Meet Professor Seduction

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

These men are largely mobilized around, 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 set, who refer to Mystery mostly in messianic

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.

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