Undercover: Pick-Up Artists

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Words || Max Lewis

I’m walking down Harrington Street in the Rocks when I receive a text. “It’s packed, which is great,” it reads. This rather ominous message was from Denny Jones, a ‘senior coach’ for the School of Attraction (SoA). SoA aims to give lonely men the confidence to go out and meet women, whether for the purposes of sex, matrimony, or to find someone to play Mario Kart with. Tonight, I’m observing a four-hour class at the Argyle to find out exactly what being taken under the wing of a Pick-up Artist entails.  

The term ‘Pick-up Artist’ has some pretty negative connotations and, well, you can’t say it hasn’t earned them. Julien Blanc, the pickup artist who famously had his Australian visa cancelled in 2014, liked to preach delightful techniques such as choking women and pulling their heads towards his crotch. Jeff “Jeffy” Allen, the well-adjusted fellow who created the very helpful “how to destroy her ‘bitch-shield’” guide, had his visa cancelled after attempting to enter the country with his ‘rape van’ in 2016. And then there’s that guy who wears really fucking stupid hats as a ‘peacock move’ or whatever.

Over the years these men who treat women like fleshlights on legs have given dating coaching a bad name. I’ll admit, as I first sat down with Jones for a chat, I was expecting a similarly slimy fellow saying stuff like “No just means yes”, and “Women go nuts for masculinity, so stroll up to her naked, pound your chest and howl like a primate”. Instead, Denny was charismatic, well-spoken and even genuine at times. “It’s a confidence-building program,” he tells me, “with emphasis on finding a girlfriend. Some guys have never been given the tools, or don’t have enough experience – for example, because they’re from another country, as a lot of our clients are.” SoA tries to stay away from the stigma of the Pick-up Artist (PuA) industry by what and whom they teach. “There’s a lot of guys not right for us, so we have a big screening process. We tell them we aren’t the answer, but we are an answer.”

The fundamentals of the course are what Jones dubs the “10 Commandments” of how you should treat a woman. Contrary to what the biblical reference might suggest, they’re surprisingly progressive. Denny tells me one of his favourites: “ Leave her better than you’ve found her.” I get the sense that for a business of this nature, intense scrutiny is bound to occur – so they’re kind of forced to be above board. “That’s why we think we aren’t part of the PuA industry – that and the price-point.” ‘What is the price charged by SoA?’ I hear you ask. “Four and a half thousand for a 13-week intensive program.” Well, if they’re going to monetise love I guess it’s a good thing it’s being priced so high?

The fact that SoA courses focus entirely on women seems to suggest that their ultimate tip to dating success is worshipping women – which would make sense. “We teach the opposite,” Jones says. “Men do that naturally, and we try to put them, mentally, back on an equal playing field.” Ah, nothing like a man being uninvested and apathetic to really get the girls going. But actually, it’s not even about the girls at all. “It’s about goals, not girls. The girls are a byproduct of them meeting their goals.” In other words, the fact you can approach a woman is more important than what she says.

It wasn’t long before Jones’ three students arrived. For the purposes of anonymity, I’ll refer to them as members of the Spice Girls. Scary Spice was a solicitor in his late 20s. He assured us, albeit unnecessarily, that there were many women in his life with whom he could be having sex with if he wanted to, but he was looking for something more. Sporty Spice was the youngest of the group. He had recently moved from Western Australia, where, apparently, no women exist, to Sydney, where the fifty-fifty makeup of our population must’ve come as a real shock. With opportunities for casual sex suddenly within sexing distance, Sporty had been disappointed to find himself still left dangling like a tit in the breeze when it came to face-to-face contact. Posh Spice arrived a little later, and was similarly lost after returning to the dating scene in the aftermath of a five-year relationship. I believe he was after someone who could ‘bend it like Beckham’. Jones told the group I was merely observing them for an article, and I assured the students that nobody would read it anyway.

We began. Jones relayed his origin story of a young man tired of being shat on in his relationships. Figuratively or metaphorically, this was unclear. He did the course himself and simply kept going, journaling his conquests online until his former coach offered him a job. After hearing Denny’s inspiring story, the Spice Girls set goals for themselves – tonight, they had four hours to approach five women. No numbers, no quickies in the bathroom: a simple chat. They expressed nerves at this, but Jones showed them how it was done. “My girlfriend doesn’t like me doing this,” he said, before approaching two women in their twenties having a conversation. They seemed shocked that a considerably older man had approached them for a random chat. The Spice Girls watch in awe. “That,” Jones says as he returns, “Is what you’ll be doing.”

Apparently, an ‘approach’ isn’t just striking up a conversation. Denny teaches several steps to ensure you aren’t rejected before you can get a word in. Printed here, so you can avoid the $200 sign-up fee:

1)      Own your space: Don’t take more than three seconds to decide on an approach, and don’t take more than three steps to the target (presumably this doesn’t count if they are on the other side of the room, unless your quarry is attracted to men who walk like John Cleese).

2)      If you’re approaching a group and one of them isn’t facing you, touch an ‘erogenous zone’ like her shoulder. Gently, though! You aren’t a creep.

3)      “Hey, how’s your night going?” is your opener. Don’t use an excuse like, “Have you got a lighter?” because women, much like big game animals, can sense weakness.

4)      Once you haven’t been immediately rejected, you can begin some soft teasing that totally isn’t negging. Jones’ example was quipping, “Nobody’s perfect!” in response to anything you’re told, like career, where they’re from, or what they like.  

To their credit, the Spice Girls did well: they all exceeded their goals, and two of them even got numbers. As the hours ticked by they delayed less and stayed in conversation more, while Jones looked on like a proud father. Due to already being in a relationship and not at all because of my crippling anxiety, I refrained from putting Jones’ tips to use. There’s something about approaching women who are trying to have a good time just because I can that makes me very uncomfortable. The way Jones sought out quarries for his students – “Over by the bar, in the black dress” – didn’t ease this discomfort.

Despite saying he doesn’t put women on a pedestal, the way Jones talked about girls gave me the impression that he views them as a pedestal. “It’s ultimately about finding yourself,” he told me, and in a way, I can see that. But if the way to ‘finding yourself’ is harassing women at a bar or in public, you may have deeper problems.

In my honest opinion, the School of Attraction isn’t ‘choking-women’ levels of gross, and in theory it does its very best to fulfil its oxymoronic claim of ‘No-Sleaze Dating Coaching’. But it still inevitably treats women as a band-aid for issues only you can fix. If you want to learn more, send me $300 and I’ll send you my special “Treat Women Like Human Beings You Sad Fucks” 5 part dating DVD!