Sex + Relationships Editor Clarisse Thorn speaks with Mark Manson, a former men’s dating coach, about the pickup artist community, self-esteem issues, and how improving your relationship with your partner begins with improving yourself.
I first met Mark Manson while researching “pickup artists,” also known as the “seduction community”—a group of guys who trade tips on how to seduce women. I liked his perspective, I gave him feminist book recommendations, and I quoted him a lot in my brand-new ebook Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser. Mark is a smart, empathic guy with an interesting perspective on dating and masculinity, and I’m pleased that I’m able to give you an interview with him today.
Could you introduce yourself to our readers and quickly explain what you do? To get you started: You’re a dating coach with a lot of experience in the pickup artist (PUA) community. How did you get into it, and how are you different from other PUAs?
I see myself as more of a writer/blogger now, but yes, I was a professional PUA/dating coach for many years. I stopped formally coaching men at the end of last year.
I never intended to be a PUA coach. It just happened. Back in 2005, I got into PUA because my own love-life was in shambles and I lacked confidence around women.
By 2007, I had had a lot of success with women (i.e., I had sex a lot) and developed a bit of a reputation in the Boston area as a guy who knew what he was doing and knew what he was talking about. At the urging of my roommate, I started a blog and soon guys were emailing me or asking me at local PUA meetings to hang out with them by the dozen. It got annoying, fast. But at the urging of that same roommate, I began charging them. Not much at first, but slowly my reputation grew and things kind of snowballed from there.
What makes me different is that somewhere around 2009, I started to realize that pick up, dating, seduction, love, romance—whatever you want to call it—is an emotional process and that it seemed insane that no PUA theory ever addressed men’s emotions. Anger, guilt, shame, loneliness, excitement, fear, passion—these things were never mentioned in all of the theory, even so-called “inner game” theory. Yet, the way one deals with these emotions literally defines a person’s long-term success and happiness in their love life.
It also occurred to me that men were using PUA techniques and theory as a diversion or placebo to cope with their underlying emotional/self-esteem issues. They were attacking the symptoms while remaining oblivious to the illness.
I’d say the other thing that makes me different is I’m much better about not stereotyping or projecting my own insecurities onto women than most other coaches. PUA philosophy is largely based on the idea that women are somehow adversarial, that they’re guarding something we want and we have to find a way to win it away from them. I see seduction as a collaborative effort. I also think women are by and large good people who just want to be loved and appreciated like the rest of us (radical idea, I know).
What are your favorite and least favorite things about the PUA community?
My favorite thing about the PUA community is that it’s a much-needed catalyst to inspire men to work on themselves, care about themselves, and care about their relationships.
My least favorite thing about the PUA community is that it offers shitty advice for pretty much all of those things. Generally speaking, the PUA community attempts to solve men’s issues of self-worth by teaching them to over-compensate and manipulate, thus creating as many problems as it solves. The men who do come out the other end as better men tend to do so because they use PUA as an avenue of self-improvement and not merely a means to get laid. The guys who are only concerned about getting laid rarely get anywhere…or at least anywhere healthy.
Your original site is called PracticalPickup.com. Now you have a new site called PostMasculine.com. I think those name choices are really interesting. Could you explain your reasoning behind each name? What led you to shift your emphasis onto masculinity as a whole?
I actually didn’t pick the name Practical Pick Up, a friend did and it stuck. When I started coaching back in 2007, PUA theory was still very mechanical—it was all about memorizing lines and algorithms. If she responds with X, you say Y. If she does B, you implement tactic C.
As a guy who always had decent social skills, I thought this was ridiculous and counter-productive. I’ve always been good at distilling complicated concepts and making them seem simple, so I started applying this to PUA theory. I made it my job to simplify everything and explain it in the most fundamental manner possible. This is what made me popular in the early days and drove my coaching business, so “Practical Pick Up” was a good fit.
As the years rolled along a few things happened. One was the emotional stuff I mentioned above. Another was I noticed that just about every single guy I worked with grew up with a weak or absent father-figure, including myself. I polled a PUA forum and sure enough over 85% of them reported having poor or non-existent relationships with their fathers. I dove into psychology pretty hard and came to see the industry as an over-compensation for low self-esteem men trying to assert some sort of masculinity they never received growing up. We all lacked male role models, so we congregated online and attempted to act as male role models for each other by committee.
Meanwhile, in the trenches, I began to notice that most things that “worked” to attract women were traits that were classically considered “masculine.” And generally the more “masculine” you encouraged guys to be, the more positive sexual responses from women they’d receive. This eventually led me down the gender wormhole and everything really began to come together—a generation of men with low self-worth and no strong male role models, the slow blurring of gender roles spurred by feminism, the ability for masses to congregate on the internet, and then this whole PUA thing as a toxic reaction to all of the above.
But unlike bloggers in the so-called “manosphere,” I don’t necessarily see this as something wrong. I simply see it as growing pains, an uncomfortable transitional period. It’s something to be transcended, not rescinded. The world has changed so much socially, economically and technologically, I don’t think the answer is to try and go backward, I think it’s to try and find something greater and new. Just as women had to learn to assert themselves, become driven and successful, to become independent, perhaps men need to learn to get in touch with their emotions, to connect with others and develop real and lasting confidence in themselves rather than measuring themselves by the validation they receive from women and money. That’s my vision of the solution at least. Hence, Postmasculine.
You’ve mentioned that your mom is a ’70s feminist, and I know you did some research into feminism recently. Can you summarize your feelings about feminism?
Hah, well feminism both intrigues me and frustrates me. My general position is that I sympathize and agree with the underlying principles of it (stop gender discrimination, sex education, empower women to pursue what they like, end sexual violence, etc.), but I don’t always agree with how it is carried out or put into action. There are aspects of feminist theory that are too ideological for my tastes.
There are a lot of feminists who I really like and enjoy reading. But there are some I disagree with as well. And then there are some I feel unintentionally reverse-discriminate against men. So while there’s a lot of overlap between my own views and feminism, I don’t self-identify as a feminist. But I’m glad I studied it. It opened me up to a lot of new perspectives.
How do you think pickup artistry has changed your opinions of women and the ways you relate to them?
PUA helped me appreciate women, although it wasn’t an easy road. If you asked me this question five years ago, I would have had a different answer, and not a good one. Looking back, I had a lot of my own baggage to work through and some of that involved some bitterness. Luckily, I came out on the right side of that.
But I love women and love being around them. It may all be in my head (or my pants), but hanging around a group of girls IS different than hanging out with my guy friends for me. It feels different. There’s a different energy to it and I love playing with it. Even when they reject me, even if they have no sexual interest in me, I still enjoy women and appreciate them as people. That was absolutely not the case in 2005. I think back then they intimidated me and I spent most of my time trying to impress them.
What are your top three pieces of advice about sex and relationships?
1) Your relationship with your partner will be a reflection of the quality of relationship you have with yourself. The best way to improve your relationships in the long-run is to work on yourself emotionally. Our relationships tap into our feelings of self-worth, and if we have shame, guilt, anger, trauma, or anything else buried down there, not only will it manifest itself in the relationship, but it will attract a partner with similar or complementary emotional issues. From each partners’ issues, behavioral patterns emerge which can turn dysfunctional or even abusive. And until each person works on themselves, the patterns will continue from relationship to relationship.
Guys come to me all the time and complain that every girl they date is fucking crazy. I tell them, “The only thing all of your girlfriends have in common is you.” And it’s true. It’s true for both men and women. People say that your personality is the average of your five closest friends. I say your self-esteem is the average of your last five partners.
2) Painfully honest communication. It’s the most useful habit you can develop for all of your relationships and sexual interactions. Sure, sometimes it’s hard, but it’s always worth it. People avoid honesty because they fear conflict. Conflict is not necessarily bad. Conflict resolves emotional knots and keeps things moving forward even when unpleasant. Conflict is only bad if it’s based on dishonesty. But conflict based on honesty is always a good thing. And not to mention, being in a relationship with someone who you can communicate honestly and openly with about anything, at any time, and trust them to accept you and not blame you or ridicule you—that’s as good as it gets right there.
3) Respect differences. People need to have more respect for each other’s sexualities, emotions, and choices. If a woman doesn’t want to talk to a man, he needs to respect that. Not call her entitled or a bitch or continue harassing her. If a man is upset by how a woman acts toward him, she needs to respect that too. Not call him a pussy or weak or make fun of him to his friends. In the dating world, I see a lot disrespect slung back and forth between both genders and it hurts to see.
You and I have been chatting off-and-on for a while now, and I cite you a lot in my awesome new ebook Confessions Of A Pickup Artist Chaser. What do you think of the book? You can be mean, I can take it.
I really enjoyed your book. I lived and breathed the PUA world for years and I honestly thought I had seen everything. But you brought some fresh and interesting perspectives, which was really cool. Some fun stories and theoretical discussions in there as well. I’m just glad you eventually got out of the scene.
If you want more from Mark, check out his site at PostMasculine.com.
Clarisse Thorn is Role/Reboot’s Sex + Relationships Editor.