When he thinks back to his childhood, Shaun Michael can only remember the sight of black beaches from his bedroom window.
He calls his youth a miserable existence. His father laboured in mines, while his mother, a housewife, tended to him and his siblings in the kitchen of a tiny Northumbria house.
At school, he was the ‘fat kid.’ He used to hide in the toilet to avoid class. He wasn’t an intellectual, nor was he a great sportsman.
He dreamed of change. At 16 he joined the army. At 19 he was a fitness coach to over 1,000 soldiers in Germany, before moving to London as a personal fitness instructor.
But even there he remained frustrated, becoming depressed. Indeed, he missed his friends back in Germany – but he truly longed for the company of beautiful women.
The trouble was, he couldn’t establish a relationship with one because he had no social circle and he wasn’t confident enough to make a flirtatious approach on his own.
After an invitation, he travelled to America to attend ‘Super Convention, a huge gathering of ‘pickup artists’ – men who practice the art of seduction.
The speakers included Neil ‘Style’ Strauss, the gonzo journalist who shot pickup into the mainstream with the bestselling book The Game, and other big names like Erik ‘Mystery’ von Markovik, arguably the world’s greatest pickup artist, who Shaun will go on to have an Amazon Prime TV show with.
He was immediately inspired by the men on stage, seeing the attention they received from the bookish hopefuls clinging onto notepads in the crowd, and noticing how the women – some might categorise in the top tier of professional models – swooned them.
Shaun became infatuated with the pickup model. He soon learnt to speak to women adeptly and built superior social skills, surrounding himself with ‘alpha’ males, celebrities and the higher circles of society.
After 15 years, he’s now a pickup ‘master’, a level validated by a badge awarded to him by Mystery.
Today he gives out his own badges at his business, 3 Second Rule. The dating school which has grown so much it now has an internal awards ceremony for graduate dating coaches.
Shaun’s dreaming has got him far. Today his bedroom view isn’t full of dark-stained sand and grey skies, it’s sunny shores of Miami, dainty ports of Copenhagen, and grand hotels in Hollywood – all in the company of glamorous modes.
It doesn’t matter where you go,” he explains. “If you’re the daddy of your local area and all of a sudden you land somewhere new, you soon realise you can’t carry your reputation with you.”
Shaun and I are talking at a cafe in which he somehow knows everyone inside. Even the manager speaks to him about some cool party they had the other week. This is all intentional, he says.
“Everyone knows me here. It’s called social proof. It’s when women see other people responding positively to you, then they’re going to believe you might have something.
“I had a client who came to us on our boot-camp. He was one of the biggest earners in direct sales and he invited me to one of his seminars.
“After his conference, women were taking photos of his hotel room, fighting each other to speak to him. But when we went out the next night, his skill was gone. His accolades weren’t there. He got rejected and rejected by women.
“That’s like most men: power in a certain environment but you can’t take your skills with you. That’s why you need to learn social proof.
This is one of many terms found in the pickup community. Other phrases include ‘indicators of interest’ (IOIs), ‘negging’, ‘sarging’ and ‘shit-tests’.
“We teach men how to handle shit-tests. This is when a woman throws a small diss to a guy who’s talking to her. She doesn’t intuitively think: ‘Oh, I’m going to do a shit-test’ – she’ll just put you down in a minor way to see how you’ll cope.
“She might say, like: ‘Why don’t you have any colour in your tattoos?” Shaun says tapping my printed arm. ‘”Or: why aren’t your friends with you? ”Bless you. Are you all alone here?
“The average guy who is not socially collaborated will react negatively. And that’s good for her to see because she’s now just weeded out someone who in the future could be a bad person to be with.
“But if you react positively – like we teach our clients of 3 Second Rule to do – or act jokingly with her back, then she might give the guy a little more time.
“Women aren’t trying to be manipulative. They’re just doing it unconsciously to protect themselves. It’s like when women lets a guy down on a date because they’re getting a bit too intense and stalky. It’s better for women to deal with it earlier.
“Men are very bad at picking up signals, by the way. Women are tactile: they may touch you and you get a flurry of emotions but it means different things. Men think that’s a woman coming onto them, but that’s not their fault, it’s how they’re evolutionarily wired from thousands of years ago and that doesn’t change. The infrastructure of society might change fast but we don’t.”
We finish our coffees and decide to continue our conversation at Shaun’s apartment.
Two people walk past on our way: a female, who appears to know Shaun; she smiles, and another: a slickly-dressed 30-something man holding a large bag.
“Hey, buddy! Got me some clothes?” Shaun says. The man waves back.
“He owns Diverso. A really nice shop on King Street.” Shaun has only been in Manchester for three months but already seems to know half the city.
He lives in a plush high-rise flat in Spinningfields. In the lift on the way up, a woman enters. About 25. Slim. ‘Don’t you just hate when this happens in the UK?” he asks me, while kind of speaking to her.
“When strangers get in the lift together, it’s just so awkward in England, isn’t it? In LA, everyone is so friendly in the lift. They don’t care about who they talk to. But here – they’re so uptight.”
She looks up, smiles and starts engaging in conversation with him for a while before we reach our floor and leave her.
“Not really my type,” he says, as he opens the door to this pad.
It’s spacious, immaculately clean. Luxury. Classical music plays at volume four in the background – just enough to notice. The peppermint tea he offers is already hot.
I ask about the interaction with the woman in the lift.
“It’s not just what you say, it’s your body language.”
He walks up to me, head on.
“How comfortable are you with this?”
Our faces are now seven inches apart. I say not very.
“Now look over there, to the corner.”
He carries on talking by my side.
“What’s your comfort level now?” I say I’m fine.
I turn around. “You see, but I’m actually closer to you here.”
It’s just one of the physical techniques seduction artists use, he explains. “Always approach from an angle. Go full-on and it will be intimidating.
The seduction community has a surprisingly large following. It’s hit mainstream news for the wrong reasons.
The subculture which has been traditionally met with a great deal of backlash. Some brand it ‘misogynistic’ and in the post-MeToo movement era, the spotlight is on still further.
“It’s an interesting topic,” Shaun begins. “Men are being emasculated. They don’t know what to do, because they’ve been beaten – rightly in many cases – by society. Women don’t need men like they used to: they got their own money, cars, and careers now. Men are losing power.”
“There were some studies done about what women constituted as sexual harassment and being uncomfortable. Men’s signals were totally different. For instance. A guy standing over and touching a woman like them was quite uncomfortable.
“A six was really bad, it was like he tried to corner her at work, being overtly sexual. A man commenting or complimenting a girl on their looks scored high, too – but the men didn’t see a problem with that: they thought they were just being nice.
“Well, no that’s wrong. You’re in their face stating your sexual intentions, so even though they taking action, it was clearly going to be uncomfortable.
“And men know this and try to take advantage of the situation. They don’t know how to test for it in a non-comfortable way.
“The problem is men overly invest and it’s just too intense, pressuring her. But men have never really been taught how to approach or attract, connect or even seduce women. Most importantly nobody gas corrected them when they are coming across as too intense, creepy, or just too forward and pervy.”
You don’t have to look far to find the seediness within certain sections of the pickup community.
The pickup forums, including Facebook groups, are full of ‘field reports’ from amateur pickup artists detailing how they slept with someone in graphic detail. It could be a girlfriend or someone’s mother, anyone is fair game as long as the man has copped off.
3 Second Rule, Shaun says, operates in a way which takes huge stock ensuring both men and women are having a good time, that it’s not just about getting laid.
He switches on his TV and begins to show me a presentation of the business.
It’s professionally done. The first slide shows three bubbles.
“Most guys will focus on this one area,” he says, excitedly pointing to the bubble saying ‘pickup’ i.e. success with women.
“But if you just focus on that, you don’t have much of a social life and you don’t get invited to cool things because you’re always hanging out with the same dudes, whereas with this other stuff,” he says, drawing my attention to the social, health and wealth bubbles. “Focus on all these other doors will open.
“Another big part is grooming, your physicality.”
He starts to assess me. “For instance, you have a lack of colour in your face.
“Fashion, grooming, and physical – these are three things that, while they don’t get girls, a lack of them can. A lack of style shows a lack of money and resources.”
“Grooming.” He points to me again. “If you’ve got a lack of colour and you’ve got red under your eye – well, you may get away with it in a nightclub where there’s no light, but eventually a girl will see that. You said you do exercise, but you’re not getting enough capillaries, so it’s a lack of nutrition.
“We teach this shit in all our programmes: whatever a guy thinks his problem is, there is another load of variables he has no idea to address, too.”
He changes the slide on the presentation. The picture shows a chicken claw on a woman’s leg.
“When women see this, it makes them cringe. That’s how a woman feels when a needy guy comes in to talk to them and tries to get her attention.
“Men need to remove the bad habits, so at least they’re natural and they’re not off-putting. And you must be into what you do. If you can’t get excited about your job, how can they be?
“That’s why, in this day and age, you have to a second business. All our coaches are not allowed to do this full time
“Like when you talk about what you do, say you have a cool job as a freelance journalist – such as you are – and instead of just saying you write, you can expand it. You can say the other day met this crazy dating guy and he gave you all kind of tips – ‘are they working on you?’ – see, you’ve got a story now, something interesting to say.”
Another slide. A bloated face appears. ‘Looks don’t mean a thing’ goes across in large text. “That man has slept with more women than any man in Manchester,” Shaun announces.
I thought it was a newly promoted coach of 3 Second Rule.
“That’s me at the age of 27”. I changed. I built myself to this.”
Shaun’s concept is that men are blank canvases: some are old, dusty – maybe have coffee stains on the outer rim – there will always be defects, some larger than others.
But what matters is much care you take into painting what you got. Lazy? Sloppy artwork. No girl is going to take notice. What if you took the time to perfect your canvas, using the best oils, creams and lotions. Dress it up in the best materials. Then you stand more of a chance of attracting beautiful women.
The base isn’t important it can be amplified – but the presentation is another matter.
“Most of the guys we teach won’t be masters. But no one is incapable of improving. I guarantee my clients they’ll be a lot better than they are. It’s not about just getting laid but maintaining relationships.
In the videos he shows me, women appear to have a great time with Shaun, but surely some must be dubious when you explain to them your work is that of someone whose job it is to seduce women.
“If I was an accountant I wouldn’t sit around talking about the ledger system. All I do is say I help men around the world to better their lives. Who gets hurt?”
“Men mistake interest for attraction and it results in things like harassment and lawsuits. This is because nobody has taught the guy. Once a girl is 21, she is getting hit on between ten and 15 times in a night. So in their lifetime,thousands of times.”
“A guy, the average one, will approach two to three times a year. He’ll approach, get rejected and he doesn’t like it.
“Her skill is supersonic in comparison. Because, remember, woman, talk about this shit all the time: all the magazines they read: dating, etc. But men do not get together and talk about anything like that
“They just go on the pull and they’re like: “Did you fuck her?” using that shitty language, but they won’t talk about how. And that’s the key problem – we need guys to talk more. Because look at where the alternative has got us.”