I meet Reuben Irving, aka Whisper, in an Albuquerque bar. Whisper is a pick-up artist in training.
“Before we start this interview, I want you to go up to that group of women and start a conversation,” Whisper says while ordering a vodka tonic and a glass of water. My hands get clammy and my throat becomes parched as I approach the group of women with nothing better to say than, “Hey, what time is happy hour over?” My utter failure to “open the set” labeled me an “A.F.C.” (average frustrated chump), according to lingo established in the group Whisper belongs to.
Whisper and Casey Romero are part of a nationwide subculture known as The Community that unofficially began in 1970 when the book How to Pick Up Girls by Eric Weber was published. Whisper doesn't like the term pick-up artist "because it tends to carry a negative connotation,” he says. Definitions aside, people outside of the group are undecided about The Community and its methods for meeting women. According to some people, pick-up artists (PUAs) are nothing more than womanizers with little regard for ethics or etiquette. But PUAs all over the world claim their craft to be sincere in helping men who have problems socializing with the opposite sex.
PUAs have their own abbreviations for discussing their experiences when meeting women. They have endless archives of field reports, along with methods and routines for talking to women. The Community online can be seen as an open informational source, says Whisper. It's available all over the Internet through forums, downloadable materials that give advice on pick-up, and "lairs" allowing you to find other PUAs in your area, says Whisper.
A popular find when searching PUAs is www.bristollair.com. There you can strap in for a crash course on just about everything the pick-up artist community stands for. A glance at the website makes one thing clear: This is an international social club designed to seduce women. But Whisper and Romero say it’s also a community that helps men overcome the fear of talking to women. “Pick-up to me is the ability to vanquish the frustration in meeting girls and having the option to date any girl I want,” says Whisper.
There’s a point in pick-up before you have sex with a woman where you’re building connections that most people don’t even bother to do when having a one-night stand.
Casey Romero, pick-up artist
The subculture Whisper identifies himself with recently gained popularity in the media with the 2005 publication of The Game by former New York Times arts reporter Neil Strauss (known as "Style" in The Community). After its publication, VH1 aired the reality series “The Pick Up Artist,” in which eight men apprenticed under pick-up pioneer Erik von Markovik, aka Mystery.
“Mystery was a nobody like me,” says Whisper. “He took it upon himself to improve his social skills, which is what I am attempting to do for me and for other men who need help.” When men hit a certain age, Whisper and Romero say, approaching a woman becomes more of a nerve-racking feat than an innocent gesture of interest like the days of roses and “do you like me” letters.
Whisper and Romero work as small-town PUAs posting field reports and contacting other PUAs in Albuquerque. “I share all my information and experience in forums online,” says Whisper. According to Whisper, he’s had several responses to his blogs and a few men interested in apprenticing or just being wing-men. “I’m no master PUA in any sense, but I remember what it was like being deathly afraid of approaching random girls, which is why I enjoy helping other men overcome this fear.”
Whisper spent two years pursuing a dance career in Los Angeles and studying Eastern medicine overseas in China. He didn’t discover The Community until he returned to the U.S. in 2007. He decided to go out one night with Romero, whom he hadn’t seen since he moved to L.A. "Keep in mind this used to be a guy like myself that only knew relationships," Whisper says. "But when we were out that night, he must have pulled at least 10 girls’ phone numbers."
Romero told Whisper about The Community and its resources to help men perfect the skill of meeting and seducing women. “I was skeptical about telling Whisper at first, because I thought he would reject the idea like most of my other friends,” says Romero. But Whisper became interested in the art of seduction. “It’s like I created a monster—in a good way. He’s more social than ever.”
As good as all this Don Juan stuff sounds, is it respectful toward women? According to Whisper and Romero, it’s a black-and-white matter with a whole lot of gray. “Pick-up artistry is like martial arts. People can abuse their craft, but I practice with integrity in the sense that I meet girls in hopes of a relationship, not a one-night stand,” says Whisper. He says it’s not a bad thing for men to be trained to pick up women. “All we're doing here is helping other men say the right things at the right time. And I figure it’s a token of respect and appreciation toward women in the sense that at least we're attempting to be gentlemen and not just hitting on them with rude comments out the car window like, Hey, nice ass."
I figure it’s a token of respect and appreciation toward women in the sense that at least we're attempting to be gentlemen and not just hitting on them with rude comments out the car window like, Hey, nice ass.
Reuben Irving, pick-up artist
Women are not without a dating-advice armory. A series of publications written by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider for women titled The Rules provides advice in meeting the men of their dreams and playing hard to get. These books give specific rules for women to follow like “Don’t call him and rarely return his phone calls” and “Have sex! It’s fun.” But both members of the opposite sex will argue that it’s not all about the sex.
“There’s a point in pick-up before you have sex with a woman where you’re building connections that most people don’t even bother to do when having a one-night stand,” says Romero. PUAs have the skill to “F-Close” with women, they say, but that’s not always the goal. “I might have the ability to seduce, but I choose to respect girls and my craft and not jump into bed with every girl I have the chance with,” Whisper says.
I asked a few random women Downtown how they would feel if they were approached by a man they knew to be a pick-up artist. “I would be cautious, because what they are doing is not natural. It’s more programmed and patterned,” says Madeline Drayton. Carla Chang says men should be more genuine when approaching women. “I would be annoyed and amused. It’s funny that guys would spend their time learning that sort of stuff,” she adds.
The PUA Community has been criticized and heralded for its efforts in breaking down dating fundamentals. Whisper and Romero are happy to take the critiques but happier to help men overcome their poor social skills. “There are no master PUAs here in Albuquerque that we can look up to like in big cities, so it’s up to us to advise each other,” says Romero.
Whisper plans to move back to L.A. to pursue his career in dancing and master the art of pick-up. “I’ve already been in contact with PUAs out there and I’m more confident than ever. Bottom line—it’s all about apprehending the social skills and tools to do whatever you want and be whatever you want, whether it’s a ladies’ man or a successful businessman.”