On a drunk, lonely Saturday night in 2011, I found myself staring at my laptop, logged onto Amazon.com and debating whether or not to purchase The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. Eventually, resignation won out and I clicked "Buy Now." It was the dating book every guy knew about, whether they admitted to it publicly or not.
Dating was something I had never been good at. I felt lost and clueless in my relationships with women and at this point I was willing to give just about anything a shot.
I read the book in secret over the next two weeks. I was surprised to learn it was a story—and not a how-to—about a group of geeky guys that developed a set of techniques for impressing women. The book had its douche-y moments, but it wasn't difficult to separate the good ideas from the sleazy ones.
The basic concept was to initiate conversation with routines that involved asking for a "female opinion" on a scenario. I felt ridiculous even considering trying the lines, but I was also curious and felt like I had nothing to lose.
Building up my nerve, I walked up to two women in the Gaslamp Quarter and explained the scenario of a "friend" whose girlfriend still hung out with her ex all the time. What did they think? Their eyes lit up in unison. "We were just talking about this with another friend," they confessed and proceeded to tell me the whole story.
I asked another woman standing behind me in the beer line at a Padres game what I should say to a different "friend" whose girlfriend tried to kiss me. "Looks like you've got quite a pickle there, buddy," she said with a smirk and playfully punched me on the arm.
Every time I tried these lines, the women answered genuinely, even excitedly. I got the impression that I was the first guy in weeks to initiate conversation with a better line than "what up?"
Each woman's reaction was illuminating—seeing if she squared her shoulders at me, maintained eye contact or reinitiated conversation if I backed off a bit. These were the classic "Indicators of Interest" I was supposed to be on the lookout for.
It was the first time I had ever thought to examine how I might come across to women, to imagine the interactions from her point of view. Was she having fun? Did she seem comfortable talking to me? When did she perk up and when did she lose interest?
The problem was that everything I had tried from the book was essentially a lie. The techniques were all ruses, designed to create the impression of a fun, interesting, confident and emotionally intelligent person. The characters in the book had no compunction against faking such qualities, but if my goal was to develop genuine relationships I knew I would have to do better than that.
Despite the less-than-wholesome source, I felt like I had gotten a peek into the world from the perspective of a more confident and emotionally intelligent version of myself. Even just the initial improvements in my attitude were having positive effects on all the relationships in my life, not just with women.
Learning confidence would prove to be a much longer road, but in the meantime, just getting the insight to start conversations with something better than "what up?" was the kind of small revelation that helped pave the path.