It Happened To Me: I'm A Female Pick-Up Artist Who Studied Under Neil Strauss and Mystery

I am arguably a betrayal to my own gender: I am a woman who enthusiastically embraced one of the most so-called misogynistic communities to have existed since the turn of the century.

Nov 21, 2012 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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Photo by Ron Douglas

Arden Leigh is the author of the book "The New Rules of Attraction: How To Get Him, Keep Him, and Make Him Beg For More," and founder of the Sirens Seduction Forum for Women. She writes a monthly advice column for Auxiliary Magazine and blogs regularly at www.ardenleigh.typepad.com

I am typing this at a bar, at Tao in New York to be exact, and the man next to me has been trying to start a conversation with me all night. He said to me, “I will try not to distract you too much, but I will be here whenever you need a break.” I thanked him. He asked where I am from.

“It’s not break time yet,” I replied.

Thirty minutes later, he turned to me and said, “You know, when you told me to wait, that it wasn’t time to talk to you yet, you made me feel very surprised. I don’t know whether you are a natural or whether you planned it, but you made me experience a feeling that I have not had in many years, and I find that immensely attractive.”

This is just my life now. This is what I do. I’m not even interested in this man. I’ve promised him that when the battery runs out on my laptop I will let him buy me a tequila shot. This is how things work in my world; you operate on my time or not at all.

I am a female pick-up artist, and I am frighteningly good at getting what I want.

If you’ve heard of me at all, it’s probably because you’ve been warned about me. I am arguably a betrayal to my own gender: I am a woman who enthusiastically embraced one of the most so-called misogynistic communities to have existed since the turn of the century.

When the male pick-up artist community came into the mainstream circa five years ago with the release of Neil Strauss’s book "The Game" and Mystery’s VH1 reality show "The Pick-Up Artist," most women I knew were outraged. They saw the art of pick-up as a means to turn women into algorithms into which you could put a certain correct sequence of numbers and magically get laid. They saw pick-up as the worst incarnation of male entitlement, with men foisting unwanted agendas onto women and being interested in them only insofar as they could sexually escalate with them. 

I saw pick-up and thought, I want in on that.

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Photo by Nate "Igor" Smith


I was not born into the persona I embody today. I had my first kiss at age 17, with my openly gay male best friend. My real first kiss didn’t come until after I’d graduated high school. I was a virgin all throughout college, and finally had sex (and my first boyfriend) at age 22. The workings of sexual and romantic relationships were a mystery to me, a mystery by which I was very much intimidated.

I can name you every chemical that gets released in your brain as you’re falling in love (in rough chronological order: phenylethylamine, dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, and endogenous morphines) and give you an evolutionarily biological reason for liking the people you do (it’s all about survival in the wilderness and the importance of passing on your genes, if you were wondering). But throughout my early twenties, something wasn’t translating, and I could no longer blame it on immaturity or poor luck.

What I saw in the pick-up artists was a group of people who were collectively trying to crack the code to romantic fulfillment –- a code I’d been trying to crack for years.

I immersed myself in the male pick-up community because I, too, wanted the secrets to securing the kind of lovers I wanted. Not surprisingly, most of the pick-up artists were welcoming to an attractive young female wanting to learn from them. I studied all the things that they studied, from neuro-linguistic programming to conversational hypnosis to Alexander technique, and I assimilated all of this into my dating arsenal.

Fascinated by the idea that romantic attraction was something I might be able to control, I picked up a copy of Robert Greene’s "The Art of Seduction" (still to this day my favorite book ever written) and began scientifically applying its techniques to a crush I had at the time, a man I was certain was out of my league.

He was a 6’6,” 22-year-old, world-traveled fashion photographer with unruly dark curls, a Byronic gaze, and a supermodel girlfriend who would later go on to do a campaign for Agent Provocateur, my favorite lingerie label. At the time I didn’t consider the ethics surrounding his being in a relationship because, frankly, I didn’t really believe what I was doing was going to work. 

Instead what happened was that one night at a gallery exhibit where he was showing photos, his girlfriend walked in and threw her purse at him for talking to me. I left a short while later, not wanting to actually cause conflict. Later that night, at 1:00 a.m., I got a text from him: “I kicked my gf to the curb tonight. Sucks but it had to happen.”

I sat straight up in bed, shell-shocked. Like Neo in "The Matrix," I knew kung fu.

It was shortly after that that I befriended Mystery. Somehow, without having spent much time together, I felt Mystery and I were kindred spirits. Had we known each other in high school, long before either of us would be considered seducers, we probably would have dated. We’d have met in drama club, or at a rousing game of Dungeons & Dragons, and we would have fallen in geek-love and never have had to learn any of this stuff at all.

As it was, we didn’t, and we allowed our romantic frustrations to bring us to a point in our lives where we were at a trendy club in New York’s meatpacking district, one-upping each other and seeing who would give in first. (The truth is that neither of us did, as I was dating someone else at the time, and I regret that to this day. Say what you will about Mystery and his fuzzy hats; somewhere in some parallel universe we have the most beautiful LARPy love that has ever existed.)

But it was Neil Strauss, author of "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick-Up Artists," who would take me under his wing and help me grow as both a seducer and as an individual. I went to one of his book signings and stuck around afterward to meet him. Throughout the following years he would be there for me, coaching me to constantly improve myself and advising me on my dating strategies. My poor boyfriends –- little did they know that on the other end of their texts with me was the world’s greatest pick-up artist, helping me craft my replies. The suckers didn’t stand a chance.

And since you’re probably wondering, along the way I met pick-up artists who were amazing, trustworthy individuals who remain dear friends to this day, and I also met pick-up artists who were complete dirtbags who spread false rumors about sleeping with me to the extent that their crazed girlfriends started sending me psychotic emails. Like every community, pick-up has both its angels and its assholes.

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Photo by Nate "Igor" Smith

The more I hung around the pick-up artists, the more infuriated I became with women’s relationship literature. During those years I read it all, eager to suck up any knowledge that would further aid me in getting the man (or men) of my dreams. What I found was that the books for women that were on the shelves in Barnes & Noble were the most pathetic, disenfranchising, unfeminist tomes I could have dreamt up.

Most of them insisted that I ought to remain passive in order to gain a man’s attention, that I should just go out and sit at a bar and wait for a man to approach me, and that if he didn’t approach me then he just wasn’t that into me and that I should just accept it and move on. Or that I should get a man by just “being myself,” but that being myself also meant going to the gym, dressing up, and wearing makeup. There was some serious disconnect here.

The pick-up artists, on the other hand, told me to go out and get what I wanted. They told me to craft my persona into an eye-catching avatar of my own design, and to walk straight up to the men I want and say something cute or clever. They taught me how to refine my goals and to pursue them in the most effective manner possible. They taught me that no man, no matter how acclaimed or high-status, was off-limits to me. They told me to treat rejection like losing a life in a video game, to brush it off and begin the game over again. They gave me the confidence I needed to pursue the things I want.

It was then that I decided to write my own book, "The New Rules of Attraction." I wanted to give women the same set of tactics that I used in my own life so that they could be proactive about creating the romances they wanted. I wanted women to be able to get off their bar stools and start living their fantasies now. Life is really too short to wait around for someone else to give you what you want. 

I’m not saying that pick-up has always been hearts and flowers. The unfortunate thing about successfully pursuing the men you idolize is that you get close enough to them to see their faults, the cracks on their pedestals. It isn’t that I expect men to be perfect; it’s that it’s heartbreaking when their frailties end up being prohibitive to intimacy with them.

I seduced the man who was my teen idol rockstar crush -- the man whose video on MTV I used to rush home to vote for on Total Request Live, whose photos I printed off the Internet and hung in my high school locker -- only to find on his tour bus that he was riddled with insecurities so deep that they had destroyed many of his personal and professional relationships.

I had a tryst with a television personality who was stopped for photographs everywhere we went but who was, I discovered, unable to translate his fame into any financial solvency, to the point where it was impossible for us to create a relationship on equal footing.

I dated one of the year’s most artistically acclaimed men and felt my heart break as I witnessed the crippling anxiety he lived with every day, knowing there was nothing I could do to alleviate it. I feel for these men because I see so much of my own fear in them. The difference is that pick-up taught me to ignore that fear and move forward in spite of it.

More damagingly, pick-up has permitted me to stay in unhealthy relationships far longer than I should. I have become so good at seducing that I am able to keep someone with me even if they’re not a good fit for me, even if they’re never going to treat me well, even if they don’t really want a relationship. It’s a Midas touch.

There are times that I wish I could unlearn everything I know, that I wish I could just sit at a bar and wait for some guy to approach me, because at least then I wouldn’t have to think so hard about everything.

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Arden Leigh with her band, Arden & the Wolves. Photo by Ron Douglas.

But when all else fails, I always know I have my game. The man next to me at the bar, who has started reading this over my shoulder and who says he is very impressed at my writing style, has written his phone number on his bar receipt and slipped it under the corner of my laptop in case I want to take him up on that tequila shot later tonight.

I know that I will never be alone if I don’t want to be, because I will always know how to approach the person I want and explore the potential for intimacy with them. But most importantly, I wake up every day and look in the mirror and am pleased because I know that I’m doing my part. I’m fulfilling my romantic potential to the best of my ability every single day that I’m alive. 

And my deepest hope is that one day I will find the man who sees me for who I am, who loves the nerdy awkward high school me who needed to be loved so much that she learned all of this crap, and who loves the icon that I’ve become today because he sees how much passion has gone into creating it.

Somewhere out there is a man who wants as his partner a woman who has delved so deeply into her own self-image that she’s come out on top of it, tits perked and guns blazing, and when I meet him, I’ll know exactly how to approach him and make him mine. It’s what I do.

Posted in It Happened To Me