Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I’m a 29 year old man living in Texas. Growing up and even in my early 20s, I kept getting rejected by women. I was pissed this kept happening so I decided to do something about it. Because look, if I’m the common denominator, the problem is ME.
First, I focused on self-improvement and striving a decent person. I still had ZERO success. And I didn’t even get matches on Tinder.
Then my best friend introduced me to this company called RSD (Real Social Dynamics) and I followed the teachings there. I’ve had multiple girlfriends since, and it’s crazy because I did everything people previously suggested such as do a hobby, work out, be interesting on dates, etc…yet I’m seeing women were into me way more when I started acting like more of an asshole.
Why is PUA stuff like RSD derided when it clearly got some guys like me results? The advice there was much more helpful than ANYTHING I see in the mainstream. Also, when people say this is just manipulation, it’s also on the counterparty because they SELECT for this type of behavior. When I was “kind and decent” I only got rejected and heard “women don’t owe you anything because you’re a kind person”, so I just adapted to what I noticed women I liked responded to.
Really, what’s wrong with doing what works? I sometimes think all these people who never gave me good input and are suddenly expressing outrage with PUA should stfu because they have no business chiming in now.
Alright SD, I’m gonna be real with you. It would be easy to just throw this out here so I can get some easy dunks, collect a lot of approval from the commentors and Twitter shares about how savage I eviscerated someone who wants to talk about how great PUA is. But that would be dishonest of me. I’ll be the first to say that I’ve got a complicated relationship with the pick-up artist scene and complex feelings about the whole thing; after all, I was neck deep in it myself for a while. It’s a pretty important part of the Secret Origin of Dr. NerdLove. I’m fairly open about how I learned a lot of important lessons frsom studying pick-up back in the day and it was an incredibly important part of what made me who I am today.
Unfortunately, finding those lessons often meant trying to find nuggets of gold in an absolute mountain of shit. Mountains of toxic, performative, restrictive bullshit, including a lot of lessons and attitudes that I still have to be mindful of to this day. Some of it was obviously shit. Other aspects — such as the concept of “freeze outs”, for example — were things I didn’t recognize as awful at first and wouldn’t until someone else pointed out just how fucked up it was. The same with the concept of dealing with “Last Minute Resistance” or how to handle somebody’s “bitch shields” or treating somebody’s bad behavior as something to manage and overcome rather than a sign that no, I should dump this person, not try to frame-control them into less-shitty behavior.
And one of the important parts of unlearning a lot of the toxic shit that I picked… up… (ahem) from Pick-Up was recognizing what actually worked vs. what worked despite what I was being taught and — importantly — why.
But as with many issues, your question is one with layers. So let’s start with the top: why do people get upset about your using PUA techniques when all the advice people gave didn’t work? Well, on the purely surface level, it’s because most PUA techniques are performative at best, manipulative at worst and pick-up artistry tends to teach guys to treat women as objects to be handled rather than people with agency. It encourages a conflict model of relationships, where you and the women you date are in a contest for control in a zero-sum game, pushes stereotypes of women and what women find attractive in men and creates the idea that All Women Are The Same. It also trades in restrictive, reductionist and malignant ideas about masculinity and manhood that ultimately makes it impossible for men to ever relax and trust anyone; other men are your competition out to steal “your” stuff, women are out to get what they want without giving anything in exchange and you will never, ever be good enough. And, there’s also the fact that people bounce pretty hard off the “FUCK YOU NORMIE/AFC” attitude that tends to come with it and that you’re kinda displaying here.
But there’s also a mistake embedded in this question: the idea that people were either giving you bad or rote advice that they should know didn’t work. Here’s the thing about that: most of the time when folks give pat or cliche advice like “just be yourself” or what-have-you, it’s not because they’re peddling lies… it’s because they don’t have an answer for you. Sometimes it’s because they just don’t have the information they would need about what you’re struggling with. And honestly, without following you around like David Attenborough studying human mating behaviors, there’s no way to be able to say “Well THERE’S your problem!” with certainty. They’re relying on what you’re telling them and what you’re asking them about and you’re not necessarily the most reliable narrator. That’s not a slight on you personally, SD; it’s just that we all have cognitive biases that color how we see things and interpret the world around us. So, many times they default to broad cliches because… well, because that’s what seems to fit. Other times, what they’re trying to do is just gracefully exit the conversation because there isn’t a polite or easy way to say “fucked if I know, chief” or “have you considered that maybe you think you’re being a nice guy but you’re actually acting like an entitled bag of dicks?”
The fact that they didn’t necessarily know how to help you or advise you doesn’t mean that they also aren’t going to think that manipulative bullshit is, in fact, manipulative bullshit.
But to dig down another layer, there’s the assumption that you were Doing Everything People Suggested and it didn’t work, but learning all the shit you did actually produced results. But — and I mean this honestly — did you, did it not, and did the new stuff actually help? Or is it that the issue wasn’t what you thought and your success is despite what you’ve been taught?
To pull from my own life and my own experiences in the PUA scene: learning routines, openers and canned material like “C’s vs. U’s” meant that I suddenly had much, much more success approaching women I wanted to date. But was this because there was something magical or deep psychological insight into asking about jealous ex-girlfriends or rambling on about the shape of people’s teeth? Fuuuuuck no. What it did was give me a sense of structure — something that I could follow that let me feel like I knew what the hell I was doing. Feeling like I had some secret arcane knowledge combined with talking points ready to go made it that much easier to just go up and start talking to people. It was, quite literally, the PUA version of Dumbo’s Magic Feather; all it was doing was letting me unlock what I could always do. Having those routines locked, loaded and ready to go just gave me permission to do what I was always capable of but too scared to try. The problem, though, is that unlike Dumbo’s Magic Feather, the folks teaching me this thought it was actually magic. It was all about “embedded DHVs” and “frame control” and “forced IOIs” rather than “no, seriously all you need to do is start a conversation with somebody, it’s far less intimidating than you’d think.” Ironically enough, using all that material actually held me back. It was abundantly clear how much I was basically running a routine vs. talking like a human. Once I started ditching the routines and just started learning how to talk to folks like they were people and not targets, I actually had far, far better results.
The problem is that the shit that actually worked — “here’s how to get a conversation started, here’s how to recognize signs that someone is interested in talking to you, here’s how to keep a conversation flowing” — was buried in all of this toxic manipulative crap. She wasn’t cold because I didn’t display enough value, she was in a shitty mood and didn’t want to talk. She didn’t have her bitch shields up because I didn’t neg her properly, I was the tenth guy to try to hit on her that night. All my stories about my model girlfriend and the embedded DHVs or whatever weren’t triggering attraction switches; when they worked it was almost always because I was telling a funny story and people like folks who make them laugh. But nobody believed I had a girlfriend who was a model because she got her jaw rewired or whatever.
(And as an aside: I strongly suspect that I wouldn’t have felt the need to go into Pick-Up if I’d gotten my ADHD diagnosed and under control much earlier. Much of what I needed from pick-up were masking techniques to try to deal with rejection-sensitive dysphoria… and the irony of THAT acronym isn’t lost on me.)
The same goes for the idea that “women like assholes” — a meme that not only has been around forever, but has mutated into the incel bullshit about Chads. No matter what evo-psych gloss you want to throw on it, this is rank bullshit. No woman out there gets up in the morning and thinks “you know what really gets me wetter than monsoon season? A dude who treats me like shit, holds our relationship hostage through ‘dread game’, never engages with me emotionally and also fucks my sister.” Leaving aside how often “bad boy” or “asshole” really just translates to “dude who’s fucking the woman I want to fuck”, the reason why “bad boys” are supposedly popular is because of specific kinds of behavior — specifically, things like “dressing well”, “displaying confidence”, “making a move”, “not being afraid to express interest”. It has nothing to do with the Dark Triad or the Halo Effect (which, incidentally, fades outside of lab conditions) and everything to do with putting in effort and not coming to approaching women with an attitude of being pre-rejected and needing to justify why they should un-reject you.
Now, in fairness, it’s easy to adopt those behaviors by also becoming a selfish prick. The line between “confidence” and “overweening entitlement” isn’t exactly thin, but it’s easily blurred and overlooked. It’s far easier to exhibit confidence or not give a shit about rejection when you don’t give a shit about someone as a person. If you condition yourself to see people as objects whose purpose is to fulfil your needs, you don’t worry as much about being shut down… nor do you care as much about trying to use manipulative or high-pressure tactics to wear someone down and get them to give in.
But as the sage once said: “Stronger? No. Faster, more seductive, the Dark Side is.” If all you had taken away from working with PUAs was “ok, here’s how to be more confident”, “here’s how to dress well”, “here’s how to approach people and start a conversation” and “here’s why you don’t need to be afraid to express interest” while otherwise staying the same as you were before, you would almost certainly not only have had success, you would’ve had far more and more reliable success than the whole “I’m an alpha male, grr. I wear leather and put product in my hair!” thing.
‘Cuz here’s the thing that people don’t realize about “bad boys” and “assholes”: they have very shallow appeal. Whether they get dates or girlfriends is almost immaterial; it’s a question of how long those dates and girlfriends stick around. As is so often noted: the bad boys tend to go through women very quickly. Not because they got what they want and discarded them, but because women don’t like assholes and it takes very little time for them to get fed up with the dude’s shit.
Which brings me to my next point. You say that you’ve gotten more girlfriends by acting like an asshole than you ever did by being a Nice Guy. Serious question: how long have those relationships lasted? I’m not asking this to just dunk on you, it’s to highlight a point: quantity isn’t the same as quality. It’s shockingly easy to get short term, temporary success. It takes far less effort than people realize to up your game, especially if you don’t worry about actually maintaining a relationship. But those successes don’t last; the women tend to leave with a quickness because the magic runs out very fast and they realize that a) they’re being treated like shit and b) there’s no there there. Much of why PUA doesn’t “work” — or rather, works badly — is because of how much it means crafting a Potemkin persona, a false front that looks good from a distance but falls apart as soon as you apply any real scrutiny to it. This is one of the reasons why just about everyone I knew in the pick-up scene — and also folks like Neil Strauss and Erik Von Markovik themselves — had breakdowns. You can only fake something so long without any substance before it tears your soul apart. Humans aren’t good at lying and doing it for long enough fucks your head like you wouldn’t believe.
Just as importantly though: part of the reason why people get upset at your using PUA techniques isn’t just that they’re often inherently manipulative, they’re frequently abusive. A lot of concepts like “dread game”, “frame control” and rules about how often and the way you communicate with dates and partners are actually about intermittent reinforcement: mixing neglect, criticism or abuse with moments of approval or affection at seemingly random and unpredictable intervals. This isn’t “something women select for”, it’s using a psychological technique to try to get someone addicted to brief hits of dopamine from the rare occasions you treat them well. This is, quite literally, the same shit that casinos and iPhone games use to get you to spend obscene amounts of money without meaning to. It’s also why people stick around in abusive relationships for as long as they do; their partners are using the brief moments of pleasure to get them to endure the abuse.
When you go on about how “well, women didn’t like me when I was nice, so now I just do whatever I want to get what I want”, that doesn’t make them look like fools for giving you shitty advice. It doesn’t make you look like someone who threw off the shackles of being an average frustrated chump in order to become The Champion of Fucking. When you say this, what you’re doing is telling people “yes, what I do is abusive and I’m ok with that because it gets me what I want”. This, needless to say, may not be what you intend… but it sure is hell is what you’re saying. It’s not exactly a surprise that people don’t react well to this. They’re not getting upset at you because you’ve hacked The Matrix or broke the Rules of Society, they’re getting upset because you’re telling them “I’m an asshole and that’s great!”
And honestly, my dude, if you hear “women don’t owe you anything because you’re a kind person” and your takeaway is that the problem is being kind? Then you were missing the point entirely. The problem wasn’t “being a kind person”, it was the idea that “being kind” or “being nice” was anything other than the baseline. It’s not going above and beyond, it’s meeting minimum expected standards. It’s kind of like how “this food didn’t give me ptomaine poisoning” isn’t the high-point of a restaurant, it’s the barest fucking level for staying open in the first place. The issue with “women don’t owe you anything” is that it’s true, they don’t. Being a good guy doesn’t entitle you to people’s attention or affection. It makes it easier to get their attention and to maintain their affection. But it’s not owed to you, simply because you were Not The Worst.
But the final layer to this — and my final question — is very simple: are you actually happy right now? Because honestly? It sounds like you’re not and you know you’re not at some level. As a general rule, folks who are satisfied and confident with their chosen path don’t feel the need to angrily justify it to others or dress it up in rejection of others because they didn’t give you what you wanted. It sounds like you’re looking for someone else to validate your choices because you are recognizing, at some level, that you may have benefited from learning pick-up (nobody is saying that you didn’t) but it came with a lot of poison too… and that poison is eating away at you.
And look, I have been there, done that, had the long dark nights of the soul about it. I have been where you are. And I know exactly how upset it made me.
Ask yourself: how often do you talk to your friends about anything other than pick-up? How often do you actually relate to women as friends rather than potential targets? How often do you look at everything in terms of value, status, alpha vs. beta, cuck vs. bull? How many of your guy friends can you actually trust to be open and vulnerable with? How many could you admit to being scared or upset to without being afraid of mockery? How many women could you open up to and cry in front of? How many relationships have you had where you felt like you had to perform everything perfectly or they would lose respect/attraction/interest and leave?
These are all questions I asked myself when I had my breakdown leaving the bar the night I left the PUA scene. And just between you, me and everyone reading this: I really didn’t like those answers. I didn’t like who I’d become and what I was doing. Hell, I didn’t even like most of the people I was sleeping with and the few people I truly did like, I let go in part because having a steady relationship was less important to me than seeking external validation from banging as much strange as I could.
I think it would do you some good to take a long, hard look at yourself and ask yourself those questions. And when you do have answers… well, I think you’ll start to understand why people react negatively when they hear about pick-up or using PUA tactics. And when you understand… well, I think you’ll have some choices to make.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I love your column, and the advice you’ve given has helped me identify some genuine issues I have in myself. I’ve learned the concept of cognitive bias from you and that has allowed me to read more about, and discover fixes to, a lot of self-esteem issues I’ve had my whole life.
But that’s not why I’m writing you today. My problem is kind of a weird one in that I’m not looking to fix anything, but more seeking perhaps validation and putting out there an issue that maybe some of your other readers might be having and to get your take on it.
My wife and I have been together for 11 years, married for 2, and our relationship has been criticized by a lot of people as being not “normal” or “typical” of so many people. In all that time together, we’ve never said “I love you” to one another and it is very unlikely that we will ever say it. It is a weird culmination of our past relationships that just sort of manifested into this refusal to say it. For her it is because she said it to her abusive ex-boyfriend and it quickly lost any meaning as it was often his way of apologizing to her. For me it is similar, I said it to every girl I ever dated who eventually left me, including a woman I almost married who would literally get pissed about everything I did. I’d say it, they’d say it, and yet they still left. We say it to our friends and family, we just don’t say it to each other. We would rather use that time to show how we care than to just say it. We’ve been told by friends and family that this is a sign that we “don’t care for each other”.
By that note, we also don’t fight or argue. Like at all. I can count on three fingers all the heated disagreements we’ve ever had, and all three of those were simple miscommunications and misunderstandings that were sorted out and devolved into laughter more than anything. If there is an issue, we sit down and talk about it, or we learn to adjust to it being our problem and something we need to sort out ourselves. We’ve been told because we don’t fight, it is a sign that we “lack passion”.
And we’ve also been told that we are more friends and roommates than a married couple. We live around each other well, we share a lot of common interests especially in games and television but enough differences in what we read, eat, and the genres we love to keep it fun, and the only problem in the bedroom is that I’m a high school teacher and adjunct professor and I’m just exhausted most days (especially this year of hybrid learning). It isn’t a lack of desire, but a genuine lack of energy, that often leads to no-heat-in-the-sheets as they say. But she is super understanding about this, and we take time to make sure we keep that area of our marriage very happy and healthy, if not as frequent as either of us would like. But because our relationship is considered to be so easy, we’ve been told that somehow ours it not as worthy as theirs. “Nothing of value comes easy in this life” as the saying goes, and yet I’ve always looked at relationships as something we shouldn’t have to work at. I get why some people want that work and that struggle, but I’ve never wanted it and neither has she. We very much like that our marriage is the last thing we have to worry about, and we are happy to be each other’s best friends.
And it isn’t to say we haven’t had hardships. We both met when we were living with our parents as I was finishing up my bachelors, she supported me on my crazy decision to become a teacher and get my masters degree, she stood by me when my first three years as a teacher was at an awful title 1 school that spiraled me into a depression where I very much wanted to die (to be clear it was not the kids, it was the admin and school board), and we survived long distance as I moved to another city to take a job opportunity and to buy a house before she moved in with me. That period of long distance was also criticized as something a “healthy” couple wouldn’t be able to do, and yet we did. We both survived family drama, sickness, and even her citizenship woes so we could get married. We took it all in stride and rose above. When we find obstacles, we take them together and work through them without complaint.
It almost feels like they are challenged by the way our relationship works as… opposite maybe… to what they have, and so they seek to tear it down as something lesser to justify their own struggles and unhappiness that they are dealing with. And please note, this is coming from family and friends, but not all of them. Her mom loves me, and my parents love her. We do have single friends that love when we are around because we don’t “feel” like a couple; we come together but are separate individuals. It’s our married friends and family that seems to tear into us and we really don’t get why. And it’s those jabs and barbs of criticisms that are shared in these offhand compliments. We really don’t get why they do that and we talk about it often.
I don’t know, but I’d love to get your take on it and maybe help out any of your audience that might be experiencing something similar.
Married Best Friends
Here’s what’s going on MBF: people are mistaking conflict for passion and not recognizing the difference between communication and conflict resolution styles. Now in fairness, this isn’t unusual or uncommon; a lot of times, our ideas “how relationships SHOULD work” are shaped by relationship role models. For the children of Boomers, this often means that our parents’ relationships were not the best models to follow; the cultural expectations of parents, the roles of gender and so on mean that a lot of issues in relationships were handled in counterproductive ways. The idea of couples counseling was unusual at best and often seen as the mark of a failed or failing relationship. Similarly, pop culture tends to play up conflict in relationships. Again, this isn’t unusual; conflict means drama, and drama is part of what makes those relationships compelling. While a couple who sits down and discusses their issues calmly and reaffirms their affection for one another may be healthier, it makes for pretty boring storytelling.
(This is why coffeeshop alternate-universe fanfic tends to be just that: fanfic. It’s comforting as a cozy sweater and old jeans, but it doesn’t work as well for serial media.)
The same goes for equating passion with conflict. Passion isn’t automatically loud or showy; it’s just easier to convey passion that way in media. Ironically enough, you want a great example of passion that’s quiet and understated, look at Oz in Buffy The Vampire Slayer; he’s a quiet, fairly reserved character who still has a deep reservoir of passion and intensity. Still waters run deep, after all.
The problem is that because a lot of these less-than-positive dynamics are so common, it’s easy to mistake them as examples of how relationships should work. We look at conflict in relationships — whether in relationships we’ve seen in our lives, or via pop culture — and assume that because we see it so often, this is how it should be. And so, when we see relationships that don’t follow that dynamic, it’s easy to feel like something is off or wrong.
Case in point: the fact that you and your wife don’t say “I love you”. To give an example, this was a character moment in the movie Ghost; Patrick Swayze’s character was notorious for saying “ditto”, rather than “I love you too” to Demi Moore’s character. In the movie, this is portrayed as a character flaw of sorts; an indication that maybe he’s afraid of expressing himself or sharing his true feelings. But in practice… this is about communication, not feelings. He may not be saying the words, but it’s clear through his actions that he loves his partner. The conflict — as seen through the filter of 21st-century-dating-coaches-who-spend-too-goddamn-much-time-thinking-about-these-things — is they’re not speaking the same language. He’s saying “I love you,” but not in a way that she can hear.
This is one of the reasons why there’s a lot of focus on love languages — both expressing and receiving. For some people, showing that they care is about doing things for other people; they show their love by being of service to them. For others, showing affection is about spending time together, regardless of the activity, or about giving gifts. Part of what makes a relationship work is understanding and being able to speak your partner’s “language”, as it were. You and your wife clearly speak the same language. Saying the words “I love you” isn’t part of how you share affection, it’s in the ways you behave with one another. It may not look like you’re being affectionate with one another to an outside observer… but they’re not you. They don’t have the context or information you have — including how your wife’s ex used “I love you” and made it meaningless to her.
The same goes for conflict styles and conflict resolution styles. Some folks’ conflict styles are like summer thunderstorms — loud, flashy, come on out of nowhere and pass just as quickly. They can be scary or frightening to someone who doesn’t have that conflict style… but for folks who are used to it, it’s what works for them. There’s drama, there’s yelling, there’s flailing hands… and then there’s resolution and it passes. It’s not inherently better or worse than your conflict style and resolution style; it’s just different. Two people who do a lot of yelling and venting and then let everything go aren’t automatically Doing It Wrong, any more than calm, serious discussions are Doing It Right. It’s about what works for the couple, that doesn’t leave one party or the other feeling shut down or ignored and actually resolves the issue causing the conflict. It’s just as easy for those calm discussions to not actually resolve the core problem or be used to intimidate or silence the other person.
You and your wife have your way of handling conflicts. It works for you. It isn’t as flashy or performative as some others’… but that’s fine. That’s what works for you and it’s kept your relationship happy and healthy.
And really, that’s ultimately the thing for you to keep in mind. “Works for us” is the standard you want to follow, regardless of how it looks to others. Other people don’t have the context of your relationship or full access to all the information about the two of you. They have, at best, a highly edited version. At worst, they have glimpses into your relationship and they’re filling in all the extraneous details based on their concept of How Relationships Work and What This All Means. But the great thing about relationships is that they’re not democracies. Other people don’t get a vote in how you and your wife run your relationship, what rules you follow or what methods work for you. If you two want to have a Gorean-style 24/7 power exchange relationship that you both consent to and that you worked out in advance… well, it ain’t my taste, but if everyone’s happy and satisfied, it’s also not my business. If a couple wants a one-sided open relationship, where only one partner has sex outside the relationship and everyone’s cool with it… well, that’s all that matters. People can have opinions about how it should work… but they can keep those opinions to themselves unless specifically asked.
It’s certainly possible that other people feel challenged by your relationship. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that people pathologize things in others that make them uncomfortable. But I think it’s as likely that your relationship and the way you conduct it is just different from what they think is the norm. That can feel unusual, or even wrong, just because it’s unfamiliar. But then, it’s also not their relationship; it’s yours, and if you and your wife are happy, then that’s what matters.
The only thing you need to say to the folks who tell you that you’re Relationshipping Wrong is very simple: “This works for us and we’re happy.” You don’t need to justify your feelings for each other or your reasons, because there’s nothing to justify. Justifying it just implies that you need their approval or to prove something; it carries the framing that they’re right and your relationship is unusual and possibly wrong. So, don’t justify. You can inform if they have questions or want more details… but all that needs to be said is “This works for us and makes us happy.” If they insist on telling you that there must be something wrong, then take it a step further: “This works for us, we’re happy and you can step off. I’m not interested in your unsolicited advice or opinions and I don’t appreciate your telling me that we don’t feel the way we feel. So feel free to keep it to yourself. And if you can’t, then feel free to go the fuck away.”
I completely understand why this weighs on you; when folks tell you over and over again that you’re doing something that “doesn’t” or “shouldn’t” work, it’s hard not to worry that they might be right. But at the same time, the important thing is to hold onto the fact that this is what you’ve been doing and it’s been working out for you. You and your wife are happy, and your relationship — like all relationships — is a complex system of choices based around your shared experiences and your histories, both separately and together. You’ve found a system that works for you based on the full context of everything you and your wife have gone through, for good and for ill. Are you happy? Yes. Does it work well for you? Yes. Does anything else matter? Nope.
It may look different to folks who don’t have your insider’s perspective… but that’s fine. Like I said: relationships aren’t democracies. Other people can have opinions, but they don’t get a vote. There isn’t a public comment period about how your relationships work. And you are well within your rights to tell them that you do not want to and will not have these discussions with them. You’re happy, your relationship works and that’s what matters. Everyone who doesn’t like the way you make it work can go screw.