Never trust a flirt – they are the reason the birth rate is ...

Ideas

Never trust a flirt – they are the reason the birth rate is falling

Flirting and sustaining a domestic relationship are very different things - in fact, what makes one good at the first makes one utterly useless at the second

Hannah Betts


In a MeToo era in which gender interaction is ever more “woke”, attention has now turned to a bestselling seduction manual. Published in 2005, Neil Strauss’s The Game showed how men could transform themselves into accomplished “pick-up artists”.
In Strauss’s dystopian universe, “Casanevers” became Casanovas via strategies such as “negging” (an ostensible compliment concealing undermining negativity), freezing-out (churlishly ignoring a woman to secure her attention), and “going caveman” (escalating physical contact with a consenting, if suitably ambushed female). Fourteen years later, Sarah Green, co-director of End Violence Against Women, has informed Strauss’s publisher, Canongate, that the book should now be pulled from the shelves.
“This is not a question of censorship, but of why you are still pushing this rubbish that contributes to terrible attitudes and is just out of date. This view that women are there for you, and that you can treat women in bars like they’re not the same kind of human as you, is over. Attitudes have changed both in our sexual mores and ethics, through to understanding where the line is around sexual assault.”
Personally, I only ever saw it as a cultural riposte to The Rules, the smash-hit book published in 1995 by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. The theory was that women – definitely not wimmin ... – should be “easy to be with, but hard to get”, allowing their men to be hotly in pursuit. Chaps in this ghastly 1950s-style marriage manual were very much “not the same kind of human” – not that women were accorded much humanity themselves. A “Rules girl” would only be free for a Saturday night date if invited before Wednesday – no spontaneity allowed. When on said date, she would be immaculately turned out, pleasant, yet vague and unanimated, often gazing distractedly into space (mystery, ladies, mystery).
She would not – repeat, not – put out, because why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Even once she had a ring on her finger and nuptials in the bag, a Rules girl should continue to be scrubbed-up while creating an air of mystery so as to pique her husband’s interest – because implying that one might be having an affair is a sure-fire path to marital success.
I often used to wonder what came of these unions: the woman never allowed to express herself with any vehemence or hint of character, the man tantalised into succumbing to this sphinx without a secret. A couple of years in, did one of them finally crack and inveigle the other into actual communication? Or did they stagger wretchedly on, Stepford wife spawning Stepford daughter, befuddled jock siring befuddled jock?
Might a documentary crew be dispatched with the brief: Rules marriages, 20 years on? Presumably, there are no such alliances left, each party being so turned off by heterosexuality that they chose another path in the hope that someone might at least talk to them. Or maybe Rules girls got negged into years of one-night stands by pick-up artists, until both sides in this war of attrition ended up exhausted, unhappy and alone; cultivating their ambiguity in so many darkened rooms.
Why are birth rates falling? Because Fein, Schneider and Strauss taught us how to flirt. The irony is that flirtation is actually extremely simple, whether one wants to persuade someone into bed, or matrimony. Drum roll: they have to like you. You have to seem like an interesting, attractive, not head-swivellingly dysfunctional human being with whom they might want to spend time, whether that time is for a night or an eternity. They, in turn, have to seem as if they like you.
There are ways of signalling this mutual liking: listening, smiling, laughing at each other’s jokes, exclaiming “that’s so interesting!” and becoming a tad arch.
The still greater irony, of course, is that flirting and sustaining a domestic relationship are two entirely different skill sets. Moreover, everything that makes one good at the first makes one utterly useless at the second. Dating demands that one be intensely interesting, charming and alluring for one night only, versus the sustained affability required of sharing space. It is the difference between winging it in an exam, and the agonies of continuous assessment; being seen in flattering glances compared with a permanent state of judgment.
An inveterate flirt, I recently moved in with my partner. Believe me when I say: I know of what I speak.
– © The Daily Telegraph

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