In 2005, Neil Strauss’s The Game changed the dating game. The book, which centered around the pickup artist industry, was a self-help how-to guide for hapless horny men trying to seduce women. It taught men the art of “negging” — giving a woman, who the book would refer to as “targets,” a backhanded compliment in order to lower her self-esteem so she could feel really bad about herself and continue to seek validation from her perpetrator. It’s also a textbook definition of emotional abuse and manipulation.
The book has been rightfully criticized over the years for its various misogynistic techniques and advice, as well as its general endorsement of the objectification of women. After a stint in rehab for sex addiction, Strauss, who is now happily married, recognizes the book has not aged well and even called some of the techniques he documented and used himself “objectifying and horrifying.” (That said, in a 2015 interview with The Atlantic, Strauss stood by the book, despite him not having read it, at the time, in 10 years.)
Whatever your opinions on The Game, the book helped bring pickup-artistry to the mainstream and aided in disseminating a bunch of toxic ideas about courtship and sexuality. As Scaachi Koul wrote for Buzzfeed News back in 2018, “Thirteen years ago, men were sold a handbook that promised to give them any woman that they wanted — and consequently, a kind of self-worth they desired. For some men, those taught strategies didn’t work, and we’re left behind with men angry at Chads and Stacys (and Beckys), men who thought they were owed something merely because they asked, nicely or not.”
While it’s easy to conclude that The Game and its army of acolytes are a relic from a former time quickly disappearing in the rearview mirror of wokeness, toxic masculinity is always closer than it appears. Just last year we added a new word to the internet lexicon: “simp” and its verb tense “simping” have thankfully been reclaimed as a celebratory, self-deprecating term that describes anyone who, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, pathetically pines over someone (who is often not reciprocating those feelings), but they did not begin as such. While the terms had first been a fixture in Black culture, where their usage was more in line with the currently recognized definition, “simp” has also been co-opted by men’s rights activists and incels, who on subreddits like r/MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) regularly use the word to insult men who offer women attention or favors without receiving any sexual favors in return. To these sad, lonely misogynists, “simping” is a sign of weakness, and that viewpoint had initially circulated TikTok before it became the more lighthearted meme we now know it to be.
Likewise, pickup artists have not completely fallen off the face of the Earth, and are now using popular social platforms to offer misguided dating and relationship advice — or at least they were, before they got banned.
Former TikTok account Fresh & Fit (@freshnfit) was chock full of profound, discerning dating tips, like why you should “Never Be Vulnerable To Your Girl.” Myron Gaines, one half of the account that claims to “provide the TRUTH to dating, fitness, social media, finances and overall male improvement,” explains in one TikTok video that women are just not equipped to deal with men’s problems because they “live in a different world” than men do. Gaines recommends complaining to another man about your issues because “when you’re crying to your girl, she’s gonna think you’re soft and she’s not equipped to help you.”
In another TikTok, Gaines outlines a foolproof way to get a woman to chase you. Simply turn on your read receipts and ignore her messages. The reason? “These women need to know that you looked at their message and you’re just not going to respond,” Gaines explains. He especially encourages you to do this when a woman says something stupid. “Let her question what she did wrong and let the hamster wheel work for you.”
While both of these videos were frankly batshit crazy and clearcut examples of emotional abuse, the internet didn’t truly unleash on Fresh & Fit until December, when another video from the account went viral on Twitter. In the TikTok, Gaines is once again walking at night on a sidewalk somewhere and offering advice, this time on why you need to implement a strict policy for women who ask to reschedule dates.
“When a girl tells you: ‘Hey, let’s raincheck or reschedule,’ you simply respond, ‘Hey, that’s cool, but I’m not really a fan of flaky girls. If we go out, you’re going to pay for drinks or dinner’ or whatever plans you guys had,” he begins.
“Because the reality is this, with women, when they give you undesirable behavior, you need to punish it immediately, so she knows it’s not acceptable,” Gaines continues. “If you take her back and take her on a date after she did some BS like that, she’s gonna think it’s OK. Don’t reinforce bad behavior with positive treatment.”
“I GUARANTEE he got this information from a dog training video,” wrote user @iambrattyb, who shared the video on Twitter. While many users clowned Gaines, others asked an obvious question: “Why do these straight men go through all this rigmarole when trying to talk or date women instead of just treating them like a person. Like it’s very simple.” Many also pointed out the glaringly abusive behavior in the video and reminded others not to date people who “think they need to ‘punish’ you to ‘train’ you to behave the way they want.”
There are even more horrendous videos from Fresh & Fit I won’t subject you to, but their advice ultimately proved too much for even TikTok to bear, as the video-sharing app removed the account two weeks ago — though the duo is still posting videos and offering problematic tips and tricks on their YouTube account of the same name.
What is largely upsetting about Fresh & Fit and the rest of these pickup-artist accounts (beyond the damaging worldviews they espouse) is that most men legitimately need relationship and dating advice. While it was disastrously executed, at the core of Fresh & Fit’s “dog training” video is something valuable to be learned about setting boundaries. And while someone asking to reschedule doesn’t automatically brand them as a flaky person you should dump immediately, if you suspect a pattern and feel your time and energy is being taken advantage of, it would be nice to know how to navigate that situation. But instead of offering honest, constructive advice, these accounts turn to women-blaming and promote a strange, dominant “Alpha Male” character men should assume that, in the end, isn’t going to get them what they presumably desire: A happy, healthy relationship.
Moreover, these accounts like to paint women as walking labyrinths men constantly need to “solve” using some kind of crazy Jedi mind trick. Relationships and people you are dating can be complicated and confusing at times, but that doesn’t mean you should assert your dominance and counter with emotionally manipulative games and behavior. As many, many people have noted, just try treating them like a person. It is very simple.
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