Sunday, May 05, 2013

Seduction to Matrimony—from PUA to Red Pill

Some years ago, I came across a series of web pages that offered what spam messages sometimes claim to offer—instructions to men on how to seduce women. They were labelled PUA, for "pickup-artist," and were more interesting than one might have expected, especially if one was twenty years or more out of that particular market. 

Part of what made them interesting was that there was a theory underlying them: Women are attracted to alpha men, so the way to attract women is to be, or at least pretend to be, an alpha male. Another was the frankly amoral approach. As best I could tell, the authors did not regard either honesty towards or the welfare of their would-be partners as matters of much importance. The objective was simply to bed as many desirable women as possible, and the techniques were worked out in some detail.

Recently, reading comments on an interesting post by Eric Raymond, I came across a mention of the current incarnation, or perhaps descendant, of PUA, and followed it up via Google. This time the label was "red pill," a reference to the film The Matrix, where the red pill represents possibly painful reality as an alternative to pleasant illusion. The underlying theory—women are attracted to dominant men—is still the same, but the application has changed. The objective this time is successful marriage.

The tone has also changed. The central idea, as best I can judge it, is that the husband's role should be that of a benevolent dictator. He should work hard, do all the husbandly duties, pay careful attention to the desires and welfare of his wife, listen when she talks. But he should also make it clear that, in the last analysis, he is the one who decides things. I do not know if any of the authors of red pill pages are familiar with Blackstone's famous explanation of the legal status of a married couple: "In law, husband and wife are one person, and that person is the husband"—but I expect they would approve of it. 

Which reflects how conservative the terminus of their intellectual journey is. They start with amoral hedonism aimed at as much casual sex as possible and end up with a conventional, if somewhat old fashioned, version of traditional monogamous matrimony. Their one addition to the traditional account, carried over from where they started, is the objective: Since women are turned on by dominant men, following their marital formula is supposed to provide lots of matrimonial sex and a happy and satisfied wife.

I do not have the data to judge how successful either the original program or the later version are. My guess is that both work for some people some of the time in some situations, but less universally than their proponents believe. The PUA tactics appear designed mostly for single bars where, as I understand the institution, the women present are there to be picked up, so the only question is which of the men they end up with; I would not be surprised if, in that setting, the advice works pretty well. And I expect there are successful marriages that work in part along red pill lines, as well as others that would not. But what I found most interesting was the way in which a mating philosophy designed for men in their early twenties with a single-minded focus on casual sex had morphed into a form suited to the same men a little older, a little more mature, and with a different set of objectives.

I will now await the comments of those who know both versions better than I do and can either correct my account or fill it out with their own data.


At 10:46 AM, May 05, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

no. the red pill does not "terminate" at marriage, in fact many red pill believers have sworn off marriage altogether. talk about missing the point.

red pill thinking is a system of beliefs, a theory, if you will, that seeks to model the TRUTH behind human sexual interaction and gender relations, bereft of lies, half-truths, feminist misandry, and the same tired old BULLSHIT that is taught to men at an early age.

At 12:43 PM, May 05, 2013, Blogger Kevin said...

As a late-twenties single guy, I'm still trying to figure this stuff out myself. It has always been apparent that some guys have a natural magnetism to girls that seems to fit the PUA model, but the idea of going out and deliberately trying to manipulate people is pretty sociopathic.

At 1:21 PM, May 05, 2013, Blogger RJM said...

Not sure if you mean to judge. You mention "amoral" at least.

I think you rightfully acknowledge that some of their techniques might work.

Without being an insider, I can assure you that you "use" their techniques or at least you used to. If PUA is not totally made up (and I don't think it is), PUA is not only about picking up women but also, picking up women is PUA.

The major difference between you and a pick-up artist is: You didn't do it systematically.

According to PUA-theory you could still be a pick-up artist and just choosing to have only one woman (according to your own moral standards).

And as said above: PUA is finally some truth about a widely mystified, partly tabooed and heavily misunderstood topic of society (romantic relationships), to the benefit of both men and women. If you plan to read more, I encourage! ;)

At 3:12 PM, May 05, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

Well, I have seen a short documentary last year on Tv that was about a course organized by two of these "pick-up artists" for a couple of guys ranging in age from 20ish to 40ish (judging from their looks). They actually paid for the course.

I don't have any statistical evidence about how well it does or does not work, only anecdotal one - I watched it with my girlfriend (well, now ex-girlfriend) and both she and I found the advice those guys were giving their "students" to be really ridiculous. Of course, the film makers could just cut the film in a such a way on purpose.

But mostly those students really needed a bit more confidence and simply being able to talk to a woman like to a normal person instead of seeing her as a "challenge" they must overcome. And I think all those pick up lines and rules and everything suceeded only in making them more nervous. I kinda agree with David's impression that it is probably going to work in some places - like sigles bars - but that is not an evidence that it works well, since there everything "works" reasonably well I guess, since people come there to meet new people (we don't have singles bar here, maybe there are some in Prague, but I've never been to any, so I can't say for sure). It might work for getting casual sex, I don't know. I've never really even tried having a "one-night stand" since for me the gain is severely outweighted by the cost - sex for the first time with someone is usually not all that good anyway, and the energy spent and stress involved (and possibly a risk of cathing and STD) are far too great. But maybe that is just sour grapes talk :)

At 3:25 PM, May 05, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as mentioned, theredpill is more a theory than a lifestyle. how apply the theory, e.g. to have a fulfilled marriage or to get hot babes into bed is up to the reader.

a dense version of the theories outlined in redpill thread is the so called "misandry bubble"

as an economist, i am sure you will enjoy to read this site. it is rather lengthy, but it points some economic truths that are obvious when pointed out, yet they are rarely pointed out in this way.

if you find the text interesting, i would be glad to hear your point of view on the theories presented - maybe in an additional blogpost.

At 4:58 PM, May 05, 2013, Blogger DR said...

PUA stuff frequently reminds me of people who offer to sell you winning strategies to "beat the market."

When investing there are some basic principles that can enhance your risk-adjusted returns: diversification, indexing, minimizing fees on the funds you invest in, tax-avoidance strategies, etc. Someone who's a diligent student of the market, who puts in the effort can probably even do slightly better: load on Fama-French factors, tilt towards momentum, trend-following commodities, selling volatility, betting-against-beta, inflation hedges, etc.

At the end of the day you quickly run into diminishing returns to your effort. Anyone who promises you the ability to way generate substantial returns with little risk is almost certainly a conman, delusional or both. That's because the market is a giant adversarial game where everyone is in cut-throat competition for small advantages.

Similarly the market for mates is similar to the market for financial assets. There is generally decent advice for people trying to meet a mate. Cast a wide social circle, pursue a lot of opportunities, act with confidence, don't be afraid of rejection, make people comfortable to be around you, good posture, etc. In the PUA community these factors are labelled "game."

You still run into quickly diminishing returns to these efforts. Mating desirability is largely determined by intrinsic factors: economic success, physical attractiveness, social status and personal charisma. PUAs act like good "game" can overcome massive discrepancies in intrinsic desirability. As if a unemployed, unattractive, bore can have the same dating success as a rich, well-respected, handsome, charming heart surgeon.

I'd have more respect for the PUA community if they didn't overwhelmingly buy in to these delusions. They remind me more of the gullible people that flock to schemes promising "get rich trading penny stocks!". Rather than people dispensing sensible advice, which they could be if they dropped their outrageous claims.

Like the asset markets, success in the mating markets is mediated by a very strong adversarial mechanism. If "game" really was as powerful as PUAs claim then evolution would have very strongly selected males to instinctually exhibit it (and it wouldn't need to be taught), and very strongly selected females to be resistant to it (females that were easily susceptible to game would forego higher quality fathers). The PUA arrogantly believes that it can somehow short-circuit evolution.

Mating markets, like financial markets, are highly efficient. Are they perfectly efficient? No, of course not. But the notion that they're as inefficient as PUAs claim is simply laughable.

At 7:22 PM, May 05, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm 30 years old, in a two-year relationship with a good looking 21 year old girl. She's has a great personality and is always trying to please me (like accepting a threesome).
I've been reading PUAs books (mysterys method, Neil Strauss, David DeAngelo and many more). I think the best thing you can do to overcome "fear" is knowing what to do and when. I'm always impressed on how awkward men are approaching women. My best advice is to "act like a normal guy" and go out often so you get to meet more friends and increase the amount of women you end up approaching. Go to places you're above average so you can stand out. When I was in my late twenty's I use to frequent some parties organized by some younger relatives. Most girls were around 18 and most guys they met were the same age (naive broke students). It was easy to stand out being more confident, buying drinks and inviting to my decent apartment. Maybe I still have to learn a lot about sex but certainly Im doing it better than when I was 18 (competition).

Many guys use different methods and girls have different preferences. Go out often, otherwise you'll end up with the first chick you end up meeting and regreting all your life. Men age differently (slowly) so if you're in late 50' you might be in decent shape, wealthy and wise. In that case, I'll look for a sugar babe.

At 8:40 PM, May 05, 2013, Anonymous gotlucky said...

"She's has a great personality and is always trying to please me (like accepting a threesome)."

I did not expect to read that on David Friedman's blog. The world never ceases to amaze me.

At 10:08 PM, May 05, 2013, Anonymous Dropit said...

As has been said: the red pill is a theory, not a set of rules. Think optics, not how to build a telescope. There's no objective to the red pill.

To continue the matrix analogy: note that different characters in the movie had different responses to it. Some (apparently, and offscreen) would go mad. Others would wish they could forget (Cypher). Others would await its end at the hands of "God" (the Prophecy). Others would try and fight it directly. Others would attempt to use their "super-powers" for personal gain.

At 10:11 PM, May 05, 2013, Anonymous Dropit said...

Also, DR is somewhat off; one prime facet of the red pill is that there is rampant disinformation as to relative pricing. It's easy to beat the market if there are billboards everywhere telling people they can pay for stuff in coconuts.

At 2:47 AM, May 06, 2013, Blogger EH said...

Indeed there are lots of schools nowadays, but the amoralism is quite a common theme. All these techniques certainly work, insofar as they focus on getting people out there pushing their boundaries. The elaborate rationalizations are secondary, although whether in marriage or a bar, you are definitely better off adopting 'cockey-funny' than the mainstream culture 'just buy her a drink ' advice. In terms of getting guys out there and turning seduction into an empirical science to be enjoyed with friends, rather than a source of frustration and embarrassment, it is nothing short of revolutionary. In an undoubtedly positive way, for both buyers and sellers in the meat market.

At 6:40 AM, May 06, 2013, Blogger RP Long said...

I follow a few of these red pill/"game" blogs, and from what I can tell there seems to be a lot of psychopathy involved. In fact, one site called "Chateau Heartiste" actually recommends the so-called "Dark Triad."

For that reason, it is a difficult "theory" to take seriously. But it is an entertaining read, in my opinion, because the authors and commentors seem a little self-deluded to me.

What I mean is, their strategies clearly work, but only for a sub-set of women. This is true of everyone's "game" strategy: A man's behavior is appealing to the type of woman to whom it is designed to appeal. So it's a tautology.

But the real funny part is that somehow the "red pill" guys have managed to define the objects of their affection as the most desirable females, which for them is certainly true, while simultaneously failing to understand that the "beta males" who are pairing up with "ugly feminists" are employing the "alpha male game" best-suited to win the hearts of "ugly feminists."

So it's all just a glorified, and hilariously self-unaware send-up of the time-tested phrase "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Don't let them know I said that, though, or they will figure out some reason why I'm obviously an unhappy beta.

At 8:26 AM, May 06, 2013, Blogger lelnet said...

The fundamental error in your understanding here is in thinking of this as a process of change over time.

What you're looking at is not so much one community whose behavior and standards is evolving, but two communities linked by a certain set of common assumptions about human nature and the secondary and tertiary behavioral consequences of certain innovations of the last couple of generations.

The PUA community did indeed come first. But the "red pill"/"game"/"manosphere" community is not so much an evolution of it as a superset of it. It includes PUA, but it also includes a whole lot of people who have no interest in the bar scene, may never have been interested in the bar scene, and don't especially want to spend their entire lives investing massive effort in pretending to be sociopaths in order to score meaningless sex with women they not only don't love, but don't even like.

The rest of the "red pill" sphere pretty much came from guys looking at the early PUA stuff, recognizing that although they didn't actually _want_ the life the PUAs were pushing, those guys did have some insights that accorded far better with reality on the ground than the conventional wisdom of Western culture does, and trying to figure out how to adapt those insights to the improvement of a less nihilistic sort of existence.

At 8:54 AM, May 06, 2013, Anonymous Dropit said...

Took a second look at the rest of DR's comment and am still unconvinced.

"You still run into quickly diminishing returns to these efforts. Mating desirability is largely determined by intrinsic factors: economic success, physical attractiveness, social status and personal charisma. PUAs act like good 'game' can overcome massive discrepancies in intrinsic desirability. As if a unemployed, unattractive, bore can have the same dating success as a rich, well-respected, handsome, charming heart surgeon."

Game will take that unattractive, unemployed bore, get him wearing some good-looking clothes and fix his posture and style---now he's handsome. It will fix his interactions with people, both men and women---now he's charming.

The point is that charisma is not intrinsic, and can be learned. I would bet on the slightly-overweight stoner with solid game over the brilliant-on-paper-but-terrible game guy in a second.

For a heartbreaking example, watch the short 18-minute film "Dennis," for free on youtube:

As for selection pressure: the beta male is but one of the other millions of species that mankind is driving extinct. We've never seen a world where the ability to lift heavy things is so unimportant.

At 9:54 AM, May 06, 2013, Anonymous Max said...


Reading this post reminded me of that old story about the blind men and the elephant.

btw, did you ever pick up those books by David Deutsch? I still think you'd find them very interesting/beneficial.

At 4:10 PM, May 06, 2013, Anonymous Power Child said...

I was a shy and romantic college student at the time I started dating the woman who is now my wife. Throughout the first several years of our relationship and even into the first year or so of our marriage, we were very democratic about everything. If there was a disagreement I usually backed down quickly. My wife would sometimes see me frowning afterwards when I had given up too much, and would sweetly tell me "You need to learn to say 'no' to me. You've spoiled me rotten!"

It took some practice, but I eventually learned to selectively assert my authority when I thought doing so rational and important. My wife throws little tantrums sometimes when I do that, but I remind her "Hey, this is me saying no," and she quickly calms down, smiles, and says "I miss when you just did whatever I want." Then she admits she likes it when I get bossy, and can even point to some improvements in our lives that have resulted from it.

I've heard of but never so much as glanced toward all that PUA stuff. It always struck me as sleazy, designed for those guys who cuss a lot and wear lots of cologne, jewelry, and hair products. So, I'm surprised about this husband-as-the-benevolent-dictator stuff. Are that many married men in need of this kind of advice? If women want to be dominated a little (and my experience shows they often do) then wouldn't a wife encourage her husband to step up to the plate a bit more? Why does he need to go read PUA blogs?

At 4:58 PM, May 06, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you were a guy named Vinnie, who got your casino by foxing a bunch of guys whose names ended in vowels, and some kid walks in with deep pockets and 'a system'? Oh the stark, helpless terror you'd feel!

Yet all pales before the panic felt by innocent young ladies facing a guy who 'has a system' for flirting- From the Internet! They are helpless in his grasp! Mercy!


At 9:25 AM, May 07, 2013, Anonymous Jake said...

I think at a fundamental level, PUA has only ever had one version. It's about self-esteem and getting what you want out of life.

Laypersons look at the scripted patterns and stories and think guys are trying to trick women. But those routines are just training wheels, designed to help these men overcome their fear of the opposite sex. Learning how to emulate an alpha male gives them the confidence to actually be one.

That's the part most people miss. PUA is not about putting on a costume and pretending to be someone else. It's about becoming the best version of yourself that you can be, and having the good life you deserve.

Now, once you've become your "best self", you can live however you see fit. And then it just becomes a matter of preference. Some guys want to have sex with many different women, and some want to settle down. The game is ambivalent to these choices; it's only a vehicle to help you get where you want to go.

It seems reasonable to believe that many men have different preferences at 35 or 40 than they had at 25. So for many, there is an increased emphasis on getting married and starting a family. But even though their goals may have changed, the core ideology behind PUA really hasn't.

At 9:57 AM, May 07, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ryan writes:

"A man's behavior is appealing to the type of woman to whom it is designed to appeal. So it's a tautology."

It might be true, but it isn't a tautology, because it depends on assuming that the man has correctly designed his behavior. Part of the underlying claim of the PUA approach, as best I understand it, is that many, perhaps most, men get it wrong, fail to use the approach that would appeal to the women they are trying to seduce.

That claim is less implausible than several here suggest, because mating is a barter market, and one would expect less efficient outcomes on such a market than on ordinary markets. If I can make cars that are a little better and a little less expensive than my competitors, I can sell a practically unlimited number of them, so better technologies drive out worse ones and you end up with an equilibrium in which it is very hard for an individual producer to make significant improvements. That's less true in the mating market, where even the very successful seducer is unlikely to manage more than one seduction a night. It's a market of amateurs, not professionals.

At 2:01 PM, May 07, 2013, Blogger DR said...

That's less true in the mating market, where even the very successful seducer is unlikely to manage more than one seduction a night.

One seduction a night is a tremendous supply of seduction relative to demand. One player couldn't satiate the market, but it would only take a small percentage of existing players. If PUA can supply anything like that it would quickly capture the entire market.

Surveys indicate that the median woman has less than 5 partners in her life. Let's be very generous in assuming under-reporting and say the median is 20 partners per lifetime.

Now consider a small cadre of males invent PUA which increases their seduction efficiency relative to the median male. Assume they seduce 2 women a month for the 20 years of their youth, which is quite conservative given the powers that some purport to have.

That's 480 seductions per life time. If only 2% of the male population adapts PUA then you'd observe a significant crowding out effect of at least half of the other 98% of males.

(Maybe less because the increase in the quality of seduction might increase demand. But overall I'd expect female's demand for partners to be extremely inelastic with regards to "game". From an evolutionary perspective a woman's proclivity to reproduce should be constant for anything other than material abundance. Game is overwhelmingly taking already willing women from the open-market, not making women more willing).

Given the orders of magnitude higher number of purported PUA seductions relative to female lifetime partners, it only takes a very small percentage of the population adopting PUA to have massive effects.

As barter markets go it's certainly efficient enough for anything near PUA's claimed power to quickly capture the whole market. In 1000 generations of modern human evolution we'd expect almost all low-hanging fruit related to male seduction to be captured. One would be very surprised that the relatively simple techniques of PUA have not been completed drilled into humans' instinctual DNA.

And on the flip side females have an extremely strong evolutionary imperative to only select males on fitness related traits. The claim that there are easily adaptable, non-fitness related markers of male attractiveness would indicate extreme female mal-adaptivness. Women who easily fell for lower-quality mates faced genetic extinction.

Now I don't doubt that some PUAs do indeed seduce 500 or more women in their lifetime. But what I contend is that it has very little to do with better efficiency at seducing the median woman. There are easy and well-known strategies for sleeping with huge number of women. Here's a simple one: prostitution.

What these strategies all have in common is that they are selecting for the outlier of women who have very high partner lifetime counts. PUA is no different. The median PUA seduced woman most likely has at least an order of magnitude higher partner count than the median woman.

This makes much more sense in the context of evolutionary adversity. Sleeping with high partner count women is historically not a strong reproductive strategy. Any common sense thinker can easily explain why. Which is of course why evolution has evolved marriage into a near-universal in mating markets, while prostitution is highly marginalized.

At 7:44 AM, May 10, 2013, Anonymous ladderff said...

David, hoping for your reply on this:

The pick-up window is theorized to be 4-10 hours (von Markovik, 2004?). A person you've known for less than ten hours is a stranger. You're a libertarian, you think that what's owed to strangers is no coercion, no fraud. You don't say that McDonalds should refrain or be forced to refrain from selling to obese people, notwithstanding their welfare. You see where I'm going; what do you think?

At 9:42 AM, May 10, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...


I'm not sure where you are going. If you are asking whether I think seduction in the PUA style ought to be illegal, obviously I don't.

At 11:11 AM, May 10, 2013, Anonymous ladderff said...

No, of course not. I may have lept to judgment; you called PUA an 'amoral' approach but I took you as expressing moral opprobrium. If you do consider deliberate seduction immoral, I wonder why, and I wonder whether that view is a) consistent with how you treat other transactions between individuals who have no prior relationship/obligation to each other, and b) symmetrical with respect to sex.

At 1:32 AM, May 11, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...


"Amoral" isn't the same thing as "immoral." An amoral attitude is one which ignore moral issues. That may or may not lead to behavior that is immoral. And things may be immoral even though they should not be banned. There are lots of things that one ought not to do but ought to have a right to do.

As to seduction, I don't consider seduction immoral but I do consider seduction via fraud—a man pretending to be what he is not or to have intentions he does not have--to be at least mildly immoral. An obvious example would be a man pretending to be interested in marriage when he isn't. The point I was making was that my impression of the PUA ideology was that it was amoral, designed for seduction without caring about whether the methods were honest, whether the behavior was good or bad for the woman being seduced, or any such moral issues.

At 7:59 AM, June 20, 2013, Anonymous Socialkenny PUA said...

The red pill, blue pill concept and theory had never really gone over well with me in that they seem to deviate somewhat from what pickup and PUA's are supposed to represent.

Most guys who subscribe to the red pill theory of seduction, seem to be towing the line of feminist-hating and so forth.

At 7:49 PM, September 17, 2013, Anonymous C.K. Thomson said...

I'm a PUA guy over here (sort-of). A lot of mainstream advice in that community is designed around quantifying human behavior, which is impossible. The best "tactic" is just learning how to exhibit a sexual, confident energy as a man, and let that do the rest.

At 8:59 PM, December 18, 2013, Anonymous Halfbreed said...

Not everyone who consciously uses game is a PUA. Some are naturals; we got started with women/girls at a very young age.

Most PUA's are true betas at heart; they've only learned to mimic alphas. PUA's might learn game, but that doesn't make them red pill aware. They succumb to marriage/monogamy and the "one true love/one soul mate" fallacy, just like most chumps. Look at Neil Strauss as a prime example.

Understand that game, the manosphere, and the red pill are about much, much more than women. It only starts with women, most guys do take the red pill simply because they want to get laid.

But by taking the red pill, they are then forced to accept the truth about the world around.

They begin to see glitches in the matrix...

So to speak.


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