A boys' football coach by day, after hours Russell Carter coaches hardened men in an entirely different game. The playing field is Saint Dane's on a Tuesday night. The ball is in the court of the first beautiful woman who catches his eye -- anyone who rates a nine or 10.
Carter introduces himself. He's 25, tall and muscular with a winning smile. He's a natural comedian, so conversation is easy-flowing. Suddenly he leans in, squinting at the woman's nose. "Wow, you've got a bit of a schnoozle there don't you?" At that point, she recoils, reaching up to cover her face. Carter laughs and apologizes for acting like a kid on a playground. He explains that he likes her but doesn't know how to tell her yet. She relaxes a bit.
In the pickup-artist world, it's a technique called "negging," uplifting a woman's self-esteem, razing it to the ground, and then building her back up again. The thinking goes, if you can control a woman's emotions, you pretty much have her in the "battle for the pussy," says Carter, a newly established dating coach with a handful of clients throughout Houston.
Out in the real world, Carter's technique is known as gaslighting, a form of mental abuse that causes victims to question their sanity, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The entire pickup artist trade is rampant with men who think in terms of "alphas" and "betas," domination and submission, sex entitlement and the objectification of women.
However, feminist frenemy Efe Osaren insists that she's never felt threatened by Carter. He pokes fun to get a rise out of her, but she sees it as a gimmick.
"I genuinely believe he knows he's doing things wrong on purpose, but he doesn't care," Osaren said. "That's why I entertain it, because I get the feeling that he just likes the attention. One of the first things I ever said to him was, 'I think you like to make jokes and play this macho man to hide your insecurities.'"
Osaren grew up rolling her eyes at a patriarchal Nigerian father who considers her gender equality agenda a "phase." She says it's more likely that men who repeatedly reinforce their masculinity are emotionally repressed. Still, Osaren worries that Carter's dating coach business preys on women.
Carter scoffs at the criticism, which he calls "political correctness." He sees the dating game in more black-and-white, animalistic terms. Men embrace their inner hunter, women give up on the notion of tying men down, he says.
Much like Will Smith's "Hitch," Carter boasts his own "tragic" origin story. It was his freshman year at the University of Texas -- Austin, and he was on his knees in the lobby of his girlfriend's dorm, begging her not to break up with him. Carter had been certain that because he was a good-looking football player, he would be irresistible to women. After his breakup embarrassment, something clicked and Carter realized he needed a personality, too.
"I am definitely a better person for it, but at the same time, this whole relationship game is insane," Carter said sagely. Still, there's no doubt the breakup must have been traumatic enough to seriously skew his understanding of healthy relationships.
"Men and women are complete opposites. Men have embraced what we are. It's women who fight it," he said. "At the end of the day, we're animals. We need this release, but you guys hang onto that like you're terrorists."
Women are terrorists...holding on to what now?
Carter's business model is client-centric. He says he goes out with struggling pickup artists -- young professional nerds and recent divorcees -- at their convenience to bars in Midtown, Montrose and Sugar Land. Carter says he charges $150 a night and averages seven hangouts a week, coaching men in their interactions with about 15 women each session. He also assigns reading: pickup guidebooks The Game by Neil Strauss, The 48 Laws of Power and Mastery by Robert Greene and even Sun Tzu's classic The Art of War.
Somehow, "know your enemy and know yourself" reads a bit more creepy in this context.
Court records show Carter recently completed six months probation for a misdemeanor theft conviction in January (the charge covers goods ranging from $50 to $500). Attempts to contact Carter for further comment were unsuccessful, and he recently deleted his Facebook profile.
Marc Lesnick, organizer of international dating conference iDate, said there's a difference between dating coaches and pickup artists like Carter. Whereas dating coaches help relationship-minded clients with social etiquette, pickup artists are more interested in dazzling women into bed. Dating coaches try to build long-term desirability. Pickup artists play a numbers game in which women are both rated and objectified as "targets."
But Carter believes he's got what women want all figured out.
"In this world, the highest thing a man can be is a king. The highest thing a woman can be is a queen," he says. "Is a queen more powerful than the king? If a king is too busy kissing a queen's ass and not taking care of his kingdom, she's gonna be like, 'Ugh, you're some dumbass king, man."
In Carter's world, women have already lost "the battle for the pussy." The best they can do is wait for men to surrender in old age.