The Ethical Pick-Up ArtistHitch (2005)

Though I have rarely seen a more predictable plot, this comedy manages to transcend its contrivances thanks to Will Smith’s truly remarkable portrayal of that rare and beautiful beast, the ethical pickup artist.

If you are in any way interested in learning more about how to create attraction—with someone you aren’t yet dating or with someone you are—you should watch this movie. There is far too much excellent attraction and dating advice for me to list it all here. But here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorites.

“No girl wakes up thinking ‘I hope I don’t get swept off my feet today’.”

So true. Women are particularly prone to harboring a secret hope that Prince Charming will choose today to ride up on his white horse and take her far away from her mundane existence. And the more the economy tanks, the truer this generalization becomes. But everyone, regardless of gender, enjoys a romantic adventure with someone they feel like they can trust. So remember: what you’re offering, even if it’s just an enjoyable chat with a stranger, is valuable. Offer it without shame or apology.

Hitch lists off a series of common brush-off lines, followed by an emphatic insistence that the women who use these lines are lying to you. And he’s right, at least on some level. Although most of the women who use these lines believe them at the time, it’s a common occurrence for a woman to claim that she’s too busy/not ready/whatever, only to find herself head-over-heels in love not a month later. Contrary to what the guy-centric PUA community seems to think, this is not due to any inherent treachery within the female of the species, but to a deeply ingrained aversion on the part of most women to hurting anyone’s feelings. When I’m not feeling attracted enough to someone who is obviously attracted to me, my automatic response is too look for reasons within myself for why this might be the case, rather than assume that the other party is in some way lacking. Meanwhile I will become increasingly uncomfortable around that person because I know s/he wants something—i.e. an equal and opposite attraction—that I am apparently unable to offer. This is why it is so important to incite attraction before you declare any of your own, or you are very likely to get the big brush-off. And really, isn’t that preferable to the alternative? “Unfortunately you appear to be more attracted to me than I am to you, so I’d rather not spend time around you.” Or worse, “You just don’t turn me on enough for these interactions to be worth my time. Good night and good luck.”

“Any man can sweep any woman off her feet. You just need the right broom.”

True in theory, but not always worth it in practice. I find that if there isn’t some measure of mutual attraction right off the bat, you would generally do better to move along. Now don’t get me wrong, there are women (and men for that matter) who are worth a great deal of time and effort, and if your heart is set on a difficult catch, then you owe it to both of you to make it happen, whatever it takes. However, beware of getting too caught up in the thrill of the chase for its own sake, or you may find that once the game is done you are no longer interested in the prize. Or you may find that you’ve become so attached to a single outcome, having poured so much time and energy into this one pursuit, that you lose sight of important details like whether or not s/he is actually right for you. The ideal is to pour your whole self into every interaction, but hold the outcome lightly and never push beyond what is enjoyable for both of you.

“She may not want [the full picture of who you are] all at once, but she does want to see it.”

And later, “be an iceberg,” i.e. with 90% of your mass below the surface. Any prospective partner will want to know who you really are, so it doesn’t pay to create an entire faux persona that you will either have to keep up artificially or later dismantle along with his/her trust. But at the same time, nobody wants to hear your entire life story, warts and all, the same day you meet them. This is why it’s so important to work on your avatar. This is the portion of yourself that you present to your PIQ that will make them want to see more. It is the layer of smooth, delicious cream that naturally settles at the surface of a personality. We all want to make a good impression, so we tend to push forward those qualities we see as valuable and let the less valuable qualities hang back. This is not dishonest. This is not false advertising. This is the basis of courtship.

“With no guile and no game, there’s no girl.”

“Guys need a plan because they’re nervous and […] they can’t just say, ‘I like you’.”

I can’t tell you how many men I talk to who complain that they can’t just be honest with a woman. They say they hate all the game-playing, and insist that this world would be a much better place if you could just walk up to a woman and say, “I find you attractive. Let’s go back to my place.” Fair enough. But the truth is that you can be honest with a woman, the only caveat being that she will then be honest with you. And since female attraction is based on a much wider range of characteristics than superficial attributes, unless she has had ample time and opportunity to get to know you, her honest answer is likely to be, “I don’t yet find you attractive. And now that I know that you find me attractive, I’m worried that you’re going to end up getting hurt, and I hate it when people get hurt. In fact, your mere presence is now making me feel uncomfortable. Please leave.” Only she’ll probably say it much more succinctly: “No thanks,” or “Sorry,” or “I have a boyfriend,” or embarrassed laughter, or pretending she didn’t hear you, or the ever-popular “Fuck off.”

All of Hitch’s first-date advice is spot-on. If your PIQ is going on a date with you, then you’ve already piqued his/her interest. You don’t have to try too hard to impress. Just relax, be yourself, and get out of your own way. Give plenty of space and don’t create a situation where s/he is forced to interact with you. Avoid intimate dinners like the plague. They’re great for a second or third date, but in that initial attraction-building stage, there is far too much pressure on both of you to keep the conversation going, plus the awkwardness of deciding who is going to pay how much, etc. I recommend a daytime outing to a busy, public place and/or a group excursion so s/he can meet some of your friends and get a better sense of how you interact with people and how well-liked you are. Inviting a whole group of people has the added bonus of ensuring you have a great time regardless of how well the two of you get along—regardless, even, of whether or not s/he shows up! Moreover, it creates a situation in which s/he will be competing for your attention, setting up the perfect opportunity to ask for a second date, i.e. “We didn’t really have much of a chance to talk today. Maybe we can remedy that over dinner tomorrow night?”

And yes, winning over the best friend is key, women do relate dancing to sex, hand placement on the back can make or break an interaction, and eight out of ten women do believe that the first kiss will tell them everything they need to know about a relationship. So practice accordingly, because it’s only a slight exaggeration when Hitch tells Albert:

“One dance, one look, one kiss, that’s all we get.”

Although Hitch sparkles from start to finish, he really shines in the two bar scenes. His trick of “mistaking” a hot girl for a waitress, shoving $20 in her palm before brusquely ordering a drink and walking away, is absolutely brilliant, and he plays it masterfully. Not only does it get her away from the cloud of men surrounding her, since most any woman will follow him to explain that she does not work there and return his money (and even if she doesn’t, it gives him an excuse to follow up with her later on), it gives him an opportunity to apologize and offer to make it up to her. As Rock Hudson says in Pillow Talk (1959):

“Always have something to apologize for.”

It shows that you are not too eager to please, but offers an excuse to do something that would normally be considered too much too soon. For example, if you show up late for a first date, it not only makes you seem like you are in high demand, it affords you an excuse to show up with a gorgeous bouquet of fresh flowers, or to pay for the meal/activity, or even to set up a more romantic second date to “make it up to” her/him. Note also that Hitch never attempts to retrieve his $20 bill, making him come off as wealthy and generous. He waits for her to shove it into his palm, and when she does, he stops her, seeing that she is trying to cut the interaction short, and stacks forward by confessing his true intent, i.e. to lure her away from her group. Ironically, this makes him come off as honest and endearing, rather than deceitful or manipulative.

The scene where he first meets Sara Melas (Eva Mendes) is chock full of PUA goodies. But first, some thoughts on how to learn from the mistakes of tryhards like “Chip” (David Wike). Chip starts off by invading Sara’s space, inviting himself to sit down and smugly offering her another round of the wrong drink. Then he delivers an incredibly cheesy pickup line, “I can’t help but notice that you look a lot like my next girlfriend,” with a deadly serious demeanor. Sara gives him a shit test (“They call me Chip.” “Awww, you can’t get ‘em to stop?”), which he handles badly. So she moves on to a very polite brush-off which he interrupts with a blurted, over-intense compliment. When she encourages him to “Try to listen,” he gets angry and switches to emotional manipulation. “Are you always so shut down and cold?”

Okay, I cannot overemphasize this. It is NEVER okay for you to blame your PIQ for not feeling attracted to you. It is YOUR JOB to create attraction, and to get snippy with a PIQ because your technique failed to work on him/her is about as productive as getting pissed off at a pat of butter that refuses to melt when you smear it on a piece of lukewarm toast. Just take the negative (or neutral) reaction in as useful information for next time and move on, or risk turning into one of those men that Hitch is referring to when he says:

“It’s because of guys like [your name here] that I have a job.”

Now, on to Hitch’s pickup. He does have an ideal in, having saved Sara from the attentions of the increasingly agitated “Chip.” But Sara is no easy sell. She immediately suspects that Hitch wants something in exchange for what he has just done for her, and the burden is on him to prove otherwise. First step is to disarm her automatic defenses. He tries relating to her (“Should [men’s attraction to you] be your problem?”), followed by a cold reading so accurate it makes her laugh despite herself. Then he brilliantly reframes the action into a third-person commentary about what two people in their situation would normally do. This offers them the opportunity to get the usual meet and greet stuff out of the way while simultaneously distancing themselves from the mundane getting-to-know-you frame. It also allows Sara to play along without having to admit that she might, in fact, be interested in him.

He makes excellent use of sound spacing, particularly when he says, “Or she might say…” and waits for her to fill in the blank. He also microcalibrates beautifully, using just enough social pressure to compel her to play along with his game, but not enough that she feels threatened by the interaction. For example, when he playacts what a guy would normally do, he leans forward, hinting at the invasion of space that she is anticipating and thus building tension. But then he backs off, expressing just enough disinterest to disperse the tension but not enough to antagonize her.

As one would expect from a “date doctor,” he responds to her shit tests like a pro. For example, when he obliquely points out that nothing he could say or do will convince her that he is for real, her wry reply is, “Don’tchya hate it when that happens?” But rather than convey upset or disappointment, he shrugs it off with a smile. “Not really. My guess is […] they’d both do just fine.” Then he shakes her hand, tells her it was nice to have met her, and he’s gone. This conveys a total willingness to walk, which translates to very high value. In other words, he is so confident that he will meet someone else of her caliber that if she is not immediately interested, it is not worth his time to bother trying to change her mind.

And as a final touch, he has already bought her a martini and has a waitress waiting nearby to deliver it the moment he makes his exit.
It is also worth noting that Hitch doesn’t just use his PUA techniques on women. In many of his conversations with clients, friends, etc., he uses the very same tactics: playfulness, willingness to walk, and insistent adherence to personal principals. He frequently reiterates the strength of his integrity by making his boundaries and expectations explicit up front. For example, when he first meets Albert Brennaman (Kevin James), he says, “I hope she’s single, ‘cause I don’t do break-ups.” And to Vance:

“Hit it and quit it is not my thing.”

Eventually, though, the movie takes a turn for the irritatingly contrived and predictable. So allow me to sum up the moral of the story in one sentence: Game will only get you so far, after that you have to take a leap of faith and just love someone.

The end.