Sunday, January 23, 2011

PUA and Social Anxiety

Over at Feministe the topic of PUAs came up with the suggestion that a significant number of the men* who turn to the PUA community do so because it offers a comprehensive solution to a problem with social anxiety where, I would guess, the focal point of pain (the thing that is pushing the social anxious guy to get help) is a desire to connect with either a romantic or sexual partner.  For these particular men, I think gender theory might be helpful and so when one of the guy commentors asked for help, I decided to put together some thoughts.

First, some assumptions to avoid derailing:

(1) Sex is a morally neutral act.**  It goes in the same category as things like drinking lemonade or wearing pointy shoes.  Some people like it, some don’t.  Similarly, there is a wide array of different things people do sexually all of which are also morally neutral.  In short, I don’t have any opinion on whether or what variety of sex you enjoy.

(2) People are substantially the same regardless of gender.  In some ways we’ve been socialized differently.  But we are all humans seeking essentially the same things: safety, comfort, and connection.

(3) People have equivalent value.  I’m not going to argue on this one.  If you think one person is more valuable or worthy as an absolute metric (rather than a point of preference) than another…we have nothing to talk about.

At a cursory glance the PUA community would seem to offer people with social anxiety a method to connect to other people.  Follow these specific steps and you’ll be able to talk to, date, have sex with a woman.  But many of the steps the PUA strategies suggest are laced with the implication that who you are is not good enough, not manly enough, not okay. 

That simply isn’t true.

You are a person.  Yes, you have flaws and quirks.  Believe it or not, your flaws and quirks are very likely no worse or weirder than anyone else’s.  You probably sometimes perform gender in socially unapproved ways.  We all do…the socially approved ways of being manly or feminine don’t actually fit any human being.  These things about you don’t need to change in order to connect with other people.  Moreover, working through social anxiety is not about putting on a mask and pretending to be someone else.  It requires something much more difficult – accepting that what you feel is intrinsically wrong with you isn’t wrong or bad. 

Sometimes you can do that on your own through self reflection, sometimes you need help.  There are lots of support forums on the internet for people with social anxiety, but there is also self-hypnosis (which I’m a big fan of for anxiety) and therapy.  It’s not unmanly to seek help.  If you want your life to be different, you have to have the courage to try.  This is the elephant in the room in the PUA forums.  They help may help you nominally connect with another person, but they don’t help you overcome the underlying problem.

Instead of dealing with the anxiety PUAs use it.

There are two big ways people overcome fear.  You can devalue the thing you’re afraid or you can try to connect with the thing you are afraid of.  When we dehumanize someone by using insulting them or deriding them (calling them “hos” or “targets”), we’re trying to overcome fear through dominance.  Essentially saying I’m not afraid of you because you don’t matter, I am in control.  This isn’t just a technique that you can use and throw away.  It’s pervasive.  And it pervades the PUA community.

The alternative is connection.  You can see that the thing you’re afraid of isn’t all that scary because it’s just like you.  And you aren’t scary.  So there is no reason to be afraid.  Anthropomorphizing things is probably the easiest example to understand.  We anthropomorphize dangerous animals for example because doing so makes us feel less afraid.

So instead of thinking of the woman at the bar as a “target,” you could think of her as a person who once had the hiccups for a whole day, a person whose mother yells at her at least once a week for being a failure, a person who sometimes does or says the wrong thing, a person who cannot remember to turn off the light when she leaves the room, a person…with just as many flaws and quirks as you who is also looking for the same types of things…comfort, safety and connection. 

Those I think are the major pitfalls of the PUA community.  There are others.  I think PUAs stink at teaching about non-verbal cues and at helping people overcome fear of rejection.  The evopsych they use to explain human action makes absolutely no sense and explains why their human psychology is all off.  But I think all of those problems stem from these two things: not addressing the source of the problem and trying to forge a connection based on dehumanization.

If you want to talk about related things feel free, but please keep in mind that comments are moderated and since its not really a blog, I don’t check them all the time so there may be a delay.

*My understanding is that the PUA community is structured for cis het men, but I think the discussion that follows is relevant regardless of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

**Sex is neutral.  Rape is not.  It should go without saying that any discussion of sex implies consent…but over many years I’ve learned that isn’t the case.  So I’m saying it.  Sex requires consent.

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