Picking Up Girls and the Game of Asymmetric Returns
I’ve been relistening to Nassim Taleb’s wonderful book Fooled by Randomness, which is a probabalist’s dream read. And if there’s one thing that picking up girls turns you into, it’s a probabalist.
Reading it (or listening to it on audio, as I am), you see a great many parallels between stock trading and seduction. And you also come to understand why some men succeed at picking up lots of different pretty girls, and why most men never will.
In many things in life, but especially in trading and in pickup, there is what you’d call an asymmetric distribution of returns. And that means that by participating in trading for stocks or picking up girls or anything else with an asymmetric distribution, you’re opening yourself up to asymmetric returns.
But the mind does not take well naturally to asymmetric returns. It doesn’t grasp them. It isn’t built to work that way.
And the result of this is, an endless abundance of great returns for
those few souls willing to go against the grain, fight the emotions
that go with it, and chase down their asymmetric returns in spite of
their struggling and fearful or frustrated brains... and an endless
source of frustration and disappointment for the majority of souls who
just go with the flow.
To introduce the concept of asymmetric returns, Taleb gives the hypothetical example of a billionaire with a morbid sense of fun who offers $10 million per win to anyone who plays Russian roulette with his 6-shot pistol and survives.
That is, you’ll put the barrel to your head, pull the trigger, and 5 times out of 6, you’ll walk away with $10 million. 1 time out of 6, you’ll be carted away in a casket.
The upside here is tempting. If you win, you get a fair chunk of change.
On the other side, the downside knows no lower bounds. If you lose – if you’re unlucky and draw the barrel with the bullet – you’ll have made a very bad bet indeed.
Should you play, and if so, how many times should you play?
Stock trading is much like this – when the market is going up, which it generally is most of the time, you’ll be making small gains every day. But when the market goes down, it suddenly crashes by 20%, 30%, 40%, or more. What ends up happening is that you have a cyclical round of investment bankers who come in fresh out of graduate school, make a lot of money trading over a period of a few years, then crash, get wiped out of the market (due to leveraged positions, which allowed them to bet much more than they had), lose more money for their banks than they’d made in their entire tenure there, and wash out of i-banking.
Then, a new crop of i-bankers comes in, makes big bets on the market going up, rakes in loads of cash, until it too one day has a sudden crash where it loses more money than it made for its banks, and another batch of i-bankers washes out of the market and moves on to selling luxury cars to the latest generation of new investment bankers, presently awash with cash.
Asymmetric returns: lots of little favorable returns over time, and
comparatively rarer, but far more massive, unfavorable ones.
Making Money Off of Asymmetry
What Taleb does, and how he makes money, is by doing the reverse of most investment bankers. Instead of betting that the market will go up, he bets that the market will go down.
Because the market usually goes up, this means that most of the time, his bets are wrong and he is losing money. But some of the time, the market crashes, and when this happens he makes far more than all his accumulated losses during the “good times.”
So why doesn’t everybody do this? Well, because of the way the brain handles loss.
You see, even with people trained to handle probability, the mind doesn’t properly weigh its wins
and losses. A loss has a far greater penalty to our dispositions
than a gain has benefits. I talked about the difference on your
testosterone (and thus, motivation, assertiveness, confidence, and
more) between winning and losing in the article on dominance and the winner effect;
on average, 5 losses affect you a great deal more than 5 wins. As such,
we as human beings are obsessed with “not
losing”, at minimum to preserve our delicate hormonal balances.
Of course, if you’re playing to not lose, you’re not really playing to win now, are you?
Sure, people will tell you they’re playing to win. But the moment
they start piling up losses in whatever they’re doing, the majority of
individuals begin to panic, flail about, and start looking for the
exit. How do they get out of losing territory, and back to
winning? Usually by jumping onto the bandwagon and doing what everyone
else is doing... which usually isn’t the best idea when your
competition is, in fact, everyone else.
Further, as Taleb illustrates so well with his example of a conservative investor living next door to an investment banker on the upswing, it’s very hard to resist comparing oneself to others we know are probably following doomed strategies. One neighbor who played it safe in the markets and insulated himself from risk with a smaller house and only a few million in the bank felt pressure for years to be more like his grandiose next door neighbor, who always bet big and raked in lots of cash, eventually accumulating around 7 times the net worth of the conservative neighbor, along with many more expensive toys and a bigger, more ornate house. Until, that is, one day the extravagant neighbor crashed, lost everything, and in an instant, the conservative neighbor was far wealthier than his risk-taking neighbor.
The temptation in stock trading is to chase profit, because it feels emotionally good and appears to the brain to look like the “right path.” If you’re doing something that’s losing you money, for obvious reasons, most of the time, you’ll be out of money sooner or later. However, if you’re placing call and put options on stock to take advantage of outlier events – if you’re betting that at some point, any given stock may crash – that’s a different story, because you know what you’re doing... you’re just betting differently.
You don’t panic when the unexpected happens, like ordinary folk. That’s because your prospects are reversed;
the expected for you is bad, while the unexpected for you is good.
Because the market goes up a little bit at a time most of the time, and drops a large amount on occasion, those working from leveraged positions betting it will go up see healthy gains while times are good, and get totally wiped out when the market crashes. Conversely, those working from leveraged positions betting it will go down see healthy losses while the market’s on the upswing, and get rained on with money when the market crashes.
The I-Bankers of the Dating World
95%+ of men out there play the dating game by betting they will win. They are so certain of their own inevitable victories that they plow colossal amounts of time and investment into a girl – one they’re hung up on and can’t stop thinking about – and gradually eke out small gain after small gain.
In their minds, they know
they will get her. It’s destiny. They imagine the sex; the
relationship; maybe the wedding and children. In fact, most women have
a number of different men chasing after them at any given time,
imagining all the same things, and all equally relatively certain that
these women will recognize their special bond and these things will
come to pass.
Until the market crashes of the dating game rear their ugly heads, that is.
That’s when the girl you’ve been “working on” for months and making
gradual, steady progress – you
thought – suddenly announces she has a boyfriend now, or that
she really only likes you as “just friends.”
Suddenly – instantly – immediately – all that time and effort you’d plowed into inching your way toward success with this one girl is wiped out. The market’s crashed, and you’re back at zero, and you’ve got to go start all over again from nothing.
Sure, sometimes it works for a while – the guy gets a girlfriend, and all is good. But even then, because he isn’t living in an abundance mindset – which is all but impossible to have when you’re playing the dating game betting you will win on any specific girl – at some point, he begins to treat his girlfriend or wife as more and more precious to him. He places her on a pedestal. And the instant he does, his gradual gains in love, affection, and devotion from her over time begin to quickly sour, and before you know it, the relationship crashes.
She loses interest. Cheats on him. Breaks up with him, or divorces him.
And then he’s single all over again, back to zero, an emotional mess and wondering what happened.
Maybe he even becomes embittered about women and dating, and goes the way of the investment bankers who’ve washed out of trading and moved on to selling cars.
He probably hears about pickup at some point, but writes off learning to pick up girls; after all, he’d get so much rejection – it just doesn’t sound very pleasant.
Chasing after that one special girl of the moment seems like a far more promising investment of time, energy, money, and resources instead.
Probably one of the most jarring elements of the mentality taught on this site for most people is the underlying concept of, “You really have no total degree of control.” You can make yourself more likely to win with women by improving your fundamentals and learning game – indeed, these things make huge impacts in the returns you see – but you will never reach a point where you completely eliminate the probability of encountering outlier events – what Taleb calls “black swans” – in your dating and sex life.
Instead of running from this, the man who studies pickup embraces it. Like Taleb’s strategy with investing, the man who picks up women approaches women with an understanding of asymmetric distributions and returns: that is, when you’re picking up women, you’re going to encounter a lot of little losses, and the occasional BIG win.
Little and Lots
Anyone who’s learned to meet women on the street, in coffee shops, riding the train, at happy hour, at parties, in nightclubs, at networking events, on the beach, in shopping malls, or anywhere else out and about live in person can tell you how dramatically his life has changed and improved since learning how to do this.
So why do so few men do this?
This website gets 700K+ people visiting it a month. It’s not like the information isn’t out there. Yet, walk down a busy street in any town, every day for a month, and you may well never see a man walk up to a pretty girl and open her. You’ll be the only one doing it.
From a pure “benefits to his life” perspective, you’d think that most men would think, after enough failed relationships and go-nowhere fixations on girls, that it’s time they tried a different strategy – instead of focusing on one girl with only middling levels of commitment to them, how about they cast a wider net and see what they can pull in with it?
But they don’t.
The reason why is because picking up girls doesn’t feel like winning to most men, at least not starting out. It feels like losing. You go up and get rejection after rejection, trying to figure out this seduction thing and consistently coming up short.
Meanwhile, the guy who’s fixated on that one special girl, he’s getting a constant stream of “wins”: she texted him back; she told him he was cute; she agreed to go to a party with him. He’s winning!
Then the guy practicing pickup sleeps with some new girl he just met off the street.
Meanwhile, the guy fixated on the girl finds out she only sees him as a friend, and has another guy she’s sleeping with whom she respects far more as a man.
The guy practicing pickup gets a slight victory boost from his success, and then it’s back into the meat grinder of rejection after rejection.
The guy who spends his time chasing after women feels heartbroken for a while after putting so much effort into one girl and having it all fall apart... and then he meets another girl, and starts chasing after her, and begins to experience one “win” after another again, as he gradually makes “progress” on her.
That’s why most men never learn pickup. It isn’t because they can’t do it. It isn’t because they lack the faculties, the abilities, or some special x-factor.
Instead, it’s because chasing women just feels more rewarding, most of the time, than amassing rejections in the process of finding new women to sleep with and have relationships with.
Even though the type and magnitude of their black swan events – the guy chasing who loses the girl after so many small “gains”, and the guy picking up who sleeps with a girl after so many small “losses” – is so starkly different.
Capitalizing on Asymmetric Returns
You see, your emotional brain would much rather you take the “safe” path – you know, not pushing too hard or moving too fast with that cute girl who likes you... just play it safe, so you don’t risk losing her. And don’t go amassing all those rejections, because what’s the point?
Just like the trader’s emotional brain would much rather he take the “safe” path – you know, not going against the grain, racking up one losing day after another, and betting that the market will crash when in fact it just keeps going up.
Of course, we know that logically, these are NOT the safe paths at all – the highly leveraged trader gets wiped out by a single black swan event, and the highly leveraged suitor gets wiped out by a single black swan event too – as detailed in the story of Pete, Jerry, and Sue.
The seducer is playing the game the same way the investor who bets on market crashes plays it – he’s playing to win by betting on losing in small amounts, most of the time, and counting on winning in large amounts, occasionally.
Your average man picks a girl, fixates on her, and dumps every ounce of energy he has into trying to woo her, convinced that this is his surest path to success.
Meanwhile, the seducer recognizes that there’s far too much outside of his control with any one girl:
There are other men in her life he doesn’t and can’t know about
Girls who only want attention flirt to get it, leading gullible men astray thinking they’re closing in on women who want them sexually/romantically when this is not the case
The smallest missed escalation window – which even he as an experienced seducer might not have picked up on for any reason – can lead to attraction expiring and all future effort put into a girl being a waste of time
Life can otherwise intervene at any time and destroy a promising-looking romance
... and that’s just with girls he already has “a shot” with. There are plenty more he has yet to meet who will turn him down flat because they just aren’t interested and don’t find him even a little appealing.
Yet, the seducer trains himself not to mind these small losses. Any time an individual girl rejects him on approach, or declines to give him her phone number when he asks, or flakes on a date, or doesn’t text him back, or refuses to sleep with him, or anything else, that doesn’t matter, because he’s already accepted that he’s going to spend most of the time having one small loss after another.
He endures these losses to get the big wins... the likes of which can become quite common for him, even as they are few and far between, and of much lesser magnitude, for the ordinary man.
Those are big wins ranging everywhere from a dream relationship with the girl of his dreams, to hot, impromptu sex in public places with some looker he’s just met. These things are more or less out of the reach of ordinary men, who settle into relationships they do their darnedest to convince themselves are with the “girls of their dreams” but really aren’t, and can only look on with envy or spite at those men pulling things off sexually with women that they cannot and never will.
That’s because the man who knows pickup lives his dating life accepting the asymmetric returns of the dating world – most of the time he will be rejected, flaked on, and otherwise unsuccessful with the women he approaches; however, some of the time he will land some really incredible girls, and have some really remarkable experiences.
Meanwhile, the ordinary man keeps himself safe, away from the small ongoing losses that are rejection, flaking, and girls not putting out, and instead devotes his time to a much smaller subset of women he spends his time fantasizing about and working hard to get, experiencing constant small “wins” whenever the girl he likes does something that makes him feel like he is “getting closer”, only to experience major losses when these girls up and vanish, or announce they’ve found a new boyfriend and are off the market.
The Mindset Difference
Focusing on the world of dating, sex, and relationships as one that presents a very asymmetric distribution of returns for everyone involved in it, and accepting that asymmetry, leads to a very large difference in mindset.
Thus, you see differences like this:
- Ordinary man: “I can’t go talk to her – what if she rejects me?”
- Guy who picks up: “Who cares about that? You’ll never meet any women if you don’t go start piling up some rejections!”
- Ordinary man: “I can’t make a move – what if she says no?”
- Guy who picks up: “Who cares about that? You’ll never make it out of neutral with any girl if you never make a move!”
- Ordinary man: “I can’t try to sleep with her – what if she doesn’t want to?”
- Guy who picks up: “Who cares about that? You’re never going to find out if she DOES want to sleep with you if you don’t try to sleep with her!”
The real core difference between the ordinary man and the guy who picks up is that the ordinary man sees this woman, right now as someone he needs immediate returns with, and had better not botch it with.
The man who picks up views things probabilistically, however. He knows that no matter what signs he’s reading, Girl X only has Y% chance of accepting him talking to her, making a move, or escalating to sex. But, he isn’t worried about the % chance of rejection – he knows he’s going to have to stomach some rejections to get to the successes. That’s just how it goes.
Similarly, the ordinary trader sees this trade, right now as a trade he needs to make money on, and had better not post a loss on today or this week.
The man who invests by betting the market will crash views things probabilistically, and knows that no matter how much data he reads on the stock market, Stock X has Y% chance of going up or down – he knows he’s going to have to stomach some money-losing days to get to the successes. That’s just how it goes.
Why Pickup Probably Won’t Stop Working
Every now and again, you’ll run across guys on pickup forums talking about “the end of pickup.” What they’re afraid of is that other men are going to discover the world of picking up and seducing women, and that the more men adopt it and dabble in it, the less effective its methods will be, as the sexual arms race between men and women continues, and women become inured to the tools and techniques of seduction.
Yet, we’re at a point now where pretty much everyone in the West is at least familiar with the school of modern seduction. Ask any of your friends what he thinks of “those pickup artists”, and he’ll have an opinion – and probably not a very good one. Just as Nassim Taleb discusses ordinary traders’ disdain for and dismissal of his black swan ways, ordinary men often have great disdain for those men who know what they’re doing with women.
The fact is, most people can’t stomach taking one small loss after another to get a BIG gain. They’d much rather stick to one small win after another, and tell themselves that each small win is edging them closer to an even LARGER win down the road.
Then, when they hit a crash, they’ll just shake their heads and say, “I don’t know what happened. It doesn’t make sense.”
But of course, it DOES make sense – when you realize that you’re operating with asymmetric returns. You can take a bunch of little losses and get some big wins, or you can take a bunch of little wins and get some big losses.
Because most men’s minds can’t make peace with the fact that the big wins you get ultimately far outweigh all the tiny losses you receive, the world is your oyster if you’re one of the few who’s capable of realizing and internalizing the difference.
Studying and practicing seduction is probably always going to offer a strong competitive edge to those select few men who embrace it – simply because most men, emotionally, just can’t.
They must go on playing the losing game of lots of little wins and occasional big losses... and leave the door wide open for any man who knows what he’s doing.
In other words... you.
Assuming you’re able to suck up the losses and not lose sight of the
big picture, that is.
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