Saturday, December 15, 2018

Invali-Dating: Why Men Who Are Unworthy of Us Get Under Our Skin


When I was right about the age that "presumably" heterosexual people begin viewing attractive members of the opposite sex as potential lifelong partners, my older sister gave me a stern piece of advice. "Don't go out with the really good looking guys," she warned, having noticed my penchant for comparing potential dates against Johnny Depp. "They can't keep it in their pants."

Ten and some-odd years later, said older sister is now happily married with a beautiful child to a man who adores her to pieces, and who would never think of keeping it anywhere outside of his Dockers. And why would he? Granted, her husband is anything but a schlump, and would surely have opportunities for extramarital dalliances should he ever take the time to notice. While he may not have graduated magna cum laude from an Ivy League school as she did, he's smart enough to know that it would be impossible for him to do better. But more importantly "and this is only something I've recognized as I've gotten older - he's confident enough in himself and in their marriage not to be threatened by this knowledge."

For a long time, I assumed that the simplicity of situations like theirs were the rule, and my increasingly convoluted romantic disasters the exception. But years of practice and critical observation of the relationship patterns of my peers have caused me to reverse this assumption.

I've dated many"perhaps too many" men in the last fifteen years. I've adored and been adored; I've burned and been burned. But the most annihilating experiences have involved men who I wouldn't have considered dating the first time I met them -- because I thought myself to be out of their league. And more often than not, the men in question have felt the same way -- perhaps even more so. At least in the beginning.

"I wouldn't want to be a member of any club who would have me." Whether one attributes this pervasive sociological construct to Groucho Marx or Woody Allen, the implications are self-evident across generations and gender lines. It's like this: If a beautiful, intelligent woman expresses interest in a man who sees himself as less than worthy of her attention, he will be dubious. Why me? He will think. Who does she think I am? He will wonder. What's wrong with her? He will ultimately ask. Meanwhile, the beautiful, intelligent, and compassionate woman will detect what she perceives to be a lack of confidence in this man, and will go overboard in attempting to level the playing field.

When a woman perceives herself to be superior to a man, all of the rules go out the window. If he's not asking her out, she will assume he's too intimidated and be more aggressive than is sensible. And once they are involved, she will rationalize away certain relationship red flags that would be clear deal-breakers in another scenario. She will ignore the fact that he doesn't compliment her. (He's just shy.) She will make excuses for the way he chats up other attractive women. (He's just trying to prove that he's worthy of my attention). She will dismiss his reluctance to make their relationship public. (He's just afraid people will think I can do better).

And while all of the parentheticals might be true, human interactions and their emotional consequences do not exist within asides. By attempting to boost the man's confidence, the woman has inadvertently exposed herself as too available, which only serves to increase the man's suspicion that perhaps she's not so far out of his league after all. And because all of her gratuitous overcompensating has taken place during the crucial power-establishing stage of the relationship, by the time she realizes the error of her ways, it's usually too late, and she often finds herself wanting more from him than he is ready or willing to give.

Now that she's been rejected by someone below her position, her entire self-perception has been dismantled and she will perpetuate the same type of scenario with similar, under-qualified men, in a vain attempt to re-establish herself among the ranks of the desirable. Revenge of the Nerds never tasted less sweet.

The Slippery Slope

I once dated a man who admitted to actively pursuing women who are blatantly more insecure than he is. While this confession might seem appalling at first glance, it makes perfect sense in his mind. This man is quite funny and clever -- the very qualities that garner him the attention of women superficially more attractive than he is -- and he's self-aware enough to know that his deep self-loathing is his Achilles heel. Because he places such a high importance on maintaining an emotional distance that allows him a position of power, it seems natural that he would pursue women who need him more than he needs them. But the point that he continues to miss -- despite overwhelming evidence - - is that he can never really be satisfied by a woman who is so down on herself that she will stay in a relationship that isn't doing anything for either of them. This is both because he doesn't hate himself *that· much, and because he's too self-absorbed and immature to manage the responsibility of an inevitable emotional dependence. Without fail, he will stay interested in this woman for about two weeks, and then spend the next six weeks to eternity (depending on the girl) wracked with guilt, trying to extricate himself from an impossible situation without becoming the proverbial "bad guy."

And more often than not, his craving for attention will trump the need to clarify intentions, resulting in warped expectations and creating scenarios that prevent the possibility of his coming away clean. I can't think of one other person I know with a longer line of bitter, heartbroken women in his wake. And this is the same person who upon our first introduction, I thought to myself: "Too bad he isn't that attractive, he seems like he could be interesting."

We only dated for a couple of months, about two years ago, and have maintained a tenuous friendship since then. Not surprisingly, he used the "back-door" approach to get a first date with me, and was careful not to express any committed interest. (I had left a possession of mine in his car during a group outing, and he finagled an evening out of it.

Things likely would have turned out much differently had I resisted the urge to engage in "date-like" behaviors when he never made it clear to me that it was a date). While I was mystified by his ambivalence during our brief entanglement, I was careful not to betray any interest in him that exceeded his demonstrated interest in me, and by maintaining such a skewed, reactionary focus on self-preservation, was probably about as interesting to him as a piece of cardboard.

Naturally, we ended at a stalemate and he dropped off without so much as an explanatory text message. Only after months of virtual incommunicado (and a brief romance with a more successful and socially adept acquaintance of his) did we start to see each other again on platonic terms. I've learned more about him since then; and while he's still something of a mystery, it's pretty clear that he sees the sum total of our false friendship (one drink too many and the clothes come off) as some kind of deluded, self-reflective vanity project. Because when he's not establishing ill-fated romances with women who clearly see themselves as his inferior, he's trying to convince any marginally confident woman who will give him the time of day that she too is not all she's cracked up to be.

Of course, his approach is never abusive or even moderately hostile -- in fact, when reduced to mechanics, he is actually quite the gentleman. What he does, and he does it better than most, is marginalize women by pretending to forget essential details, like their first name (if they've met less than three times) or their last name (if they've slept together). He will either ignore an attractive woman completely, or find ways to criticize her so subversively that she won't even know she's been insulted until hours or days later. This is someone who I have met or run into anywhere between 79 and 112 times in the last three years. Only one of these times did he comment on my appearance and it was to tell me he didn't like the way that "all girls" are now wearing their boots outside of their jeans. (Only after extensive research on the subject did I become hip to this precise behavior pattern as the core element of a script employed by self-designed "pickup gurus". I have no idea if the man in question is a student of this community.)

The only reason we still spend time together is because neither us of is satiated by any previously agreed upon conclusion regarding our ill-advised dynamic. While he initially may have been dubious of my attraction towards him, what blows his mind even more is how I didn't fall entirely apart when he rejected me (What he doesn't know is that when we met, I was still licking my wounds from a long-term, failed pseudo-relationship with a man who, as it turns out, is exactly like him. Only a molecular physicist could have hoped to reduce me further). He doesn't even necessarily enjoy my company; he just likes the attention that he gets when we are seen in public together, and occasionally throws me crumbs of potential interest so that I won't completely cut him off. And I'm just as guilty. Because I have my own vanity-based motivations (see above), he and I will in all likelihood continue to fester in our self-designed postmodern cesspool of unresolved issues until one of us finds someone else who we can take seriously. I can only hope that person is me.

This kind of thing simply Does Not Happen when you date the unambiguously eligible bachelors. They don't have time for it -- there are too many hot women to bed! But more importantly, the really attractive, genuinely confident guys - if truly interested in a woman - don't see any danger in allowing her to feel like the irresistible sex goddess that she is. When a man knows he can have any woman that he wants, he knows that the woman he's with knows it, too; and he will make sure that woman knows it is her that he wants. Until he doesn't anymore- and that message will be equally clear.

Self-possessed, well-adjusted men who know their worth simply do not see any value in cutting the object of their affection down to size. It is very, very simple: If a person cares about another person in a way that does not make them feel threatened, he (or she) will want the other person to feel happy and confident whenever possible. This is one reason why Disproportional Dating almost always works in favor of the less attractive party; but no more so than when the less attractive party is the woman. Think about it: While one might witness the very attractive woman/not-so-hot guy construct more often, these relationships are almost always doomed even if they do manage secure some permanency. (He will cheat for reasons beyond the carnal; She will ultimately resent both his undervaluing of her, and the demands of constantly justifying the relationship to her peers). When men are insecure, their primary motivation in any relationship is to feel validated. And the more insecure they are, the harder that is to achieve, and the less time and effort they will devote to elevating the woman's happiness and comfort level. But when the more attractive partner is the man, an important and destructive variable is removed from the equation: The fear that she will come to her senses and leave him, or, more importantly, that everyone around them is expecting her to do just that. Assuming the woman is confident enough to keep her own insecurities in check (and we all know that women are inherently less insecure than men we don't have a choice), the relationship becomes about the goodwill of the couple and their shared lives; not about making one person feel better about themselves at the expense of the other.

Nice Girls Finish Last

To be clear; no one here is saying that all good-looking men are categorically the more desirable and supportive partner than the covertly sexy wallflower, or that said wallflower should always be expected to uncritically return the affections of any former teenage golden girl. What we are saying (ok, what I'm saying) is that top-notch women have somehow been misguided to believe that there is something socially responsible about dating the debate team geek, ten or twenty years after the fact. Perhaps these women feel guilty about an unrequited high school crush, or want to be seen as more than just a pretty face. Fair enough. But there are other ways to reconcile vanity with virtue, without enduring needless suffering and perpetuating further hardship for the next women in line. Imagine if Dancing D.J. David bagged Kelly Taylor at the Peach Pit After Dark and ignored her in the hallway the next day, reducing her to a shell of the Homecoming Queen that she was? Do you think he would have ended up marrying Donna Martin? Phat chance. (Poor Donna would have probably ended up with Jamie Walters, the feral anger-management poster child who bizarrely went on to record the Billboard smash,"How Do You Talk To An Angel".) In reality, there is nothing more irresponsible than allowing undeserving men to believe they are entitled to victory's spoils when the game was never theirs to begin with. It is not the job of hot women to inflate the egos of men who won't appreciate them for anything other than self-aggrandizing arm candy. The only men who will see you as more than just a pretty face are the men for whom pretty faces come as naturally as clouds on a rainy day. While this may seem like backwards logic at first flush, if you were to reflect on the most soul-crushing rejections of your romantic history, I would be willing to bet 4 out of 5 times the culprit wasn't the offscreen equivalent of Johnny Depp. It was probably the same guy who from day one your friends objectively believed was wholly undeserving of you.

It is no surprise that women among the relationship and media-obsessed Generation XY have fallen prey to a perceived "safe romantic" dynamic that, in reality, is anything but safe. Many of the quintessential John Hughes/Cameron Crowe teen genre films that served as a primary informant of adult emotional interactions have unabashedly glorified the "Beauty and the Geek' archetype. In Say Anything (which took its title from a line in Eric Weber's seminal "How To Pick Up Girls") the lovable loser wins the heart of Daddy's little girl when Daddy turns out to be a thieving schmuck. One soggy step for Lloyd Dobbler, one giant leap for Dork-Kind.

In The Breakfast Club, hope springs eternal for the social outcast who treats the Golden Girl like shit for the first two acts. Sixteen Candles, Valley Girls, and Some Kind Of Wonderful all involve plotlines that serve a hot lunch to the underdog, through varying degrees of serendipity or outright manipulation. Sixteen Candles and Some Kind of Wonderful do provide exceptions, to be fair. But the cinematic authenticity of the dreamy Jake falling for the neurotic birthday girl was so thin that the Candles sequel was killed in the early stages of development. And in SKOW, the frog needed a kiss and permission from the princess before he saw diamonds in the eyes of his drumstick-wielding, gender-bending tomboy love. The shamefully under-appreciated 1983 Lucas serves as the only model for a different "and healthier" happy ending of the decade. Despite his best efforts, a pre-Tigerbeat Corey Haim justifiably loses the girl to Charlie Sheen's heart-of-gold football king, with a bespectacled Winona Ryder thrown in as a consolation prize. And everybody wins!

On the small screen, the disproportion is far more commonplace and almost entirely without liability. Ross and Rachel, Monica and Chandler, George Costanza and everyone but Susan, Larry David and Cheryl Hines, the still-smoking Jamie Gertz and her fat, lazy King of Queens, Deborah and Raymond, Karen and Stan, Lea Thompson and the guy who couldn't afford a bed, Charlotte and Harry, Homer and Maggie all represent pairings where the man has successfully reached out of his league, but no one, least of all the parties mentioned, seems to notice or care. (With one exception: In a classic Sex and the City episode, an impatient Charlotte berates a reluctant-to-propose Harry by saying "Do you know what people think when they see us together?" He drops her on the spot.) But do we ever see Joey Tribiani or Charlie Sheen with a woman who couldn't get a gig on the cover of Maxim? Never. Because no one would believe it. The feminist-friendly optimist spin on this message suggests that women should be exulted for our ability to look past the surface of a potential partner in a way that men are incapable of doing (or rather, not required or expected to). But what is really so commendable about allowing a non-threatening exterior to pre-emptively take down our guard? I don't call that looking past the surface at all. I call it an oasis.

I once dated a man who is a supermodel. I am not a supermodel. I never could be, and I never will be. The only reason we are not married is because he is dumber than rocks, and also because he forced me to devote a full weekend to finding the perfect "War is Not The Answer" bumper sticker for his late-model Saab, two years after everyone in the world already knew that war was, in fact, not the answer. (Royal blue on white was simply not acceptable; anything sold in Topanga was a little too "liberal".). We met at an uber-hip party, where an uber-cute friend of mine was trying to hit on him. The first thing he did upon her lukewarm introduction was to compliment me on my outfit - with utmost sincerity and from that moment on, not an hour passed that he didn't remind me of exactly what it was about me that kept him so enamored. (Usually it had something to do with a shiny accoutrement). Granted, it is not a great challenge to remain enamored with someone of well-honed fashion sense when you're a European born male model who believes Herb Ritts to be the greatest cultural influence of all time. Especially if the relationship spans two weeks. But what separates this man from the rest of the pack is not his perfectly chiseled jawbone or the fact that he designed a pesticide-free men's line for the Helmut Lang Charitable Foundation. His most distinctive and admirable quality was his unbridled and unquestioning enthusiasm for the company of a woman he found attractive -- regardless of whether or not we were soul mates - that was based in nothing more than his enjoyment of my company. He did not need me (or any woman) to validate his worth, and because of that, gave not a care to the possibility that uninvolved spectators might question why he was spending time with a complexion-challenged, marginally employed writer instead of a glowing Kate Moss. In contrast, the debate-team geek, once given entre to a world of sexual conquests previously unattainable, will almost without fail size up his date against the possibility of a superficially more desirable candidate. This is why we must be very, very careful before we capriciously open our bedroom doors to any guy with a self-consciously ironic fashion sense because there is no turning back. And no one knows this better than the Nouveau Desirables themselves - the overindulged, formerly dateless wonders of whom we speak.

The Curse of the Jaded Scorpio

Chuck Klosterman, a respected music journalist and author of the well-received Fargo Rock City and Sex, Lies, And Cocoa Puffs, almost too perfectly fits the profile of the kind of guy we've been talking about and he pretty much knows it. He doesn't claim to be good looking (he's not), well-educated (he floated through the University of North Dakota) or particularly sensitive (he once burned a mix CD for a girlfriend, and deciding that his selections were unilaterally resonant, sent an exact duplicate to another woman he was secretly pursuing at the same time). But Mr. Klosterman is no slouch -- his encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary music is staggering, and he can successfully weave even seemingly trivial bits of pop culture into cutting, ubiquitous meditations on the imperil of critical thinking and self-actualization among an increasingly media-saturated human condition. (His jarring, unprecedented examination of MTVs The Real World successfully argues that almost every man or woman born between the years of 1972 and 1981 has modeled his or her identity after the seven personality archetypes presented on the program, and that anyone who doesn't fit neatly into one of the categories is doomed for social marginality). While he deserves more credit than most for honestly and publicly recognizing the cosmic fortitude of having access to women admittedly out of his league Klosterman and his like-minded counterparts unwittingly provide support for the arguments being made here by assuming it is their contrived pseudo-intellectual repartee alone that weakens the knees of unsuspecting hotties. While there is no denying that the edgy, self-deprecating humor he describes plays a pivotal role in the Disproportional Dating Dynamic, he misses important elements in his analysis of the phenomenon, which (accurately) credits Woody Allen for allowing guys like Chuck to take out the earthly equivalent of Julia Roberts. This is what he says:

"Woody Allen has made nebbish guys cool; he makes people assume there is something profound about having a relationship based on witty conversation and intellectual discourse. There isn't. It's just another gimmick. An intellectual relationship isn't real at all. My witty banter and cerebral discourse is always completely contrived. Right now, I have three and a half dates of material, all of which I pretend to deliver spontaneously. This is my strategy: If I can just convince women into the last half of that fourth date, it's anyone's ball game."

Chuck goes on to explain how both parties become disenfranchised when the successful fourth date leads to an actual relationship, as once he's run out of material the woman finds herself feeling bored and foolish while he'™s finding excuses not to spend time with her. He presents the scenario in a way that wins him admiration and sympathy (which is probably a bigger part of his game than he will admit): He's sharply aware of his limitations with women and resourceful enough to play up his best qualities; but poor Chuck is so dependant on this four-date shtick that once successful, he can't maintain the persona that won him the girl in the first place, and he ultimately ends up right back where he started.

But what Chuck fails to seriously take into account --and this likely informs both his immediate successes and his long-term failures -- is the transformation that is liable to be occurring within his target while he's performing his dog and pony show. While Chuck is engaging in a perfunctory and static routine intended to garner him the affection of whatever woman happens to be across the table from him, the woman unaware that her role is one of a studio audience seat filler is witnessing what she believes to be a growing emotional and/or intellectual connection, and will develop expectations for the potential of a future relationship based on what she has been led to believe are properties specific to their dynamic. Four dates allows more than enough time for this conception, at least for the person who is authentically engaging the interaction. But not for Chuck, who is presumably glazing over any contributions from the woman that might steer him off course: By focusing all of his energy on getting her to like him, he's not allowing himself to get to know her or develop any real sense of their potential as a couple.

In fact, whether or not he likes her at all appears to be immaterial. Not only is this approach emotionally irresponsible, it's wholly self-defeating in the long term: By ignoring the virtues or flaws of the woman he's pursuing, he's setting them both up for failure by creating a false connection that is based on his own needy self-indulgence. This is only further aggravated by the fact that the woman is unknowingly at an advanced stage of intimacy before Chuck has even left the starting blocks: Up until his routine expires, her only role has been to provide a mirror for Chuck to project an image of himself that he considers more attractive than the man he really is.

But that's not all. When an attractive woman becomes interested in a man for something other than his outward appearance or his social cache, it usually means that the woman places a high value on intellect. And when a woman values the intellectual above the external, it's usually because she either considers herself an intellectual herself, or aspires to the condition. If an astute - if less than heartbreakingly handsome - man is keeping her attention, the assumption is that she is experiencing some degree of perceived intellectual inferiority: Since she's already surpassed him in superficial terms, there needs to be a challenge somewhere. Therefore, situations like the one Chuck describes are multi-faceted in their unfairness: Since the Chucks of the world are presenting their intellectual humor through disingenuous, rehearsed scripting, any impression of superiority this gives the woman is wholly unauthentic. However entertaining he might be, he is no less guilty of misrepresentation than the girl who wears overstuffed Wonderbras or impenetrable stage makeup to hide volcanic acne scars. (Or, in a case recounted by an acquaintance of mine, someone who "stuffed her rolls of lard into sausage casing" so that when the moment of truth arrived, her disrobing shared uncanny visual and auditory properties with the liberation of Pillsbury cookie dough from it's airtight, aluminum packaging. My friend responded by excusing himself to a nearby toilet and feigning gastrointestinal distress. Contextual evidence notwithstanding, he's actually a pretty nice guy). If the woman had devoted the same amount of time and practice to her three-and-a-half-date-long pitch, there would likely be less of a real or imagined dichotomy. But that doesn't matter in terms of the power balance: Since the performance artist is only seeing the woman through the filter of his self-reflective agenda, she has very little chance of matching his wits because even if she possesses the inclination and ability, he's so caught up in his own game that he probably won't notice. The resulting scenario finds the woman feeling unworthy of his intellectual prowess, either through false intimidation or vacuumed unresponsiveness. Because Chuck's one-dimensional domination of their discourse has forced their shared frame of reference into his sphere of influence alone, she is now dependant on him to substantiate her contributions to the relationship, and the role reversal is successful.

Thus, "Invali-Dating" is born. Chuck includes another, more granular example of this paradigm when he generously shares a selection from his scripted banter. One of his jokes begins with asking his date about her religious affiliation. More often than not, Chuck claims, the woman will classify herself as a faded Catholic, or a non-secular Jew -- giving nod to the religious culture of her upbringing but maintaining an active distance from its fundamentals. This is how Chuck responds:

"Yeah, it seems like everybody I meet describes themselves as sort of Catholic or sort of Jewish or sort of Methodist. Do you think all religions have this problem? I mean, do you think there are twenty-five-year-old Amish people who say, Well, I'm sort of Amish. I currently work as a computer programmer, but I still believe pants with metal zippers are the work of Satan."

Yes, it's funny and sharp. I would absolutely laugh (like 90% of the women he's used it on) and probably gleefully tell my friends about it the next day. But sometime afterwards, I would likely also recognize a deeper and more insidious implication of his jest. By juxtaposing his biting sense of humor against his seemingly innocuous observation that "everyone he meets describes themselves the way his date did, Chuck reduces the woman to an anonymous quantity that serves only to support his exhibition; any individual nuances involved with her religious affiliation are immaterial, because her answer exists only as a pivot point for Chuck to demonstrate his aptitude for intellectual humor. He's asked his date a question that implies a false interest in getting to know her better; by deploying the joke he's shown that her answer is not only unimportant but also unoriginal, and by extension, so is she. And because practiced responses like these serve as conversation closers -- another method of gaining power -- he's robbed her of the opportunity to elaborate upon what for some people is woven into the fabric of their deepest sensibilities. While his date's spiritual leanings -- however nebulous -- may very well be an important part of her worldview and serve as a window into her personality, she has very little choice but to continue to allow Chuck to steer the conversation whichever way he sees fit. Any attempt to rebuff his trivialization of her religious ambivalence runs a high risk of making her appear defensive and humorless, and could also imply that she didn't get the joke. Since this is a tactic he uses on the second date, the woman is presumably attracted enough and aware enough to avoid such peril. And Chuck wins again.

A couple of years ago I was fairly seriously involved with a man who would constantly employ tactics like the one described above but far more insidiously. He would launch a line of questioning that began with a fabricated interest in learning more about me, and the conversation would ultimately find me feeling vaguely bewildered and condescended; and with an overwhelming sense that my answers has little to no influence on the course of the dialogue. But it was usually distant enough after the fact where I couldn't precisely put my finger on exactly what he said that made me feel this way, or even what we were talking about in the first place that brought us there. Since we spent most of our time analyzing our relationship instead of actually having one, it eventually came up in conversation. At my failure to provide specific examples, despite the fact that he seemed keenly and smugly aware of what I was talking about, he instructed me to point out the next manifestation of this behavior as it was happening. It didn't take long, but again, I can't remember exactly what was being discussed. I only remember saying "Yes, this is it. This is what I'm talking about!" . After a long pause, he responded by telling me: "You're only feeling condescended because you don't have anything to say. I'm not doing that to you - you're doing it to yourself." Of course.

This is the same guy who made sure I knew that he made a habit of dating actresses, and at least one of said actresses was "big". But when I took his bait and asked who, he refused to tell me. When I continued to press, he accused me of making a big deal out of it, and reasoned that his telling me would only serve to make me feel insecure (!). The whole operation drove me bananas, and of course, I found myself obsessing about it a thousand times more than I would have if he had come clean; ultimately -- like I warned him I would figure it out on my own. While definitely pretty and decently talented, she is hardly an A-lister, and would need a rescue mission a la Sarah Jessica Parker in order to save her career. But, she's not without insight. I found an interview she gave during the time right after they would have broken up that described in unflattering terms what could only have been him, using him as an example of why she will never again date uber-provocative men who prey on the vulnerabilities of women who threaten them (well, maybe not in so many words, but that's what I deduced). She's now dating a construction worker who may or may not have graduated from high school.

If women can find any comfort in all of this, it should be in the recognition that not all of the relationship failures we typically take the blame for have really been our fault -- or even had much to do with us at all. Guys like those we've discussed repeat the same patterns with all of the women they pursue -- the only real mistake we make is getting too involved in the first place, although in our defense, we often aren't aware of his history or patterns until it's too late. When a man is thinking only of himself during the early stages of a relationship, little that the woman does or doesn't do can truly impact its outcome. Because it's a game. Period. The objective is to make the player feel better about himself. Period. And the easiest way to win is to be the only one involved who knows the game is on.

If you won't take my word for it, take the word of Neil Strauss, journalist and author of the aptly titled "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists." The techniques outlined in The Game seem to be geared towards seducing bubbleheaded-arm candy types -- the kind of woman who not only won't notice if a potential paramour is using a bottled technique, but won't care. There are number of "gurus" that come into the life of the narrator, but none more influential and disturbing as a PTSD-suffering, feather-boa wearing Marilyn Manson type who calls himself "Mystery", and his older, wiser, and angrier nemesis, Ross Jeffries. The Mystery's and the Ross Jeffries' of the world represent an extreme, and by extension, more innocuous version of the pickup art that I and my contemporaries find so concerning; they are so deeply narcissistic that the validation earned by their cult following appears to be the true aim of their conquests -- and any woman with her wits truly about her will be able see through their posturing as exactly that. There is something eerily homoerotic and vaguely pathetic about the way the men in the internet-based "Mystery Lounge" communicate with each other; they relay in disturbing detail the their intimate successes through a creepy, self-congratulatory "Look Ma- no hands!" routine, and seem to be much more enamored by their pick-up artist heroes than any of the women now available to them. Maybe that's because they go to places like the Saddle Ranch on the Sunset Strip (arguably the saddest, cheesiest nightspot in L.A.) or unbelievably T.G.I. Friday's to practice their "sarging" (one of many deeply irrelevant terms in the Mystery lexicon. It means to seek out and hit on women).

The more one reads The Game, the more pathetic and more transparent the strategy becomes - the girlfriends of faded B-list actors and underage women with a tenuous grasp of the English language surface as common targets. These men are not after marriage material (with one exception) or anything that threatens to take them out of the game, whose primary purpose is to reduce or eliminate entirely the inherent socioeconomic sexual advantage of women. Many any of the book's extending sensibilities could be easily dismissed if it weren’t for the anchoring and relatively sharp insights of the book's narrator and author, Neil Strauss. While he's no Klosterman, his influences are germane (each new chapter is introduced with a relevant passage from writers like Dostoyevsky and Betty Freidan) and he begins to exhibit genuine signs of dissonance as his pantomime becomes more effective:

"A gulf was opening between men and women in my mind. I was beginning to see women solely as measuring instruments to give me feedback on how I was progressing as a pickup artist. They were my crash-test dummies, identified only by hair colors and numbers. Even when I was having a deep conversation, learning about a woman's dreams and point of view, in my mind I was just ticking off a box in my routine called rapport. I was developing an unhealthy attitude towards the opposite sex. And the most troubling thing about this new mindset was that it seemed to be making me more successful with women."

While many of the constructs presented in The Game are too unrealistic or misogynistic to be taken seriously, it should be considered important if only for putting a name to the face of the disease: The Neg. Strauss provides the following definition:

NEG 'noun: an ambiguous statement or seemingly accidental insult delivered to a beautiful woman the pickup artist has just met, with the intent of actively demonstrating to her (or her friends) a lack of interest in her. For example: "Those are nice nails, are they real?"

There are men out there who are applying "negging" and other basic techniques presented in the book in a more sophisticated fashion, in an attempt to score the more sophisticated woman. These are the men to be wary of because they're smart enough to stop short of being obvious (in a way that Mystery and his cohorts seem incapable of doing) and stealth enough to resist the urge to broadcast their cheaply-won victories on websites and blogs.

For the last year, I have programmed myself to visualize the face (and sometimes the body, if necessary, but this is harder and also represents statistical dead weight, as my preferences lean towards the lean) of the model in the Aqua D'igio fragrance ad onto the visages of questionable men who I suspect might be employing the negging tactics.

(The ad in question first surfaced sometime in the late nineties and will still crop up in magazines from time to time. I do not know this man's name, but I know his face very well: I have fawned over it, studied it, and recreated it in charcoal sketches and do-it-yourself gameboards; stopping short of embroidering it onto my empty neighboring pillow due only to my ineptitude with a needle and thread. This musky man is the most beautiful man who has ever lived.) Because I do not know if he is real, I cannot account for his character: He may cheat, leave the toilet seat up, or perform acts of cruelty upon animals - I can't confirm one way another. All I do know is that when Geeky McDorkathon is wearing the Aqua D'igio mask, the sympathy clause is eliminated: Any dickhead comment coming from his supple lips are impervious to the excuses and rationalizations too frequently afforded to the type of men who get away with behavior, and he becomes, simply, an asshole. The resulting conclusion is this: If sub-beautiful man gets away with asshole behavior and isn't automatically dismissed as an asshole himself, it's not because he's such a transcendent mastermind of discourse -- it's probably just because he's ugly.

While my methodology may not work for everyone, it does provide encouragement for the ability of minor attitude adjustments to remedy what appears, on the surface, to be irreversible mutiny - but might actually be a temporary disconnect. As long as the perceived victim's influence remains intact, so to does a solution. And the solution here is not a witch hunt: Much like men and women sacrificed on Salem's lot, the conflict is the source of a misunderstanding - a misunderstanding that women can reverse, if we act consistently and uniformly. The men we've discussed have been misled to believe that women want to be reduced to non-threatening sexual units. The men we've discussed here need to be led down a different path by the same guides that got us all into trouble in the first place. Like it or not, but men garner most of their information and opinions about women from women themselves: Their girlfriends, wives, sisters, friends, and mothers; The editor of one of the many magazines staring them in the face at a newsstand, the characters on television; the cocktail party murmurings about chick-lit bestsellers. By empowering ourselves to understand and vocalize what we want and deserve in our relationships, we empower our relationship counterparts to deliver exactly that.

If you begin to see a pattern of unfavorable dynamics in your relationships, don't try to resolve it within the relationship that probably wouldn't exist if it weren't for your self-fulfilling negative expectations. See a shrink -- preferably a handsome male head doctor -- and resolve your issues, so you can stop screwing it up for the rest of us. I promise to do the same.

Related reading that may interest you:

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killellen is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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