When I think back on some of the most eye-opening books I've ever read, few struck me as much Neil Strauss's The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists.
I came across Strauss's 2005 book by chance. I was in my early 30s, single, and in a bookstore looking for something to read. I noticed the bold, black cover and intriguing title and couldn't help but flip through it. Skimming just a few pages, I read about how the author used techniques learned from master pick-up artists to attract not just good-looking girls in bars, but also the likes of Britney Spears and Courtney Love.
What warm-blooded male could resist such a yarn? I took The Game home, read it voraciously, then -- of course -- tried out some of the techniques. Among them were "peacocking," or wearing flamboyant accessories that could serve as talking points, and "negging," which involved false compliments that then forced the girl to prove her worth.
I passed the book around to my friends, who in turn also tried the techniques. Amazingly, they worked for everyone. Before we knew it, we were all talking to girls in bars rather than debating the latest pro wrestling events amongst ourselves, like we usually did.
But The Game is more than just an instructional manual, it's also a cautionary tale.
As the book progresses, we learn that the pick-up artists are in fact lonely and depressed despite their relative success with women. That's because underneath their gimmicky techniques, they're still the same shallow and empty people they've always been. It didn't take my friends and I long to also learn that lesson.
Strauss's book thus serves a dual purpose. It opens readers' eyes to the underworld of pickup artists, who sell secrets online and charge regular men for weekend instructional workshops. But, since publication, it has also nudged this particular niche of the self-help industry toward righteousness, where over the past few years gimmicks have started to give way to actual substance.
Marni Kinrys likes to think she's helping to swing things in that direction. The 30-year-old Toronto native, who lives in Los Angeles now, has for the past seven years been bringing a decidedly feminine touch to the art of pick-up with what she calls the Wing Girl Method. Indeed, she bristles at what most people consider "pick-up."
"Hard-core pick-up that's based in manipulation and dishonesty, I think it's actually disgusting and is hurting women -- and men in the long run," she says. "It definitely works, but it feeds on a woman's insecurities to stir attraction, which automatically creates an inequality and a constant battle for being heard and seen for a woman."
Instead, Kinrys -- who studied psychology at the University of Western Ontario before starting her Wing Girl business -- sells a form of personal marketing, where men learn to honestly accentuate their own positives and earn confidence in the process.
Along the way, she provides the woman's touch in the form of advice. With several coaches helping out, her workshops are more about men overcoming fears and inevitable mistakes than about tried-and-true pick-up techniques.
Kinrys is bringing her three-day workshop to Toronto this weekend. On Friday night, her group of men will become students -- they'll sit in a classroom and discuss their sticking points. Kinrys and her coach will take notes and instruct them on how to develop their "personal brand."
Over the next two afternoons, the group will perform field work where each man will be assigned tasks based on their shortcomings. Some of the typical mistakes participants will be instructed to overcome include putting women on pedestals just because they're attractive, and the old adage that nice guys finish last.
That particular misconception really bugs Kinrys, who classifies her husband as a "very nice guy."
"Women aren't attracted to wimps, but they do want a nice guy," she says.
What's most different from typical workshops of this kind is that the field work will take place in a market or similar public location, with no bars or clubs involved. They're too loud and there's no need to involve booze, Kinrys says.
At $2,500 the experience isn't cheap, but it might be a small price to pay if it helps men avoid the depressing fate of the pick-up artists in The Game. While some men figure out the rules of attraction themselves, others obviously need help.
"It's about how do you want to present yourself to the world and are you currently presenting yourself that way?" Kinrys says. "The whole thing is to open them up to the options and possibilities and let them be aware that abundance is around them at all times."