The Tao of Steve

Glossary of Terms

Be Desireless; a review of The Tao of Steve (2000)

The first time I saw the Tao of Steve, it had a major effect on my game.  In fact, it was the first time I had really thought about game and why and how it works.  I had always been vaguely aware of the fact that some people simply held more attraction than others, and that this attraction didn’t neatly correlate to physical appearance.  But the idea that a person could actually learn and perfect the art of attraction, regardless of their physical appearance, was a new, and captivating, concept for me.

On this second viewing, many years and experiences later, I am still impressed with the wisdom underlying Dex’s method, and the overall message of the film, which is that, ultimately, game is about becoming a more valuable human being, not about manipulating potential lovers into sleeping with you despite your lack of value.  Good game actually makes you a better lover, not just a more convincing approximation of one.

The movie itself is fairly low-budget and, as such, the acting occasionally leaves something to be desired.  So it’s difficult to say how “realistic” some of Dex’s pick-ups and dating successes really are.  But life experience has taught me that it is well within the realm of possibility for an overweight, ambitionless preschool teacher with a B.A. in Philosophy to consistently hook up with extremely high-quality women, particularly if he ascribes to the method Dex refers to as “The Tao of Steve.”

“For great looking guys, they got no problem, they can just slide by on their appearance,” Dex explains. “But for guys like us, successful hooking up with the ladies requires a little work and a lot of intelligence.”

The Tao of Steve is deceptively simple.  It has only three tenets:

Be desireless
Be excellent
Be gone

I will go over each of these tenets individually, but first, a note on the title.  Tao translates loosely to “way” “path” or “route.”  And “Steve” is not actually a character in the movie, but an iconic type.  A Steve, Dex tells his hapless protégé, is “the prototypical cool American male.”  He lists off several Steves who have inspired the term: Steve McGarrett (Hawaii 5-O), Steve McQueen (The Great Escape), and Steve Austin (The 6 Million Dollar Man).  The main characteristic of a Steve, according to Dex, is that he lives by his own code of ethics.  “He never hits on women, but he always gets the girl.”

A “Stu,” we learn in that same scene, is the opposite of a “Steve.”  A Stu is what the PUA community would refer to as an AFC or “average frustrated chump,” an ordinary guy with little or no game who is desperate for some action, and it shows.  The Tao of Steve is about transforming, internally, from a Stu into a Steve.

The first step in this transformation is generally held, at least among men, to be the most difficult of the three.  It isn’t enough, Dex tells his protégé, simply to disguise desire.

“Don’t pretend to be interested [in what she has to say], don’t pretend to be desireless, really let go of your desire.”

Conquering one’s desire takes a great deal of discipline, particularly for someone who hasn’t gotten laid in quite some time.  It is, however, extremely effective as a means of inciting desire on the part of a POINT (Person Of INTerest).  “When I’m hanging out with a woman, that’s all I’m doing,” says Dex.  And we have no reason to disbelieve him, given that each time we see him spending time with women he is just as relaxed and playful as he is among his male friends.  This is because a genuine lack of desire, as Dex explains, allows a man to be “the real you, not the hormone-crazed monster you become around hot women.”

But his lack of desire does more than just put him, and therefore his date, at ease.  Dex goes on to explain that when a man fails to show sexual interest in an attractive woman, she starts to think, “Wait a minute, I’m so much better looking than this guy,” clearly he must be more valuable than he seems if he is willing to pass on someone so much hotter than he is.  “Act like a woman can’t get into your club,” Dex advises, “and she’ll do almost anything to get in.”

A great example of the first principal in action: Dex is sitting on his bed playing guitar next to an attractive woman named Julie.  She makes a comment about how the date is going, and Dex replies, “Woah, Julie, I don’t know if I’d call this a date.”  He follows this neg with the classic “I just don’t want to mess up our friendship” speech.  The next image is of the two of them lying in bed the next morning, obviously post-coital.

The second tenet, “be excellent,” is fairly self-explanatory.

“Do something excellent in her presence,” Dex expounds, “thus demonstrating your sexual worthiness.”

This is simply another way of describing the classic PUA technique of Demonstrating Higher Value.  But there is a little more to it as well. “Boredom is death,” Dex warns, hinting at the need for microcalibration to keep the POINT guessing, as well as the necessity of developing conversational skill and coming up with creative and unusual date ideas.  So excellence isn’t just about having and demonstrating an impressive skill, it’s also about being an intelligent, creative, entertaining and unpredictable presence that she will want to spend more time around.

Dex cites as his main source of excellence his skill at playing cards.  But it is obvious to the audience that it is Dex’s mind that makes the deepest impression of excellence on his POINT’s.  Throughout the film, he uses his philosophy training and quirky intelligence to dazzle his dates with funny and interesting theories, beginning with the analogy he draws between a Long Island Iced Tea and an Introduction to Philosophy class for the benefit of an attractive coed in the opening scene.  And it is his intelligence, combined with a willingness to take risks, that ultimately wins over the woman with whom he has fallen in love.

The final tenet, “be gone,” most closely resembles the mainstream concept of “playing hard to get.”  Dex puts it succinctly when he says, “We pursue that which retreats from us.” So in order to be pursued, one must retreat.  Dex demonstrates this principal throughout, but ultimately discovers that it is incomplete.  He learns that in a genuinely mutual interpersonal relationship, there must be give-and-take, push-and-pull… in other words, both partners must take turns pursuing and retreating.

Many amateur players interpret “be gone” in a similarly simplistic fashion, and mistake neglect for strategy.  It isn’t enough to simply stop calling, or worse, to wait until you’re drunk and horny and end up making a sloppy booty call.  It’s about carefully doling out your attention in measured amounts at calculated intervals.  In other words, it’s all in the timing.  Effective game requires equal parts patience and pursuit.  As Dex explains, both men and women want to have sex, but on different time tables.

“Girls want it fifteen minutes later than guys, so if you hold out for twenty, she’ll be chasing you for five.”

“Be gone,” in short, is about leaving space between you and your I.A., both physical and chronological.  After all, energy is created in the space between terminals.  The key to getting the right intensity is in leaving the right amount of space for the energy to increase, and allowing your I.A. to be the one to finally close that gap.

Aside from the three cardinal rules, Dex also shares a number of other pearls of wisdom that are startlingly accurate throughout the movie.  Here are two of my favorites.

Boredom equals death.

This is so incredibly true, and so incredibly important, that I want to spray paint it on my office door in neon pink.  Romance requires surprise, and surprise requires uncertainty.  And I’m not just talking about keeping the conversation lively, or even mixing it up and taking her someplace unexpected on a date.  Contrived spontaneity still reads as contrived and thus makes you come off as a try-hard.

The real secret to avoiding boredom is twofold.

First, you cannot show your hand too soon.  When you become transparent to a woman, to the point where she knows what you’re thinking, knows what you want, and can predict your next move,  you have effectively murdered the intrigue that makes early courtship exciting.  All comfort and no tension will land you smack in the middle of the Friend Zone every time.

Second, you must continually surprise yourself.  Keep it interesting for both of you.  Try something you’ve never tried before.  Go somewhere you’ve never been before.  Remember: the key to being fun is having fun.

Actions speak louder than words.  Just as in writing, showing is always better than telling.  And on that note…