Playboys, philanderers, gigolos. Call them what you will; whatever their character flaws, pickup artists are, at least, confident, goal-oriented individuals with the wherewithal to get what they want. And 'what they want' is hardly a secret: One vodka martini and the twinkle in 007's eye betrays his every dirty desire. Commitment, as you might guess, is rarely among them.
But that might be changing. Believe it or not, today's digitized world could be bringing the age of the one-night stand to an end. According to a cover story in Saturday Night magazine (July 2004), today's seduction community (yes, there is such a thing, and it has blogs) is distancing itself from the sexcentric stereotypes of yore. As writer Christopher Shulgan discovers, the new seducers are looking for more than the usual Saturday-night hanky-panky -- they also crave 'a partner to snuggle with on Sunday morning.'
These men are largely mobilized around FastSeduction.com, an online community that facilitates the kind of knowledge sharing at which the Internet is particularly adept. As the Web site's tagline, 'Class is now in session . . .,' suggests, the site is more than a boasting ground for locker room chatter. Its purpose is didactic, and its discussion boards are filled with posts offering earnest advice on things like being mindful of nuance, staying attentive to your own style, and coping with rejection. It's all part of the new world of digital folk knowledge, where one can get bona fide degrees, certificates of ministry, and plain old useful tips on cooking or gardening or meeting that special someone.
'Technology and the legion of solitary pursuits it has spawned are fundamentally changing the dating game,' Shulgan writes. Many modern Casanovas are using their seduction techniques not simply in search of casual sex (though that is still often the case), but as a means of besting the hyperpopulated bar-and-club scene and achieving a loving, long-term relationship. As one man put it, 'Dude, I want an awesome girlfriend.'
The harbinger of this seemingly contradictory revolution in the science of smooth is a 6-foot, 5-inch semiemployed magician from Toronto who calls himself Mystery. For $1500 a head, Mystery teaches a three-day seminar in seduction, consisting of both classroom learning and night-time field sessions in bars and clubs, which he calls 'The Mystery Method.' Since creating the course in 2000, Mystery, who does almost all his recruiting online, has trained hundreds, if not thousands, of aspiring seducers in the art of attraction, cinching his place as the leader of the ever-growing FastSeduction.com set, who refer to Mystery mostly in messianic terms.
These pickup artists (or PUAs, as they are called on message boards; seduction, like all viable subcultures, has a jargon all its own) are less concerned with the pickup than they are with the artistry. For many of them, seduction isn't a means to an end (according to Mystery, a successful 'close' to an 'approach' is nothing more than a phone number -- a bounty he reaps as often as 20 times a week). And an awesome girlfriend isn't the only reward: Mystery's disciplinal Don Juans often describe the benefits of the Mystery Method as augmenting not only their romantic pursuits but also their lives in general. They find they become happier, more confident people. Even Neil Strauss, The New York Times' music columnist and author of an article on Mystery, has become one of the method's most devoted followers. 'It's revolutionized my life,' he says.
Mystery agrees that his method is about more than just meeting women. 'My best friends tolerate my little hobby, but they don't understand the Zen behind it,' he says. 'It enriches my life.'
Which is largely the driving factor behind the vast and convoluted street fair that is the Internet's educational potential. There are hordes of people online who, like Mystery, have mastered a skill or discovered a gimmick that enriches them and who feel an honest and candid impulse to let the rest of us in on the secret. It's charming, really. But beware: Useful as it is, the Internet is also full of seemingly helpful folks who, like PUAs, are just trying to get your phone number.
Chuck Terhark is a Minneapolis writer.