learning the art of seduction in a feminist age

the rake

Some smart but socially awkward guys just want to find a way to connect with women, get confident in their company, and maybe even get a girlfriend. And that – well that’s pretty damn sweet.
- Kelly Diels, I’m Not Picking on Pick-Up Artists. Much.


I used to be a nice guy.

No, wait. I used to be a Nice Guy. You know the type: the perennial friend, the guy who has more women friends than men, the one who never seems to get the girl. The guy who secretly wonders why women keep ending up with the asshole, but gladly gives them his shoulder to cry on when The Asshole inevitably ends up acting like… well, an asshole.

The guy who waits in the wings waiting for the girl to come to her senses (because obviously, she can’t be acting sensibly and be with that guy).

The problem with nice guys is that most of them are secretly afraid of women. And they take out their fear and confusion with the opposite sex in veiled grunts of frustration to the few male friends they have, asking why the hell doesn’t she see how good I am for her? and how can she be so stupid?

Because, see, at heart, the nice guys hold onto a lot of anger against the women they supposedly care about. They’re angry because — time & time again — they’re passed over for some guy who isn’t “worth her time.”

I know this because I used to be one of these guys. And I hated the guys who treated women (in my opinion) like shit. More than that, however, I really couldn’t understand that my female friends weren’t being stupid or silly. Because that’s how we nice guys rationalize your behavior, you know. We can’t for the life of us figure out why you like who you like, and we just convince ourselves you’re out of your minds and will eventually come to your senses.

Offensive much?

Women aren’t stupid – certainly not as idiotic as the Nice Guy mind wants to believe – and I’ve often wondered in the years since if my female friends didn’t know or at least sense the feelings I wouldn’t voice.

As I said, the problem with most nice guys is that they’re afraid of women. They’re not willing to risk what they have with a friend, despite the depth of their romantic attraction. They’re not willing to speak truth. Instead of being willing to take you to task for repeatedly dating men who hurt you, or even willing to ask the question: hey, why?!, they validate your anger, let you cry, hang out around you in your times of need in the hopes you’ll throw them a bone in a moment of weakness.

I used to be a nice guy. I know these things.

. . .

A long, long time ago, as I was nearing the end of a year-long period of self-imposed celibacy following the dissolution of my marriage, I joined a free online pick-up artist community at the suggestion of a friend.

I’ve never been the type of guy to meet women at bars or clubs – the idea of meeting up with someone for a night, taking them home, sleeping with them in a drunken stupor and parting ways the next day – well, it just never appealed to me. I met people in bookstores, grocery stores, in my philosophy classes, at work, online. And certainly not through conscious effort on my own part. My ex-wife (while we were still married) once pointed out a ticket-takers blatantly obvious flirtation with me as she stamped my hand at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

I hadn’t noticed a thing.

You’ve got to have a broader understanding of me beyond this point. I’d considered myself a feminist for a long time (nice guys often do), had read Transforming a Rape Culture (not an easy task) and other seminal works of feminist literature at the urging of my ex-wife, unsuccessfully fought to have alleged removed from its place before rapist in the college paper (and later found myself and the Editor-in-Chief of the paper surrounded by Katie Koestner and two dozen angry women at the middle of a walking bridge on the Hamilton campus)…

I’d had my eyes opened to the entitlement of being a white man in our society. I never worried about walking back across our campus at night – it seemed so safe to me, so hearing that other people worried shocked me.

But I didn’t really see what I’d been doing inside my own head until I joined the PUA community, a newbie with a chip on his shoulder and a bunch of strange ideas about women filling my noggin. I read tale after sordid tale of how a guy’d been lucky, met a girl he liked who liked him back for a bit and then dumped him for being too nice. Or she never paid him attention at all. And – in the presence of other men – they weren’t shy about voicing their anger at women for such behavior. Their voices rang loud and shrill, calling women ‘stupid’, ‘selfish’, ‘manipulative.’

In the PUA community, a fatal attraction for the one that got away (or the one you never had) was called ‘oneitis’. And the crude advice they gave us newbies? GFTOW: Go f*ck ten other women.

It’s a terrifically vulgar way of saying get over her… move on – in a sort of sucker-punch locker room talk. And even the same guys who can’t talk straight to a woman aren’t so afraid of telling a guy they need to shape up or ship out. I never listened to the words literally. I got their message, or at least translated it into something I could accept: meet other people, realize there are many other fish in the sea, etc.

So a lot of nice guys showed up here – this wasn’t a paid community, though some people did stop in to shill their product, and some of the guys who hung out there moved on to create their own seduction classes – and as you might expect, the atmosphere of misogyny stunk up the place like bad cigars.

But if I looked beyond that, the lessons of the PUA community fall into several categories:

Technique – Cubing. Magic Tricks. Games. Negs (mild insults designed to show women you’re not afraid of them even though you really are). C&F (Cocky & Funny – projecting confidence and humour). Openers. Ice-breakers. Much more.

Psychology – gaining rapport through mirroring body language. Overcoming ASD (the anti-slut defense, and yes, I’m sure that name raises a lot of hackles). Cock-blocks and how to avoid them.

Self-improvement – eating healthy. exercising. doing what really interests you.

The thing about most of the techniques taught in PUA communities is that they’re cheap, cheesy, and wholly designed to let guys fake it until they’ve found their own confidence. As are the self-improvement elements.

So I went out on assignments. I encouraged myself to walk up to women I found attractive (for me, that usually meant someone in a class whose insights I particularly valued, or whom I saw reading a Buddhist book at the Coop, or sitting at the Cambridge Zen Center) and striking up a conversation. I pushed myself past my comfort zone – getting a number here or there, perhaps going for a kiss. I bombed more often than I succeeded. And I never really used any of the techniques. I’m no magician, and I wasn’t about to start any potential relationship being someone I’m not.

But slowly, something happened. I did start noticing how the pseudo-psychology they peddle does somewhat describe people’s behavior in the real world. I started treating everyone I met with the same personality my friends get – I give them a hard time. I tease them. I call them on their shit.

And why does this Cocky & Funny thing work? Because when a person truly interacts with confidence and humor, it shows women (and men, for that matter) that they aren’t afraid, aren’t hiding. A huge problem with nice guys is that you never actually know how they feel about you. With (good) confident men – and I specifically remove from that group those without integrity – they’re honest when they’re happy, and honest when they’re not. Life is simpler.

I noticed a few times, when the prospect of greater intimacy loomed between us – that I’d hear things like, I’m very picky about who I sleep with (even before anybody had even mentioned or suggested that prospect). Before I joined the PUA community, I’d have considered that a full stop. After? It didn’t rattle my confidence. I just kept being me. And we were all happy about that.

As the guys who started with me kept at it, I noticed something happening – they ranted against women a lot less frequently. They started taking responsibility for their own issues. Their own fears. Their own shortcomings. They began to look at themselves, to work on the parts of themselves they felt needed work. They stopped blaming women for their loneliness and realized that – perhaps – they shouldered most of the blame for the life they’d led so far.

What’s amazing when a person truly takes responsibility for their own qualities & imperfections is that they find their own power.

I ended up leaving the community within a few months. I left with a final message, that I’d discovered the games and tricks and verbal manipulation weren’t for me. I’d discovered that one doesn’t have to GFTOW to overcome oneitis. But more importantly than that, I’d learned the things I’d really needed to learn: take care of yourself; be yourself; do the things you love; and don’t make your whole life the pursuit of women.

And that’s what I did. I can’t say I suddenly became a Lothario. But as I shifted my focus away from meeting women, I ate healthier, drank more water, started paying a little more for haircuts that flattered me, developed a personal style, took classes and read about subjects that interested me. I ended up moving to Maui for a little while. I built a little online community. I deepened my Buddhist practice. I wrote. And I wrote even more.

I never did really go out of my way to meet random women after that. But as I took care of myself, something else changed. People approached me – they often had before, but I’d totally missed it – and I knew how to react. I wasn’t afraid or scared. And I didn’t blame them for not seeing me.

The people who came to me – they saw something they liked in me, something that attracted them. And instead of changing into that scared, powerless nice guy, I treated them like friends from the beginning. I didn’t worry about messing things up. If I liked someone they knew. Sure, I still had a good shoulder for crying on, but there wasn’t anything hidden between us.

And I still did have my doubts from time to time. I once let slip to a girl that I was surprised “a girl like you likes me.” Oh, well, she had none of that. I got an earful. And she disavowed me of that silly notion once and for all.

So yes, you meet me and you might notice a bit of Cocky & Funny these days. But you know why? That’s me. That’s who I am to the people I really care about. And I dare say I’m a bit interesting (ok, some people call my brand of interesting eccentric; after all, I am an absent-minded professor type). But a lot of what turned me around were those few months in the locker room, trying to filter out the misogyny and the rampant testosterone-filled posturing, trying to get past the silly games, the theatrics, and into the real meat.

Because men aren’t stupid either, and the fact is, there was some real wisdom hidden among all the sweaty gym clothes and ego-inflation. Some guys actually paid attention and learned a thing or two and decided to share it with the others. Us slow-learners.

The downside of these communities exists in the risk that men won’t learn to take responsibility for themselves and their own actions. These are the men who study the tactics and the psychology religiously, who work the magic tricks, the card games and the art of persuasion to a fine art. They fill their void of confidence with con games and tricks of manipulation. Instead of coming to view women as equal people, they convert their nice guy feelings into asshole feelings. To them, women are still stupid and need to be tricked into realizing who’s right for them. To them, women need to be manipulated and convinced.

That’s not true seduction. What real benefit exists in attracting someone to you if the you they like isn’t really, well, you? Is it really satisfying, at the end of the day, with a woman lying in your arms and smiling happily at you, if she only sees this act you’ve been pulling just to get her there?

Real seduction is still something magic. And it’s on-going. It’s not about being someone else or reciting scripts or doing what some PUA guru told you to do. It’s about having enough confidence to take great joy in honest and playful dance with those you like. Real seduction becomes effortless. It’s a smirk or a playful tease without hidden agenda. It’s leaning in toward each other to listen more intently. It’s the way our eyes move from eye to eye to mouth and back again before a kiss, but not because we know the Kiss Test. Simply because this is just what we do, who we are.

The magic of real seduction is in the back-and-forth. The thousand little things we do that convey interest and attraction to each other. The tiny little games we play. And all of this can be observed and discussed and shared – by women to women, men to men, etc, etc…

But the spark, especially the one that lasts, is something that – like enlightenment – can’t be taught. It can only be pointed toward: we are most attractive to others when we’re being exactly who we want to be. Not who we think we should be. Nor who we think other people want us to be.

We’re most attractive when we are who we want to be.

Learn this lesson and take care of yourself. That’s all you really need to know. And to think I didn’t even charge you for this deepest, most powerful secret of seduction!

I highly recommend you read Kelly Diel’s blog series on PUA, which served as the final push for me to post this blog entry, which has been rattling around in my head for – oh, about five years.

Mila (Jacob Stetser)

Mila is a writer, photographer, poet & technologist.

He shares here his thoughts on Buddhism, living compassionately, social media, building community,
& anything else that interests him.

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  1. The nice guy thing has always infuriated me—mostly because these nice guys were always the ones who claimed to be so flattered that a “girl like” me would be interested in them, and then, would treat me worse than any “asshole” I ever could have met. Why? Because, with the assholes, I knew what I was getting. With the “nice” guys, I was primed for a blindside. And, boyhow, did I get that. The worst, though, was the “nice” guy pretending to be the asshole who was actually a “nice” guy, which made him an asshole.

    I could say more, but let’s just say I really, really hate “nice” guys. In fact, any guy who claims to be one is immediately relegated to acquaintance only. I can’t even stand them as friends. Why? Because they’re dishonest—with themselves and others. They have warped ideas about women, and they are extremely poor communicators.

    But—get this—women suck, too. I think we women suck even more. That’s a whole ‘nother thing that I’m gonna write about real soon.

    It’s such a cliche, but damnit, we all need to just be ourselves. Live your life. Smile when you want to, even if you have a stupid chipped tooth. Wear ridiculous clothes. Don’t come your hair. But, Goddamnit, own it. That’s attractive. Real attracts real. I don’t know about you, but I’m not in this world to be a paper doll.


  2. jake — this is a lovely response. brilliant. i love this conversation that Kelly Diels started. thank you for writing this. of course, i’m quoting it. :)


  3. Great post, I’m glad you finally got around to putting it up.

    It’s funny, because I believe almost every structure/system (no matter how screwed up it is) has the potential to lead someone to the kind of personal growth and revelations you are describing. I just keep forgetting that i believe that every now and then! Thanks for reminding me that even the thing that has the potential to turn out a whole bunch of Mr. Asshole can also provide the foundation for the new, and improved Mr. Nice Guy.

    Yours, megan


  4. Hi Mila! loved the nice guy honesty-I’d like to add the big problem is violating a spiritual principle "what is’ of Integrity. When ever we notice something, like a girl is being treated poorly-we are not meant to assist anyone with that. The statement of observation, “I notice he treats you poorly, clearly it doesn’t work for you.” It’s not a judgment, it’s observing what is-and that is powerful. It’s also powerful to not help someone abuse them-self. Say, I am sorry this hurts you so much but I can’t listen to this any more. You are stuck in a pattern and I am not helping but letting you cry on my shoulder. I will be happy to help you get help to break the pattern." Then give them a great book like co-dependent no more! Congrats on giving up the nice guy!

    karen monroy