Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Art of Seduction

I suppose I should apologize off the top, because I am about to turn a juicy topic into a pedantic exercise.

Not entirely, but somewhat.

According to the latest research on desire, as it is summarized by Jezebel: “Women only want men who don’t want them.” Link here. It isn't really true, but, at least, it's a catchy title.

When they are asked to choose between men who definitely like them and men who might like them, women are more apt, Jezebel reports, to choose those who might like them.

So says the latest psychological experiment.

To be perfectly clear, the women in the experiment were not answering questions about real men. They were responding to Facebook profiles of men who, they were told by researchers, had seen their profiles and expressed different levels of interest.

To say that this is about men who do like them or might like them begs the pretty obvious qualifier: these men do not know them; they do not know these men.

Therefore, we must qualify the results. A woman who is told by a third party that an anonymous man who does not know her from Eve is strongly attracted to her should have only one reaction: suspicion.

But a woman who is told by a third party that an anonymous man who does not know her from Eve might be attracted to her should be intrigued and interested. At least, she will feel flattered.

Women are quite good at distinguishing when a man likes them for themselves and when he likes them for some ancillary reason-- her quivering loins, for example.

If a man who does not know her from Eve develops a strong attraction to her, that will mean one of two things: either he is being drawn to an anatomical feature that he is fetishizing, or he is frankly delusional.

To a normal woman, such a man would not elicit desire. She would naturally refrain from being thoroughly smitten by him.

Look at it in a different context. If a woman walking down the street is being trailed by the glaring leer of a stranger, she might be slightly flattered, but she is not going to find this to be the most appealing invitation.

She does not know the man; the man does not know her; the man does not care to get to know her. Her normal reaction is to distrust his sentiments.

No matter how good looking he is, the stranger is being aroused by her quivering loins, and by nothing else.

If this same woman, wearing the same outfit, is chatting at a cocktail party with a man she has just met, and if she finds the man appealing, she will want to know whether he is interested in her or her quivering loins.

She is curious to know whether or not he is attracted. This could simply be her way of deciding how much time she is going to spend with him. If she gets a signal that he is really disinterested, she will likely not waste too much more of her time with him.

She will be more interested in him than she will be in a stranger leering at her on the street.

Let’s ask the question differently. If women are normally so attracted to men who don’t want them, how would you explain the success of a Don Juan?

A Don Juan does not owe his success to his disinterest and uncertainty. Surely, a Don Juan is not overbearing; he modulates the display of his charms. But, he seduces a woman by making her feel that she is the only woman in the world and that she has wholly captured his attention and interest. If you want to be a real Don Juan, it helps to be unemployed.

For all we know, a Don Juan might just be trying to add another notch to his bedpost. Most often, once he has succeeded in getting what he wants, his ardor diminishes, or even, vanishes. More than a handful of women seem to be willing to take the chance that he is in it for more than the notch.

A true Don Juan is not a pick-up artist. The latter is more interested in picking up a girl in a bar for a quick hookup. A Don Juan will mount a campaign that lasts for weeks, even months, to get what he wants.

Some men want women because they are attracted to a fetishized part of their body. Some men want women they cannot have. Some men only want women until they can have them.

There are, needless to say, many variations on this theme. It is unfair to say that women naturally want men who do not want them.

And then, ask yourself this: does the research distinguish between a man who wants a woman and a man who is desperate to have her.

In my view, most women seem to know the difference instinctively.

It is more difficult to explain it theoretically.

A desperate man will make his relationship with a woman into a life-or-death proposition. He is insecure, needy, and dependant.

He might sound like he wants the woman, but he is afraid to be without her. He will implicitly try to threaten her by letting her think that if she leaves him or rejects him, he will no longer find life worth living.

In another variation on the theme, some men are uncertain about whether or not they want to make a commitment to a woman. After a time, this uncertainty will become more cloying than attractive.

If a man proposes marriage and is not certain that this is what he wants to do, this too will be read by most women as unattractive.

The issue is so complicated that I think it best that we not reduce it to a clever sound bite. As much as I like clever sound bites.

Finally, there is another side to the uncertainty principle, one that I am so fond of that I wrote about it in my book about Saving Face.

If you want to seduce someone, it is a good to make them think about you a lot. One way to do this is to be mildly rude.

If you are too rude, they will be completely turned off. If you are too polite they will never have to think twice about you.

In truth, this technique has been the basis of a great deal of psychotherapy, especially the psychoanalytic variety. You may not think that the mysterious analyst, the living blank slate who sits behind his patients and can barely stay awake, is engaged in an elaborate seduction, but, in truth, that is really all that he is doing.

When a therapist rudely refuses to interact with his patients, his patients will start obsessing about him, trying to read his least gesture. The more the patient concocts explanations for the therapist’s silence or cryptic utterances, the more the analyst will be able to persuade the patient that he is really in loves.

The classical instance occurred when Freud attempted to persuade his patient, Dora, that she really loved him. She found the suggestion insulting and quit treatment.

Ever since, analysts have been honing their seduction technique.

Jezebal considers that this practice is gender neutral, so the chances are that it is not. Under normal circumstances women are better at it than are men. Women are, after all, notably mysterious, and what is the purpose of being mysterious if not to get someone to think about you all the time. Then you are well place to persuade him that if he thinks about you that much then he must really care about you.

On the most elementary level, women are often fashionably late for appointments. Recently, Elizabeth Taylor was fashionably late to her own funeral.

As long as a woman does not abuse the privilege, her tardiness will provoke her partner’s fantasies about what might have happened to her, where she is, and why she is late.

The more she can elicit such imaginings, the more she will be able to play the seductress.

I am not sure what it means that men are becoming more mysterious and are trying to outplay women at their own game, but I do not think it's a good thing.

If a woman is going to show up slightly late, the exercise will be compromised if the man also shows up late.

Finally, a woman who wears her heart on her sleeve, who is open and honest about her feelings, who communicates them freely, without guile, will find herself to be less attractive than the woman who has mastered the art of keeping her feelings to herself.


David Foster said...

Good post. I think people automatically devote more mental effort to things that are desirable but uncertain than to things that are viewed as in the bag, much as the human visual system (and that for most animal species as well) tends to make special note of objects that are *moving*.

BTW, it is very irritating that there are so many social science papers that are quoted in the general media as leading to some important conclusion...but the original paper isn't typically available unless you subscribe to some estoteric publication ("Journal of the Application of Bayesian statistics for evaluation of orgasm frequencies among left-handed women," subscriptions for only $775 per year) or pay a per-copy cost typically around $30. I personally think all publicly-funded research should be required to be posted on the web, unless classified information or proprietary business information is involved.

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr Schneiderman
RE: Love.... not about gamesmanship.



Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree with David... when these papers are not readily available we are forced to rely on the media accounts. And the media accounts are often sensationalized.

I do hope that the original paper did a better job on the concepts than did the media reports...

Chuck may be right that love is not about gamesmanship, but life is, and dating is, and relationships are, and marriage is.

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Heh is not about gamesmanship, but life is, and dating is, and relationships are, and marriage is. -- Stuart Schnedierman

Any 'relationship' including 'marriage' that is rooted in 'gamesmanship' has a high probability of failure.

I'm reminded of Billy Joel's song about 'Love'. The key verse is....

Some love is just a lie of the Soul;
A constant battle for the ultimate state of control.
After you've heard lie upon lie;
There can hardly be a question of why.


[Democrats make better lovers...who ever heard of a good piece of elephant?]

Therapy Culture said...

“Women only want men who don’t want them.”

That's what the PUAs say and thus teach "aloof game".

Regarding elephants. In South Asian ancient and classical literary culture they are actually used as metaphors for beautiful, strong and skillful lovers!

Anonymous said...

TO: Therapy Culture
RE: Elephant Lovers

So, if Cathrin the Great had had an elephant in her 'stable, instead of a horse, what would have happened?

A closed casket ceremony?


[When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.]

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It can't succeed in fact, that is what I think.