Fantasy Fail

Monday, March 21, 2011

Emily Yoffe, Slate's advice columnist, delivers a well-deserved and, almost certainly, much-needed slap in the face to a man who confesses that he "married ... a gorgeous younger woman" who isn't "particularly interesting or, and I hate to say this, bright," and yet, wants:

... a middle path that allows me to continue my marriage (the sex is incredible) while not forcing me to give up on having a stimulating partner with whom I can share my interests.
She lets this guy have it, and ends her column by urging him to do the honorable thing by letting her go, but not before nicely essentializing the fundamental error of his whole approach to finding (or keeping) a romantic partner:
You married a woman who turned you on but whom you neither respected nor had interest in as a person.
Many people seem, thanks to the mind-body dichotomy, to see dating as an either-or proposition between meeting dumb, physically attractive people and smart, unattractive people. That short-changes everyone involved because one, being a complete person, needs a complete person as a partner, and there is no way to just look at someone and know whether that person is suitable.

Had the man above taken more time to get to know his wife, he probably would have moved on. Conversely, had the man spent more time getting to know interesting people than playing pick-up artist, he might have met a soul-mate who didn't look half-bad, or even whose appearance was more than made up for by her other qualities.

Regarding the link to "pickup artist" above, it is just one of several hair-pullingly bad posts and discussions about a kind of approach to dating (if that's even the right word) I have encountered lately at some otherwise perspicacious blogs, which is probably why the Dear Prudie column piqued my interest this morning. I see that whole self-congratulatory, deterministic, and pseudo-scientific approach as a caricature of almost every kind of mistake men (at least) make regarding the process of finding a romantic partner today.

I'm not going to comment on what's wrong with determinism here, nor will I belabor the point that a conclusion in a field (e.g., psychology) that contradicts a truth from a field fundamental to it (e.g., philosophy) indicates that the conclusion (and not the fundamental truth) should be discarded. What I will note is that the ends determine the means, and anyone who sees all their potential partners as robots to be duped with the "right" algorithm will tend to fail to find themselves paired with the kind of human being they need, or, needless to say, in love.

-- CAV


madmax said...


Regarding the PUA (ie Game), I see two competing interpretations of it.

1) Determinism - women are "hard-wired" to be attracted to aloof, dominant men of higher social value (hypergamy) as a result of evolutionary forces set in place tens of thousands of years ago. The post 60s sexual liberation movement has released women's hypergamous instincts. As a result, Western Civilization hangs in the balance because sexual behavior has reverted to the promiscuity of pre-civilized man and the nuclear family is in danger of extinction (this is the Conservative response to PUA). Feminism has resulted in castrated "beta" males who must learn PUA skills or they face a life of involuntary celibacy. Underlying this view is the entire evolutionary psychology movement with its subconscious emotions and values, etc..

2) But here is a more benevolent interpretation. The sexual liberation movement (with female liberation included) freed women from societal restraints. This has resulted in women wanting more from men than just a "provider". With women's careerism in place, women are now looking for men with personality attributes above and beyond career success. The PUA developed to, in essence, train men on how to convey personality attributes that women find attractive.

Yes, women are biologically different than men and that does result in a different psychology. But you don't have to posit determinism to explain why PUA works. I think the analogy with sales is applicable. The PUA is like a trained salesman combined with a trained performer. He has the ability to convey personality to women that ordinary men don't have. Of course he will attract more women.

This raises questions for me though. PUA and Game could be in its best interpretation the natural development of the social interactions of a free people. Yes there is alot of manipulative stuff in today's PUA but that could be just a function of the Pragmatism of our culture. One could imagine some future rational culture where there would still be a demand for a skill set of how to interact with the opposite sex.

That's how I see it breaking down. I add though that in my thinking as it stands I do question if there are in-built subconscious emotions and values (perhaps low level ones). I don't have an answer to that. Ayn Rand held to a blank slate view regarding human psychological innate proclivities. As I understand it, that was the dominant view when she matured as a thinker in the 30s, 40s and 50s. I do wonder if neuro-science is proving that wrong but as a layman its near impossible for me to say.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Yes, women are biologically different than men and that does result in a different psychology. But you don't have to posit determinism to explain why PUA works."

(1) Don't forget things like learned sex roles and philosophical influences as additional things that can affect how members of each sex act.

(2) I question whether "PUA works" actually means anything. If, as I saw one person put it (very crudely), the goal is intercourse, that is not, alone, enough for a rational man in the grand scheme of things. In addition, don't forget a great point Mike raised on the subject of PUA "working" a while back:

"Second, how do you know they work well? Because the people who get rich off peddling them say so? For example, I received emails from one of these pickup artist maestros (David De Angelo) for a few months. These emails consisted of an unending stream of uninterrupted applause, yes, but how many of them were authentic, how many of the authentic ones were accurate, how often did the men strike out in addition to the accurately described successful seductions, and how many men who did poorly under his tutelage simply went elsewhere without contributing to the discussion? It's a self-selected population of self-reporters giving data of uncertain veracity and accuracy."

And then, of course, and this is where I bust out laughing when I hear people describe themselves as "alpha males" and such, the fact that someone accomplishes something he considers successful does not mean he necessarily explicitly knows what he's doing. (Consider, for another example, all the left-wing tycoons out there who made money under capitalism. Half of them don't even really know what capitalism even IS.)

(3) All that said, while I mainly agree with Mike and Andrew in the thread linked above regarding evolutionary psychology and related mixtures of nonsense and speculation, PUA can offer some useful tips for men who want more success in meeting women -- just like George Soros might be able to help someone learn how to make money under capitalism. That is, I would take anything they said about why it works with a grain of salt.

madmax said...


I am in total agreement with everything your wrote. I'll leave off with this. I wonder if the rise of Game and PUA has to do with the dominance of pragmatism in our culture. That, coupled with the destruction of all standards and values brought about by the Left's throwing out the baby with the bath water in their war against Christian traditionalism.

Sadly many women today, especially in between the ages of 18-32, do reward immoral, characterless behavior in men. But then our culture has totally destroyed any moral standards that are not altruistic. Perhaps the PUA is the way that psuedo-egoism is being expressed today? This could all be just another result of altruism's dominance of our culture. Of course, that conclusion is only something an Objectivist can reach. A Conservative reading that would think me crazy for suggesting that the PUA was the product of a selfless culture. To him, it is unquestionably the result of "selfishness".

Gus Van Horn said...

"Perhaps the PUA is the way that psuedo-egoism is being expressed today?

If you'll concede that abstinence before marriage is, too, but on the other side of the mind-body coin, then yes, with heavy emphasis on the "pseudo."

kelleyn said...

I suspect that PUA--if not actual PUA, at least the attitudes and advice that I hear being slung about in the "Manosphere"--actually drove me to depression. There was a multi-year period of my life in which the cruel teasing, insults, jackassery, assumptions of "gold digging" and "shit testing" on my part, and so forth was so unrelenting and pervasive that it precluded any chance of healthy relationships with men (any relationships, not just romantic ones). When I answered the bad behavior with the moral judgement it deserved, the men retaliated with more jackassery, and the situation snowballed.

At the time, I interpreted it as a betrayal by all male kind, and it emotionally devastated me. Not knowing any better strategies, I coped (and "took responsibility") by undermining my own attractiveness, accepting the Malevolent Universe principle, giving up hope, and becoming a misandrist. I don't need to tell you what happened next.

Objectivism has been the one thing that has truly helped me in my efforts to come to terms with and move beyond that experience. It's not just the improvements in my thinking that I've achieved by studying it; it's that the Objectivist community has become my go-to place to see examples of healthy, rational men and remind myself that they exist.

Gus Van Horn said...


I'm both sorry to hear that having to endure this kind of treatment was so hard on you, and very glad to hear that you have overcome/are overcoming that.

Probably one of the things I dislike the most about modern culture is how hard it is for decent, thinking people sometimes.



PUA fans would do well to think about this story. It might help to replace kelleyn with a woman who is already important to you instead, and consider what this kind of advice says about her and what to do to her for a moment. Would you encourage people to trick your mother or your sister, or treat them like garbage?

Whatever advice these people have that might help you should be subjected to a decency test like this.

Learn how to project yourself in such a way as to be seen as a romantic prospect, yes, but not at the expense of forgetting that the other person is a human being.

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, makes me wanna write in, "Dear Prudie, I'm married to a beautiful, intelligent, accomplished woman who thinks I'm the cat's pajamas, and yet I'm a dumpy schlub with the charisma of a drowned rat and a bank account perishing from starvation. Don't need any advice; just thought I'd share." (Inspired by the old joke about the ad in the newspaper, "Fiery red corvette, fully loaded, leather seats, immaculate condition, [and so forth]. Not for sale; just thought I'd tell you.")

Seriously though, the whole idea of making myself over into a pick-up artist just strikes me as a counsel of desperation. (It's what I think of as teaching a tomcat to use catnip as cologne. Yech.) I've found that when I'm confident I have no trouble meeting women who enjoy my company, and other times women never notice me; and as far as I'm concerned that's fine by me--if I'm not in a mood to make me good company for others then I don't feel the desire to inflict myself on them (most importantly, I have other more pressing matters to take care of at that moment).

Or, to put it another way: Who needs pick-up lines? Just smile and say hello if you're interested in a woman--that works wonders, but only if you're interesting enough to follow that up with your genuine self. If you're not, then you should probably spend time cultivating yourself. Live your own life and pursue your own interests, you'll become an interesting person. Of course, this assumes you're looking for a person who's compatible and interesting to you too, not just a warm-to-hot body for short-term use.

madmax said...

Part I


Kelleyn's story is a heart-breaking one and I have never heard a women express feelings like that before. Sadly, I have heard many, many men express identical sentiments of betrayal by women. The usual story is of a man who was nice to an attractive women, was caring and patient and respectful, and then was put in "lets-just-be-friends" zone all the while the girl slept with scores of other bad boys who she paraded around her "friend". The PUA boards are littered with men who felt abused and belittled by women and who swear that the PUA saved their social lives by sparing them from the cruelty of women. Sadly, I must admit that in my life I have definitely suffered at the expense of these types of women especially in my 20s. My kindness was returned with cruelty.

But this is a terrible situation we find ourselves in as it indicates that modern culture has developed into a metaphysical battlefield between men and women where the two are in an adversarial relationship. Civility and decency are casualties in this war. To add insult to injury, Conservatives see this and say the only solution is religion, traditional morality and societal restrictions on female sexual behavior (to restrain "hypergamy"). What a dismal situation our culture is in.

If I may ask Kelleyn a question through the comments. It sounds as if her suffering was at a period where she was young and not exposed to Objectivism. I am curious if Objectivism helped her to 1) identify the immoral behavior of Game using men 2) not fall prey to it and 3)allow her to locate males with genuine character. What I really want to know is that if she understood Objectivism from the start and had internalized Objectivist epistemology, does she think that she still would have fallen victim to the Gamers? My bet is that she wouldn't; that truly getting O'ist epistemology would have protected her once she internalized its thinking methods.

My operating assumption is that if a woman possesses 1)higher intelligence / education AND 2)cognitive training in the form of not having her mind destroyed by Pragmatism; ie the ability to think in principles, AND 3) a set of moral values (preferably rational instead of religious) -- if she posses these three then she will not fall for the PUA and Game tactics(at least the Machiavellian aspects them).

madmax said...

Part II

I can't see a woman with a logical psycho-epistemology falling for "negs" or "take-aways" or the countless other tricks that PUAs use. I also can't see such a women falling for the "cocky and funny" wise-ass attitude that Game encourages. If a woman is looking for a man of stature then I can't see how she'd ever respond to PUAs.

Which is where I am coming out with this. The Game writers are wrong that this is genetically "hard-wired" in to the female "hind-brain". That women fall for this is the product of destroyed psycho-epistemologies coupled with the destruction of moral standards. Yes, I do believe that masculinity involves "psycho-sexual dominance" and femininity involves "psycho-sexual surrender". But that could play out in a vastly different way than it is in our culture. That doesn't mandate the nihilism that we see today.

The Gamers would say that women succumbing to the PUA is the consequence of genetics. I say it is cultural; ie cognitive. But then this gets to the determinism vs volition debate which is really what this is all about. And that I have to leave to the philosophers and professional intellectuals as I see that perhaps the single most attacked aspect of Rand's philosophy is free will (ie "free will is not compatible with deterministic physics", etc.).

Thanks for letting me express these ideas Gus. Game is a personal subject for me that I have a very conflicted relationship with. On one hand I despise it but on the other hand it has been my modification of its techniques into a less nihilistic form that has allowed me to enjoy romance with women. Prior to knowing about Game or the Ev.Psych stuff I suffered at the hands of women largely because I was "too nice". But I think I understand now that my "niceness" was more manipulative than genuine. I was really at fault. So in its own twisted way, Game has helped me to become a better man. As crazy as that sounds.

Gus Van Horn said...

You and me both.

After my divorce fifteen years ago, it was when I finally got sick of all that rotten advice and just started being myself again that things quickly and drastically improved for me.

Gus Van Horn said...


Briefly: I am low on time and not exactly immersed in this subject...

As a mixed bag, Game perhaps can make men aware of a common problem today: That many men don't know how to project themselves as men. It can, perhaps, help them learn a few concrete ways to do that, but this is all in a framework of manipulation. I would say that, if you've become a better man, it is despite spending so much time on Game.

Since Game is fundamentally a toolkit for hooking up with lowbrows/fooling the naive (and nobody can read minds), I would not be so quick to claim that an Objectivist woman would be "immune" to it. (Ayn Rand herself was fooled by Nathaniel Branden to a big enough extent and for long enough to have an affair with him.)

Furthermore, there will be scumbags and victims even in a rational culture because people can be confused. Leonard Peikoff discusses this issuein his answer to the question, "Why are girls attracted to bad boys?".

Finally, regarding the "friend zone," what ever happened to the manly tradition of moving on? By what right can anyone expect someone else to sexually reciprocate one's advances? If some floozy sleeps around with jackasses, but won't sleep with you, the rational response is to lose respect (and desire) for her.


Mike said...

Madmax: "The usual story is of a man who was nice to an attractive women, was caring and patient and respectful, and then was put in "lets-just-be-friends" zone all the while the girl slept with scores of other bad boys who she paraded around her "friend"."

This shows all the signs of classic "nice-guy-itis," which is not nice behavior at all when you look at it objectively. Whenever I hear a guy talk like this, I immediately ask: Did the guy in question actually ask the woman out and make it clear he was interested in a romantic relationship? Or did he hang around thinking that if the woman saw what a nice guy he was, she'd fall for him? The answer is not the first all that often, but it can be like pulling teeth to get some of these sad sacks to cop to their own behavior.

If a man puts himself forward to a woman as a potential friend, he can't complain when she takes him at his word and doesn't respond to him as a romantic partner. If a man does pretend to be a woman's friend or otherwise misrepresent his interest in her in order to find some royal back road to romance, that's simple manipulation, and such a man is not "caring" or "respectful," he's just pretending to be because of the prospective pay off.

This fact is not altered or excused by any manipulation on the woman's part. It also certainly does not mean that changing from passive-aggressive manipulation to pure aggressive manipulation is more honest, more justified, or more manly. ("Yeah, he puts the man in manipulation.") When a guy says, the girl slept with scores of other bad boys who she paraded around her "friend," I wonder first just how bad those other guys really were: some women do act stupidly that way, but quite often the guys are "bad" because they are forthright about their desires and interests and show some initiative in romance. This is attractive to women; "nice guys" would do well to man up and learn from their example.

Then I wonder how the woman feels to have her supposed friend suddenly treat her with disrespect or even anger for pursuing her own romantic happiness--a friend should be happy for her, right? Oh yeah, caring and respectful. Right. (And "scores" of bad boys? Really? Either that's a hysterical exaggeration, which tells me something not nice about the guy, or it's actually true and the guy's angry because a total slut slept with everyone except him, in which case that tells me something else not so admirable about the guy--that he pursues skanks but is such a Losario he can't even score with them. Please, sing me a tale of woe that doesn't make you look woeful.)

Mike said...

And I'll add that it's quite possible for a man and woman who are just friends to progress to a romantic relationship later; I've done it myself a couple of times. (There are also women I pursued romantically for a while and ended up friends with.) However, I was actually friends with the women and in all cases neither of us had ulterior motives; more than that, the moment I realized I was interested in a woman romantically I made that clear to her. Not the easiest thing in the world to do, perhaps (though if a man says it's too hard, that suggests to me he's too soft-shelled a creature to make a decent romantic partner and needs to grow up some), but it's the only honest and respectful thing to do--indeed, one might say it's the only manly thing to do.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Whenever I hear a guy talk like this, I immediately ask: Did the guy in question actually ask the woman out and make it clear he was interested in a romantic relationship?"

Well put, as with the rest of your comments.