J.T. Tran, founder and CEO of ABCs of Attraction, a dating boot-camp, visited Yale for a Master’s Tea at Silliman College on Thursday. The self-styled “Asian playboy” later sat down with WEEKEND to discuss his relationships, his “tiger mom,” and why he ditched engineering to teach men the art of seduction.
Q: You started out in aerospace engineering, and now you’re a dating coach. When and how did you get into the dating business?
A: It’s a very long process. I wanted to be in NASA; that’s how I got into aerospace engineering. I actually got decently close for not having left the planet. But my social avenues were very limited with the industry that I was in. I was doing the traditional dating, from being set up on blind dates, doing internet dating, to going to after-work mixers. And [I was] just not having any kind of success. As an engineer I was like “OK, here’s a problem, let me research the solution and then apply that solution.” And that’s what I did. I found that pick-up is a very difficult pursuit to learn, but I did start to get good at it. I started a blog, and I was putting up my adventures and my misadventures. I had times when I just completely humiliated myself. I think that kind of honesty, as well as the fact that I was probably the only Asian-American in the blogosphere that was actually doing that, that I gained a certain popularity. I didn’t set up to make a company. It came to me. People were constantly asking me to help them out.
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Q: Can you explain what exactly your company, the ABCs of Attraction, does?
A: It’s an independent pick-up dating advice company. Generally speaking, we take guys out three days and three nights. We’ll set up somewhere, have a lecture, PowerPoint presentation, exercises and drills. And a lot of times we’ll use girls, “wing girls.” These are either friends, ex-girlfriends or girlfriends, that understand the process, and the students will practice talking to these beautiful girls. You know, it’s like a dry run before the actual real deal. And then we take them out to the field, you know the bars, the clubs, the lounges, where they will meet complete strangers and see how far they can take the interaction.
Q: You call yourself the “Asian playboy”; that’s your stage name. What exactly is the message you’re trying to convey with that?
A: You know, where I am [now], it’s very different from where I started. I may be a jet-setter going around having fun, but I’m not that kind of hardcore player I used to be, where it was all about one-night stands and “let me see if I can get my first threesome” kind of deal. Obviously part of it is I’m just a little bit older — just a little bit more tired of all the stuff that goes in the nightlife. But the origin of the name was just kind of a tongue-in-cheek joke. I’m an Asian and I want to live a playboy lifestyle, so I’m the “Asian playboy.”
Q: In terms of what you’re trying to teach your students, then, is it just how to get a hook-up or a one-night stand?
A: A guy needs experience. This is the dirty little secret about successful guys. You may have your eyes on some tall, handsome guy that all the girls rave about, but the dirty secret is he’s probably good in bed. He’s probably slept with X amount of women, and that’s why girls like him. He’s confident, both outside and in the bedroom. You don’t get that level of confidence by reading romance novels and watching porn. You get that in real life. I encourage guys, especially if they don’t have experience, they need to get some under their belt. Just like guys don’t like girls who are a cold fish in bed, a girl doesn’t want a guy that’s just fumbling around and is completely clueless as to how to turn a girl on.
Q: Your dating philosophy seems to focus a lot on the fact that you’re an Asian man and the difficulties Asian men in particular face in the dating scene. Could you talk about what specifically the challenges are for Asian men?
A: The challenges Asian men face, it’s very multifaceted, ranging from negative media perceptions, from stereotypes, to what our family does to us, the kind of social isolation that the “tiger-type” parenting produces.
Q: Did you have a “tiger mom” or “tiger dad”?
A: Yeah, in a way. If I got like a B or a C I got spanked; they got a belt and spanked me. Or I would have to go into the corner and kneel down on Legos and hold my arms out for like an hour. But at the same time, because my mom divorced, we kids were on our own for a very long time. So it became, in a certain way, more laissez-faire. I think that combination allowed me to be where I am. I have the diligence and the hard work ethic to achieve it, but at the same time I didn’t form those strong mental constructs of “I have to do this.” I am obviously the black sheep in my family, but in many ways I am the most successful.
Q: What does your family think about your career now?
A: It’s kept very vague. Obviously this is a very odd industry that I’m in. But at the same time it’s like, my mom knows I’m somewhat important, kind of famous, so long as it’s not obvious. It’s very “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Q: Does she read your blog?
A: No, she just knows I’ve been on TV and in newspapers. She’s not interested and doesn’t really care for the nuts and bolts of it, so long as “yeah our son’s important, he does good stuff.”
Q: Do you have advice for male students at Yale?
A: A couple things. Girls don’t realize that a guy is terrified or is anxious. Obviously not every man is like that, but for most, the idea of talking to a girl makes them nervous. They don’t understand that women don’t see that. Also just for Asians in general, is the idea to be open to meeting whomever: white, black, latina.
Q: Do you think guys should always make the first move?
A: Basically, yes. It’s nice if a girl makes the move; frankly it just makes things so much easier. But at the same time, you should not, ever, depend upon that.
Q: A lot of the suggestions you have for how men can walk up to women seem to happen in a bar or club setting. What about guys who don’t consider themselves hard partiers?
A: Well first, the nightlife setting is purely for practice. You can make all the mistakes you want in a club or a bar; no one cares the next day. If you’re very shy and inexperienced, you’re going to make mistakes. Now, during the day itself, your mistakes are more glaring and obvious. We start at the nightlife because it’s good practice. In the day, you’ll probably find more girls that are relationship-worthy. The day is for more serious-type game, if you will. But if the woman of your dreams is at the coffee shop and you’re still too scared to approach, that coffee shop is not the place to practice.
Q: What is your ideal first date?
A: I used to be very creative on dates. It depends on my mood. There was a point in time when I really wanted the adventure-going kind of girl. I would say, let’s go bungee-jumping. I would go go-kart racing. One thing I’m doing now in Los Angeles is going to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I discovered it because there was a Tibetan Buddhist exhibit, and I wanted to take a girl. It doesn’t matter necessarily where you take the girl, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s about the experience that you give a girl, because the last thing a girl wants, especially if she’s dated a lot of guys, is the same dinner-and-a-movie that everyone has taken her on.
Q: What is your most awkward dating experience?
A: I’ve had girls that I’ve ditched at the bar simply because they’re completely self-entitled brats. Oh … I took a girl, we were going ice skating/shopping at a mall, and she got a call from her dad that her grandmother had died. I had to bring her home, and that was the end of that.
Q: What are your Valentine’s Day plans?
A: Unfortunately I’m working. That’s the thing, I work on weekends. Other than like Christmas or Easter, the fun holidays are the holidays that I’m working. I’m in New York, and then I go to London. It’s a little bit ironic. But there’s a girl … we’ll be having a late Valentine’s.
Q: What are your plans for that?
A: I was thinking about going to Stonehenge. I don’t know if that’s an actual date, but I’ve never been to Stonehenge. While I’m in New York I might go to Tiffany’s, buy her a bracelet or something, a little bit romantic. We’ll see.
Q: Do you have any advice for female students at Yale?
A: It depends on the type of guy you’re attracted to. If the guy is shy and intelligent, he is probably not going to know the signals that you’re giving off. It’s hard for me to give advice if the girl is always going after the one guy that plays lacrosse or rowing, the classic tall good-looking guy. But if she wants the nice guy, then she may need to make the first move. Just understand that some guys literally do not know the signals. Sometimes you have to hit them over the head.