Illustration by Mike Force

DID YOU KNOW there is a formal subculture based around men picking up women? You might if you've read Neil Strauss' memoir/handbook The Game, or watched VH1's reality show The Pickup Artist, both about the exploits and wisdom of the self-described "seduction community," men who have mapped out sexual attraction in terms of strategy: how to look, what to say, and how to say it to get women into bed. I wanted to know who these men were, why they did what they did, and how many of them were in Portland. So I sought a few of them out.

INTRO TO SEDUCTION

Vince Vallejo is not what I expected. Charming and boyish, the 29-year-old creator of PDXLair, Portland's foremost online hub for pickup artists (or PUAs), definitely didn't look like he had just crawled out of his mother's basement when he met me in the Lloyd Center parking lot. Dressed sharply in a leather jacket, jeans, and a T-shirt with a single, superfluous zipper, Vallejo has a meticulously sculpted flair about him.

Though his house is in Boring, Vallejo spends a lot of time in the city working at his full-time job of teaching and lecturing men on the art of seduction. We sit in one of the mall's furnished alcoves, and he describes to me his history with pickup. Hopeless with girls in high school, a younger Vallejo devoured tapes by self-empowerment guru Anthony Robbins. He made the natural progression to books by David DeAngelo and Ross Jeffries (the alleged inspiration for Tom Cruise's character in Magnolia), men who've been giving seminars on confidence and seduction for years.

After two years of study it was time to put what he'd read to practice by club hopping with a friend Vallejo calls "Caveman."

"We were going out to McFadden's, and Caveman was taking girls, within seconds of meeting them, outside the club and fucking them on the waterfront. [I thought], 'This guy's either the biggest perv in the world, or he's just a predator, or he's doing something right!' You can sleep with a girl within frickin' half an hour of meeting her, and you can be making out with her within five minutes. I mean there are really no limits."

Building on Caveman's lack of inhibition and what he had read, Vallejo developed a subtler, more complex school of thought. Rejecting the canned pickup lines taught by PUAs like VH1's Mystery, the basis of what he teaches is "inner game": approaching women from a place of confidence and power.

"When I interact with a woman, I don't worry about the lines. The number-one thing that I'm doing is throwing stuff out there and seeing what kind of response I get. It's best to always make statements, because questions come from a needy frame. You're basically calibrating at every moment, looking for little indicators that she's interested in you, and if you can push things a step further.

"One of the beliefs that I have when I go to [downtown Portland club] Dirty or wherever is that when a girl rejects me I never actually get rejected. I just discover if she has good taste," he says.

I ask Vallejo if treating courtship like a strategy game is disingenuous. Meeting a girl is like a job interview, he says. You're not becoming a different you by putting on a suit and tie, "You're just bringing out the best version of you for that situation."

What if someone accuses of you being a misogynist?

He laughs. "Would a woman be saying this, or a guy? To be honest with you I've never had that happen. I don't ever think it will happen. If you're in the game to give a girl fulfillment as well as get it, there's nothing bad about that in my opinion. There's not an imbalance. You're working toward the same end."

The term "pickup artist" has the wrong connotations, Vallejo tells me. It's degrading to women and carries too much ego with it. In the end, what he teaches is as much about giving women pleasure as receiving it.

"One of the [famous PUAs] said, 'It is a privilege for a woman to be picked up by a pickup artist,' and it really is! If you're a pickup artist then you really know your stuff and you really are going to give her a great time!"

As we leave the mall, Vallejo describes to me the games he and his wingmen play when they go out—betting money on who can get the most phone numbers in a night. He promises to take me with him the next time he goes clubbing.

TIPS AND TRICKS

It's a month before I hear from Vallejo again. Our club-hopping field trip will have to be postponed because he is busy right now with his lectures, one of which I am invited to attend.

The lecture takes place at the Awakenings Wellness Center, a house that's been converted into a teaching space primarily used by yoga instructors and massage therapists. Under a painted portrait of water goddesses, I help Vallejo set up folding chairs among the weights and yoga mats. Hotels don't rent their lecture halls after dark, he explains.

The atmosphere is genial and lively as the students arrive: a Bill Gates ringer in his late 30s, two college kids, a middle-aged man with a goatee and a porkpie hat, and an older guy in tight jeans and Beatle boots.

"We're not gonna break the mats out?" asks one as we make our way toward the circle of chairs.

"That'll be for a later session. When we have willing female participants," chuckles the older guy. "Advanced techniques."

The six of us sit and Vallejo begins, starting with the same personal history he told me, and leading into the Caveman anecdotes I'd heard about fucking girls on the waterfront. ("Some of them were pretty nasty, but the lesson's still there.") Then comes a new story. At the end of a luckless night out, Vallejo and Caveman spot a woman walking through Chinatown alone. Caveman proceeds to stand in the middle of the crosswalk with his dick hanging out. When the woman doesn't immediately run away, he invites her back to the car... where Vallejo is waiting, and a threesome occurs. It's a brazen technique that Vallejo admits is dangerous. "But when it comes to women, you can't be limited by your own beliefs."

After this introduction it's time for some lessons in "inner game." Because all women are different, Vallejo stresses, the way you hold yourself is more important than what you say. The seductive power of confidence is "like making money while you sleep."

"Say you like UFC fighting. If you're passionate about it, girls will be. If it's really real to you, it's really real to her. Soon the girl's acting like a big fan and she won't even know why she likes UFC. She'll think she made the decision to like it.

"Imagine the ideal guy who you think women want. Imagine you're that guy, that you have his energy." He adds a disclaimer, laughing, "I'm not tellin' you to be gay here, just be comfortable in your own skin. Women don't just like rich, attractive people. Just 'cause that's what you want..."

Vallejo encourages us not to get entangled with younger girls. "There comes a certain point—I hate to say this—where women actually get smart. They actually get real. Around 24 to 30 years old." Age is not a disadvantage, he insists. "Women get less attractive as they age. Men don't. Women have an expiration date. Just know: 'As hot as you are now, you won't be forever, whereas I will get better with time.'"

When Vallejo opens the floor to questions, the men introduce themselves. Many admit they are frustrated with themselves and the low self-esteem they feel keeps them from approaching women. Their self-esteem is hurting.

One of the college kids asks Vallejo for "negs" he can use (cocky lines meant to subtly insult a woman and put her in a position to prove her worth). The kid admits he gets nervous talking to girls because he currently lives with his parents. Vallejo again discourages the use of canned lines. "[Living with your parents] is only a problem for her if it's a problem for you."

Then Porkpie asks for advice. There is a woman who admits she likes him but refuses to go out with him because he has a son. "Don't ever 'logic' a woman," Vallejo tells him. "Women are emotional. Don't try to change her mind, change her mood."

After the seminar winds down I stick around to ask Vallejo when I can accompany him "into the field." Timing's bad, he tells me; we might have to push it back another month. I'm not the only one who has lagged behind. One of the students, Warren (name changed to preserve anonymity), introduces himself to me before asking if I want to be his wingman some night and go out to bars together. That I'm a reporter and not a student doesn't bother him. Sure, I say. Why not?

IN THE FIELD

Maybe it's because he saw me taking furious notes during the lecture, but for some reason Warren keeps asking what I think we should do next. I look around the Cheerful Tortoise as he hunches over his scrambled eggs and toast, trying not to ruin the dress shirt hanging off his broad frame. A PSU student, he had suggested we meet at the Tortoise this Saturday, but I get the impression he's never been before; the well-lit sports bar is cozy but it doesn't seem conducive to "the seduction arts." All girls present have yoga pants, hoodies, and male company.

Warren has studied the game for two years. Surely he must know more about it than I do. But he looks unsure, pressing me to choose between two areas he's frequented alone with little luck: NW 23rd or the clubs in Chinatown. Option A sounds like less of a headache so I steer my Volvo north.

We park and look for a crowded bar, and I make conversation by asking what Warren can tell me about seduction. Clearly enjoying a chance to enlighten me, he talks extensively on his forays into "day game," the ability to pick up women before the sun goes down.

He is also studying what British PUA Adam Lyons has dubbed "natural style": the act of creating shared experiences with women by commenting on the environment in clubs and bars (basically small talk). This allows him to talk to a girl without her "putting up her bitch shield." I ask what Warren's ideal end result would be from all this study. "I've never kissed a girl in the club before," he says, looking out the window. "I'd like to be able to."

After a couple of false starts we settle at the Gypsy on NW 21st. Taking our drinks, we move to the floor. There Warren nudges me and tilts his head toward two young women chatting by the bathrooms in matching red T-shirts. We approach and use the opening line decided upon in the car: We don't come to 23rd much (true) and need recommendations for cool bars to hit up. The girls' names are Anna and Claire and they don't know the area either, but they're going to Chinatown's Dixie Tavern later.

"Do you two always dress to match?" Warren asks the girls. "It's like camouflage. I almost can't see you," he gives a clarifying gesture, pointing at the Gypsy's red walls, then laughs, lightly touching Claire on the arm. Talk continues and Warren dips out to get another drink while Anna and I talk about going to rival high schools. As I begin saying goodbye I feel Warren's breath in my ear. "Number close," he whispers (another PUA term).

"Um... we were thinking of going to the Dixie, too. Maybe we could trade numbers and meet up?" I suggest.

Anna shrugs. "Okay, sure."

Warren and I walk back to the Volvo resolved to proceed toward the club. He is ecstatic. "I can't believe you got her number!" He opens his arms wide. "You see, you can do anything if you put your mind to it." The Gypsy had been a success.

"So, are you gonna call Anna?"

I tell him that I don't think so.

"Can I have her number?"

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?

Another month passes and I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever get a chance to see Vallejo in action and finish the story. It isn't until after the New Year that I get an email. It turns out Vallejo hasn't been going out at all lately.

"I've found myself in a new relationship for the past month and a half, and it's been great. I'm really happy. Kind of sapped the desire to 'bag 'em and tag 'em' out of me a bit, as I'm feeling rather good and fulfilled ATM [at the moment]."

I'm surprised but not shocked. In the seduction community PUAs alternately joke about the desire to settle down with one woman—which is referred to as "one-itus"—and speak of it like a serious affliction. When Vallejo and I had first met in September he had described his now-girlfriend as a case of one-itus he couldn't shake; a girl whose refusal to be gamed he found both alluring and maddening. At that time, he also admitted that his goals had changed since he began studying pickup. "There's this quote," he told me. "'You can search through all the women in the world, but what you really want to do is find all the world in one woman.'"

Now, four months later, Vallejo's case of one-itus has turned into a real relationship. But that doesn't mean he's done with the game, he tells me when we meet for a wrap-up interview.

"I have [male] friends who would go out with me all the time and they'd beg me to go out with them and then they'd get into a relationship and they'd be like, 'Nope, I have no desire. I don't talk to girls.' Like their whole dick just fell off! Not me. I still appreciate beautiful girls, I still look at beautiful girls, I still sometimes want to flirt, but it's not done with intent.

"They say, 'Nope, can't do that. Out of my life. I'm not a bad guy.' You're not a bad guy, you're just a guy," Vallejo says. "It's just nature, you know? I'm not castrated yet."