Dating coaches often see dating as a game. Is this a useful approach? ‘Well, yes and no!’ says sex-positive activist and writer Clarisse Thorn, one critic of the date coaching and pick up artist scene. But what might positive psychology make of Clarisse Thorn’s approach?
The rise of the dating coach
The dating coach not only coaches but also teaches techniques to help people to improve their success in dating and relationships. Why is there such a demand of this?
• Some make fail to understand how dating works and need to get their social life re-started. What do I need to do? How can I meet new people?
• Others lack self-confidence and need to improve their self-image. It is amazing how being confident actually makes you more attractive.
• Those who need to develop their social skills often lack awareness of what they are doing that puts others off. Perhaps they come over as too desperate or as afraid of commitment.
Writing books about tips for guys picking up girls was popularised in 2005 by Neil Strause’s best selling book The Game.
Can it be helpful to see dating as a ‘game’?
The idea of treating dating as a game may be shocking to some. Positive psychologists are aware that a number of researchers distinguish between different styles of love including what John A Lee in Colours of Love called Ludos.
“Ludos is a game of love.” explains Ilona Boniwell in Positive Psychology in a Nutshell. “It’s pleasant and shallow, based not on commitment but on mutual enjoyment. The partner is not and does not need to be unique.” It is this love style of Ludos that Straus is focusing on.
Many have found Straus’s self-help tips useful in reducing social anxiety but they do appear sometimes sexist and of dubious morality as the main aim appeared to be to help get to sleep with the girl rather than build a genuine relationship. So I was interested to also see this approach critiqued from a female viewpoint by Clarisse Thorn.
Clarisse Thorn’s criticisms of dating coaches
Clarisse Thorn sees pick up artists as often sexist and stupid but sometimes, she says, they get it right. These are some of her criticisms:
• She opposes the sexism and any exploitation or oppression of women that she sees in the scene.
• Some pick-up artists of course learn these techniques to be manipulative pleasure seekers. She is particular critical of teaching men techniques that attempt to get a girl to have sex when she has clearly said ‘No’.
• Also a lot of pick up artists and dating coaches have an adversarial view of relationships that tend to stereotype gender roles. Clarisse Thorn’s would take a feminist viewpoint as opposed to those, such as David Deida, who call for a rediscovery of more traditional masculinity and femininity.
Where Clarisse Thorn says dating coaches get it right
Despite being such a critic of this area she is also fascinated by it. She sees a number of areas where pick up artists give some very sound advice.
She likes the idea of not being obsessed with ‘getting the girl’. She notices the insightful observation made by pick up artists that a guy who is not overly anxious about success is more attractive.
She also liked the way that being coached in picking up girls gets men aware of non-verbal communication including when women are consenting non-verbally and by implication when they are not.
She has criticised the techniques in The Game as fake and deceptive but she acknowledges there is a theme of authenticity running in the background. In his later book Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead Strause develops this further talking about being true to yourself and making your actions congruent with your internal self.
What might Positive Psychology make of her approach?
There is much to commend it
Clarisse Thorn’s approach to the dating game does appear to resonate with many ideas in positive psychology.
This is not surprising as she describes herself as a sex-positive activist. Sex positivity is “an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, and encourages sexual pleasure and experimentation.”
Clarisse Thorn sees sex in a very positive light as something wonderful that if approached well can be extremely good for you. Her major proviso is that it must be consensual.
Clarisse Thorn emphasises the importance of a mutually beneficial approach to dating. She advocates thinking about the experience of your partner and enjoying the ‘game’ of developing a relationship together, framing this love style very positively indeed.
Clarisse Thorn’s Sex Positive approach also emphasises pushing the boundaries of sexuality into S&M, bondage and even into polyamory – open relationships with multiple partners. Martin Seligman – one of the founders of positive psychology – appears skeptical of such approaches to relationships bringing lasting happiness.
Seligman’s approach to happiness is to promote secure romantic relationships. He sees developing long term relationships characterised with a secure attachment as one key to happiness and he assumes that such secure relationships are fully monogamous. He also sees marriage as a positive institution that is important to support.
In Authentic Happiness Seligman writes “Secure people avoid one night stands and they don’t think sex without love is very enjoyable.”
Seligman doesn’t explicitly say that the sort of sexual experimentation Clarisse Thorn is into is unhelpful in secure relationship but he does make the interesting observation that often “anxious women get involved in exhibitionism, voyeurism and bondage”.
It looks like more research by positive psychologists is needed in these areas.
So what is a positive approach to the dating game?
For those lacking in confidence, who don’t know where to start or who want to start or re-start dating there is much to learn from dating coaches and pick up artists.
These techniques can work well in the initial stages of a relationship but keep in mind the goal of building a long term committed relationship. This, according to positive psychology, is the way to happiness.
You can read more of Clarisse Thorn’s articles on the following sites:
The Good Men Project - “The Good Men Project is a glimpse of what enlightened masculinity might look like in the 21st century”.