Some dating guides lead down an unsavory path

BALTAMOUR

October 06, 2007|By MARYANN JAMES

As a dating columnist, I wade through many books and TV shows of little redeeming value, all in the name of research.

Most are innocuous how-to guides and stories of dating pratfalls. However, one book, The Game, had me reeling. Author Neil Strauss stumbles into the pick-up underworld and befriends pick-up artist Mystery, now of VH1's The Pick-Up Artist fame.

It's sleaze city. These men, surely insecure geeks when they were younger, study social dynamics and use their insight, canned phrases and questionable techniques to "kiss-close" - make out or more - as many women as they possibly can.

It reeks of manipulation and game-playing, with a side of misogyny.

However, according to New York-based dating coaches Jordan Harbinger and Joshua Pellicer, people like Mystery give the scene a bad name. In fact, though these men have studied Mystery and his contemporaries, they're beyond the pick-up, they say.

"Being called a pick-up artist is a belittling term," says Pellicer, 25.

According to Harbinger, 27, who also co-hosts a weekly Pickup Podcast, the goal is not to play as many women as you can. It's to build up the confidence to meet the people and make the connections you want.

It comes down to a cardinal rule, says Harbinger: "Leave her better than you found her."

All three dating coaches that I talked to - Pellicer, Harbinger and Allen Bickoff, co-founder of askromeo.com - said many people misuse the tools. Even those who started them.

"Mystery himself has a lot of success," Bickoff says. "He's able to get women in his life. Whether he can keep them in his life is another story."

Bickoff, 26, says the dating coaches for askromeo.com, which has a franchise in Baltimore, teach against some tactics that can be found in The Game.

Such as the neg, for example. A neg is a backhanded compliment that is meant to lower a woman's self-esteem to make her more attainable. Like telling a woman her eyes squint when she talks.

Grody, right?

"I personally detest it," Bickoff says. "I am all for playful teasing." Pellicer says that he and his partners don't teach this method, mainly because it's misused so often.

"It hurts people," he says.

Bickoff, who has a background in youth and childhood development with a concentration in feminist theory, agrees. He says the intention is to flirt, to tease, but that rarely happens.

And Harbinger, Bickoff and Pellicer don't leave their tips only to men. They coach women, too.

Bickoff says a lot of women who seek their help often display the same confidence and self-esteem problems as men. Many of the tips work for men and women, though there are some women-specific moves, too. Like the "damsel in distress."

You start a conversation with a guy by pleading help with something, like what's the time or where's the nearest 7-Eleven, he says. That way, you make a move, but you give the guy a chance to be "your hero."

Two of these guys got into the business after getting their hearts broken by women. And all of them push the idea that the methods they teach are best used in pursuit of longer relationships. But all this "nice guy stuff" has me suspicious.

Though these dating coaches don't inspire the visceral "yuck" reaction that I automatically get from The Game, part of me still can't shake the feeling that I'm being played.

I guess, as daters, we all run game in some sense or another. But I am uncomfortable with pulling back the curtain on social interaction. Let me keep the mystery.

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