Society: The pickup artists

Self-professed ‘geeks,’ Yigal Shtark, Roman Libin use ‘experience’ with women to make Center for Art of Seduction.

The pickup artists (photo credit: Ariel Zilber)
The pickup artists
(photo credit: Ariel Zilber)
It is a dilemma that continues to afflict countless men, more than most care to admit. It is that nervous sensation that creeps up and chokes off any sense of time or semblance of sanity whenever an attractive member of the fairer sex comes into the picture. Whether it is at a smoky bar or a dim dance club, whether one is standing on line at the post office or waiting to cash a check at the local bank, the thought of even approaching women sends shivers down many a spine.
Roman Libin, 29, can certainly relate. Growing up in Ashkelon, he was a “serial faller-in-love” with girls who always seemed to be out of reach.
“Before I got into pickup, when I was in high school, I would always see a girl who was in the same class as me,” he says. “The way she looked, the way she moved – I would kind of fall in love with her and fall victim to her charms. That’s when a kind of sick, obsessive process begins. I began to think about ways to approach her and talk to her, going through about 10,000 options of what to do. And then I’d finally work up the courage to go up to her and tell her that I was thinking about her and I was in love with her, all in the hope that she would tell me the exact same thing.”
When this approach didn’t work, Libin and his childhood friend, Yigal Shtark, two brainy teenagers from Ashkelon whose adolescent world revolved around computers as they excelled in their software engineering studies in high school, began investigating what made men who were successful with women stand out. Why was communicating with women so confounding for the average male? The further these two self-described “geeks” grew into their teens, the more curious they became about the human condition – specifically how men could develop their oral and behavioral skills toward gaining the attention and affection of the women they were courting.
After studying on the subject by reading mountains of materials and gleaning from the expertise of famed “pickup” artists from Russia, they began to conduct “on-the-ground” experiments, venturing out into the streets, shopping malls, bars and nightclubs to put into practice the communication techniques and modes of behavior that proved most effective.
“We did it for ourselves; we learned it for ourselves initially,” Shtark says. “We organized a bunch of meetings and workshops. We even opened up an Internet forum.
Then more and more people who we didn’t know came on board and joined.”
Shtark and Libin found that they had stumbled upon uncharted territory. In 2004, they co-founded the Center for the Art of Seduction, an academy that offers workshops and classes that teach men to become “pickup” artists. Although these kinds of classes had already existed for years in the US and had been gaining traction in Europe, Israel was virtually barren territory.
“We first delved into [pickup] because it was a personal need that we wanted to fulfill and also because it really sparked an interest in us,” says 30-year-old Shtark.
“We had a lot of questions running around in our heads, a lot of difficulties [when it came to women]. We would always think to ourselves, ‘What do I say to her?’ or ‘How do I get her to go out with me?’ or ‘How do I get closer to her?’ Suddenly, when you start going through the Internet, you find that there is information out there on the topic and you can organize it into a course; you begin to consume all the information. It was by chance that things started to develop and we founded the company that grew [to what it is today].”
In the eight years since it was founded, the Center for the Art of Seduction has seen more than 8,000 men come through its doors and take its courses. Shtark, Libin and Tal Lifshitz, who joined the company in 2005 as a co-manager, impart their wisdom and train instructors to teach men the ins and outs of sexual attraction.
Students learn step-by-step techniques for approaching, conversing with, seducing, and forging long-term relationships with women. Coursework includes class instruction coupled with real-life practice and “marathon drills” in crowded shopping malls and city streets, where men try out the material on unsuspecting women.
Given the stigma attached to the field of seducing women, Libin and Shtark were initially not taken seriously by friends and family members, who thought that their fascination with pickup was a diversion from having real careers.
“People’s opinions began to change once they saw that we were making money,” says Libin. “Because this subject matter was so new here in Israel back in 2004, people looked at it like it was science fiction... nobody really believed that the business could work or that there would be demand for this. But when it began to develop more, it turned more serious and people began taking it more seriously.”
THOUGH THE venture has proven to be an economic success, it has encountered controversy and criticism, particularly from feminist groups that argue that Shtark and Libin promote the objectification of women.
Matters came to a head in December 2010, when the blogosphere was abuzz over an Internet posting written by one of the center’s students in August 2006.
A center graduate recalled an encounter with a Czech woman he had met at a supermarket. After she agreed to accompany him to his apartment, he sought to seduce her using tips and techniques learned during his time at the center.
“Things moved along… believe me, I came across countless objections... but I persisted and stayed consistent to the end,” wrote the graduate, who went by the pseudonym “Rosso.” His post described in detail how the woman continued to object and how he eventually managed to “seduce” her until she agreed to do things she didn’t want to do.
The account went viral on various Internet blogs and social networking sites, prompting feminist groups to file a complaint with police alleging rape and incitement to rape. Feminist organizers and activists even barged into a seminar run by the center to stage a protest, chanting “No means no!” and “Rape doesn’t seduce me.”
“The anxiety that comes with chatting up a woman, which is understandable and reasonable, has been translated by the heads of the Center for the Art of Seduction as a hatred of women,” wrote a feminist blogger. “They have raised an army who act at their behest and that has embarked on a campaign of revenge against all of the women who did not want them, using it as motivation for a course that guides men on how to attack women by ignoring ‘No.’” Although no arrests were made or charges brought against either Rosso or the center, the negative publicity seemed to reinforce the stereotype of seduction of women as a seedy undertaking. It marked a low point for the company, though Libin and Shtark insist that the feminists – in concert with the media – have it all wrong.
“The media is always looking to take something and blow it up into a controversy that has no connection whatsoever to what it is that we do here,” Shtark says.
“Those who seized upon some Internet posting found a reason to overreact, which is what they wanted. It’s not pleasant when people make all of these accusations that are totally unrelated to our work, but this is what happened.”
“If you really look at what we do here and what we teach, you will see that we are very much in synch with the feminist agenda,” Libin says. “Most of the violence that is committed by men toward women and most of the boorish behavior by men toward women does not stem from knowledge [about pickup] but rather frustration born of a lack of knowledge. We rarely have instances where our students behave disrespectfully or rudely toward a woman because they know how to communicate the right way and at the right time so that they know what could be pleasant for him as well as for her.”
Despite the bumps in the road, Shtark and Libin are still astounded at the considerable interest the field has drawn.
“In the beginning, we thought our prospects were limited, since Israel is such a small country and we were only appealing to men,” Shtark says. “We weren’t sure how many men would agree to go to a workshop, given that there are people unwilling to engage in personal development and self-improvement. We thought eventually we would run out of people, but here we are, in year eight of our business. We still think there’s great potential for more growth, since we haven’t really devoted much effort to advertising.”
Libin is optimistic about the future of the center, saying that due to the deleterious effects that social media have had on face-to-face interactions, demand for pickup workshops will only increase in the future.
“These new forms of [social] media are creating a new problem,” he says. “They serve as a kind of mask or façade. You can get behind Facebook or some other platform of social media, but by doing so you essentially play a character that isn’t you. The problem is that you can’t continue with this into a relationship. You have to meet the girl, go on a date with her and do other things.
Then, when you meet her, you’re not communicating with her through a keyboard, where you can take a few seconds or a few minutes to think of a good answer to a question. When you meet face to face, you have to think on the spot, and that’s where things go wrong.”