PUA - A Cargo Cult That Works Until You Know It's a Cargo Cult
I saw someone downthread mention Scott's awesome old post Radicalising the Romanceless and it reminded me of something I wanted to discuss. In short, I've recently found myself in the uncomfortable position of 'mentoring' a younger guy about how to have a more fulfilling romantic life and I can't find much material that's genuinely useful without also being either laced with misogyny or laced with some quite negative 'progressive' ideas about men and masculinity. So I don't want to send him to The Red Pill because there are some very unhealthy attitudes prevalent there, as well as a disproportionate number of bitter, angry, and frustrated people. But I'm also wary of pointing him to some of the main progressive sex and love experts like Dan Savage or Esther Perel. Partly that's because I think they have some unfairly negative ideas about straight masculinity, but I also think they have some ideological blinkers, e.g., Dan Savage insisting that we can use socialisation and different risk environments to explain why men and women have different attitudes to casual sex, without bringing biology into the mix. I'm genuinely surprised that there doesn't seem to be a "RP-lite" community I could send him to.
A bit more background: when I was much younger, PUA culture was just becoming a thing, and I found a lot of it extremely helpful. I was fascinated when I read The Game, but was turned off by the fakery and spectacle of some of the more flamboyant techniques (e.g. the whole Mystery Method). But there were also people in that community that emphasised the 'natural art of seduction', e.g., making yourself more attractive and finding straightforward ways for making romantic first encounters with women run smoothly.
I realise some people might balk at the idea that there's anything both true and virtuous in PUA culture, but honestly I think a lot of it is just like teaching people how to dance - giving them useful conversation starters, knowing how to navigate common but tricky situations, knowing things to avoid saying, etc.. Even some of it that might seem creepy at first glance is really about presenting oneself positively while demonstrating good judgment.
For example, one tip I've made good use of is the idea that on a date, you can increase your chances of having a fun physical encounter at the end of the night if you can find a good excuse to swing by your apartment in the middle of the date; e.g., because you're moving from one bar to another and need to pick up your phone charger, or want to roll a joint to enjoy with your date etc.. The idea is that it'll then be easier to convince your date to come back to the apartment again at the end of the night. Now, that might sound deceptive, but I think it's really about providing useful information in a context where it's basically impossible to do so directly. Someone's home provides a lot of information about them - are they clean and competent adults? Have they decorated the place appropriately? Do they have a trash can with a lid in the bathroom? Or do they have a montage of their favourite Nazis on the wall? If a guy invites a woman back to his place at the end of the night, it's at least somewhat uncomfortable for her to back out if she gets there and sees red flags, but if she's seen it in advance and got a good impression it gives her some useful information to work with. And usually the only way to provide this information without seeming like a psycho is to engage in at least low level deception - you can't say "let's go to my apartment so you can see I keep a nice home and am a normal adult and thereby make a more informed decision about coming home with me at the end of the night", so you say "hey, mind if we swing by my apt on the way to the restaurant? I want to grab my charger", or "hey, want to smoke a joint before we get dinner? I have some nice weed at home and I live round the corner."
Anyway, there are lots of general and specific strategies like this that I think can help young straight guys with dating and that can be presented in packages that retain a broadly positive and decent picture of women, men, sex, and romance. However - while I'm happily married these days and have been out of the loop for a while, as far as I can tell this more 'wholesome' end of the PUA community doesn't exist to any great extent any more - The Red Pill has eclipsed everything, and the most famous PUAs tend to be people like Rollo. That's a shame, because it seems to me there's a lot of room for useful romantic advice that's neither anodyne/false ("Just be yourself!", "Be a virtuous person and romance will follow!") nor of dubious morality ("Neg her hard!", "Overcome LMR by freezing her out!").
Maybe I'm just wrong about the nonexistence of this community, but if I'm right, it's interesting to think about why it doesn't exist. One possibility would be that it'd still be too far from progressive norms around sex and romance to be mainstream acceptable, and so gets pushed to the shadows, at which point you get an evaporative cooling effect whereby the main group left in the community are witches. Another possibility is that any community that builds up around dating advice will be disproportionately peopled by straight guys who are angry and frustrated and are thus easy marks for a narrative in which women are empty-head children or evil manipulative bitches. But maybe there's a gap in the market, and someone just needs to make it happen.
I have to agree that the gap exists. I was heavily (desperately?) into PUA more than a decade ago in my early 20s. I also read the Game and felt so excited that finally there was a pathway out of my misery. I never got into the Mystery Method and the baffling granularity it provides, but I did read Roissy and similarly minded blogs and forums. Looking back on that time, while I did have nearly immediate success with women using some of the prescribed tactics, I realize now that it was almost entirely collateral aspects that were responsible for the effectiveness.
This is showcased by the painfully trite and useless advice of "just be yourself!". In contrast, if you build up the allure of a secret society of hyper-effective social manipulators, and if one of those members takes you aside and generously hands down a line or question you can use with the gravity of a well-guarded secret, you will walk into the next encounter armed with a confidence you likely have never experienced before. This is the genius behind lines like "Who lies more, men or women?" At its core, it's just a banal observation and conversation starter, but telling a desperately shy person "When you see an attractive woman, approach her within 10 seconds. It's ok, you already know what to say" is infinitely more useful than "Just talk to women!"
This belies the paradox inherent in almost all PUA advice: it only works when you don't know why it works. More specifically, it only works when it is dispensed by obnoxious conmen with a sufficiently built up mystique specifically tailored to unloved young men. That's why the early PUA folks were so goddamn weird to everyone else in society.
I can say that learning about PUA helped me in my approach to many social situations, specifically dating, but it's almost impossible to point out specific reasons as to why. Most of the lessons have largely been internalized by me at this point. Reading old chat logs of me talking to women I had a crush on are depressingly cringey. I somehow had a much more transactional view on sexual relations, in the form of "I do nice thing, I deserve sex". And the desperation bled through the walls anytime I encountered a promising situation that gave off the hint of maybe evaporating. If a girl was leaving, even for completely innocuous reasons, I'd get this sinking feeling in my gut and an overwhelming cloud of "You fucked up again" coupled with a terrifying belief that I just passed over my last opportunity for sexual and romantic affirmation. And the entirety of those toxic beliefs were obvious to anyone with a modicum of social awareness, especially women who are tuned to suss that out.
I'm currently in the cliche situation of being in my mid-30s and in a very happy romantic relationship. Of course, this was preceded by an almost frenzied and obsessive focus on dating and casual sex. If I wasn't binging on video games, I was setting up multiple dates in a row with different online matches and rotating through sexual encounters out of boredom or a narcissistic indulgence that I could potentially do better.
I've been in a similar situation where I tried to "coach" a down on his luck romantic and it was a frustrating exercise for both of us. There are certain tips that are very easy to teach, most notably the importance of physical contact. It's important when you are on a date, that you TOUCH somewhere innocuous (elbow, small of the back, knee, etc) typically when emphasizing a point. Not only does this break down barriers between strangers significantly, but it serves as a prompt for the other party to indicate interest through reciprocation.
Moving beyond that and you start mimicking the galaxy brain meme. It involves understanding the female perspective to an innate level. As much of a thoroughly horrible of a person RooshV is, I was genuinely stunned when I read his DAY BANG guide and saw that the basic theme of approaching a woman in public is to "not scare the kitty". His recommendation was to ask a very innocuous and completely tangential question ("Do you know if there is a pet store nearby?") as an opener specifically to avoid triggering the understandable fear response that a random man approaching a woman on the street can elicit. This is also hugely important when meeting someone from online; the same cautions must be assuaged.
Graduating from that class requires some upper level social enlightenment. It requires a level of inherent detachment and divorce from results sometimes referred to as "outcome independence". It's the innate confidence that allows you to start looking away from a woman talking to you not because you read that you were supposed to do it to signify high-status, but just because you aren't as attached to the affirmation of female attention. It's a generalized peace that turns every encounter with you into an innately interesting encounter rather than a frantic inventory about all the ways you are great in a desperate effort to hook attention. Getting older certainly helps, but in my case I think significant credit should go to a meaningful psychedelic mushroom trip from many years ago.
So that's what we're left with. PUA tactics undeniably "work", but only so long as you believe in their fiction. And their fiction is only propagated by a very peculiar subset of flashy conmen specifically targeting romance-less nerds. You can get a lot of the same insights through books like Sperm Wars or the Red Queen, but the notion that biological sex is determinative on individual's personality, interests, and motivations is yet another third-rail. The only thing that can fill that obvious gap and also be accepted by mainstream sensibilities is garbage advice that just repeats useless platitudes.
The sexual marketplace is the most blatantly ruthless social dynamic that we deal with on an everyday basis. Attractive people (physically and otherwise) get obvious preferential treatment, but others are also expected to stay in their lanes, and this is enforced even by otherwise woke individuals. If you're not naturally or innately attractive, you have to intentionally situate yourself in a very tight Venn Diagram within the culture war to have a decent chance of escaping your tier.