The Globe and Mail examines "When Players Turn Into Boyfriends"

Read the article at The Globe and Mail

ZOSIA BIELSKI
From Thurday's Globe and Mail
October 9, 2008 at 9:15 AM EDT

Nick Savoy remembers well the day his girlfriend, Arrin, dyed her hair blond. The 23-year-old actress knew her boyfriend had "always liked blondes," so, Mr. Savoy says, she "went to the trouble of getting herself a beautiful hair job."

"You can bet that every day for the next few weeks I commented on how beautiful she was and how amazing she looked," he said.

As far as her one-year-long relationship was concerned, the dye job was a good move for Arrin. Ten years her senior, Mr. Savoy liked it, and rewarded her with attention: "There's a lot of value that can be accomplished by rewarding the behaviour that you like."

Born in St. John's as Nick Benedict, Mr. Savoy is a professional pickup artist who runs Love Systems, a Los Angeles-based date coaching company that uses "social psychology" to help men bed women, regardless of a man's looks or financial status. But now, Mr. Savoy and many in the burgeoning industry of pickup artists who helped spawn a generation of Frank T.J. Mackeys - Tom Cruise's slimy seduction coach in the film Magnolia - are grooming those players to become boyfriends.

In the past, the pickup industry has produced $3,000 "boot camps," a slew of bestselling manuals and a reality-television show.

Now, rewarding girlfriends for good behaviour and sleuthing out whether they cheat are among the tips Mr. Savoy offers up in his new three-DVD set on "relationship management," due out next week.

"There's absolutely a shift among our customer base from a couple of years ago. The ones that are coming back to us for the most part aren't saying, 'All right, I'm getting one threesome a month and I'd really like to up that to once a week.' What I am seeing among a lot of our alumni is, 'All right, how do I make the relationship angle work?' " says Mr. Savoy, who once appeared on a Dr. Phil episode called "Women Beware!"

Since the late 1990s, the seduction community operated mostly as a male subculture, but was spotlit in 2005 with the publication of The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. Under the tutelage of several "seduction gurus," journalist Neil Strauss morphed from a "dateless nerd" into "Style," a pre-eminent pick.

In 2007, the reality series The Pickup Artist gave the world "Mystery," whose real name is Erik von Markovik. In his trademark black eyeliner and nail polish, the Toronto native popularized "negging:" using condescending remarks to tease women away from the bar and into bed.

Today, Mr. Savoy's Love Systems counts more than 10,000 clients, many of whom read his pickup reference manual, Magic Bullets, and then went to boot camp. Some watched their "instructors" - many of them former students - demonstrate their techniques on women at bars and restaurants.

"We personalize it for you. We model the behaviours that you're supposed to have," says Mr. Savoy, who also runs fashion consultations.

After approximately a year of this type of conditioning, Mr. Savoy says, his clients get "amazingly good" at seducing women. But after two years, many of them are done: "I got what I'm going to get out of this. Now I'm looking to see what's next," is how he summarizes it.

Cyrus, an Arlington, Va.-based computer specialist has read "many books," watched "lots of videos" and took part in a Rapid Intimacy Social Education boot camp this year. He sees the seduction community as an important resource for men.

"I was kind of a late bloomer. I didn't really start dating until my mid-20s. When everybody was learning all these skills in middle school and high school, I was the nerdy kid playing with my Texas Instruments computer."

Today, Cyrus, who asked that his last name not be used, says he dates many women and can spot who is interested in him from across the room. His goal is a long-term relationship.

"It's part of a growing process. A lot of guys are players when they're in high school and college. A lot of us never did that. I never did that."

Growing process aside, some of Mr. Savoy's tips, such as rewarding a woman for good behaviour, sound more like dog training than relationship coaching. Some advice resembles the elaborate stratagems of "sarging" - pickup-artist speak for meeting and sleeping with women. For example, the "make her wait" scenario applies to relationships too, as Mr. Savoy dissuades men from getting emotionally involved in the first 10 weeks.

Other advice is strikingly facile, if not instinctive, such as not taking girlfriends for granted, the value of maintaining "variety and excitement," as well as spotting a cheater - simply ask her if she has been unfaithful before.

The pickup artist's message for wannabe players and boyfriends alike is essentially "don't be a wuss," says J. Wiedmann, a Washington-based white-collar-crime investigator. Mr. Wiedmann, who did not want his full name used, launched his "reality-based seduction" blog, "Roissy in DC: Where Pretty Lies Perish," last year. Reviled and beloved, the blog is full of devilish relationship strategies.

"I've written about the importance of instilling dread in your girlfriend by turning off your phone twice a week, or calling her from a busy place where women are laughing in the background ... despite her protestations to the contrary, a little bit of uncertainty goes a long way to keeping her aroused for you," Mr. Wiedmann said in an interview.

Aside from the usual fawning and vitriolic responses to his posts, Mr. Wiedmann has been seeing more pleas for relationship advice in his inbox lately. "Most of my male readers ask for advice on how to win that 'one girl' over. They're struggling to get out of the discount bin of the sexual market," he says.

Mr. Savoy suspects the shift speaks to a man's natural life cycle; he says his promiscuous years have strengthened his current relationship.

"There is value to guys being able to have their fun so that they're not in a relationship wondering what else is out there. I'm not for a second wondering what else is out there. I know exactly what else is out there."

Mr. Strauss, who today runs a seduction company called Stylelife Academy, has another theory for schooled players settling down: crushing loneliness.

"If you're in this long enough, going out to sarge starts to feel like Groundhog Day. Even if you're a guy who's in it for the worst, most shallow reasons, eventually it becomes tiring and you think, 'Where am I getting with all this, why am I still lonely and unhappy?' " says Mr. Strauss, who has been in a relationship for one year.

He calls the seduction community a "big locker room for adults," and is concerned that in some cases it's "the blind leading the blind."

"If you come into this community, I feel there's a light side and a dark side. ... Especially if you come in and you're younger, you have less real-life experience and all of a sudden you look up to these guys as your idols ... you can really get lost along the way."

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