If you can’t figure out who the Yoko Ono in your group is, you’re the Yoko Ono.

This post was written on Monday, April 20, 2015.

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Here’s Todd looking at the Grand Canyon a few weeks ago.

This morning when I woke up, I told my boyfriend (his name is Todd, by the way, something I’ve never actually mentioned on here): “I think I’m your Yoko Ono.”

He laughed and, because he’s not familiar with nor does he give a shit about pop culture, said, “I sort of get that reference.”

So if you, too, are a pop culture novice or abstainer, know that many fans repeatedly blamed Yoko Ono for breaking up the Beatles and negatively influencing John Lennon’s music and career. Some people, even decades after the Beatles’ dissolving and John Lennon’s death, hate her guts, and celebrities from Courtney Love to Taylor Swift have been labeled Yoko Onos after having allegedly sabotaged or muddled the careers of their former significant others.

When I don’t feel great about myself, I don’t write, and if I do, it’s slop. So, judging from the lack of posts over the last several months, things haven’t been too shiny for me in this glitzy city. When Todd was abroad working for five weeks, I squandered away an opportunity to go out, make friends and join social groups or clubs, finish my fucking book, and decrease my dependency on him, instead opting to cuddle up under my comforter like a hermit, copyediting and, only occasionally, writing some slop.

Most of my friends know what Todd does for a living. Or, more accurately, they have a fuzzy idea of what he does. I told him this morning that I can’t remember who I’ve told which snippets about our relationship and life together, because I decide what information to divulge based on my determination of how accepting—or not accepting—each person might be.

My boyfriend teaches and practices pickup, or game. The art of seduction is his passion and area of expertise, and he teaches men how to be more engaging and interesting, more sexual, more aggressive (in a non-creepy, non-molesting way), and more alpha, in order to free them from clinging to the first girl who eye-fucks them and obsessing about what to text a girl and when and how much and Wah, why doesn’t she like me? He and his coworkers see sex as necessary and nothing to be ashamed of for either sex; one-night-stands as something men and women want; and sleeping with hundreds of girls as good practice, the ultimate way to find out what you want and don’t want, and also, as pretty fun.

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Hakkasan last Saturday night.

Our relationship, it would make sense, is open. This is okay by me, because I don’t have a preference about gender, and our arrangement allows me to explore that side of myself solo or sometimes with him, without that sedimentary guilt sitting in my gut as a result. If you’ve ever cheated on someone, you know what I’m talking about.

But, of course, because he does this for a living, it’s out there. And I mean, way, way out there. Not just on his social media and his company’s website, but on his YouTube channel, which boasts videos laced with pickup concepts, theory, and in-field footage, video of my boyfriend talking to, picking up, kissing, touching, and sometimes bringing home women. One video exists in which he very clearly has sex with Not-Me in a club.

It would take a pretty secure woman to be cool with all that, right?

While my confidence has never been described as sky high, it has been pretty good since I’ve been with Todd. When you date a guy who can have a Playboy model (because he has) and yet he picks you, you do kind of feel like you’re the shit. That doesn’t mean, though, that the visceral response I get to seeing him kiss another girl—or more—ever goes away.

My version of Yokoness comes out here. My insecurities, my jealousy, my Where were you last night? or Did you fuck some girl? questions don’t really help a pickup artist want to keep doing or teaching pickup. It makes him afraid of hurting his girlfriend at every turn, and it makes him dilute what he does both when she is and is not around. If our relationship were monogamous, the red flags would be obvious.

But it’s not. And Todd has been under the impression that I’ve known for nearly two years now what he does for a job and that I accept it, and he is right to have assumed both. For a while now, though, I’ve let my evaporating self-esteem, my dependence on him, and my inability to truly be open with the people in my life about my life . . . break up the band, so to speak.

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Synonyms make me happy (the bathroom at Little City Grill, Boulder City, Nevada).

Todd also said to me this morning, “Kaitlin, one of the reasons why I’m a pretty happy guy is because I don’t have any secrets. I’ve put myself and what I do out there for everyone to see, and I couldn’t erase it now if I tried. And I don’t want to.”

A long time ago, when I cheated on someone (this blog is the honesty blog, in case you haven’t noticed), I stopped my online writing. I didn’t tell my friends what had happened, and so I stopped making an effort to hang out with them, because I felt like what I had done had been splashed across my face. That it was oozing off me. That no matter what I did or said, I was a fraud because a small part of me was hiding.

So what Todd said made me think about my life, his job, and our life, and how my tolerance—or, I guess, intolerance—impacts me. When he first told me what his job was, I confided in my mom only a few days later. I didn’t tell my dad for more than a month and a half. With other friends, I wrote e-mails instead of telling them in person. That way, I could huddle behind a virtual firewall when they told me I was crazy. When I meet new people, I usually tell them Todd is a dating coach/motivational speaker (which is, on a very basic level, true). And when they say, “Like Hitch?” I just nod and say, “Yup. You got it. Just like Hitch.”

It definitely makes things easier.

If you ask my grandmother what Todd does for a living, she’d probably just say that she still can’t believe he wore sweat pants the first time he met her. We’re going to strike her opinion from this blog.

A friend once said to me, “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway.”

I’ve thought about what some of my friends, acquaintances from high school or college, or my parents’ friends might think. My aunt in her seventies. My cousins. Anyone, really. But the thing is, if I can’t tell people what my life is like without sugarcoating it or smothering the little dirty parts, I have no business living my life, and in many ways, I haven’t been.

Maybe now I can start.

in defense of pickup artists

my boyfriend first told me, in june 2013, that while yes, in a general sense he was a motivational speaker and life coach, his job title actually had another, more specific name:

professional pickup artist

while i’d heard of the term, having heard about it was the extent of my “knowledge.” my ideas of what a pickup artist was came from:

  • the show on vh1 aptly named the pickup artist, which, ironically, my ex-boyfriend and i watched together
  • having heard the term pickup line, which conjured thoughts of one of my male friend’s favorites: how much does a polar bear weigh? enough to break the ice. hi, i’m . . .
  • the book the game by neil strauss, of whose existence and bible-esque cover i vaguely remembered from college

and that was it. so when my boyfriend asked if i knew what it meant to be a professional pickup artist, something i now simply refer to as a pua, both in print and in person, i said, verbatim:

you lie to women and manipulate them into sleeping with you.

so then we talked into the night about his job, about us, and about men and women and society in general. the next day at work i googled this:

how to date a professional pickup artist

shockingly, few relevant results surfaced, and of those, even fewer (semi) positive results popped up. the two non-overt-pua-bashing sites were articles highlighting two well-known puas who had gotten married (one of these couples has since divorced after four years of marriage), and one of the headlines read something to the effect of:

is this girl crazy?

this question has been put in the second person, phrased in a variety of creative ways, and posed to me multiple times since last summer by my family, my friends, coworkers, strangers . . . yeah, okay, let’s just say everyone.

shit, i’ve even directed it at myself a few times, though i haven’t done so recently—until this weekend.

if you’ve seen the news, you probably know that a guy named elliot rodger murdered six people in santa barbara, california. you’ve probably also seen the association made between him and the pua community, particularly that he was on a site called “pua hate,” which is devoted to actively despising the pua industry, believing that it preys upon vulnerable, desperate men. its members do not, however, necessarily hate on the pua philosophy and lifestyle. as a woman, and in particular as a woman who has a serious romantic relationship with a professional pickup artist (no laughing, please—i’m going to be moving across the country to be with him), i felt as if i had to say something about the comments and beliefs that label pua’s as misogynistic, hateful toward women, interested in only sex, etc., etc.

i consider myself to be of above-average intelligence. i also consider myself to be successful, likable, attractive, and worldly. i don’t think i’m a masochist. i don’t think i’m naive or malleable. i wouldn’t define myself as pro-feminist or antifeminist. i would say i’m nontraditional, being that: i’m an atheist, i probably won’t get married, and i don’t work a nine-to-five. but i’m not living in a commune for alternative lifestyles, i don’t sell my lack of religious beliefs door-to-door, and i’m not into whips. or chains. or hot pokers (if that’s a thing; i’m sure it is). taking all this into account, i’d like to think that if something were truly evil or wrong—though both words are defined according to those who define them—i wouldn’t be dating, or in love with, someone whose career centers around a truly evil, wrong thing.

do i like all aspects of pickup? no. do i think that some men take a kernel of pua ideology and blow it out of proportion? of course. do i think people everywhere do this with everything? communism, violent video games, the bible, the second amendment . . . yes. do i think because some unhinged college student with low self-esteem took what he wanted from pickup and used it to blame women for his unhappiness, that pickup, in general, is evil and wrong?

no.

this is not meant to be a glowing defense of pickup artists, and i will never—and i won’t do this with anything, actually—give it my full stamp of approval. i’m too doubtful, and curious, of a person to ever believe wholeheartedly in something. even my relationship—and i love my boyfriend, pua and all, as he says, “more than anyone has ever loved another person. ever.”

my boyfriend isn’t just some guy who practices pickup. he teaches it. his first mentor was the guy on the vh1 show. he appears in the game. he isn’t a random chode, to use pus terminology, who posts on pickup forums, skews the information he’s given, expects women to lift up their skirts for him, and pouts when they don’t. my boyfriend has a degree in mechanical engineering. he’s phenomenal at soccer, he does yoga, and aside from sometimes forgetting to eat, he has the best, most disciplined diet of anyone i know. he’s well read. he’s ambitious. hardworking. determined. loyal to a fault to those in his camp, including me. he takes care of me. he reads my writing and encourages it, and asks me to correct his grammar. he even pays me to write for him. we are in a long-distance relationship, but we talk every day. he tells me i’m beautiful and sexy and smart, none of which are lines. but he almost always thinks he’s right. he can’t multitask. he’s forgetful. we agree on most things, but some of our ideologies, both meaningful and trivial, don’t always line up. he misses more flights than anyone i know. sometimes i think he is wasteful with money. i think he is overworked to the point of exhaustion. i think he needs friends who aren’t pua’s. i wonder how he somehow thinks he’s perfect but also thinks that he constantly needs to improve. he puts two spaces between sentences and doesn’t understand that words like the and to should be lowercase in headlines. getting him to even consider taking time off is a painful struggle.

would i trade him in for someone else? nope.

i’ve watched many times since september, as he takes men out to bars and clubs in various cities, men who are successful and kind but shy and awkward, and helps them to talk to women, gain confidence, and improve themselves as people in general, not simply with respect to women. and i’ve had the pleasure of not just watching my boyfriend coach, but assisting him in doing the same, albeit on a smaller level. to get a thank-you from these men, these (shock!) pickup artists, none of whom have resembled that santa barbara gunman in terms of character or creed, at the end of a long weekend, feels pretty good. i’m happy to help them, because this big positive well outweighs any negatives.

in fact, i believe that my life is far better because of pickup.

i also don’t believe that six people are dead because of it.

“no man can be a failure if he thinks he’s a success; if he thinks he is a winner, then he is.”*

softball4this post was written on december 1.

merriam-webster lists the fourth definition of choke (an intransitive verb) as “to lose one’s composure and fail to perform effectively in a critical situation.” “choking,” also known as nerves or performance anxiety, is such an issue that some people are famous for doing it. espn once made a list of notorious chokers, which at the time included entire teams—like the buffalo bills and the boston red sox—and individuals like golfer phil mickelson and kicker scott norwood. when more is at stake—money, reputation, fame—a person’s dire aversion to loss motivation kicks in, causing them to feel as though whatever is on the line is in his or her grasp to lose. he or she may work more diligently, yet somehow this hard labor doesn’t pay off; in fact, the opposite occurs.

sian beilock, a psychologist at the university of chicago, studied professional athletes for her book, choke: what the secrets of the brain reveal about getting it right when you have to, and found that overthinking leads to what she calls “paralysis by analysis.” a person knows the possible reward is nearly within reach, so he or she attempts to control every step or aspect of what he or she is doing in order to obtain that reward. beilock also cites that pressure-filled situations can suck dry the working memory section of our brain, causing us to muck up whatever we’re so hell bent on winning. there’s no doubt that everyone, at some point, chokes. but, clearly, some of us choke more often than others do.

i’m kaitlin, and i’m a choker.

in high school i could hit a softball square on the fat part of the bat during practice or in low-pressure situations, but i could be counted on to strike out or ground out during ups when my teammates and coach were imploring me to move runners over in a clutch, like when we were down by only a run. how clichéd it is to exemplify the bottom-of-the-seventh (in softball), bases-loaded, winning-run-on-third moment, the batter in a three-two count, but i was in that boat often.

don’t be the last out of the inning. don’t be the last out of the game. don’t strike out. don’t pop up. don’t ground out. these negative inner mandates translated to: don’t fuck it all up, severini.

sometimes i got lucky—i’d get a walk—but i attribute that less to having a good eye and more to the fact that i often felt as though my arms were pinned, unable to properly wield the bat that had previously felt so comfortable in my grip. i couldn’t force my hips to swivel, my front foot to square to the pitcher, my back foot to turn up on its heel, the cleats deepening the pit next to home plate. sometimes four crappy pitches would go by as i stood, frozen, and then off i’d trot toward first base.

choking is something i’ve learned to curb in recent years, especially after traveling, when i learned how little i can influence the outcome of any given dilemma. the control freak within me has disintegrated little by little, nearing extinction, but the thing about a control freak is that she is a stubborn bitch who doesn’t give up easily.

dating a professional pickup artist/dating coach has, for obvious reasons, drawn many questions (and some interesting commentary) from my friends and family, specifically with regard to what exactly a professional pua does, aside from getting his students in bed with hot women, which is what most people think is the only goal of pickup. learning and mastering pickup has some to do with meeting and bedding women, but more to do with becoming the best possible version of yourself, overcoming fears and insecurities, and relieving yourself from trying in desperation to obtain a positive outcome in a given situation without enjoying any of the journey that comes before the goal. the most effective way to dash away your fears, to achieve what puas call “freedom from outcome” is to practice. beilock agrees, stating that “practicing under stress . . . helps a person feel comfortable when they find themselves standing in the line of fire. . . . the experience of having dealt with stress makes those situations seem like old hat. . . .”

“think about the journey, not the outcome,” she advises.

last night (or early this morning, i guess), i was sharing a meal with my boyfriend and two of his students when i noticed that the candle on our table had burned out, the wick down to the nub in a melted pool of wax. the student across from me looked to his right, at an empty table with a perfectly burning candle, and he swapped its flickering neighbor with our dud.

“this is going to sound crazy,” he said, “but before yesterday, i would never have done that.”

and i wondered why. was he afraid that the wait staff wouldn’t be happy that a patron did something the staff members normally do themselves? was it akin to reaching behind the wait station and grabbing extra napkins instead of asking for them? (this is something my dad does with alarming regularity when we eat out.) did he think that we didn’t deserve a burning flame? was he scared we’d think he was silly for caring that our candle had burned out? i didn’t ask for the reason (or reasons), but it didn’t matter. he had been forced to talk to and dance with girls all night and stand out on a sidewalk in union square and shout out his insecurities, so deciding that our table deserved a fully functioning candle and he was going to make that a reality was now hardly a nerve-inducing quandary. he switched those candles with authority. shits given: none.

over the last nine months, i’ve had those moments in which i’ve faltered, but for the most part, i’ve had my eyes on a number of goals, and i’ve known that the best way to achieve those goals is to be myself, my best self, and “be easy,” as my friend says. back in the spring i decided that i wanted to do the following: move home to save money, take a trip for my thirtieth birthday, complete the new york city marathon, quit my job and work as a freelancer, make progress on my book, travel whenever i wanted, and be the girl, but more than that, the partner, the best friend, of a man harder than hard to reach, a man with more options than the average gent. i knocked down each pin one at a time, the last one in the list falling most recently.

and it was then that i stood on top of the world i’d worked so hard to build, and i looked down; but instead of experiencing a triumph that everything had turned out far, far better than i ever could have imagined, or a feeling of satisfaction that i’d completed just what i’d set out to, i panicked. i was up so high, and i had so, so much to lose. i had such a distance to fall if i were to trip, make a mistimed footfall, that i didn’t bother to congratulate myself on having achieved all these things. i began to wonder how not to lose them. i questioned how i’d been able to get them in the first place—did i even deserve them?—and how i wasn’t going to screw them up. then, afterward, everything i did, and anything anyone said, became peppered with low self-esteem, insecurity, and doubt. so then, worst of all, i seemed to forget how to be that confident, driven person, and in turn, i overcompensated in order to find her again, only to have it all backfire. in short, i choked.

“it’s because it feels like a dream,” i said recently.

“so why are you trying so hard to wake up?” he answered.

i’m sitting in the starbucks on eighth avenue and thirty-fifth street now while my boyfriend is with his students across eighth at a diner. i’m supposed to be working on the job i have due tomorrow (and i will later, meaning i’ll be up all night, finishing it), but writing this post is like therapy for me, a therapy i desperately needed.

“a person . . . can overcome anxiety by thinking about what to say, not what not to say,” beilock says. and, similarly, the pickup artist is taught to play to win, not play not to lose.

so here i am. i’m seventeen, my waist-length curls tied up in french braid pigtails; white and purple socks, streaked in red-orange infield, pulled up to just under my kneecaps; the smallest of the batting helmets in our equipment bag still wobbly on my abnormally small head. my hands smell like sand and leather, and my coach is telling me, in a series of hand motions and ear tugs, to swing away. we have a chance to win our division, if only i can advance to first and move the go-ahead run on third home. i don’t need to hit a grand slam. i don’t even need to hit a double. i don’t need to hit the ball at all, actually.

fuck you, don’t be the last out of the inning.

fuck you, don’t be the last out of the game.

fuck you, don’t strike out.

fuck you, don’t pop up, and fuck the fuck off, don’t ground out.

protect the strike zone and pick my pitch. hit the ball through the infield. outrun the throw to first. get the girl on third home. make it so that, in approximately twenty seconds, she’s sliding into, jumping on, dancing around, rolling over, strolling across, or knocking the catcher off home plate, my back to her as i fly up the baseline, kicking up divots, pigtails flapping against the number on my jersey, one i’ve earned if only it’s in this key moment. one in which i decide to win instead of not choke.

*robert w. service