“What Women Respond To Is Authenticity”
My friend Dave was very authentic when, flush with excitement, he announced to all of us that he’d discovered a new way to masturbate.
Not that we’d been discussing masturbation, at all. We were in eighth grade and this was the cafeteria at school, and even we knew this was the place to discuss Spider-Man comics and Star Wars. But Dave sat down, bubbly with excitement, to share this new technique, which was news he was certain we’d all be eager to hear. The trick was, he informed us, not to just yank up and down, but to roll it between your palms, like you were trying to start a fire with two twigs. It was, he assured us in no uncertain terms, awesome.
This spurting of information was perhaps the most authentic thing I have ever witnessed. Dave was not excited himself by the idea of us whacking it; he’d never discussed sex before insofar as far as I could recall. No, rather, he was so caught up in this new and wonderful thing in his life that he wanted to share this newness with all of us, so that – touchingly – we could all benefit from this. This was a genuine act of friendship, in that it would have been so easy for him to keep it to himself, but then how could he live knowing that his friends’ lives were so diminished?
So you can imagine how he felt when he immediately acquired the nickname “Dry Rub” and was mocked thoroughly for this overshare until he finally graduated high school and moved to another state. One act of authenticity = five years in the penalty box.
The reason I say this is because I saw a Tweet from an author decrying the Pick-Up Artists’ techniques. “You know what women respond to?” he said. “Authenticity. Do that, and you don’t need any moves.”
That is pure, stinking, liquefied bullshit.
Look, I’m authentic in what I say, and that authenticity is but one tool in my arsenal. A powerful tool. But pure authenticity leads to what women (and people) don’t like – nattering on about your hobbies ad infinitum, saying whatever disgusting things are on your mind, making women uncomfortable because hey, this is a very authentic squeeze on the shoulder. Now, some of you got great instincts down at the Instinct Factory and you know what’s okay to say and what shouldn’t be said… but a lot of guys (and girls) are poor old Dave, working from very authentic and sincere intentions, and sharing all the wrong things.
What most people define as “authenticity” isn’t actually “sincere, heartfelt emotions” but rather “a core suite of sincere, heartfelt emotions run through a rigorous gamut to a) determine whether the audience is receptive to your message, then b) tailored to be of interest to that particular audience, and finally c) delivered, with a considerable blend of skill and instinct, in a way that maximizes your audience’s liking of you.”
But Authenticity itself is maybe 40% of that. We all know nerds who blunder in to tell endless, unamusing stories to helpless crowds of people. They are authentically convinced that these stories are great. They are authentically telling these misogyny-strewn tales, as it represents a portion of their life. They are authentic in that if you asked them, they would honestly answer that they thought they were entertaining and funny and what everyone there wanted to hear.
What they are lacking is that crucial feedback loop that tells them, “No, wait, you’re failing.”
I’m not a big fan of PUA techniques, but I am understanding that there are idiots gifted with excellent instincts where they were trained, either by a good family or genetics, when it’s the right time to say things. And these people, given a privilege that benefits them in a million subtle ways they cannot possibly understand, think that anyone who has to come to these techniques via teaching must be Doing It Wrong. Just do what I do!, said Michael Jordan, leaping onto the court.
Folks, learning to be a compelling person is hard for most people. Luckily, most of us get the majority of our awkwardness out of us in middle school – like Dave, who I’m led to believe runs a successful business and has a lovely girlfriend and I bet if his friends heard of the “Dry Rub” incident would write it off as clumsy adolescence because Dave now is lovable and smooth and knows not to talk about whacking it unless the conversation seems to be turning that way anyway. Yet many are slower than Dave, or learned later in life, or have to work harder to pick up on those cues that tell you, “Oh, hold on, this isn’t going well.”
And you’re not always yourself anyway. Do I like sports or the weather? No. But I can converse on both fluently in small talk, because strangers expect it of me and I’ve learned that they’ll like me a lot better if I can meet them on their common ground. Is that authentic? Hell no. But my desire to be friendly is authentic, and that requires me to do a few phony-ish things to bridge the gaps.
If making friends and lovers was as easy as “Be Yourself,” then every mouth-breathing nerd would be followed by scores of admirers. Instead, it’s the much more complex message of “Be a version of yourself that people will respond positively to”… and that’s a complex dance that takes years to refine, a constantly evolving performance that wavers between inauthenticity and public disgust, a hundred thousand hard lessons learned as smiles wither and conversations shrink into awkward silences. You learn to get around that. You learn very artificial measures to keep a conversation going, you learn when to sit back and let other people tell their tale even thought ZOMG THIS STORY I KNOW RIGHT NOW IS WAY FUNNIER, you learn to develop interests in things you didn’t have interests before.
And if you do all of that right, then people will go, “Man, that dude/ette is authentic.”
They’re not, really. But it’s a helluva show.