For Men Too Shy To Say Hi, A Professional Coach

It's Valentine's Day, a day when dating might be more on the mind of single men, than usual. And for those who find it difficult to approach a woman at a bar or restaurant, one Washington D-C company is offering help. "Professional Pickup" is a business that coaches men in the art of picking up women. Washington Post writer Ellen McCarthy investigated the service for the paper's magazine and tells host Michel Martin what she discovered.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Next we take a look inside the pages of The Washington Post magazine where we go just about every week for interesting stories about the way we live now. And on this Valentine's Day, a story for men who find themselves intimidated by the prospect of striking up a conversation with an attractive woman.

Well, it's not so hard, according to a growing group of men who specialize in the art of picking up women. They say it's not a science and it's not as shady as it sounds. You be the judge.

(Soundbite of video)

Mr. JAMES NORTON (Professional Pickup): A lot of people say it's all about going out and sleeping with women.

Mr. ERNESTO GLUECKSMANN (Professional Pickup): No, it's not. Well, that's - those are the headlines. That's how you get these guys to come and realize, hey, maybe I need some help.

MARTIN: That's from a video from The Washington Post. They recorded some guys at the Global Pickup Conference, which was held in January at the Holiday Inn Georgetown. You heard the voices of James Norton and Ernesto Gluecksmann. Together they run Professional Pickup, a business devoted to putting a little swagger in the steps of Washington's wannabe Casanovas. They are the subjects of a piece written in this week's Washington Post magazine by Ellen McCarthy. And she's here with us from the offices of The Washington Post. Thanks so much for joining us. Happy Valentine's Day.

Ms. ELLEN MCCARTHY (Writer, The Washington Post): Oh, Happy Valentine's Day to you. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: How did you get interested in this story?

Ms. MCCARTHY: You know, I - Pickup has been around for about 10 years now. So of course I'd heard about it before. But then I also had sort of encountered it as a young woman. You know, I had seen pickup artists at parties. I have even gone out with a guy several years ago who, you know, told me he was interested in social engineering. And of course I said, what do you mean by that? And, you know, it just sort of piqued my interest.

So when we had the opportunity to sort of really dive in and follow these guys and see it from the inside, I jumped.

MARTIN: Wait a minute, you have actually experienced professional pickup artists. This is, like, a known thing, that people really see themselves... What do they, wear like a pin? Like members of Congress wear a pin on their lapels or something?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MCCARTHY: It would probably be better if they did. Then you would know. No, they don't. And, you know, I have to say, it's a much more sort of pervasive thing than you would, maybe, expect. It's not a society and it's not a club. But it's just sort of an underground community that a lot of young men have found themselves turning to in the same way that women turn to Oprah magazine or Cosmo for tips on how to deal with guys or what guys like.

You know, the equivalent doesn't really exist for men and so they have turned to these, you know, pickup websites and sort of underground, what they call, lairs, which is, you know, sort of a local group of men who kind of hang together and talk about the ways to, you know, attract women.

MARTIN: I see. I see what you're saying. So it's like a Cosmo for guys, except sort of more handholding than that.

Ms. MCCARTHY: Yeah.

MARTIN: These gentlemen actually run this as a business. People actually pay for their advice.

Ms. MCCARTHY: They pay a lot of money. Yeah, so the professional pickup program that I followed was four weeks and it cost $600. Now, some of them are much more expensive than that. So I think guys really need to be careful about what it is they're paying for.

MARTIN: What kind of guys did you see who were attracted to these programs?

Ms. MCCARTHY: It's a mix. Some of them were obviously doing just fine for themselves and wanted to do better and get more women and more women and more women. The other guys really struggle, you know. There were a lot of moments that were sort of painful for me to watch - a guy who was ostracized a little bit in high school and maybe lonely in college and here it is, you know, he's 28, 29 and you put him at a bar or a party and they would say, OK, go talk to that girl and he would just freeze.

MARTIN: Do these guys seem to actually help?

Ms. MCCARTHY: I think the guys - a lot of the guys would tell you they found some benefit from it. I don't think that they got what they wanted. You know, they thought that they would enroll in this course and then their lives would change. And suddenly they would have, you know, a great girlfriend and, you know, this booming social life. And it didn't happen.

What did I think of it as a woman? I was sort of conflicted. I thought a lot of it was a little bit appalling and certainly...

MARTIN: Like what?

Ms. MCCARTHY: Well, you know, they do - they talk about something called the compliance test, which is, you know, they say it's like a read on how interested a girl is in you. And so what they want a guy to do is give a woman an instruction and so if she follows, that means that she's interested.

MARTIN: I got to tell you, that was the thing that pushed my buttons too.

Ms. MCCARTHY: Yeah.

MARTIN: Which is some random guy you just met saying, hold my drink. Excuse me? Excuse me?

Ms. MCCARTHY: Hold my drink or, yeah, follow me over here. Yeah, I know.

MARTIN: How about go back over to your stool and I'll be right here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, waiting for somebody with manners. Hello. How about manners?

Ms. MCCARTHY: Yeah. I know.

MARTIN: Was there anything helpful?

Ms. MCCARTHY: You know, on the other hand, I have to say, a lot of it I didn't find objectionable, you know? I thought a lot of what they taught sounded really odd to be articulated out loud, but I don't think in the end, that most of it is anything that a guy wouldn't learn watching a really cool older brother. You know, I had guy friends read this article and say...

MARTIN: Or sister.

Ms. MCCARTHY: That's right. They can...

MARTIN: OK. 'Cause I would tell them this for free.

Ms. MCCARTHY: Yes. That's right. And I had guy friends say, I know this stuff instinctually. And these guys didn't, you know. They just are lacking sort of an emotional intelligence here. And so as horrible as it sounds to hear some of this stuff articulated out loud, I think it kind of helps, you know? Approach with positivity, have a smile on your face. Try not to take yourself so seriously. You know, be fun.

MARTIN: Here's another one - clean your shirt.

Ms. MCCARTHY: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MCCARTHY: Pick up your apartment. Clean up your apartment.

MARTIN: Ellen McCarthy is a staff writer at The Washington Post. If you'd like to read her piece in its entirety, and we hope you will, it's called "The Art of Attraction." We'll link to it on our website. Just go to NPR.org and click on the Programs tab and then on TELL ME MORE. Ellen, thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. MCCARTHY: Oh, thank you.

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