him on OKcupid, the online dating service," says Kim, a science grad student at Columbia, referring to a date she went on recently. "So I figured he'd be sorta shy. We met downtown, and one of the first things he said to me was, 'Oh, those look like comfortable shoes.' It wasn't nasty—like, he didn't say my shoes were ugly—but he noted that I was wearing sneakers not shoes, and it totally bothered me the whole night." Kim went home with him.
Needless to say, rumors of the book's success have sped up the adoption of its lines and methods. The Game has sold 170,000 copies so far, keeping it in the Amazon Top Sellers list, while episodes of CSI: Miami, Twins and even the Late Show have explicitly ripped details, lingo, and character names from Strauss's forays. In just six months, women have wised up to the book, catching men running Game mid-act, and even turning the pickup lines against the men using them.
In a post titled "Playing With the Player," New York date blogger Dolly (cocksanddolls.blogspot.com) recounts her interaction with "PUA Dave":
I decided to fool him by asking how long he thought Pretty Polly and I were friends (we have known each other for less than a couple of months but people have mistaken us for sisters).
He said, "Let me give you the best friends test."
My eyes widened and jaw dropped open. "You're a pick-up artist!"
"Look, everybody's always manipulating," says Strauss in our interview. "The question is, are you manipulating for good or bad?"
To be precise, The Game is not just an elaborate crib sheet. The how-to aspect was important to Strauss, but he programs it into a gonzo journalistic narrative about his own transformation from balding, gawky New York Times rock writer into "Style," the world's greatest pickup artist, who by book's end has been with hundreds of women. One Voice veteran, who remembers Strauss as a skinny, mild-mannered nerd interning for then music editor Joe Levy, expressed astonishment at his evolution into a "pussy magnet."
The book's guiding principle is that, today and for whatever reason, in order for you to attract a woman, you first need to seem actively disinterested in her. But unlike the bulk of relationship manuals, The Game is not theory based. The methods discussed are empirically proven "thousands" of times over. Strauss explains that when a PUA posts on a seduction community message board about a new line that's worked for him, PUAs around the world go out and try for themselves, then report back to the board whether or not the line performed. Every contingency has been accounted for. Nothing in the book hasn't worked.
Even as early as October, I started noticing Strauss's book taking effect downtown. For men completely lost with women, or for others like Rob, a handsome but skittish twentysomething who spent years with a college squeeze and no time in the field, The Game offers step-by-step advice. Eleven steps, to be exact, and key lines and stage directions for each.
Rob and his equally nerdy wing man, who only offered his pickup name ("Popcorn Dog"), were at Bar None on Third Avenue. The crowd that night was a bit older and a little more divorced than usual. Exactly as Strauss prescribed, Rob approached a set of two hard-looking blondes, ignored his prettier "target," then addressed her friend with a canned line he learned early in the book:
"Hey, I need your opinion on something. My friend over there, he wants to buy a wallaby."
The two women were confused but intrigued, and that was enough of an in. They asked what and why and how, and the absurdity of the question overshadowed the discomfort of someone randomly coming up and asking it. The target, presumably used to men approaching her first and certainly not used to men who pretend she's not even there, finally gave Rob some shit, revealing her thick Boston accent: "What are you, friends with weirdos or something?" A perfect setup for Rob's neg. Without looking at the girl, he said to her friend, "Is she always this irritable?"
While Popcorn Dog flew in to occupy the target's friend, Rob now focused on the target, armed with a dizzying mix of straight fluff, playground teases, jokes about people in the bar, and then, finally, a question: "Do you wanna kiss me?"
As mentioned, pickup artists have thought through every social situation, planned for every contingency. If she says "yes" to Rob's question, for instance, he kisses her. If she says "maybe," he also kisses her. If she says "no," Rob responds, "I didn't say you could-—you just looked like you had something on your mind."
She said maybe.
That was November. By mid January, it seemed that New York was running out of wallabies.
I followed Rob, Popcorn, and another wing named Reisig to Beauty Bar on 14th Street. The place was prime sarging ground: Simple eavesdropping in the bar's backroom revealed a thick crowd of Upper East Siders, wearing party shirts and expensive unisex cologne, who had cash but no sense of seduction—no game. Strauss's moves would work without a hitch.
Reisig went in on a group of younger girls, very early-'80s, Lower East Side–look ing, their mascara running on purpose. Headstrong, he went in with an opinion opener: "Hey, I need to get—"
"A female opinion on something?" she interrupted, finishing his sentence, one that comes near verbatim from The Game. "I think David Bowie looks great." That part's from The Game too.
Hardly cause for panic. As the book itself predicted, any venue, even an entire city, can get "sarged out"; a PUA masters the Game, though, when he knows how to tweak it—modify the lines a bit. Rob had an idea, and approached a three-set with a new spin.
"Listen, my friend over there, he wants to buy an eagle."
But the girls' eyes rolled. One snapped back too: "Oh, interesting—my friend wants to buy a wallaby."
Forget overexposure. Some women appear to be reading the book on their own as a precautionary measure. Dolly the blogger's PUA encounter continues:
"I know what the best friends test is," I continued. "It's one of the tricks pick-up artists use."
"What's the best friends test?" asked Polly (she had read the book, but only parts of it).
"PUA Dave asks us if we use the same shampoo. We look at each other and then say we don't know. He says it doesn't matter, because what counts is that we looked at each other before answering, which shows a close bond. The whole thing is part of a routine."
PUA Dave smirked and said he didn't need any routines.
I shook my head, heady on the knowledge that I knew what he was. "All that making fun of me before was part of it, too."
"You mean negging?"
"The 'neg' and 'freeze out' manipulate a woman's insecurities, but New York girls seem to have a steely, overinflated sense of self-esteem," believes Sia Michel, editor in chief of Spin. "This is a walking city, so they're hearing hostile sexual comments on the street all day long."
A friend of Strauss, Michel has been put in an unusually comical position to call out men running Game on her. Not only did she read The Game when it was in galleys, but last year, when she flew to Los Angeles for the Grammys, she even visited Strauss's Project Hollywood mansion, described in The Game as the "church of the spread legs."
"One time someone came up and said, 'Listen, I've only got a couple minutes, but I wanted to ask your advice on something.' And I said, 'Oh, you're creating a 'false time constraint.' He tried to act like he had no idea what I was talking about, but I was like, 'I read The Game too! Are you going to try a 'yes-ladder' next?' Then he just sheepishly walked away." (PUAs use the yes-ladder technique to establish a string of "yes" responses to short, simple questions like "Are you spontaneous?" or "Do you like fun?" Apparently it gives a conversation a jolt of positive energy.)
Michel became even more skeptical of the book's power after interacting with Mystery. The legendary PUA, who brought Strauss into the pickup network, invented the Mystery Method, a combination of negging, canned routines (handing out bead necklaces, performing magic tricks, showing photos of you holding a baby), and "peacocking"—dressing flamboyantly to draw attention to yourself. Michel ran into Mystery and Strauss at the Cutting Room on 24th Street, as they led a sarging mission:
"Mystery and his crew were going around the club performing magic tricks on girls, followed by a crew of TV cameramen. I don't even think they were real cameramen. I think the idea was, 'Well, if we pretend like we're being filmed for a documentary, girls are way more likely to talk to some tall freaky magician in platform boots and a leopard skin hat.' "
But Mystery wasn't having much luck there, and decided to move the mission downtown.
"We all ended up at a packed East Village bar, really late, and now he was going full force, working his tactics on my journalist friends," says Michel. "There were ESP games, palm readings, and some faux mysticism where he claimed he could stare into your eyes and glean deep knowledge of your soul. He was wearing a ridiculous outfit—I think leather pants and black nail polish were involved—which might have been fine on the Sunset Strip but was incredibly cheesy for New York. Virtually every girl there seemed to be shunning him. Finally he had a meltdown and shouted, in the middle of the bar, ' ONE OF YOU IS GONNA FUCK ME TONIGHT!' "
It would be natural for the book's methods to reach a saturation point, and completely fine, except there's one problem: Women still love the jerks. In a situation where most men's seduction instinct, learned from The Game or not, is to play the jerk, then on paper it would follow that men should compete with one another to prove to a target who is the bigger asshole: proving their worth to her by flinging insults at each other, rising to the top by cutting down the bottom, what have you.
In practice, this caveman-style Game hasn't worked very well. At Black and White on 10th Street, Carl B. approached a set of girls already occupied by two fairly muscular men. One of them was wearing a hat that said "Dubai," the name of a major United Arab Emirates city. "Hey, you've been to Dubai too?" Carl pressed. The guy hadn't.
"Oh. Well, must be pretty awesome to have a hat from Dubai without actually having to go there." Carl thought he was in; instead the girls said he was "needlessly mean." "You should just leave," they told him.
Other PUAs nervous about the new rules of the Game think that if they go full blast with Strauss's techniques, using as many as possible all at once, they can overcome the obsolescence of the moves when used in isolation. Call it hyper-Game.
Inside Webster Hall at the Plug Independent Music Awards in early February, Jon brought an enormous camera rig, and in an aggressive form of peacocking, took photos of people as they entered from the V.I.P. door. Inevitably this would prompt a response from women, making him seem both temporarily important—he had a camera—and less obvious about his intentions—you know, he was there to take photos, nothing else.
Key word: temporarily.
"Yolanda?" he asked, guessing my girlfriend's name after taking her picture. It seemed like a bizarre take on The Game's "pick a number" routine. (Quick: Most girls say seven, and in the PUA's back pocket is a piece of paper with that very number.)
"Am I close?" Was this a yes-ladder?
"See I was close!" shouted Jon. "Jelena, like yellow. And you're wearing yellow."
This guy was admittedly brilliant, but when he tried to close the deal, his approach was so under the radar that something seemed suspicious. He said, "You should give me your number so I can send you these photos."
"Why do you want my number?" Jelena asked. "I can just give you my e-mail address."
This would have been victory, but after playing so many games at once, Jon had psyched himself out. "No, that's a bad idea," he said, adding inexplicably, "I'm having trouble with spyware."
To think, the whole idea of The Game was to make approaching women easier—and now women are warier of men than ever.
I call Strauss. He's at his new home in L.A., awaiting the delivery of Panic Park, an arcade video game that, like Mario Party or WarioWare, is a hodgepodge of smaller, genre-spanning games. One second you're racing, another you're catching floating dollar bills.
What most bothers people about the routines, I tell him, is the manipulation involved. Strauss spins it differently. Better to have a nice guy who pretends to be a jerk for a couple days in order to get you to like him, and then is a nice guy in the relationship, than the opposite."
If anything, Strauss believes, The Game is doing women a service because it's widening the dating pool. More and more kinds of men are talking to them, which means they have more and better choices.
"They're making the rules—we're just trying to find a way to play by them," Strauss says. "I talked to some of the women who I'd been with afterward, and did interviews, broke down the experience from their point of view. A lot of them knew I was running Game. They knew the lines and patterns and routines. Even the first girl I had the threesome with, she said, 'Oh, I knew exactly what you were doing. I had never been with a woman before, I didn't want to, but I thought it was such a cool thing that you were doing, so I went along with it because it felt comfortable.' "
Strauss has read Dolly's Cocks and Dolls blog post, and points out that even though she recognized she was dealing with a PUA, she still made out with him.
"Nick, what's the oldest, cheesiest pick- up line?"
" 'Is that a sandwich you're eating?' "
"No, it's 'What's your sign?' We all know it. But the fact is, it still works. Because (a) at some point when you're talking to a woman—and maybe this is my Los Angeles experience but I find it generally to be true—you're gonna end up talking about astrology, and she's gonna ask you what your sign is. Do you find that generally to be true?"
"Second thing is, 'What's your sign?' is a neutral entertaining opener, and it's a DHV—demonstration of higher value—it's the same fucking structure as the openers the pickup artists use today. Before it was a cliché, it was a nonsexual way to start a conversation. It demonstrated that you knew something interesting and spiritual. The openers today, like 'Do you think spells work?' are pretty much the same thing. So nothing's really changed."
People need to meet, and it's all about thinking those interactions through—specifically, how you might handle being caught using one of Strauss's canned lines.
"If you are getting busted, all you need to do is have a contingency plan," Strauss explains. "You say, 'Yeah, I just read that book! I wanted to go out and try it today. It's funny, I get busted the first time using it.' All you have to do is be smart about it. You can't be knocked off course.
"It's almost like tax law. You got the government—and I'm not saying the analogy between the government and taxpayers is like men and women—the idea is they keep changing the law and trying to make it airtight, and there's always someone out trying to figure out the loophole, and they're finding it every year."
At 151, a Lower East Side bar that's seen The Game manifest itself in all too many ways, from plastic firemen's hats to amateur hypnosis, I met Steve Lookner, DC, and Vali, three TV writers who had flown in from L.A. for the weekend. Under the pretense of visiting friends on the East Coast, the three really had come into the city because, as Strauss writes at the end of The Game, L.A. is completely sarged out. They want to investigate New York.
With them they brought new methods—they were updating the Game to give old tricks new life. Recently Lookner had been doing something you could call Reverse Game, in which he frames his Game-driven advances as friendly warnings about Game-driven jerks:
"Hey, there's some weird shit happening in this bar," Lookner will say. "These guys are just coming up and saying really weird shit to women—something about an eagle? Then they're mean to you. It's sick!"
"Oh I know what you're talking about! That book!"
"Yeah, you won't believe this stuff. Like watch, pretend I'm one of those dudes who read the book. Do you wanna kiss me?"
After seeing dozens of men at every Hollywood bar carrying around a pocketful of beads to drape around women's necks, per the book's tip, Vali had taken to carrying around plastic snakes, which he would inexplicably leave on bar counters, and a $100 coupon for a $300 psychic reading. The coupons are a conversation prompt, often parlayed into kino from women interested in astrology. Brags Vali, "I can usually get the girl to give me a psychic reading in a few minutes."
Women expect clever approaches, but in post-Game, they might see more roundabout versions, such as DC's new signature move, a pickup line that takes over 15 minutes to tell and wraps up like this:
"Anyway, my friend has had this mustache for as long as I've known him but he just shaved it and now he's freaking out because he has a really bad tan line on his upper lip. He has a date in two days so we were discussing what he can do. My question for you is: Should he wear a fake mustache on the date?"
Overt is becoming the new covert, believes DC, after a night of post-sarging that netted two numbers and, by his account, a "sorta shitty kiss."
"Now I think it's about putting it all out there, like, 'Let's get married tonight.' Other times, though, I have to be more guarded. That's when I tell her I think she wouldn't be a very good wife."
Still, as much as the jerk is king in the dating scene, some women think New York may just be immune to his ruse. As Michel points out, "If you're an unattractive guy and you insult a model or other beautiful woman in New York, why is she going to sit there and take that? They'll just pelt you with ice cubes and wait for someone handsome or famous to buy them a drink."
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