I once had a flatmate - Lisa - with an astounding ability to get male attention. Living with her was like living in an ad for Valentine’s Day. Some florist was always ringing the doorbell and delivering flowers, while the answering machine was full of male voices, pleading for her attention.
And here’s the amazing thing. Lisa wasn’t a super model, but she could pull man after man. So amazingly skilled was she, that I didn’t even get upset when she went off with a guy I was interested in. I just accepted that she had some innate ‘it’ quality that she’d been born with, which I couldn’t compete with.
Until she told me her secrets one night. We were having a girly night in, working our way through a bottle of wine (or two) and she’d just got off the phone to her best friend, who was getting married the next week.
“I hope her fiance doesn’t tell her that he slept with me,” she said, slightly worried.
Why did you sleep with your best friend’s fiance? I asked, incredulous.
“Because I wanted to see if I could,” she replied.
And then the whole story came out. Lisa had grown up in a violent household. Her father was so terrifyingly violent that when he put the key in the front door at night, his two little girls would wet themselves in fear. Eventually, her mother took them to live in a shelter, and then to a different city, at which point she hooked up with another man and left her daughters to fend for themselves. Lisa dropped out of school and took a job at the Estee Lauder counter at one of the big department stores. There she worked with a coterie of girls who had set up a competition.
The competition was this: any girl who could get a guy to come to the counter and ask for them got a mark on the small chalkboard hidden where customers couldn’t see it. If the guy brought flowers, extra mark. Guy came bearing chocolates, or a request for a date, or a present, extra marks.
Lisa was determined to win. Her game plan was to go for volume- any man was worth practising on. She learned to smile the right way, to tip her head slightly so her neck was showing when she spoke, and to gaze into their eyes so they would believe that every singe thing they said was the smartest thing she’d ever heard. I watched her in action – she was subtle. Lisa wasn’t slutty. She was just this very charming, very attentive woman. And men fell for it. Like nine pins.
“You’ve got to be fun to be around,” she said. “No complaining, no talking about your problems, always interested in them. Always smiling.”
Going out with her got boring, because she saw other women as idiots and rivals, and as soon as a warm male body was in the room, she’d drop us and make a beeline for the man. She’d be smiling, listening, nodding. The man would be glowing with pleasure.
Looking back, I think she might have done it as a way of taming men, so she’d never be vulnerable again. But her skills had a downside.
When women are romantically crushed, they weep a lot and watch Bridget Jones DVDs. Men who are romantically crushed are unpredictable. We came out one morning to find her car covered in concrete, courtesy of some disappointed builders. And some of her liaisons got downright threatening. Eventually, Lisa moved on and my life became a lot less dramatic.
I’d forgotten about Lisa until I started reading recently about pick up artists. Guys who fancy themselves rotten, who are dedicated to getting notches on their bedposts. They have very specific techniques they use to pick up women and get them into bed, which they’re extremely self congratulatory about.
They think they’ve learned some great secret. As it happens, there are plenty of women who can do this too. At our most basic, we’re hard-wired animals, and you can, if you’re dedicated enough, learn the rules that dictate romantic and sexual behaviour and then exploit that knowledge for personal gain. You can get very very good at it, and it doesn’t – contrary to popular belief – rely totally on looks. I’m a plus-40 woman and if I follow Lisa’s grab bag of tricks for a few minutes – dipping my head and looking up, listening intently while smiling sweetly, neck slightly exposed – I can usually get a man to relax and pay me attention. (I can’t do it for very long, because – like all skills – it takes practice and effort. I quickly fall back into my non-charming ways.)
I have no doubt that even the shortest, ugliest, most repellent male can learn some pick up artist tricks and get girls into bed. Lisa would have scoffed at goals that low – she held out for Tiffany jewellery and weekends away, which she regularly prised out of men.
But there’s a cost to this. If you see other people as nothing but game to be hunted – male or female – you end up an arsehole. A lonely, typically bitter arsehole with a jaundiced view of humanity. How could you not? Other people are just pieces of meat to be chewed and spat out. Not really a world view that’s going to bring you connection.
And you can’t do it forever. While it doesn’t rely solely on looks, there comes a point where you’re just a sleazy old guy hitting on women, or a woman past her prime embarrassing herself.
In his memoirs, Casanova – the greatest pick up artist of all time – talks about this end point. The difference between him and modern pick up artists is that Casanova actually adored women. He liked their company, he liked their conversation, he liked their sense of adventure.
Anyway, in his 70s, Casanova sat and wrote a long memoir (the modern edition is 12 volumes) about his exploits. It ends sadly. He says, several times, that the fun ran out once he hit 50. No matter what he did, women no longer responded – and he was the greatest of the greatest. Worse, he said if only – if only! – some woman had nailed him down properly and made him stop, he wouldn’t have ended his days lonely and forgotten.
Something to think about.