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Perhaps those most hurt by a lack of entrenched social conventions are among the least conventional people: nerds. I don’t mean “nerds” as an insult: the most interesting people I know are nerds. I’m one, too. But we lack the social adroitness that comes to others so seemingly effortlessly.
Nerds are very good at games, as long as the rules are made clear. But, for whatever reason – like maybe, lack of clear rules – we’re less skilled at gaming social interactions. Moreover, when it comes to affairs of the heart, many of us are also handicapped by an embarrassingly romantic nature: we’re interested in finding a soulmate, not merely in playing the mating game to “win” (whether measured in number of conquests or in their social status).
The problem is, it’s hard to sort through all the incompatible people out there to find a soulmate unless you’ve mastered a few “winning” mating-game strategies. For a long time, the only winning strategies I knew about were “be thinner” and “dress nicer.” Important strategies, to be sure. But not, strictly speaking, social strategies: they didn’t tell me how to socialize with potential mates, only that I should try to look nice while doing it. By making some effort to appear more conventionally attractive, I could increase the raw total of men attracted to me. But better looks, by themselves, don’t give you a means of picking out the likely candidates from the many duds and creeps who like your looks.
I was a girl without game – without social skills geared toward attracting compatible dates. And, like a lot of guys without game, I was usually lonely.
The moral traditionalists among us – if they recognize the term “game” at all – probably find it repulsive, evoking the worst excesses of the hookup culture and skeezy-looking “pickup artists” like the guy on the right.
But should it be?
Seduction skills can be used to bad ends – you can tell that just by the name. But they don’t have to be. My delightfully square, nerdy husband began researching seduction skills once he met me. Not because he wanted to seduce me in the usual sense, but because he wanted to “seduce” me into marriage – and he really didn’t want to blow his chances. Evidently, it worked.
True, he had to ignore some seduction advice, like “If she won’t sleep with you by the third date, forget about her,” but — as far as I can tell — many “seduction techniques” are simply sensible courtship techniques, spelled out so explicitly that even a nerd couldn’t misunderstand them. Since I discovered, much to my amusement, a few “seduction workbooks” hiding in the corner of a bookshelf once marriage gave me the privilege of rearranging my husband’s stuff, I can report that the advice my husband got from the “seduction community” included such gems as, “Don’t try to kiss a girl on the first date,” and “Refrain from molesting your date or coming off as a sex-starved creep!” Basic advice, yes, but I know some otherwise decent nerd-guys who could have used it.
Slightly less basic advice addressed establishing rapport with a girl, including such handy observations as, “If you’re not at all interested in her as a person, she’ll probably be able to tell.” Again, duh. But hardly creepy. More advanced advice addressed how to juggle multiple women at once, which isn’t as creepy as it might sound at first. If a man is dating several women at once and lets her know about it, that actually takes quite a bit of the pressure off her. For one thing, it’s evidence that she’s avoided allowing an exceptionally creepy man into her personal space: how likely is it that a complete creep could convince not just her but also several other women to date him? It reduces the sexual pressure, too: she knows there are other women he can pester for sex if that’s all he’s really after.
By using these so-called seduction techniques within his moral limits, my husband came awfully close to duplicating the old-fashioned “casual dating without casual sex” script, the very social script whose loss moral traditionalists mourn so keenly. Sometimes tradition pops up in the most surprising places!
Perhaps the popularity of pickup artistry among nerdy guys lies in the fact that it gives them a clear script to follow, even if it’s an imperfect one. As another Ricochetian pointed out — whether you resort to augury or scripted social behavior — it helps to have a face-saving way to break deadlocks while making high-stakes decisions in the face of inadequate information. Since dating often involves making relatively uninformed, yet potentially high-stakes decisions (what if this person you know nearly nothing about really is “the one”?), rather than agonizing about the decisions without getting anywhere, why not simply follow a script? Even if the script prompts you into some decisions you may later regret, at least it helps you move forward with life.
My husband isn’t the only guy who’s used what he learned from pickup artists to snag a wife. Nor is his nice-guy nature exceptional among seduction-advice consumers. Quite possibly, it’s the norm. Most guys probably don’t want an entire harem of hotties (one woman’s typically plenty of work). They just want to better themselves by learning a skill that, these days, is too often assumed to be beyond an individual’s control: “luck” with women. If pickup artists are among the few people loudly advertising that these skills aren’t innate – that they can be learned – is it such a surprise when “otherwise” nice guys buy what the pickup artists are selling?
One final thought: if I’m right about what attracts (genuinely) nice, nerdy guys to pickup artistry, I might also be able to reveal a pattern within the supposed sexual free-for-all of our ever-expanding universe of sexual subcultures. Maybe my fellow nerds aren’t attracted to sexual subcultures because their variety gives nerds license to indulge any random, bestial impulse, but because these subcultures are novel enough that the rules governing them are still made explicit, and skill at following those rules is acknowledged to be learned, not innate. Tedious as it may be for the average person to listen to an enthusiast drone on about the rules governing polyamory or BDSM, at least those “lifestyles” do appear to acknowledge the importance of clear rules, rituals, scripts, and boundaries.
As I said, sometimes tradition pops up in the most surprising places.