Pretoria - Single men, listen up. Picture the scene. You see an attractive woman in a bar, but the last time you tried to chat up someone you spent a day’s salary on her drinks only for her to fob you off and leave with another guy. But this time is different. You walk over, say something smooth and she’s instantly making eye contact, smiling and laughing.
Only happens to other guys, right? Wrong, according to some. They say there is a tried-and-tested technique in every successful pick-up. It’s called pick-up artistry, and if you have the budget and the time to learn how to do it, you’re almost guaranteed to win a girl over, at least for one night.
Google “pick-up artist” and you’ll see that “pick-up artistry” has evolved into a thriving business, with smooth-talking Lotharios sharing their tips with shy guys who feel awkward around women.
There’s even a PickUp Artist World Summit, which was held in Los Angeles in January.
What’s happening on this front in South Africa?
A lot, it turns out, thanks to three guys who started Pick-Up Artist South Africa (PUA SA) and have run nine well-attended “boot camps” for men aged 18 to 40.
Ryan Peimer, 27, Darren Lurie, 28 and Josh Margolis, 24, started PUA SA just over two years ago, and have been imparting their experience as lady-killers.
“I started PUA SA because I needed guidance myself when I was younger,” says Peimer, a film director/producer and the ideas man of the company.
“At school and afterwards, I could barely greet a girl, never mind strike up a conversation. I’d always end up going home alone, so if you’d offered me this service 10 years ago I would’ve jumped at it.”
Fast-forward to today and I’m sitting with a confident, well turned out young man who is articulate and easily keeps the interview rolling.
He admits he’s not an A-list looker, but stresses that “appearance, money and career are just small factors” when first meeting a woman. “What women notice first is confidence, and your handling of an introductory situation,” he says.
The basis of PUA SA’s boot camps, as in the US and UK, is the book The Game: Penetrating The Secret Society Of Pickup Artists, by Neil Strauss.
An investigative reporter, Strauss went on a seduction boot camp with a man called “Mystery” who gave him and other participants advice on their behaviour, body language and what to say.
Strauss concluded that pick-up “techniques” were basic habits that should have been taught to him by society in the first place.
The book was controversial in some quarters – Australian journalist Malcolm Knox wrote in his review, “I doubt he has anything helpful for anyone except those men whose emotional maturity stalled at age 15” – but it nonetheless made the New York Times best-seller list after its release in 2005.
Says Peimer: “The Game sparked my interest, and that’s when I learnt there was a whole pick-up artist community and lots of teachings on tools and techniques to build confidence and social skills.
“My partner Josh (a property developer) and I started reading books and watching DVDs, but the only way to really learn is to practise, so we flew in Adam Lyons (British relationship coach and pick-up artist) to come and mentor us for four days.”
As we chat, it becomes clear that while they might be good at the genteel art of conversation, the pick-up artist’s “game plan” is akin to a battle strategy, and his language unapologetically follows suit.
“It’s a social jungle out there, and you don’t want to be chewed up and spat out. Women are ruthless. You need training. That’s your arsenal. What we teach is the highest statistical probability of success when meeting women,” Peimer smiles, adding that “success” might mean a one-night-stand for one guy, and a gratifying chat that leads nowhere near a bedroom for another.
“This is not about getting women into bed, it’s about enabling you to meet and attract them. You’re on your own from there.”
Peimer says “unarmed” guys make faux pas with clichéd openings like, “Haven’t I seen you here before?”
“Armed” men come up with “opinion openers” – they gently elicit a woman’s opinion on a situation, which Peimer says is the strongest opening gambit.
“Without giving too much away, the trick is to be non-threatening and to create a rapport. Taking an interest in her is crucial, but a lot of men make the mistake of showing too much interest. That’s the problem with generic openings, they show too much interest, and the truth is, girls tend to want what they don’t have,” he says.
In the same vein, when a conversation starts rolling, some men go into “interrogation mode”, asking the woman too many questions about herself. Worse, they might talk “at” women rather than “to” them, using them as sounding boards for their uncontested take on the world.
“You should come across genuinely interested, and allow an easy flow of conversation. And use a soft tone,” advises Peimer.
A lot of focus in the PUA boot camps is on body language. “You can make errors in body language before you even open your mouth.”
And touch is especially important – “women are affectionate by nature” – but throwing your arm around her prematurely will probably scupper your chances.
“You need to create a comfortable space between you before you start escalating the sexual dynamic with touch,” warns Peimer.
This might all seem logical, but any single woman will attest to the fact that an alarming number of men don’t follow even the basic rules of engagement.
Online dating hasn’t helped, and to Peimer, it’s the “coward’s way out”. Many of the men in the PUA SA boot camps are insecure socially due to their jobs.
“We get a lot of guys from technical and computer-programming fields. They don’t have to present themselves very often, so they lose confidence when they do have to.”
An internal look into the causes of insecurity or lack of confidence is an essential part of the PUA boot camp.
“We call this the ‘inner game’, looking at why there might be a fear of rejection, what rejection is, how you feel about yourself. It’s important to know your ‘inner game’ before learning your ‘outer game’, which is about bringing out your strengths and concealing weaknesses,” says Peimer.
Lurie is the PUA instructor who looks at grooming and fashion choices. “Hygiene is important, and if you’re impeccably dressed, you stand out. I look at what works and what doesn’t in a guy’s wardrobe.”
Once there’s a clear understanding of how interaction starts, the boot camp participants hit the clubs and pubs for two nights of “in field training”, mostly in Sandton or Greenside where, according to Peimer, the women are “more down to earth”.
Far from slouching at the bar, participants have to approach women and strike up conversations – under the watchful eye of their PUA instructors.
The PUA instructors give them feedback on where they are going wrong. “We can tell a guy why a woman pulled away, for instance. After a few tries, they become more confident, and start getting results. We’ve had guys who’ve sealed the deal that night,” says Peimer.
All this machismo lingo leads me to wonder how modern pick-up artists are in their attitude to women, and I can understand the controversy that Peimer says they’ve attracted, with charges that they are objectifying women and even advocating date rape.
But Peimer is adamant they have the utmost respect for women.
“We are simply helping men meet women, and down the line, we might do boot camps for women.
“Charisma is not a mystery. It can be broken down, and it ripples out to all aspects of life. That’s what we are doing, nothing more sinister than that,” says Peimer, himself back in the “social jungle” after a relationship break-up.
I ask Peimer if pick-up artists like economically empowered, independent women.
“Absolutely! A lot of men want to meet women of a higher standard, but don’t know how to. Just because she’s empowered doesn’t mean she doesn’t appreciate a romantic gesture from a man. And the fact is, most women still want to be approached first by a man, not the other way round.” - Pretoria News