Late last September a college student who called herself Courtney A. posted a story on the feminist website Lemondrop: “I Slept With Tucker Max, the Internet’s Biggest Asshat.”
Courtney, 21, is a student at Penn State University. Tucker Max, 33, six feet tall, extrovertedly good-looking, and usually photographed latched to a girl, a bottle of booze, or a cheeseburger, is an honors graduate (in three years) of the University of Chicago. He has a law degree from Duke University, whose admissions committee was so impressed with his academic record that it awarded him an academic scholarship. Yet his only experience practicing law to date has consisted of getting fired from a $2,400-a-week summer-associate job at a prestigious Silicon Valley firm for, among other things, showing up intoxicated at the orientation meeting and complaining that he couldn’t see anything because he had lost his contacts in a hookup with a girl he had met at a party the night before; informing a female recruiter at the firm that he was “calling a porn line” when she walked into his office unexpectedly; and getting fall-down drunk at a firm retreat and shouting the F-word at a charity auction attended by the partners and their spouses. His email account of the last escapade made its way to laughs around the country.
Max is famous as a blogger (tuckermax.com), and his website is replete with stories like the ones above, all involving graphically rendered bedroom exploits (if your definition of bedroom includes vans, offices, and the great outdoors), massive quantities of alcohol, and copious vomiting. He is the author of several books, including The Definitive Book of Pickup Lines (2001, out of print but selling for close to $200 on Amazon), the 2006 blockbuster I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, which spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and the forthcoming Assholes Finish First. Beer in Hell, a dramatization of some of his website yarns, became an indie movie hit in college towns last fall (playing to less-than-enthusiastic audiences elsewhere).
Max and Courtney got together because upon reading a friend’s text message late one Monday evening announcing that Max would be at a bar near campus after a screening of Beer in Hell, she jumped up, changed her clothes, and rushed off to await the great man’s arrival. At the bar, she worked her way through a knot of female rivals to meet him.
“34C?” Tucker asked.
“32C,” Courtney replied, “but good guess. What, are you trying to touch them or something?”
“Oh, I know I can touch them,” he said. “But I like to guess first.”
At the Hampton Inn where Max was staying, he introduced Courtney to his dog: “Say hello to the new slut.” The next morning, after some sessions of “jackhammering a sidewalk,” as she described his sexual technique (although she did concede that he was a “great kisser”), he handed her $20 for the taxi ride of shame back to her apartment. His last words were, “Call me if you’re ever in L.A.”
Many of the commenters to Courtney’s tell-all expressed “disgust” at Max’s manifestly unchivalrous behavior. In a September op-ed for the Washington Post, feminist Jaclyn Friedman, who inexplicably blamed Max’s perverse success with females (half his fans, perhaps the more enthusiastic half, are female) on abstinence-only sex education, sniffed that she found his “antics revolting,” blasted his “unapologetic misogyny,” and accused him of contributing to a campus atmosphere that allows 150,000 young women to be raped every academic year. (Friedman derived that extraordinarily high figure by counting drunken sexual encounters between students as rape.) Amanda Marcotte, the feminist blogger briefly hired by John Edwards during his presidential campaign, chimed in, accusing Max of a “bone-deep hatred of sexual women”—and also of possible “sexual assault” because he had bragged on his website about sleeping with a drunk girl while a friend hidden in a closet filmed the encounter. In May, feminist picketers so disrupted an appearance by Max at Ohio State University that he needed a police escort to get away.
Yet it’s hard to believe that Courtney A. herself shared any of this dudgeon. Next to her story she posted a photograph of her with Max that she had a friend take at the bar. The photo shows a rosy-cheeked strawberry blonde who, although no Scarlett Johansson, is no Ugly Betty either (her C-cup bustline, much in evidence both underneath and spilling over her strapless top, doesn’t hurt). She is also grinning from ear to ear, her smile as wide as a cantaloupe slice. Max, mugging for the camera, has his arm draped proprietarily, if not exactly affectionately, around her shoulder as she leans into his chest. No disapproving peers, either. When Courtney left her apartment to meet Max at the bar, her roommates called after her, “Make sure to bring him back.” She and Max rode off to the inn “with everyone at the bar waving and giving the thumbs up.”
Welcome to the New Paleolithic, where tens of thousands of years of human mating practices have swirled into oblivion like shampoo down the shower drain and Cro-Magnons once again drag women by the hair into their caves—and the women love every minute of it. Louts who might as well be clad in bearskins and wielding spears trample over every nicety developed over millennia to mark out a ritual of courtship as a prelude to sex: Not just marriage (that went years ago with the sexual revolution and the mass-marketing of the birth-control pill) or formal dating (the hookup culture finished that)—but amorous preliminaries and other civilities once regarded as elementary, at least among the college-educated classes.
Here is Max’s seduction technique: “ ‘So,’ he asked scooting in next to me. ‘Are you coming back with me tonight?’ ”
Here is how Courtney reacted: “Around 1:30, I told Tucker that I would, in fact, go home with him. ‘Oh, I know,’ he replied. ‘We have a cab waiting, let’s go.’ ”
It helps, of course, that there’s currently a buyer’s market in women who are up for just about anything with the right kind of cad, what with delayed marriage (the average age for a woman’s first wedding is now 26, compared with 20 in 1960, according to the University of Virginia-based National Marriage Project’s latest report); reliable contraception; and advances in antibiotics (no more worries about what used to be called venereal disease). No-fault divorce, moreover, has pushed the marriage-dissolution rate up to between 40 and 50 percent and swelled the single-female population with “cougars” in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond. On top of it all is the feminist-driven academic and journalistic culture celebrating that yesterday’s “loose” women are today’s “liberated” women, able to proudly “explore their sexuality” without “getting punished for their lust,” as the feminist writer Naomi Wolf put it in the Guardian in December.
Wolf devoted her 1997 book Promiscuities to trying to remove the stigma from . . . promiscuity. On the one hand, she decried the double-standard unfairness of labeling a girl who fools around with too many boys a “slut,” and, on the other, she lionized “the Slut” (her capitalization) as the enviable epitome of feminist freedom and feminist transgression against puritanical social norms. Wolf’s point of view is today mainstream. It’s the underlying theme of Eve Ensler’s girls-talk-dirty Vagina Monologues, performed every year on Valentine’s Day on college campuses across the country. A chapter from Promiscuities titled “Sluts” has made so many women’s studies reading lists that term-paper mills sell canned essays purporting to dissect it. A group calling itself the Women’s Direct Action Collective issued a manifesto in 2007 titled Sluts Against Rape insisting that “a woman should have the right to be sexual in any way she chooses” and that easy availability was “a positive assertion of sexual identity.” In other words, if people call you a whore because you, say, fall into bed with someone whose name you can’t quite remember, that’s their problem. Of course, if a man mistakes a woman being “sexual in any way she chooses” for consent to have sex, it’s still rape.
The same feminist academics pooh-pooh concerns about the long-term effects of the hookup culture, arguing that it’s essentially just a harmless college folly, akin to swallowing goldfish, which young women will outgrow after graduation with no lasting scars. As long as they take precautions against disease and pregnancy, the current wisdom goes, it might even be good for you: a sort of rumspringa for the non-Amish in which you get your girls-gone-wild urges out of your system before you settle down to have babies. Pepper Schwartz, a longtime sex columnist and a sociology professor at the University of Washington, told ABC News in November:
Before, guys did this gross kind of sexual behavior, and we said, “Boys will be boys,” but now it’s boys and girls. . . . It’s a period of flexing their muscles and they will look back and say, “Oh, God, what was I thinking?” They will have the permission I didn’t have in my generation to act out, get drunk at frat parties and hook up with somebody.
Schwartz seemed unaware that booze-fueled hooking-up lasts well beyond the frat-party years. Thanks to late marriage, easy divorce, and the well-paying jobs that the feminist revolution has wrought for women, the bars, clubs, sidewalks, and subway straps of nearly every urban center in America overflow every weekend with females, young and not so young, bronzed, blonded, teeth-whitened, and dressed in the maximal cleavage and minimal skirt lengths that used to be associated with streetwalkers but nowadays is standard garb for lawyers and portfolio managers on a girls’ night out. The prelude to the $50,000 wedding these days isn’t just the budget-busting shower—although that’s de rigueur—but the bachelorette party, in which the bride and her BFF’s don their skinnies and spaghetti straps and head to a bar to be hit on, sometimes bride and all, by whatever males are bold enough (the typical accoutrements of the bachelorette party are a $15 “ironic” veil for the bride and a sculpted replica of a male sex organ that’s often brought to the bar).
All this takes place to a basso profundo of feminist cheerleading. Wolf’s op-ed in the Guardian praised the uninhibited sexual “self-expression” of the four female leads in Sex and the City, especially the 40-something Samantha (hitting 50 in the 2008 movie), who, during the six seasons that the series ran, racked up nearly as many sex partners (41) as her three coleads combined—and Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte were no slouches themselves in the quickie department. “Did not thousands of young women . . . breathe a sigh of relief or even liberation watching Samantha down another tequila, unrepentantly ogle the sex god at the end of the bar, and get richer and more beautiful with age, with no STDs or furies pursuing her?,” Wolf gushed.
Urban life, furthermore, turns out to imitate Sex and the City. A survey reported in the New York Daily News around the time of the film’s release revealed that the typical female resident of Manhattan, who marries later on average than almost every other woman in the country, has 20 sex partners during her lifetime. By way of contrast, the median number of lifetime sex partners for all U.S. women ages 15 to 44 is just 3.3, according to the Census Bureau’s latest statistical abstract.
As might be expected, many males would like to help themselves at this overladen buffet. But there’s a problem: While it’s a truism that the main beneficiaries of the sexual revolution are men, it is only some men: the Tucker Maxes, with the good looks, self-confidence, and swagger that enable them to sidle up successfully to a gaggle of well turned-out females in a crowded and anonymous club where the short-statured, the homely, the paunchy, the balding, and the sweater-clad are, if not turned away outside by the bouncer, ignominiously ignored by the busy, beautiful people within.
Out of such anxiety was born the “seduction community,” part band of brothers, part nakedly commercial and ferociously competitive business enterprise. The birth of the seduction business coincided neatly with the sexual revolution: with the 1970 publication of sometime film editor Eric Weber’s bestselling manual (later made into a movie) How to Pick Up Girls. Left behind like flares, double-knits, and dancing the Bus Stop, the art of the pickup was reborn in the 1990s and rebranded as an exact science. A cadre of guru-like leaders appeared with a set of elaborate rites, precisely defined techniques, and an acronym-laden private language known only to initiates—purposely designed to appeal to men, whose minds seem to thrive on ritual, hierarchy, and complex esoterica (think baseball statistics, Scout badges, the military, the Catholic Mass, and the Freemasons).
A UCLA graduate and former comedy writer who calls himself Ross Jeffries devised a hypnosis-based technique he calls “neuro-linguistic programming” that formed the basis of his 1992 book, How to Get the Women You Desire Into Bed. Jeffries pioneered the coinage of distinctive seduction lingo—his most widely used neologism: “sarging,” named after his cat Sarge and meaning trolling the bars for desirable women—as well as the use of the Internet. His website, Speed Seduction, is going strong hawking CDs, DVDs, software tutorials, and personal coaching in pickup techniques. Jeffries’s commercial success launched a thousand imitators: Grow Your Game, Double Your Dating, Real Social Dynamics, Alpha Seduction, Seduction Base, Seduction Chronicles, Seduction Lair, Seduction Science, Blissnosis, and so forth. All the sites, many of them with chat rooms for seeking advice and trading conquest yarns, peddle self-help books, CDs, DVDs, and other merchandise. They all feature pictures of scantily clad supermodel-like females and the same acronym-laden jargon ultimately traceable to Jeffries: a “PUA” is a “pickup artist”; an “AFC” is an “average frustrated chump” who hasn’t paid a guru to learn how to be a PUA; an “HB” is a “hot babe”; an “IOI” is an HB’s “indicator of interest” in a PUA, such as leaning in his direction or “accidentally” brushing his hand.
Jeffries’s most famous pupil is a Canadian-born former stage magician called Erik James Horvat-Markovic who subsequently changed his name first to Erik von Markovik and later to just plain Mystery. Most would-be pickup mentors assume new names, perhaps to signify their new identities. Ross Jeffries’s real name is Paul Jeffrey Ross. David DeAngelo of Double Your Dating was born Eben Pagan. Real Social Dynamics’s Tyler Durden (after the character in the 1999 movie Fight Club) is actually named Owen Cook. (Durden coined the phrase “chick crack” in reference to astrology, palm-reading, spells, ESP, dream-analysis, handwriting analysis, personality tests, and other New Age-y preoccupations of females that make great openers for men willing to feign interest in them.) Mystery’s identity transformation was the most thorough, successful, and influential. His 2007 book, The Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women Into Bed, is probably the most widely read of the seduction manuals, and a Mystery-hosted reality series, The Pickup Artist, ran for two seasons on VH1 in 2007-08 (the show’s luster was somewhat diminished after it emerged that the winner of the first season’s get-the-girl sweepstakes was a professional actor instead of the video-game programmer that he said he was).
Mystery also pioneered the now-widely imitated weekend-long “workshops” or “boot camps” in hotels aimed at turning AFCs into PUAs nearly overnight. Attendees are shepherded to bars for hands-on experience by master-PUA “trainers” with their own pseudonymous monickers (Captain Jack, HiRoller, Keychain, and so forth). The boot camps aren’t cheap. Mystery’s website, Venusian Arts, doesn’t list prices, but the three-day workshops marketed by Venusian Arts’s top competitor, Love Systems—run by Nick Savoy (real name Nicholas Benedict), a business partner of Mystery’s until a nasty 2007 split—cost $2,997 apiece, with a $999 deposit. And buyer, beware: Although nearly all the master PUAs, including Mystery himself, insist that in their former lives they were socially hopeless geeks who had scarcely ventured within five feet of a nubile woman, many of the trainers, at least at Love Systems, have backgrounds in sales or show business and may not really resemble the introverted IT guys and cubicle nerds who seek their advice. Watching video-clips of workshops in session, with flashily attired mentors strutting and spurting acronyms in front of earnest pupils in search of arm candy will remind you of nothing so much as those all-day “Get Rich Buying Foreclosed Property for Pennies” seminars that target another male yearning.
In the late 1990s, Mystery developed a precise and exacting “algorithm” of moves and routines—pre-scripted lines to be practiced in the field—that are virtually guaranteed (according to Mystery at least) to lure a female into your bed after just seven hours in her company from a cold turkey meeting in a public place. And an ultra-good-looking female to boot. Mystery advises his readers not to bother with any female who rates lower than a 6 (“OK-looking,” in his parlance) on the 1 to 10 scale, while assuring them that if they follow his advice, they can readily score a “supermodel hot” 10. The fundamental strategy is to “demonstrate higher value” (DHV, another Mystery acronym), to appear so fascinating that the woman will want to prove her worthiness to you, not the other way around. You don’t buy her a drink; you offer to let her buy you one. You don’t give her your phone number; you get her to give you hers, in what Mystery calls a “number closing.” If she asks you what you do for a living, you don’t mention the drone desk job that you actually hold down; you tell her you “repair disposable razors” (the choice of a Mystery disciple). You “peacock” (yet another Mystery coinage), which means donning outlandish, attention-grabbing attire. Mystery’s signature peacocking wardrobe includes a black fur bucket hat and matching black nail polish and eyeliner. On The Pickup Artist, he sported a seemingly inexhaustible supply of exotic headgear and man-baubles.
Mystery, Savoy, and Durden were leading characters in Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss’s 2005 bestseller The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. The book, packaged to look like a King James Bible with an oversize imitation-leather cover and Manga-inspired illustrations, is half self-promotion (Strauss, a self-described former dork who shaved his head, Lasiked his eyes, and took up the name Style after he joined with Mystery, runs his own web-based seduction business, Stylelife Academy) and half chronicle—a monotonous chronicle—of his nightly sarging adventures while living in a pickup-artist group house near Sunset Strip through which drifted an endless string of sordid-if-great-looking strippers, porn stars, model wannabes, and other female inhabitants of the Hollywood demimonde, including Courtney Love at the tag end of her career in between drug-rehab stays. The book’s high point comes when one of the housemates persuades Paris Hilton to give him her phone number at a taco stand.
If it all sounds cheesy, tedious, manipulative, obvious, condescending to women, maybe kind of gay, it’s because it is. But here’s the rub: This stuff works. If you think men who peacock look ridiculous and unmanly, click onto the photo-website Hot Chicks With Douchebags, where spectacular-looking babes hang on the pecs of preening rednecks and “Jersey Shore”-style guidos sporting chest-baring shirts and product-stiffened fauxhawks. Watch the video “Learn Enough Guitar to Get Laid” on YouTube (three chords, max). In June 2005, Craig Malisow, a reporter for the Houston Press, trailed 24-year-old Bashev, a Bulgarian-born graduate student in engineering at Rice University and self-styled pickup expert, to a series of bars and clubs in Houston. Bashev had no intention of telling the 20-something HBs he met that his day job consisted of working with multivariable calculus. Instead he pointed to his shoes and informed them that he was a “foot model.” Then he launched into his canned opener: Did they think reality shows were “really real”? Sure, two groups of females on whom Bashev tried that line rolled their eyes and smirked, but three bars (and the same routine) later, he was relaxing in a lounge chair reading a shapely brunette’s palm (chick crack plus “kino,” a Mystery-ism that refers to getting a woman to crave your touch), and soon enough “her fingers were gently grasping the backs of his wrists,” Malisow observed. Within minutes, Bashev had not only number-closed but gotten a date for the following Wednesday.
Pickup mentors are relying, consciously or sub, on the principles of evolutionary psychology, which uses Darwinian theory to account for human traits and practices. Robert Wright introduced the reading public to evolutionary psychology in his 1994 book, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are. He summarized what biologists had observed in the field: that among animals—and especially among our closest relatives, the great apes—males often fight each other for females and so the most dominant, or “alpha,” male has access to the most desirable, and perhaps all, of the females. But it’s the female of the species who ultimately makes the choice as to which member of the pack she will deem the alpha male. “Females are choosy in all the great ape species,” Wright wrote. He also noted that, for example, a female gorilla will be faithful—forced into fidelity, actually—to a single dominant male, but she will willingly desert him for a rival male who impresses her with his superior dominance by fighting with her mate. That’s because, as Darwin postulated, evolution isn’t merely a matter of survival of the fittest but also of the replication of the fittest, “selfish genes,” in the words of neo-Darwinian Richard Dawkins. Driven by instinctual desire for offspring, male primates chase fertile females so they can replicate themselves, while female primates choose strong males on the basis of survival traits to be passed on to young ones.
Evolutionary psychologists like David Buss in The Evolution of Desire (1994) and Geoffrey Miller in The Mating Mind (2000) have elaborated on these theories, arguing that the human brain itself, with its capacity for consciousness, reasoning, and artistic creation, evolved as an entertainment device for male hominids competing to impress the females in the pack. Dennis Dutton’s new book, The Art Instinct, makes much the same argument. Evolutionary psychologists postulate that the same physical and psychological drives prevail among modern humans: Men, eager for replication, are naturally polygamous, while women are naturally monogamous—but only until a man they perceive as of higher status than their current mate comes along. Hypergamy—marrying up, or, in the absence of any constrained linkage between sex and marriage, mating up—is a more accurate description of women’s natural inclinations. Long-term monogamy—one spouse for one person at one time—may be the most desirable condition for ensuring personal happiness, accumulating property, and raising children, but it is an artifact of civilization, Western civilization in particular. In the view of many evolutionary psychologists, long-term monogamy is natural for neither men nor women.
All of this is obviously pure speculation, if imaginatively rendered and bolstered by anthropological observations of hunter-gatherer societies today. Furthermore, there is a troubling chicken-or-egg circularity in evolutionary psychology arguments: How did the female hominids know the males were trying to entertain them unless their own brains were sufficiently evolved to appreciate the effort? You can’t get a gorilla to recognize Mozart or a cave painting. It’s equally easy to laugh out loud at a 2007 interview Mystery gave to Salon in which he asserted that a woman’s scratching the back of her hand when a man talks to her is an “Indicator of Interest” because “[T]hat area of the hand gets itchy when a girl is attracted to a man from ape days, you know—it means, ‘Groom me.’ ” Yet evolutionary psychology offers a persuasive explanation for many things that we are supposed to pretend are culturally conditioned: that the natures of men and women are fundamentally different and that, pace Naomi Wolf and the cougar-empowerment movement, women don’t get sexier as they get older, at least not in the eyes of the man sitting on the next barstool. Youth and beauty are markers of fertility. As Mystery wrote in his book, it may be sexist to say out loud, but women are well aware “that their social value can be rated largely on their looks” or they wouldn’t devote so many hours to toning muscles and adjusting makeup.
Evolutionary psychology also provides support for a truth universally denied: Women crave dominant men. And it seems that where men are forbidden to dominate in a socially beneficial way—as husbands and fathers, for example—women will seek out assertive, self-confident men whose displays of power aren’t so socially beneficial. This game of sexual Whack-a-Mole is played regularly these days in a culture that, starting with children’s schoolbooks and moving up through films and television, targets as oppressors and mocks as bumblers the entire male sex.
It’s increasingly common for women to air their husbands’ perceived faults to both their friends and the general public. There is now an entire blog, My Husband Is Annoying, in which an anonymous wife and her guests post pictures of the schlubs they married and freely criticize their beards, sleeping habits, irritating questions, and dopey poses in photos. Slate’s Hanna Rosin called her husband a “kitchen bitch” because he had dared to cook dinner from a recipe that she wanted to try herself. The Atlantic’s Sandra Tsing Loh, going through a divorce because she found her husband less romantic than her adulterous lover, detailed the personal and sexual failings of her friends’ spouses—in print. New York Times columnist Judith Warner last year wrote about a friend who told her that she wished she were Michelle Obama, married to the president instead of to her own husband, whom she was “tempted to throttle.” And these are not the hardcore feminists.
Not surprisingly, given that “head of the household” is a phrase that cannot be uttered in today’s egalitarian homes, many women satisfy their yearning for dominance by throwing themselves at bad boys or even worse. The very day, March 17, 2005, that Scott Peterson—sentenced to death in California for killing his wife and unborn son and throwing their remains into San Francisco Bay—took up residence on San Quentin’s death row, he received three-dozen phone calls from smitten women, including an 18-year-old who wanted to become his second wife. According to an April story in People, Peterson is still being flooded with letters from female admirers almost five years later, many of the mash notes containing checks to pay for his commissary charges. That’s par for the course on death row, where the rule is: The more notorious the killer, the more fan mail and marriage proposals. The most fan-mail-saturated killer in San Quentin is Richard Allen Davis, who in 1993 kidnapped 12-year-old Polly Klaas at knifepoint from her home in Petaluma, Calif., killed her, and buried her in a shallow grave.
Infatuation with killers is extreme and rare behavior (although perhaps not so rare as we imagine—this past summer a 16-year-old Virginia girl developed an online crush on a 20-year-old horrorcore enthusiast who called himself “Syko Sam.” Syko Sam is now awaiting trial for allegedly bludgeoning the girl, her parents, and her best friend to death). But it’s a fair signal of impending social chaos when the prevailing female attitude is dissatisfaction, either mild or intense, with the workaday Joes—the good-provider beta males—whom one has already married or, in the era before the sexual and feminist revolutions, would be planning to marry because chasing alphas in bars was not a respectable option for the female middle class.
Wives have historically reported less satisfaction from their marriages than husbands, but according to the National Marriage Project’s latest report, their discontent is growing: fewer than 60 percent of wives report that they are “very happy” in their marriages, in contrast to more than 66 percent in 1973. (Male marital happiness has declined, too: from 70 percent to 63 percent.) “Women initiate two-thirds of divorces,” W. Bradford Wilcox, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, told me.
With no-fault divorce since the 1960s, that can be divorce for no reason at all. The reasons wives divorce their husbands can be legitimate or illegitimate—adultery and abuse or lack of intimacy, growing apart, or having found someone more exciting. And because it’s no-fault divorce even when there might be actual fault, the spouse left behind is often treated unjustly in dividing income and property, and frequently regarding custody of the children.
Perhaps for that reason, or perhaps because sex outside marriage is now so readily available no one need buy the cow, the percentage of married people ages 35 to 44 has declined precipitously over the last 40 years: from 88 percent of men and 87 percent of women in 1960 to 66 percent of men and 67 percent of women in 2005. Since first marriages after age 45—when a woman’s fertile years are finished—are statistically rare, almost everyone who is ever going to marry is already married by that age. The percentage of children growing up in fatherless families—a chief risk factor for social pathologies—has risen concomitantly: from 9 percent of all households with children in 1960 to 26 percent today. On the plus side of the ledger, these negative trends don’t affect the college-educated as severely. College-educated women have significantly higher rates of marriage and lower rates of divorce than women without college degrees. The bad news is that such women, who tend to marry late, have far fewer children. In 2004, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, 24 percent of women ages 40 to 44 with bachelor’s degrees were childless, in contrast to 10 percent of women without a high school diploma. Marriage is slowly becoming a preserve of the elite, who pay a price in severely reduced fertility.
In The Mating Mind, Geoffrey Miller wrote:
Our ancestors probably had their first sexual experiences soon after reaching sexual maturity. They would pass through a sequence of relationships of varying durations over the course of a lifetime. Some relationships might have lasted no more than a few days. . . . Many Pleistocene mothers probably had boyfriends. But each woman’s boyfriend may not have been the father of any of her offspring. . . . Males may have given some food to females and their offspring, and may have defended them from other men, but . . . anthropologists now view much of this behavior more as courtship effort than paternal investment.
That’s a pretty fair description of mating life today in the urban underclass and the meth-lab culture of rural America. Take away the offspring, blocked by the Pill and ready abortion, and it’s also a pretty fair description of today’s prolonged singles scene. In other words, we have met the Stone Age, and it is us.
Living in the New Paleolithic can be hard on women, many of whom party on merrily until they reach age 30 and then panic. “They’re at the peak of their beauty in their early 20s—they’re luscious—but the guys their age don’t look as good, so they say to themselves: ‘Why do I want to get married?,’ ” notes Kay Hymowitz, a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, who is writing a book about the singles crisis. “Then they get to age 28, 29, and their fertility goes down and they’re not quite so luscious. But the guys their age are starting to make money, they look better, they’ve got self-assurance, and they’ve also got the pick of the 23-year-olds.”
Some argue, though, that it is actually beta men who are the greatest victims of the current mating chaos: the ones who work hard, act nice, and find themselves searching in vain for potential wives and girlfriends among the hordes of young women besotted by alphas. That is the underlying message of what is undoubtedly the most deftly written and also the darkest of the seduction-community websites, the blog Roissy in DC. Unlike his confreres, Roissy does not sell books or boot camps, and his site carries no ads. He also blogs anonymously, or at least tries to. (Purported photos of Roissy circulating on the Internet show a tall unshaven man in his late 30s with piercing blue eyes and good, if somewhat dissolute, looks.) The pseudonym Roissy derives from the chateau that was the setting for sadomasochistic orgies in The Story of O, the French pornographic classic of the 1960s which featured a beautiful young woman who couldn’t get enough of being violated and flagellated by masterful men. Roissy maintains that he is not an S&M-fetishist but picked the pseudonym because “chicks dig power.”
His blog combines Darwinian analysis, harshly hilarious commentary about the current erotic landscape (one entry guffaws at the chin-pulling psychiatrists who diagnosed Tiger Woods’s “romp through a battalion of trashy, deluded babes who thought they would be the next Mrs. Woods” as a sign that Woods needed to “get help”); graphically raw accounts (be forewarned!) of Roissy’s own pickup adventures in the singles-packed neighborhoods north of Washington’s Dupont Circle; features such as “Girlfriend or Fling?” in which readers look at photos of females and decide whether any of them is worth a second date, and a sense of impending social meltdown as the family crumbles and beta men are increasingly denied access to women.
His post for the last D-Day anniversary, titled “Then and Now,” consisted of two photographs demonstrating women’s changing perception of what constituted an alpha male: a tough and battle-weary GI circa 1944 who looked as though he had just scaled the cliffs of the Pointe du Hoc and a particularly epicene-looking Mystery from his VH1 show, “peacocking” with eyeliner, soul patch, and goggles on top of his head. Roissy’s blog is an unflinching look at female nature at its very worst: the acquisitiveness, the narcissism, the self-absorption, the selfishness, the superficiality, the brainlessness, the wayward lust as powerful as any man’s.
Roissy’s deliberately outrageous posts are a source of controversy. In a write-up on George Sodini, the man who shot up a gym near Pittsburgh last August, killing 3 women before turning the gun on himself, Roissy contended that Sodini, whose diary revealed that he had not had sex for 20 years before the incident, was simply a frustrated beta barred access to women by the sexual/feminist revolution and that “anything was justified” to avoid the “walking death” of celibacy. In other words, Sodini was a hapless victim of the sexual revolution.
Earlier that year Roissy got into an online contretemps with Conor Friedersdorf, a frequent guest-blogger for Andrew Sullivan, over the “neg,” a pickup artist tactic that involves teasing an especially attractive woman about her looks instead of complimenting them, on the theory that she probably gets so many compliments that she brushes them off. It’s an updated version of Lord Chesterfield’s dictum to his son that “a decided and conscious beauty looks upon every tribute paid to her beauty only as her due, but wants to shine and to be considered on the side of her understanding.” Friedersdorf, however, declared that the negger’s intention “is to reduce her self-esteem, or even worse to play on her insecurities with the knowledge that some women react to that technique by having sex or hooking up as a coping mechanism.” Roissy responded by making fun of Friedersdorf’s name.
If Roissy has anything resembling a mentor, it is F. Roger Devlin. Trained as a political philosopher—he has a doctorate from Tulane—Devlin holds no academic post, and his oeuvre, besides a published version of his doctoral thesis on Alexandre Kojève, consists of a series of essays and reviews concerning relations between the sexes for the Occidental Quarterly, a paleoconservative publication whose other contributors tend to focus obsessively on the question of which ethnic groups belong to which race. The dubious nature of the venue aside, Devlin deftly uses theories of evolutionary psychology to argue that the sexual revolution was essentially aimed at restoring primate-style hypergamy to human females and freeing women to try to capture the attention of and mate with the alpha males of their choosing instead of remaining chaste until their early marriage to a decent and hard-working beta (only the very best looking young women stood a chance of snagging an alpha in the old days).
“The sexual revolution in America was an attempt by women to realize their own [hypergamous] utopia, not that of men,” Devlin wrote. Beta men become superfluous until the newly liberated women start double-clutching after years in the serial harems of alphas who won’t “commit,” lower their standards, and “settle.” During this process, monogamy as a stable and civilization-maintaining social institution is shattered. “Monogamy is a form of sexual optimization,” Devlin told me. “It allows as many people who want to get married to do so. Under monogamy, 90 percent of men find a mate at least once in their life.” This isn’t necessarily so anymore in today’s chaotic combination of polygamy for lucky alphas, hypergamy in varying degrees for females depending on their sex appeal, and, at least in theory, large numbers of betas left without mates at all—just as it is in baboon packs. The aim of Mystery-style game is to give those betas better odds.
In a series of interviews, Devlin declined to disclose his own marital status or lack thereof. Nonetheless, in an email to me concerning the disinclination of many of today’s career- and sex-chasing young women to learn, say, how to bake an apple pie to please their husbands, he wrote: “My own experience with pies is limited to buying Tastykakes at Seven-Eleven.” That suggests either nonexistent or unpleasant domestic arrangements which may in turn explain why Devlin’s writing about the feminist and sexual revolutions frequently shades from the refreshingly politically incorrect into the disturbingly punitive.
Devlin may be spot-on when he writes, “The female sexual revolution, as typified by Helen Gurley Brown of Cosmo, amounted to a program of getting women to follow all their worst instincts” or “Part of the folk wisdom of all ages and peoples has been that sexual attraction is an inadequate basis for matrimony.” Yet his review of Wendy Shalit’s 2007 Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to Be Good was a merciless evisceration of an author who is on his side, at least insofar as urging her sisters toward sexual restraint and the selection of mates based on criteria other than alpha allure.
Devlin took Shalit to task for implying that young women are essentially the innocent prey of vulpine men who have taken advantage of the sexual revolution as a means of “pressuring” them to surrender their virtue and that in order for young women to recover their “self-esteem,” they ought to hold out for a man who “proves his worthiness.” Devlin argued, perhaps correctly, that Shalit’s position amounted to a socially conservative inversion of the boilerplate feminist view of women as passive victims of evil males who “use” them, evidencing a blindness to women’s responsibility for their all-too-frequent complicity in the seduction scenarios that both feminists and social conservatives decry. Girls Gone Mild, obviously pitched to a youthful readership and couched in a upbeat women’s magazine tone, might have come across as simplistic and overly romanticizing of a fragile-flower female sex. Yet Devlin was so unwilling to give Shalit any quarter—and so eager to heap 100 percent of the blame on women for the current sexual chaos—that he went so far as to declare, “Men do not have to prove their worthiness to anybody.” Really? Anybody?
The word misogyny does come to mind here (men get a free pass but women don’t). Nonetheless, his writings—and those of many of the self-styled alpha bloggers who have taken up his theories—can also be read as cris de coeur. Underlying the bravado is a deep and understandable anger on the part of many men at having to live through the sexual and familial wreckage of the New Paleolithic.
A Washington, D.C., player-blogger who calls himself Roosh (you can subscribe to his Game Tips Newsletter: “7 Tips for Incredible First Dates,” “How to Pick Up Girls in Coffee Shops,” etc.) put up a post in November that he titled “Single Women Who Purposely Have Children Are Committing Crimes Against Humanity.” It was essentially a lament about Roosh’s own childhood growing up without a father at home:
My parents divorced when I was 8, and for the next twelve years or so I visited my dad two nights a week. So when I got out of college, I was only 30% man. . . . Unfortunately many guys have been raised by their fathers but they might as well be fatherless—their dads didn’t teach them s—, sometimes because they didn’t quite know how to be a man themselves. This has happened because Western society has not demanded that men act like men.
The comments section to that post was an echo chamber of rage and sadness: “My dad was largely absent from my upbringing—he was a checkbook, not a presence.” “My dad was an alpha, and due to his philandering my parents divorced when I was 5. I never saw my dad once after that.” Not surprisingly, the “seduction community,” at least as it manifests itself in blog comments on seduction websites, skews heavily toward divorced men still furious at their ex-wives and single young men whose experience with absent or feminism-cowed fathers, or with young women who have not deemed them sufficiently exciting, has made them cynical about all relationships with the opposite sex.
Roissy often writes of a coming “apocalypse,” a thorough collapse of civilization thanks to the stalling of its reproductive matrix (wonderful for him as a sensualist, catastrophic for everyone else). Right now marriage as an institution is still reasonably intact—but mostly for the demographically shrinking educated classes. The decision to halt the advance of the New Paleolithic ultimately lies with women, the mate-choosing sex, just as it lay with women to bring the hypergamous sexual revolution into being. What are the chances of that? “Women have been told for so long that it doesn’t matter what they do [sexually],” one of Roissy’s regular commenters, an Ottawa historian who goes by the online name of Alias Clio, said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think [the female sexual free-for-all] has been good for women, but it’s what they’ve chosen. And it’s always hard for women to see beyond the personal level.”
Roissy himself, although arguably the most jaded of all the seduction bloggers, is actually a closet moralist who longs for the more constrained past when women dressed modestly (“Girlfriend or Fling?” is all about the kind of clothing and bearing that mark a girl as a “pump-and-dump”), refrained from swearing like sailors, stayed out of men’s beds (except his!), and generally conducted themselves like wife-and-mother material (although he says he has no intention of getting married himself).
“The best way to get a man to propose marriage is to be a virgin,” Roissy wrote in one of his posts. As a poster child for everything that has gone wrong with the monogamy-based family structure that underlay the flourishing of the West, Roissy singled out one of his regular female commenters, a 28-year-old former bar dancer who calls herself Lady Raine and who on her MySpace page posted photos of herself in derriere- and tattoo-revealing attire alongside a photo of the 6-year-old son she bore out of wedlock to an alcoholic ne’er-do-well. Besides reposting the photos, Roissy taunted Lady Raine as “Single Mom” and told her that her son, whose sole exposure to adult men seemed to be her parade of boyfriends, would likely grow up either gay or a sociopath. (In retaliation, Lady Raine outed Roissy, posting his name and place of employment on her own blog—although Roissy maintained in an email to me that it was all an “experiment” in “identity borrowing.”)
The whole point of the sexual and feminist revolutions was to obliterate the sexual double standard that supposedly stood in the way of ultimate female freedom. The twin revolutions obliterated much more, but the double standard has reemerged in a harsher, crueler form: wreaking havoc on beta men and on beta women, too, who, as the declining marriage rate indicates, have trouble finding and securing long-term mates in a supply-saturated short-term sexual marketplace. Gorgeous alpha women fare fine—for a few years until the younger competition comes of age. But no woman, alpha or beta, seems able to escape the atavistic preference of men both alpha and beta for ladylike and virginal wives (the Darwinist explanation is that those traits are predictors of marital fidelity, assuring men that the offspring that their spouses bear are theirs, too). And every aspect of New Paleolithic mating culture discourages the sexual restraint once imposed on both sexes that constituted a firm foundation for both family life and civilization.
A week after Courtney A. posted her story about her one-night stand with Tucker Max, he posted a surprisingly kind and courteous response that also happened to make it clear what young women need to do:
Courtney, I know you’re only 21, so that explains a lot, but baby, please understand: We all reap what we sow. . . . I’m sure there are a lot of guys who will be sweet and gentle with you in bed and really pay attention to your needs, but the guys you come out to sport f— probably won’t be among them. . . . I told her I wanted to eventually settle down and have kids. I do. Maybe not now, but soon enough that I think about it now. Of course, traveling around the country f—ing all kinds of college girls who throw themselves at me probably doesn’t help.
No, it probably doesn’t.
Charlotte Allen, a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s Minding the Campus website, is writing her doctoral dissertation in medieval and Byzantine studies.