by Rachel Zerr
High in a Sydney CBD office tower the students are preparing for their three-hour class. They flick through their laminated booklets, and talk quietly. The instructor fusses with the sound for his PowerPoint presentation.
To look at the students, it would first appear that they are here after hours to improve their skills in accounting or computer technology or systems analysis. But the students are a part of the School of Attraction, that coaches men in the art of seduction. Tonight’s seminar has two rookie students: Arthur, 27, and Ben, 20. Arthur is a business analyst who has never had a girlfriend. Ben is a barista and says he is here to get over the fear of approaching women in his day-to-day life.
This is their second week in a 12-week intensive course where they learn things like rapport-building, body language, and suitable conversation topics. They have both paid over $3400 for the course and over the coming weeks they will take part in a mix of classroom theory and field trips where they’ll put their lessons into practice.
“Every guy deserves a girlfriend,” says Adam, tonight’s coach. “This is about making each guy the best he can be. It’s an investment.” Adam sees nothing unusual about teaching men skills in seduction. He has seen hundreds of students come through the School of Attraction and says most of them leave more confident men.
Over the next three hours, Adam takes Ben and Arthur though a basic guide to social interaction. Presentation slides have titles like “differences between open and closed questions” and “funny jokes that make women laugh”.
As an exercise, he first asks them to list their “passion topics” that they can work into conversation. The boys think hard, and then offer up their ideas. Adam gently tells Arthur that technology may not be as universally appealing as, say, travel.
The coaches are encouraging and make even the silliest suggestions seem worthy. When Arthur says another passion is animals, and his favourite animal is the alpaca, Adam keeps a straight face and suggests he maybe talk about dogs instead.
The School of Attraction was started by Damien Diecke, 29, who has a relaxed confidence that his students presumably aspire to. He confesses he suffered low self-esteem and routine rejection in his younger years. As a result, he began studying life coaching and public speaking and began a career in corporate sales training.
In 2008 he saw a gap in the market that offered men authentic seduction skills, and the School of Attraction was born. He is now one of Australia’s best-known Pick Up Artists (known as PUAs) and has an increasing stream of students through his school. He says it’s more about confidence building than manipulation.
“It’s about helping men overcome the fear of talking to women. I don’t look at creating routines, or pick-up lines, or anything manipulative. I shy away from that. The cornerstone of what I do is building guys’ self-confidence.”
And, he says, most students are after something more profound than a series of one-night stands. A quick survey of the room verifies this. The students all say their ultimate goal is a long- term relationship. The room itself is a mixed bag of races and profiles, with men from 20 to 40. Perhaps most surprising is that none seem remotely self-conscious that they are here in the first place. They talk openly and excitedly about their reasons for taking part in the course. Some, like Arthur, have never had a girlfriend. Others are recently divorced, or simply seem endearingly hopeless.
The seduction community generally hasn’t had such a good reputation. It’s been labeled as misogynistic, manipulative, and as preying on the vulnerable. Until recently it has mostly been hidden in the anonymity of the Internet, which is littered with forums for men who desperately want to improve their chances with women.
But after author Neil Strauss’s The Game sold more than two million copies and became a cult hit, the seduction community was suddenly mainstream. Pick Up Artists emerged as new age motivational speakers who held boot camps and expensive tutorials and made promises of turning the average Joe from computer- loving nerd to Casanova.
“It’s like having a personal trainer at the gym,” says Frank, a graduate of the course and now a coach. “We keep pushing. We set expectations and make sure you are making progress.”
Frank has a similar story to many of the students in the current class. “I was in a long relationship and when I came out of it, I realised I was out of practice. I had two dates in the first half of 2010. After the course, I met more women in two weeks than I had all year. I felt like a different person.” He now has a long-term girlfriend, and mentors other guys with their pick-up techniques.
A few evenings later, Ben and Arthur are putting their lessons into practice. It’s Friday night at a swanky night spot. Frank is coaching tonight and says it’s his venue of choice because ”it’s the hardest”. The after-work cocktail crowds are out in force and there are plenty of pretty girls sipping champagne and surveying the room.
Ben and Arthur look nervous. They quickly run through their goals for the evening. Ben wants to make 10 approaches, keep his hands out of his pockets, and ask for five telephone numbers. Arthur wants to talk to as many women as possible, with no more than 10 minutes between ”interactions”.
This is the language they speak. There is talk of ‘”sets” (groups of girls), mixed sets (a mix of guys and girls), ”winging” (where they approach together) and “openers”(the much discussed first lines.)
After each approach they return to Frank who tells them what they’ve done well or gives subtle pointers on what to do better. It’s taken seriously. The guys don’t drink as a rule – Frank says they’ll “lose concentration” – and seem completely focused on racking up as many telephone numbers as possible. It’s all a little less cute in action. Women seem to be considered more as target practice than possible soul mate.
This is “night game”, Frank’s specialty. Night game differs hugely from day game, he says. Day game sees the guys using parks and street corners as their hunting ground. Night game is club-oriented, and after a little prodding, Frank and the boys admit that while a long-term relationship is the goal, they’d all like to have a little fun along the way. Translation: sleeping with as many women as possible.
Whatever Frank is telling them seems to be working. Amazingly, both Ben and Arthur disappear somewhere after their fourth approach. Ben is on the dance floor with a laughing blonde. Arthur is captivating a group of five women. He bounces back to the group 20 minutes later, telephone number in hand, one of four that he’ll successfully get over the next few hours.
“If you walk up to a woman and you are simply a confident version of yourself, you are already ahead of 99 per cent of the guys out there,” says Damien Diecke. “The reality is women are very smart. They are very good at reading social context. If a man comes in with a fake story or line, women will pick up on that, and it loses men a bit of respect. Be yourself. Be straightforward. Talk about things you’re passionate about. “
Still, while he may not be a fan of pick up lines, there is certainly a formula that exists. Frank holds his students to task and makes sure they introduce their passion subjects at least once in conversation.
Nick, 33, is a graduate of the School of Attraction. He doesn’t appear short of confidence, although this may be a product of Damien Diecke’s mentoring. He is an IT worker and, to now carefully trained ears, it seems his passion subjects are travel and fitness. He says after coming out of a long-term relationship he felt that while he was friends with lots of women, he couldn’t ever seem to have relationships that amounted to anything more.
“I’m a great guy with a lot to offer. I learned from Damien how to communicate that in a short amount of time. I went from being terrified of rejection to being able to walk up to a pretty girl and introduce myself. Ultimately I am looking for my next great love, but until then I am happy dating.” So does he really want a relationship?
“Well, after the course, I was dating a lot. A huge amount. At one point I had seven casual relationships on the go,“ he says with detectable pride.
“But this is more about showing the best side of yourself,” he says. “I want a rewarding relationship, and there is no shame in doing what I can to improve my chances of that happening.“
With the much reported Sydney single-woman to single-man ratio widening, perhaps the School of Attraction is simply helping guys narrow the gap. Judging from the smiles on the faces of the women attached to Ben and Arthur, they seem smitten enough. Just don’t tell them their new friends will be back here again next Friday, practicing their new craft on a whole new set of young women.