This question originally appeared on Quora.
Answer by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, author of Cracking the Coding Interview and The Google Résumé:
I became negative about it because of what I saw it do to guys.
When I first learned about it, I was mostly just intrigued. I ended up learning a bunch about it. I read The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists (which I still think is a really interesting book) and ended up meeting a lot of people who were in the pick-up artist community (not a goal—it just happened).
I even ended up helping out with one of their weekend seminars, to be a “female test dummy,” essentially. Far from the stereotype of sleazy guys who want one-night stands, 24 of the 25 guys in the class were just awkward, nerdy guys who just wanted a girlfriend (the 25th wanted to bring home a girl for a threesome with his girlfriend). But that’s not the instruction of these classes. The classes are about getting laid, not getting a girlfriend.
This was my first big hint that something was wrong.
There was a mismatch. They were taking guys who wanted girlfriends and teaching them how to pick up girls in bars. How many relationships do you know of that started in bars? Do you know any? If you want a girlfriend, go sign up for an online dating site. Start dating! Statistically speaking, bars don’t work.
And then there was the instruction itself.
The problem is that what works for one person doesn’t work for everyone—not all guys, and not on all girls. They were telling guys things like:
- Touch a girl when she talks to you.
- Criticize a girl (sorry, I mean “neg”).
- When a girl seems uninterested, she’s just playing games.
- Don’t talk about “real” topics, like education and your job. They’re too “boring.”
- No woman is out of your league.
The problem here is that touching can be flirty, but it can also be really creepy when the touching isn’t natural. And when you’re telling an awkward, nerdy guy who has no idea how to flirt “OK, now, touch a girl here,” it’s almost always creepy. (Personally, I don’t like random guys at bars touching me. It makes me really uncomfortable.)
And then you’re telling the guy to criticize the girl, which is just plain mean.
And then, when the girl isn’t interested, the guy is now being told, “Oh, she’s just trying to play games with you.” He doesn’t back off. Eww.
And all of this is ridiculous because sometimes, the girl is out of your league or at least just isn’t interested. I’m 5-foot-9, and I’m just not going to go home with a guy who is 5-foot-3, goes by the nickname “Snake” (seriously?!?), and is overweight, and pimply, and won’t just answer a direct question about what he does for a living. But he keeps pursuing because, well, “I’m just playing games with him.” I’m trying to see if he passes some test, apparently.
These are the sort of repeated interactions I had with guys in the PUA community, and why I got turned against it. Once upon a time, this guy might have been a perfectly normal but nerdy guy, who could have dated online, met someone nice, got married, and been perfectly happy.
PUA instruction turns awkward, nerdy guys who just want a girlfriend into creepy guys who harass and insult women. And that’s not OK!
PUA instruction teaches guys these mechanical ways of interacting with women that don’t really work and fails to recognize that every woman is different. Some women just won’t go home with you. Sorry. Maybe she’s out of your league. Or maybe she’s just not interested in you. Or maybe she just doesn’t go home with random dudes from bars.
The words coming out of a woman’s mouth? It’s not all a game. You can have actual conversations with us. When I say “What do you do for a living?” it’s because I actually care. Because I’m looking for someone to build a relationship with, and someone with no career goals is not a good match for me. Answer the question.
Conversation is not all a giant game. When I’m not interested, it’s because I’m not interested. Not because I’m putting some sort of girl test in front of you.
So that’s why I’m against it. Because, beyond just giving men the courage to approach women, the instruction is harmful to the guys.
Some of my friends who were involved in the community got out of it OK, but they were probably more normally adjusted to start with. Another friend, well, he got his taste of one night stands and “can’t understand the point of girlfriend.” And other guys I’ve met are so uncomfortable to be around that, well, we never really became friends.
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