Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Just another night alone, playing David Usher on the computer and feeling things.

I thought I'd try out going to the club alone on the weekend. I discovered a few things. One, I went out too early (10:30) and the club I ended up in was empty (the first line I got into was guest list only, leading me to think I should get on the guest list first). I chatted up a gorgeous little bartender, saying I was waiting for friends. The plus side of the bar being empty meant that I had lots of time with her, since she had no one else to wait on. But when the time my friends were supposed to show up arrived, I had to go. I got her number, but as I suspected, she didn't pick up when I called.

Charming someone when they're in front of you is one thing: leaving an impression to the point where she'll pick up when you call is another.

There's another girl I like that I've known for years. She works at an Italian restaurant on College st that I stumbled on by chance and whenever I go there to see her we flirt like crazy. Then I call her and she doesn't return my call. Rinse and repeat. I just can't seem to hook her.

Whether it is just statistical probablility (most numbers will flake) or something I am doing wrong, the solution is probably to get more numbers. If that's the case, I should go to the club later, on the guest list, and actually with friends.

I'm also a bit devastated about what happened at work today. Even when you have a job you love, some people have to get fired. Having to fire someone is not fun. It was pretty much the first time I've done it. I understand now what it's like to be too ashamed to look someone in the eye, to retreat behind third-person language; I understand how people can become bad people. If I had to fire people all the time, I'd either feel like I was a bad person or I'd have to start feeling like they were bad people. Either way, I'd be carrying around something that I'm carrying around now that I don't like. There wasn't really any bad verbal behavior, from me or my fellow firers, nor even from the fired. But the situation was bad: nothing could make it good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How to kick your internet porn addiction

I used to use internet porn once or twice a day. For about a month I have been cold turkey. This, after wanting to kick this addiction for years and not being able to. Having done it, I feel immensely better. I am also a better lover, even in the strictest physical sense (reading Pornified could have told me that I would be). In the hope that others can have the same feeling, here are my suggestions.

1. Forget feminism. Forget Andrea Dworkin. You're not using porn because you love objectifying women or seek dominance. You are using porn because it makes you feel sexual pleasure, and because you like to look at beautiful women, and because you like to fantasize about having sex with beautiful women. The trouble with trying to kick your porn habit through understanding that porn is sexist is that the effect is to make you feel bad and ashamed. Feeling bad and ashamed, you will turn to something that makes you feel better and gives you pleasure and doesn't make you feel bad and ashamed. That is to say, you will shut your door, mute your speakers, and fire up the porn sites. (On the other hand, it was watching "The Price of Pleasure", definitely a feminist film about porn, that started me thinking about trying to kick this habit in the first place).

2. Forget religion. Forget religious injunctions to avoid temptation. You're not using porn because you hate spirituality or ethics or trying to grapple with the big questions. You're using porn because of the power of its images and the pleasure it makes you feel. Like feminism, the trouble with trying to use religion to resist is that you will feel like a failure when it turns out to not be strong enough. You will then doubt your religion and feel even worse about that. That will make you turn to something to make you feel better, and you're back into the porn.

The feeling you are waiting for - and you'll know it when it happens, and you should know that it will happen - is that you just won't feel compelled to do it any more. My third girlfriend was a cutter. She cut herself. She bit her knuckles. She would feel suicidal and cut herself so she wouldn't have to kill herself, is how she explained it to me. That was 15 years ago. If you ask her about it now, she can't remember the feelings. All she knows is she doesn't have to do it any more. People who have compulsions just stop having them. There are ways to speed this up, and ways to slow it down: the point for you is to know that they can stop and, in your case, they will stop.

3. Try a distraction. Norman Doidge's book "The Brain that Changes Itself" has a chapter about porn addiction. He advises his clients to distract themselves with something else they want to do for 15 minutes when they feel the compulsion coming on. If you can distract yourself for that long, you'll get into a different groove. There are lots of things you like to do besides look at porn. When you consider that you can only look at porn when you have privacy and a computer, you realize that that kind of time is a rare gift. Try using it for something else - look something up you haven't looked up, pick up a musical instrument, do some push ups or chin ups, or, hell, write a blog entry or journal entry.

There is more to porn than just the images. Porn is a fantasy world. In that fantasy world you can be with beautiful women without any fear of rejection. They are prizes, you are a consumer. The trouble with the fantasy is this: the deeper you get into the fantasy world, the farther you get from the reality of it. They really are inverse. In reality you will be with beautiful women to the extent that you are attractive and to the extent that you aren't devastated by rejection. That means looks, success, confidence, verbal and emotional and social and physical and, yes, sexual skills. And even when you've got those, you are going to get rejected soooo much more often than not that you have to approach so much that you realize that rejection is not such a big deal.

The time and more importantly the energy that goes into porn use and fantasy is lost for self-improvement. It really is lost. If you were reading literature or watching movies or watching television, playing golf or even drinking beer with the guys, you would not be losing time the same way. Each of these things either gives you something you can connect with another human being on or gives you an actual connection, and nothing helps you connect like connections. Which takes us to our next suggestion.

4. Improve yourself. When you find yourself reaching for the porn, try some kind of self-improvement activity as a distraction: exercise or use a skill. What's good about that you can get better at things. The reward of getting better at something is qualitatively different from the pleasure kick that porn (or most drugs) give. You're trying to retrain your brain to seek that feeling instead of the empty pleasure feeling. It really is a better feeling.

5. Pick up. This was actually a key point for me. The minute I started to think of my love life in terms of skills I could get better at, I had already won a major battle against porn addiction. I could go for the empty pleasure, or I could go for the real thing. And the real thing is both different and better. But to go for the real thing means getting clothes that fit me, working out so my body is nice to look at, becoming a good conversationalist and a good listener and reader of people, and practicing talking to girls at all times, the more scared I feel the more important it is to do. There is a reason they call it "game": because if it's just a game, then it is not you that is on the line and it is not you that is getting rejected. It was your play that didn't work: you're going to lose more plays than you win in this game, but the wins are very rewarding and your porn use is keeping you out of the game and keeping you from getting better at it.

6. Don't be ashamed to be sexual. This takes us back to the point about forgetting feminism and religion. Both of these systems of thought can leave you feeling bad for being a male who is sexually attracted to females. But you are male and females are sexually attracted to you too (or could be, if you worked on yourself). If you approach a girl with shame in your heart, it will show in your body and it will make you unattractive. Shame is as repulsive as confidence is attractive. And that might be the biggest reason to leave porn behind. I am miles more confident now that I am not using porn than I was when I was using it. There is no confidence like feeling like you have absolutely nothing to hide. Anyone with a compulsion feels like a fugitive about to get caught, and that feeling reinforces the compulsion. You can be a free man, a prize that any woman would have fun talking to and take great pleasure from spending a night with. You can spend the next 20 minutes using porn, or you can spend it taking the next little step towards becoming that man.

The most effective distraction for me has actually been to look at men (I'm not gay - if I was bisexual or sexually attracted to men this would probably not be effective... I don't know if all these principles apply to queer or bi males). Looking at music videos with super hot women in them can generate the same kind of longing and inadequacy that long-term porn use leaves me with. But if I look at men who women like, I can learn something - body language, posture, verbal skill. I once told a friend who was nervous on dates that he should stop thinking about how he was doing and start thinking about whether he liked the girl in front of him. But kudos to him, he was out in the world and making things happen. For the porn user, the advise is the opposite: stop looking at what you want sexually and start putting energy into becoming desirable. The results will please you, and quite possibly please a real woman too.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Wedding envy

September is wedding season, and I went to one last night. A true bollywood-style extravaganza. The bride and groom were right out of bollywood. He's a kid I've known since he was pre-verbal. She's a stunning out-of-towner. Smart fellow, this one: sometimes you gotta go far afield for talent. It was a family deal: I suited up and went with my parents and hung out with the childhood peer group that never fails to make me feel small and weak, because they remember me when I was, and they see nothing but those parts of me I want to discard when they look at me now. I face this group three or four times a year, not more, most of them during wedding season. I have bad memories with both generations - my parents friends and their children who are my age. I'm now watching most of those children raise their own children, and I think that they're doing a little better than our parents did, although they've probably had a bit of an easier time of it.

There's an elaborate ritual where the bride enters the reception hall (resplendent as befitted) at the back of a little parade, at the front of which are drummers and in the middle of which are all the female members of the family. As I said, the bride looked like Kajol with a little extra meat on the bones (in all the right places). My heart was full of envy. I realized when I got home that it wasn't that I wanted the bride. I was watching her glide along with this beaming restrained smile but all I really saw was Music. The groom looked handsome and every bit her match, and was having great fun besides. But I didn't want to be him, I just wanted to be that happy in love.

Am I seeing what I want to see, seeing whatever will make me most envious? I think I might be. Some of these peers of mine envy me for my own successes. They hear about my jaunts or work adventures on the grapevine (my parents to their parents to them) and, probably, wish they had my freedom and my luck. I envy them their domestic lives. Not that I even necessarily think they're happy lives: and indeed these parties are occasions for such binge drinking by both generations that it's always made me a little uncomfortable. Not just social drinking, but drinking because something's missing. But happy or not they are lives, and I don't have one yet; they are where they're supposed to be, and I'm not; they have succeeded in a way that I've failed.

Nostalgia's a funny thing. A couple of years ago I went on a couple of dates with one of these girls, a sensitive one who I ran into by chance at one of my own haunts. We both felt a little spark I think, rediscovering each other as adults. I backed off before anything could happen, knowing I wasn't over Music and not wanting to take this jewel of a girl to bed when my own feelings were ambivalent (I ended up doing exactly that with Painter, and probably the Gymnast too, but they were tougher and had a better idea about what they were getting into. This girl doesn't know me and, worse, has a mistaken sense of how well she knows me because she's known me since we were children). She was at the wedding, and we spent the whole night together. Almost like our third date. She awkwardly raised the fact that she had a boyfriend, and I smiled. It was sincere, and there was an element of relief, certainly of happiness for her. But envy too, wondering what I missed out on. In these moments I think I need to trust the old versions of myself more.

The Verbal of two years back probably made the right decisions. Second-guessing him now isn't fair. Sure, old versions of me made a few unambiguous mistakes. Regrets about those can protect me from repeats: I think that's what regret is for (and no, I don't believe in having no regrets). But if the situation was ambiguous and my own feelings ambivalent, and they still are, then I was right then and wrong now.

Or was I? Or am I?

This is what a happy wedding can do to a single guy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Can we beat the (somewhat sleazy) language of sales?

I am feeling smacked around by sales language today.

It seems that from when I was a boy reading X-Men and New Mutants comics (the latter an underappreciated gem about adolescents who feel like misfits) and saw Charles Atlas's "dynamic tension" ads and wished I was bigger and stronger, I (we) have been preyed upon by people who make us feel bad in order to sell us stuff.

Have you seen Annie Leonard's "Story of Stuff"? As I immerse myself in marketing and sales literature and try to learn more about social media (dammit technorati, why can't I claim my blog?) I feel myself in the loop Annie describes. You work, you come home, you watch TV, you feel bad, you buy stuff, you work...

That is not at all a description of my life. And yet. There's no escape from some of it in this part of the world. And I am particularly vulnerable to it right now, because I am trying to find a girlfriend and trying to think about that in terms of skills - overcoming anxiety, dressing better, improving my body language - rather than outcomes. Just like the boy who was reading comics and found ads that promised to make his muscles big, I am now a man who is scouring the internet for answers about how to find a girlfriend, and am finding, instead, ads that promise to TAKE YOUR GAME TO THE NEXT LEVEL! I bought three books ("The Game" by Strauss, "The Mystery Method" by Mystery, and "Natural Game" by Gambler) but I didn't buy any of the e-books or products or CDs, because that whole side of industry has always struck me as kind of sketchy (even as a kid, I never quite sent out for the Charles Atlas books. Not that I had money to). I came close. Probably closer than I've ever come, last week when I met with the so-called PUA who was going to relieve me of over a thousand bucks to learn stuff there was no evidence that he knew, let alone that he could convey.

A few years back I taught a journalism class and introduced the students to a book called Spam Kings by Brian McWilliams. McWilliams's conclusion is that spam exists because it works - even if the success rate is tiny, there are enough suckers out there to buy the products that keep these organisms alive in the ecosystem. I'm saying this, I suppose, as a sucker. Not that I click on spam, but I do buy into some of the self-help and pickup stuff more than I probably should. Probably because my inadequacies are there to be preyed on. I suppose the spammers and sellers and pickup gurus who sell these things would argue that the "sucker" part of me is the best part, the part that's ready to "commit" and "take things to the next level", and the part of me that walks away from these bad deals and is suspicious of everything from Charles Atlas to nutritional supplements to repurposed publicly available content is the curmudgeonly part that wants to be trapped and settle for the mediocre.

But I don't want to settle for the mediocre. I just think that squeezing outsourced workers on one side and lonely suckers on the other has an ethical cost associated, even if some of what is offered makes sense (for example in pickup, the 3-second rule, doing many approaches, building comfort first, showing intent...). I suppose I have been hooked by the free software/open source/Richard Stallman view of the world in which information wants to be free. Repurposing information that's free and making someone pay for it seems to me... wrong. Doing work that contributes something is not wrong. Getting compensated for it is not wrong. Is that some kind of internalized 9-to-5 work-ethic limitation? I don't think so. If it is, I think I'd rather keep it, along with my moral framework, rather than trying to unhinge it all.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A deal unclosed

I signed up for a pickup bootcamp here in Toronto, and walked away from it before starting. As much as I wasn't convinced by the person running the camp, I don't want to run him down so I am not going to name him or link his site.

For people without the background, the idea of a pickup bootcamp is that an experienced pickup artist will take you into clubs, show you how to approach, make you practice approaches and attempts to get girls' numbers and try to seduce girls, and give you feedback on how to improve your game. I thought it was time for me to try talking to girls in clubs, and that maybe some support and feedback from someone with lots of experience would be useful in doing so. I ended up feeling like the particular coach was the wrong choice, and I will explain why.

If you are a pickup artist coach trying to make a living from doing bootcamps, let me offer some free advice. I walked away because I wasn't convinced, and if he couldn't convince me, I didn't see him being able to convince a girl, and if he couldn't convince a girl, I didn't think he could teach me how to do so.

First off, the positive. Why did I sign up with him? Well, I did a search for Toronto pickup artists, and his site was high on the rankings. The $3000 bootcamps offered by Love Systems and Stylelife don't strike me as good value for money - I think they would be interesting, and good, but hard to justify paying that much money for them. This person charges less than half that, and is local, so I thought that it would be good to get the benefits of a bootcamp - to see an instructor demonstrate skills in the field, to have someone provide thoughtful feedback on what I'm doing wrong and what I can improve. The testimonies, reviews, and essays on his site all seemed plausible, though I didn't find them totally convincing (bad reviews can always be removed, after all, and good reviews composed from whole cloth). So I walked in a bit skeptical.

The first red flag came when I emailed him to ask about the upcoming bootcamp and got a message back pressuring me to sign up and provide a deposit. I have had bad experiences before with pressure sales. The false pressure was that there was competition for my "spot" in the bootcamp and if I didn't sign up soon my spot would be given away. I waited for the expiration date to pass, just to see what would happen, and got another pressure note (as expected, I didn't lose my "spot"). So, I said I would bring the full amount to the bootcamp.

The second red flag - minor, but he called me to say he would be late to meet me on the night.

The third red flag - something I learned from my lavalife experiences: when I got to the hotel lobby, he didn't look like his photos. He was with a woman, he introduced as his girlfriend, and I saw no chemistry between them at all, no connection at all actually. And, what do you know, I was the only one taking the bootcamp. The other person, who was coming from Washington (which I didn't believe) had to cancel for some reason.

Fourth - he looked me up and down and said "based on how you're dressed, we're not going to go to a club tonight". Now I wasn't in a tux, but I have gone to clubs dressed just as I was, and done fine. He'd had no intention of going to a club tonight - the look up and down and the "based on how you are dressed" was to bring my confidence down relative to his. A neg, I guess, but a poorly executed one because not accompanied by signs of interest or warmth towards me.

Fifth - his own style, and his girlfriend's, were nothing to write home about. Black slacks, black shirt open over a black t-shirt, black pants, not particularly well fitted. He himself isn't very fit and didn't present particularly well. Greasy hair, possibly implanted. Nor did she. Not seductive, in short.

Sixth - a million little signs of dishonesty and manipulating the situation. We were going to have dinner (which, I suppose I was going to pay for). We went to the bar for drinks (which I presumed I would have to pay for). Given the amount of money, being unwilling to incur small expenses isn't a "demonstration of high value".

Seven - the sales pitch itself. Perhaps I have read too much. But I knew all the tricks he was using. After asking my profession, he suggested to me that I was too intellectual and that caused me problems with women (which I don't think is my problem). His "cold reads" were way off. He said I had shielded and nervous body language and my face wasn't expressive. All true in that moment: I was distrustful of him and the situation (spidey-sense firing like crazy) and didn't want to give him more information than I was giving, and as I became more convinced that I was going to walk, my body language conveyed that - cold, unresponsive. He tried to challenge me: "Are you committed to this?" When that didn't work (I said, "hmm... maybe not."), he tried a kind of hypnosis, "Imagine having choice and dominance and power..." which, because I don't actually feel like I like choice or power and don't particularly want dominance, didn't play. Then he tried negative: "You might miss your soulmate..." and confidence: "I don't care about the money, and I could demonstrate any time, but you have to convince me that you are committed." All of these were pressure sales tactics, and I was feeling the buyer's remorse before the sale was even complete. It felt like when those cults try to recruit you (the latter day saints have a church on my block and ask me about Jesus regularly), or the time-share hotel salesmen try to sell you (I have a vivid childhood memory of when an American salesmen was trying to get them to buy timeshares in the Caribbean, clumsily, that has provided great protection against snake oil salesmen since).

In the language of pickup, he lacked social proof, he lacked authentic demonstration of high value, and his body language betrayed a dishonesty that prevented me from feeling comfort or believing that he could deliver. I told him I wasn't ready to commit. But it wasn't really that I'm not ready, nor that I'm completely satisified with my life as it is. It was actually that I didn't think that he could help me.

When I told him I was going to walk, he took it gracefully, which I was grateful for. On the subway ride home, I chatted up a girl, thought about Lex from the Naked Loft Party's statement that "there is no such thing as rejection" and how it's not about dominance and power but about finding people who want to take that journey with you as far as they want to.

Now back to my unsolicited advice for pickup coaches: you've gotta be what guys want to be. Selling hard and preying on insecurities as this fellow tried to do might work, since most of the guys who come to you come with insecurities. But it's not cool to do that. What these guys need is friends, as much as anything, and you'll help them more if you can make them feel like you care about them even a little.

Conversely, boys, if you're looking for help picking up, remember you're in the position of power when you're looking for a coach. Try to remember that, and remember that they fancy themselves as having many tactics in their toolkit for making people feel certain ways. You earned that money, and you're foregoing other things for this bootcamp (or workshop or whatever), on the scale of years of membership at a gym, a vacation, a small car, a term of college, a home renovation, a half a year of therapy. And these things might help you a lot more. Just make the decision sober, is all I'm saying.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

An extended metaphor

I've been steadily replacing old clothes with new ones, getting a tailor to adjust some of the clothes that I do have, and working on posture - basically standing up straight, where I normally slouch - as well as intensifying my gym routines (trying crossfit workouts with a friend who is a personal trainer).

I had a conversation with another friend who just broke up an 8-year relationship. We were talking about the types of women we attract. Longer conversations work in our favour, superficial impressions don't. I believe the pickup slogan is if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always have gotten. If that were true, I wouldn't be changing my behaviour. Because there's a world of difference between doing what you've always done when you're in school - which can end up pretty well - and doing what you've always done when you're a young professional who's never talked to strange women in bars or anywhere else. In school, there are constant contacts with lots of girls who can get to know you and your value organically. Not the case any more. I was trying to think about what I liked and wanted, what I wished I could have, but I had this moment when I realized that my life would be shaped not by what I want but by what I attract.

My personal trainer friend hectored me the other day, he said that I am handsome, successful, kind, even confident - why wasn't I with someone? Or was I? I alluded to the Voice situation and he said I should get out of it and look seriously for something real. I took it to heart, though my feelings for Voice are not so easily dismissed, but I am trying to take a long and more permanent route to it, or so I like to think.

The extended metaphor (which I can thank one of Voice's relatives, who said he'd never consider setting me up because he always sees me "with the fishing rod" and is sure I can "fish for myself") is of fishing. Let's say you want to catch, not a fish to eat, but a rare fish that you want for your one and only fish in your aquarium. There's trying to build the most glorious aquarium possible and ensure your "catch" will be happy (that's trying to be a good person, a good partner, deal with your own issues and insecurities, be positive, be ethical, and get your professional, physical, and financial life in order). Then there's the matter of the fishing rod (pickup skills), the bait (working out, improving your voice and stance and fashion), and discernment (trying to match, as much as possible, what you are catching with what you are seeking). But there's also the pools you're fishing in, which might be the most important question of all (although so might taking the wrong bait to the right pool, or any other number of mismatches that could happen).

One concern I have, having organically met women all my life, made friends of them, and having had some of these friends become lovers, now that I'm not organically meeting very many women, is that going "fishing" on public transit, in malls, or bars, is going to lead to a whole lot of catches that aren't what I want. Maybe these are the wrong pools. I know my first, year-long foray into Lavalife during which I sent out several hundred messages that led to about a dozen dates, five of which led to multiple dates, two of which led to nights together, none of which led to multiple nights together (hopefully more on these adventures later), felt like the wrong pool. But maybe I had the wrong bait. Or maybe the wrong fishing rod. Or maybe I'm not as good in bed as I think I am, having gotten wrong feedback from the women I have been with, even though I never seemed to be able to get to that point with this kind of dating. I do know that I didn't leave these girls wanting more, and so I didn't get the chance to think about whether I wanted them. Neither of which are feelings I'm used to. What I'm used to is comfort, and love, and romance, and depth, and the lavalife months felt like scraps from that table.

It all feels so uncertain sometimes. In the movie Hitch, Will Smith tells one of his clients who is trying to refuse a pair of shoes on the grounds that they don't fit "him", Hitch says: '"You' is a very fluid concept right now. You bought the shoes. You look great in the shoes." On a deep level I know what kind of person I want to be. But on a superficial level, because I want to catch the right person, I am open to being fluid about virtually everything - how I stand, what I wear, my verbal behaviour, the kind of confidence I project. But will changing all these things help me towards my goals, or divert me from them?