When this goes up, I’ll be a guest at AggieCon 44 – my second con as a dating advice professional, giving a talk to attendees about dating for nerds, and it’s been giving me some time to think. I’ve been writing this blog for going on two years now. There’re nearly 400 articles, posts and occasional snarky asides all about the various ways to go out and improve your dating life. Going by the traffic numbers, a lot of you have been devouring everything I’ve had to offer over all this time, and I’m profoundly greatful for each and every one of my readers.
But it has occurred to me that I’ve been negligent in giving some of the most important advice that anyone looking to get better at dating – whether they’re looking for a long-term relationship or more casual sex partners. So today I want to give you the one piece of advice that’s going to do more kick your dating life to the next level than anything else. But it’s going to be a little odd, so stick with me here.
I want you close down your browser. Quit reading the blog. Put on some stylish clothes, throw some product in your hair and head out the door.
It’s time to go out and put what I’ve taught you into practice. You need to get out there and get some field experience.
The Limits of Book Smarts vs. Practical Experience
Now I understand the appeal of constant studying. It’s something I had to wrestle with in the early days: you feel like there’s so much to learn that you need to make sure you know all of it absolutely cold before you can even think about trying to put it into practice. You want to memorize as much as possible, cover every base and possible contingency because… well, if you’re actually honest about it, because you’re trying to insulate yourself against the possibility of failure.
It’s a form of analysis paralysis; you’re trying to game out the interaction before it ever even happened.
This is the absolutely wrong way to go about trying to get better at dating. All that it is is another way for your mind to put another barrier up in front of you – another perfectly reasonable and plausible excuse as to why you couldn’t possibly go out and approach that cute stranger hanging out at the bookstore or out on the quad.
In fact, while it’s important to understand what you’re doing and have a general plan of attack, practical experience out in the field – as it were – is vital to improvement. For all of the many aspects of dating that the PUA community gets wrong, this is one area where they are absolutely correct: they put a great deal of importance on going out and meeting (and flirting with) women. In fact, on many pick-up boards, forums and subreddits, the importance of going out is reinforced by members posting “field reports” – detailed breakdowns of interactions with women, what went right, what went wrong and what they could do better next time. These are intended both for constructive criticism as well as the education of other members… and to encourage them to go out and gather their own experiences.
Now while I don’t necessarily think that everybody needs to share the details of their various dating adventures1 I do think that you need to get out there and get practical knowledge. Book2 smarts are fine and dandy, but they’re useless until you’ve reached the intersection of book learning and hands on experience.
No Plan Survives Contact With The Enemy
The problem with pure book learning that’s not bolstered by practical know-how is that no amount of studying prepares you for all the possible ways that things can happen.
To put it bluntly: everybody has a plan… right up until they get hit. This is usually the point where the more socially inexperienced start to freak right the fuck out.
It happens to everyone – you have a plan in mind, an image of exactly how everything is going to happen when you’re talking to someone you’re attracted to: you’ll say X, she’ll respond with Y, you know to put your hand on her arm at Z time… and then it all falls apart when she rudely refuses to respond exactly the way you thought she would. You now have to freestyle it rather than relying on a tightly scripted routine that you drafted at home in the comfort of your own fantasies and this can be absolutely goddamn terrifying the first few times that you experience it.
In the early days of my quest for improvement, the idea of talking to women was profoundly intimidating; I – like many other guys – treated each interaction as though I were trying to disarm a bomb, where the slightest mistake would blow my face off or at least get a drink tossed at me. I would try to avoid this issue by relying heavily on canned material from The Game and other pick-up sites; in the event that something went drastically wrong, I could always drop back to the old C’s vs. U’s routine or pull a carnie mind-reading trick until I figured out how drag the conversation back to the path I needed it to go down. Needless to say: I came off as a performer doing a routine rather than actually interacting with people and my ability to get phone numbers was more reliant on being a manipulative person instead of knowing how to talk to people.
The more I learned to just roll with the conversation instead of worrying about getting every little detail right, the better I did – conversations were more natural and enjoyable, I was better able to find commonalities and build rapport with the people I talked to rather than just trying to treat the conversation like a flow-chart. Other people entered into the conversation? I learned how to handle it. My joke fell flat? I learned not to panic, just brush it off and move on.
This is not something that can be cultivated by reading a blog – it only comes with time and practice out in the field.
Generating an Abundance Mentality Through Exposure
Another benefit to going out into the field: it forces you to confront your scarcity mentality through sheer exposure and repetition.
The problem with the scarcity mentality is that you believe that there is a dearth of women out there. It leads you to believe that there’re so few attractive, awesome women out there that each rejection is one step closer to being forever alone, therefore you you don’t dare screw up.
As a result: you tend to focus on individual people like a laser- giving them entirely too much importance and putting far too much pressure on yourself. It’s also very good way to get a nasty case of Oneitis, not to mention blinding yourself to the other opportunities out there. When you think that only that one person can ever make you feel the way they do… well, you’re basically setting yourself up for crushing disappointment and loneliness.
It’s very easy to think this way when you only allow yourself a limited pool from which you look for potential dates. Once you force yourself out there and actively get to know people by making approaches… well, you suddenly find that there far more awesome people than you might have realized. Not everybody is going to be an immediately obvious match – you can’t always tell whether the cute blogger hanging out at Starbucks is really into Game of Thrones and Dr. Who at first glance or that the woman at the bar has a deep and abiding love for the Dresden Files novels – and others may not be your ideal on paper, but when you talk to them you realize that they’re far cooler than you would have thought at first. The more people you expose yourself to3 , the more you come to realize that there are more awesome, available people than you ever imagined… and that just because one person didn’t work out doesn’t mean that there won’t be others.
(This – incidentally – is one of the potential problems with online dating; it’s extremely easy to get overly specific in what you’re looking for and miss out on incredible people as a result.)
Customize Your Dating Style
Another issue that frequently arises from too much study without enough hands-on experience: you never learn to find your style when it comes to dating. Different dating advisors (I refuse to use a phrase like “gurus”) have different styles when it comes to approaching, flirting and romance. Each one’s is different; it’s only to be expected, since one’s dating style (as it were) is built around an individual’s personality and experience. Extroverts will naturally have a different style than introverts. Some people are witty and aggressive and favor a more antagonistic style of flirtation while others are more collaborative. Some are expressly sexual while others aren’t. Some are more intense and focused while others are more free-spirited. This is as it should be; there is no one way to build attraction.
Not every single piece of advice I give is going to mesh perfectly with everyone’s personality, nor should it.
Part of going out and approaching others is to find what works for you. Early on in my career as a would be pick-up artist, I was very fond of the indirect approach: making it seem as though I had a reason to talk to someone other than hitting on them. It was easier because – like Dumbo’s magic feather – it made me feel like I was able to do something that I never thought I could do; I’d grown up convinced that I wasn’t the sort of person who could just, y’know, hit on a stranger. But the more I relied on this approach, the more I felt like a dishonest creep. As I got more experienced and came to a better understanding of who I really was (vs. who I’d assumed I was), I learned that I preferred being more direct – going up to someone and saying “You know what, I think you’re cool and I want to get to know you” felt more natural, more authentically me. Lo and behold: I started having better results… because I was finally comfortable with my style. My flirting style developed that through trial and error as well; I found that I liked bantering back and forth with women and that the ones I was most attracted to were witty and liked to give me shit right back.
I would never have learned this just by pouring over blogs and forum posts, assuming without any practical reason to that certain things were just not me. I had to go out there and actually try things out before I realized that maybe I needed to make adjustments.
Bludgeoning Your Fear Of Rejection To Death
One of the things that holds us back when it comes to improving our dating lives is the fear of being rejected. It’s a key component of approach anxiety – the fear of the humiliation and crushing depression that comes with being told “thanks but no thanks” by someone you’re attracted to.
It’s natural to want to avoid rejection; it’s painful – literally, at times – and we instinctively avoid pain. It feels like a referendum on you as a person, that you’re being rejected because you are somehow wrong or lesser. It can feel like it’s just one more confirmation of every negative belief you have about dating…
And yet none of this is true. Rejection is exactly as bad as you let it be. Having a girl turn you down is not the end of the world or the death of your dating future… it just feels like it because you’ve invested entirely too much importance on one person (I refer you back to that scarcity mentality issue).
I used to have this problem – I would let a fear of rejection inspire a large host of completely reasonable excuses to not approach a woman: “She’s with her friends”; “It’s too early in the night”; “I’m not feeling it”; “It’s too loud in here”. The underlying core of each of these plausible issues: I was afraid that I was going to get shot down. Hard.
You know how I got over it?
I got shot down.
A lot. For every success I’ve had – a phone number, a date, a same-night lay… and I’ve had lots of them – I’ve been rejected at least 10 times. At first, it hurt. I’d leave the bar fighting back tears and feeling lower than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut, waiting to go back to my apartment and soothe my wounds via marathon Call of Duty deathmatch sessions. But then I started to realize: it really wasn’t that bad. In fact, if I could pull my head out of my self-pity party, it wasn’t a big deal at all. The sky didn’t fall. I didn’t get maced. I didn’t get a drink thrown in my face4. I didn’t get escorted out because I’d creeped a girl out or even just laughed at. Wait; what was I scared of again?
It’s a little counter-intuitive at first until you think of it like exposure therapy; the more you experience it, the more you start to realize that what you’re afraid of is the fear, not the rejection itself. Once I started to understand that I was afraid of being afraid, I could realize that my fear was because I was using whether or not this particular girl liked me as a source of validation. The more I came to understand that I was putting the entirety of my self-esteem in the hands of a stranger, the more I started to understand that I was setting myself up to be hurt for the stupidest of reasons: because I was putting more value on a stranger’s opinion of me than of my own. Not just their opinion but my assumptions about their opinions. I didn’t know if I was getting rejected because she had a boyfriend, because she had just broken up with someone, because she was in a bad mood, because she didn’t like gingers or because the moon was in the wrong house and her chi was all fucked up. Any of these was equally as likely… and equally as irrelevant to my self worth. The only thing that mattered was figuring out what I could improve on for next time.
Learning how to overcome that fear was incredibly liberating because it opened up the potential to improve; now that I wasn’t worried about being rejected, I could experiment without feeling like I was ruining my chances forever. I could vary my approach and see whether my tonality or my body language were sending different messages than what my mouth was saying. I could be more overtly sexual or more indirect and learn where the line was and how to tell who might be more in tune with which style.
And more importantly: it freed me up to to practice. The less afraid I was about being rejected, the more I was able to just work on getting better; to put in Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours as it were.
None of this was something I could have done from behind the safety of my screen or limiting myself to my relatively small comfort zone. I had to challenge myself. I had to push myself.
I had to get out into the field, get some bruises and cuts and pay my dues in sweat and effort.
And I so desparately needed it
So this weekend: go out. Talk to people. Take some risks. Make some mistakes.
It won’t be easy.
But it will be worth it.