Short Cuts and Magic Bullets

I get a lot of marketing emails from various dating gurus.

Call it a professional hazard; sometimes it’s because I get someone who wants me to “review” (i.e. plug) their product or service, sometimes it’s because bots harvested my email, sometimes it’s because I was interested in seeing what they had to say.

Now while there are folks out there who I think actually have something to valuable to say, 99% of the marketing blasts I get all promise the same thing: amazing results that will just supercharge your dating life with this one simple trick. If you just watch this video/subscribe to this newsletter/buy this ebook, you will learn the one secret that will make sex rain from the sky for you.

Which is kind of disturbing when you think about it…

Now, in fairness, I’m not going to complain about somebody trying to make a buck; I mean, c’mon – this is my job.

The problem is what they’re selling: snake-oil. Bullshit and placebos dressed up as advice and packaged to convince you that it’s the guaranteed cure for all of your dating issues.

This is one of the biggest issues I have with the self-help movement in general and the Pick-Up Artist community in particular1: the idea that there is some magic bullet, some special trick or formula that will let you leapfrog over all of the real work and drop you straight into the Player’s Life that you’ve always wanted.

The problem is that there is no substitute for putting in the work.  So many of these little “magic bullets” become a part of the conversation when it comes to improving one’s dating life – especially amongst frustrated men – and it ultimately retards your actual growth; in fact in many cases, it will actively make you worse. 

So let’s look at a couple of the more common ones that you’re likely to run into.

Canned Routines

One of the highlights of the PUA community is the use of canned material – pre-scripted openers like the famous “jealous girlfriend”, pseudo-cold reads like “C’s vs. U’s” or “The Cube”, stories and routines sourced from others via message boards, ebooks and blogs. These are designed to create the illusion of social experience and fluency while simultaneously giving the impression that you are a “high-status male”, thus impressing women into finding you far more fuckable than if you were to just approach them like a normal person.

Canned material became part of The Game almost from the inception, whether it was via NLP anchors and Speed Seduction to just sharing material that may or may not have worked via message boards and forum posts. Even as the trends in the community moved to “natural” game (that is, trying to make it look like you’re not running pick-up material), routines have been part of the backbone of the industry.

Now while there’s a certain value to be found in that they help eliminate the “I don’t know what to say!” panic moments that may cause your brain to vapor-lock and leave you stammering like an idiot, they’re effectively training-wheels for being able to carry on a conversation like a normal person. The use of routine stacks – layers of routines used in a particular order so as to invoke specific emotional effects – becomes a substitute for having an actual personality and experiences of your own. It ends up being an attempt to treat picking women up as though you were facing down a raid boss in World of Warcraft; follow this specific plan of attack and it’ll all work out the way you want.

“Oh shit, she’s about to shit-test us! Quick, hit the ‘Best Friends Test’, that’ll buff us against freeze-outs!”

It’s dating via flow-chart: IF a THEN SAY b ELSE SAY c, THEN RUN SUB-ROUTINE x.

The problem, of course, is that eventually the material is going to run out. At some point you’re going to hit the end of the routine and then you’re left with whatever you bring to the table on your own… and that’s when the trouble starts. You’ve been trying to borrow somebody else’s words in order to give your own a little spit and polish, but eventually you’re going to have to be yourself – and if you’ve banked your entire persona on your routines, then any attraction you’ve managed to build is going to come crashing down around your ears.

The reliance on canned material also puts all of the focus on the wrong place. The idea that you can seduce a woman by using specific stories to flip her attraction switches is a nice idea, but it has less to do with the words and much more on the person. I’ve never had a woman suddenly decide she wanted to go to bed with me because I told her she had a c-shaped smile unlike my implied model ex-girlfriend’s u-shaped smile; it was more about creating an emotional connection, not my supposed demonstrations of value. Did I make her laugh and feel good? Do I present myself well? Do I know how to generate that all-important “spark”?

“You know, I was totally going to blow you off, but the story about your stripper ex-girlfriend changed my mind!”

Now I do recommend having a couple of good jokes on reserve that you can pull out as needed, or having a few good stories up your sleeve – there’s a difference an oft-told story about your trip to Cambodia when you climbed to the top of Ankor Thom and met a hot Scottish backpacker only to have her carried away by her man-mountain boyfriend2 and relying on a pre-scripted crutch to get you through an interaction.

Being “Alpha”

Now this is a subject I’ve covered before, but the popularity of the myth of the “alpha male” getting all of the sex is one worth returning to. The idea is simple, if predicated on a radical misunderstanding of evolutionary psychology and an attempt to impose (mistaken) ideas about social hierarchies amongst primates on human behavior: there are alphas and there are betas. Alphas are the leaders of the pack; the betas are the followers. The alphas get the best of everything – the best food, the most resources and the lion’s share of the women. The betas get the scraps… if they’re that lucky.

Women, of course, are programmed via evolution to only want alpha males – therefore the key to dating success is to emulate “alpha” behavior as much as possible.

Of course, the idea of what’s “alpha” is a subject up for much debate: a banker more “alpha” than a musician? Is the outlaw biker more “alpha” than the club promoter? Is it more alpha to fuck as many women as possible or to be able to commit to a single woman and raise a family? Does an “alpha” male buy drinks for girls he meets at bars? Does he change his plans in order to make allowances for others? Does he befriend the other guys in the group, or does he try to stare them down and otherwise intimidate them into leaving?

More often than not it comes down to a mix of trying to always get one’s way by imposing your desires on others and having a “Don’t Give A Fuck” attitude. To be alpha is to be strong; to be beta is to be weak. Women instinctively love alphas and are disgusted by betas… or so the theory goes.

If you’re the sort of person who feels as though they’ve always been powerless or weak, who’s girlfriend cheated on them with some douchebag… this idea can be appealing. It’s a variation of the Will to Power; become an alpha male and revel in the power and status that has been so long denied to you. Learn how to assert yourself and watch the world become your oyster. Men will fear you, women will supplicate and life will be nothing but a rap video for you from now until the heat death of the universe.

Of course the problem is that it’s not real. The idea of being “alpha” is appealing in it’s simplicity – but humans and human sexuality is anything but simple. By trying to reduce everything to a binary state – alpha and beta, leaders and followers – and applying that philosophy to everything, all that happens is you end up with a bunch of men trying to overcompensate for their own perceived weaknesses by acting like overly-macho, selfish, chauvinistic idiots.

Human relationships are insanely complicated and defy easy explanations. Even amongst apes, the “alpha” status doesn’t mean what people like to pretend that it does. Alpha males don’t get the majority of sex because the females are instinctively attracted to them; they get it by beating the shit out of other males.

There's a reason why trying to extrapolate dating advice from gorillas is a bad idea.

There’s a reason why trying to extrapolate dating advice from gorillas is a bad idea.

And even then, the threat of violence doesn’t keep the betas from getting laid; the betas are frigging in the rigging as soon as the alpha’s back is turned.

Confidence and assertiveness is indeed sexy, while neediness is the polar opposite – but trying to be “alpha” is just a way of trying to shortcut growing one’s self-esteem by acting like a cock.

Status Games

Speaking of overcompensating: the idea of “status” comes up often in dating advice – and not without reason. There have been studies (amongst college students, with the inherent problems that comes with it) that status can be an influence in attraction. The problem, however, is just how one calculates that particular value. Is someone with money but otherwise a boring ass inherently a higher-status than someone who is charming but broke? Does a good looking wimp have higher status than a confident, assertive person who isn’t conventionally attractive? If you take the same person and dress him in a suit, does he have more or less status than when he’s dressed in a t-shirt and cargo shorts?

Part of the idea of running “game” on people is that it’s a way of trying to make yourself look higher status than you really are – at least in the short term. Establish your value as higher than other’s – especially your target3 and it’s blowjobs and champagne for everybody.

There is no better illustration of this idea than the “neg”, for example – one of the longest running memes in pick-up. The “neg” – as developed by Mystery – is a strategic insult or left-handed compliment. Depending on who you’re talking to, a “neg” is intended either to reduce the other person’s self-esteem (and therefore her social value) and make her crave validation from you or to establish that you are at an equal or higher status level and thus create attraction.

A common example of "negging" as provided by Randall Monroe

A common example of “negging” as provided by Randall Monroe

The idea of “cocky-funny” is also a way of establishing one’s supposed status in the social hierarchy: by going beyond “confidence” and well into “king of the club, greatest thing since World War III” mode and telling vaguely insulting jokes at somebody else’s expense is supposed to be a way of saying “Hey, I must be high status because why else would I be willing to make fun of a hot girl?”

In reality, most of what it says is “Hi, I’m a raging asshole who thinks it’s funny to be rude to people in hopes of bending them to my will.”

Other, similar status games are often tied in with the use of canned routines mentioned earlier – certain routines are popular because they contain inherent “demonstrations of higher value”, such as implying that you hav ex-girlfriends who are models or strippers, a high-status job or financial success. Getting bottle-service at a club is another way of trying to prove status – you’re in the VIP section after all. Other ways of trying to fake one’s status involve playing mind games and trying to “flip the script” on people. For example, if an erstwhile target won’t respond to texts or phone-calls, the would-be player will “punish” them by putting them on “text probation” or using communication freeze-outs in hopes of making the supposedly-misbehaving person will try to win back the player’s approval.

All of these little tricks are designed with one goal in mind: to successfully entice someone who is otherwise “out of your league”4 into sleeping with you. But as with canned material, you quickly fall upon a singular problem: not only is your higher status falsified, but it’s easily sniffed out. It doesn’t take very much to make other people realize that the person they’re talking to is full of shit, and any attraction that they might have built up is lost like tears in an over-used Blade Runner reference.

Using status games as a means of trying to attract another person betrays a very simple issue: the desperate need to impress the other person and win their approval by trying to convince them to seek yours. Ironically, the attempt to game one’s supposed status is one of the surer signs of being low status. A person who’s confident in themselves and in their own value – who knows what he’s worth and is willing to go out and get it – isn’t going to feel the need to try to pretend to be more than they really are. Trying to fake your way into dating out of your league only establishes one thing: that the other person is indeed out of your league, because you don’t bring enough to the table.

Building emotional connections is more reliable way of building attraction (and status) than trying to artificially inflate yourself – or to drag someone down to your level instead. A broke musician who can make someone feel like the most special person in the world is going to be far more attractive than the guy in the shiny suit who’s busy trying to convince others that he’s a music mogul and trying to get a girl to buy him a drink and follow him around the bar.

There Are No Short Cuts

The cold hard truth is that tricks, gimmicks and games are no substitute for genuine connection. You can find some limited success in using “game” to gloss over your issues, but not only will it not last for very long but it will leave you in a worse state than you were in before; people can spot a faker and the trade off is never worth it. To improve your game, you need to improve yourself. You don’t need canned openers or scripted material, you just need to know how to talk to people. You need assertiveness, not poorly understood ideas of what masculinity means. You need to lead a life that’s vibrant and full, to know your worth and to act on that, rather than trying to prove yourself or by attempting to impress others with a false front. 

Don’t look for the one secret, the short-cut, the magic bullet that will solve all your ills.

They don’t exist.

The only answer is to do the work.


  1. Aside from, y’know, the tendency towards a toxic view of masculinity, promoting an adversarial approach to gender relations and treating women as sexual objects rather than as people []
  2. True story, by the way []
  3. There’s that antagonistic view of sex again []
  4. Read: hotter than you []