Seduction is a game of reducing suspicion and resistance. The cleverest way to do this is to make the other person feel stronger, more in control of things. Suspicion usually comes out of insecurity; if your targets feel superior and secure in your presence, they are unlikely to doubt your motives. You are too weak, too emotional, to be up to something. Take this game as far as it will go. Flaunt your emotions and how deeply they have affected you. Making people feel the power they have over you is immensely flattering to them.
Confess to something bad, or even to something bad that you did, or contemplated doing, to them. Honesty is more important than virtue, and one honest gesture will blind them to many deceitful acts. Create an impression of weakness—physical, mental, emotional. Strength and confidence can be frightening. Make your weakness a comfort, and play the victim—of their power over you, of circumstances, of life in general. This is the best way to cover your tracks.
We all have weaknesses, vulnerabilities, frailnesses in our mental makeup. Perhaps we are shy or oversensitive, or need attention— whatever the weakness is, it is something we cannot control. We may try to compensate for it, or to hide it, but this is often a mistake: people sense something inauthentic or unnatural. Remember: what is natural to your character is inherently seductive. A person’s vulnerability, what they seem to be unable to control, is often what is most seductive about them. People who display no weaknesses, on the other hand, often elicit envy, fear, and anger—we want to sabotage them just to bring them down. Do not struggle against your vulnerabilities, or try to repress them, but put them into play. Learn to transform them into power. The game is subtle: if you wallow in your weakness, overplay your hand, you will be seen as angling for sympathy, or, worse, as pathetic. No, what works best is to allow people an occasional glimpse into the soft, frail side of your character, and usually only after they have known you for a while. That glimpse will humanize you, lowering their suspicions, and preparing the ground for a deeper attachment. Normally strong and in control, at moments you let go, give in to your weakness, let them see it.
Valmont used his weakness this way. He had lost his innocence long ago, and yet, somewhere inside, he regretted it. He was vulnerable to someone truly innocent. His seduction of the Présidente was successful because it was not totally an act; there was a genuine weakness on his part, which even allowed him to cry at times. He let the Présidente see this side to him at key moments, in order to disarm her. Like Valmont, you can be acting and sincere at the same time. Suppose you are genuinely shy—at certain moments, give your shyness a little weight, lay it on a little thick. It should be easy for you to embellish a quality you already have.
After Lord Byron published his first major poem, in 1812, he became an instant celebrity. Beyond being a talented writer, he was so handsome, even pretty, and he was as brooding and enigmatic as the characters he wrote about. Women went wild over Lord Byron. He had an infamous “underlook,” slightly lowering his head and glancing upward at a woman, making her tremble. But Byron had other qualities: when you first met him, you could not help noticing his fidgety movements, his ill-fitting clothes, his strange shyness, and his noticeable limp. This infamous man, who scorned all conventions and seemed so dangerous, was personally insecure and vulnerable.
In Byron’s poem Don Juan, the hero is less a seducer of women than a man constantly pursued by them. The poem was autobiographical; women wanted to take care of this somewhat fragile man, who seemed to have little control over his emotions. More than a century later, John F. Kennedy, as a boy, became obsessed with Byron, the man he most wanted to emulate. He even tried to borrow Byron’s “underlook.” Kennedy himself was a frail youth, with constant health problems. He was also a little pretty, and friends saw something slightly feminine in him. Kennedy’s weaknesses—physical and mental, for he too was insecure, shy, and oversensitive—were exactly what drew women to him. If Byron and Kennedy had tried to cover up their vulnerabilities with a masculine swagger they would have had no seductive charm. Instead, they learned how to subtly display their weaknesses, letting women sense this soft side to them.
There are fears and insecurities peculiar to each sex; your use of strategic weakness must always take these differences into account. A woman, for instance, may be attracted by a man’s strength and self-confidence, but too much of it can create fear, seeming unnatural, even ugly Particularly intimidating is the sense that the man is cold and unfeeling. She may feel insecure that he is only after sex, and nothing else. Male seducers long ago learned to become more feminine—to show their emotions, and to seem interested in their targets’ lives. The medieval troubadours were the first to master this strategy; they wrote poetry in honor of women, emoted endlessly about their feelings, and spent hours in their ladies’ boudoirs, listening to the women’s complaints and soaking up their spirit. In return for their willingness to play weak, the troubadours earned the right to love. Little has changed since then. Some of the greatest seducers in recent history—Gabriele D’ Annunzio, Duke Ellington, Errol Flynn—understood the value of acting slavishly to a woman, like a troubadour on bended knee.
The key is to indulge your softer side while still remaining as masculine as possible. This may include an occasional show of bashfulness, which the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard thought an extremely seductive tactic for a man—it gives the woman a sense of comfort, and even of superiority. Remember, though, to keep everything in moderation. A glimpse of shyness is sufficient; too much of it and the target will despair, afraid that she will end up having to do all the work.
A man’s fears and insecurities often concern his sense of masculinity; he usually will feel threatened by a woman who is too overtly manipulative, who is too much in control. The greatest seductresses in history knew how to cover up their manipulations by playing the little girl in need of masculine protection.
A famous courtesan of ancient China, Su Shou, used to make up her face to look particularly pale and weak. She would also walk in a way that made her seem frail. The great nineteenth-century courtesan Cora Pearl would literally dress and act like a little girl. Marilyn Monroe knew how to give the impression that she depended on a man’s strength to survive. In all of these instances, the women were the ones in control of the dynamic, boosting a man’s sense of masculinity in order to ultimately enslave him. To make this most effective, a woman should seem both in need of protection and sexually excitable, giving the man his ultimate fantasy. The Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, won dominance over her husband early on through a calculated coquetry. Later on, though, she held on to that power through her constant—and not so innocent—use of tears. Seeing someone cry usually has an immediate effect on our emotions: we cannot remain neutral. We feel sympathy, and most often will do anything to stop the tears—including things that we normally would not do.
Weeping is an incredibly potent tactic, but the weeper is not always so innocent. There is usually something real behind the tears, but there may also be an element of acting, of playing for effect. (And if the target senses this the tactic is doomed.) Beyond the emotional impact of tears, there is something seductive about sadness. We want to comfort the other person, and as Tourvel discovered, that desire quickly turns into love. Affecting sadness, even crying sometimes, has great strategic value, even for a man. It is a skill you can learn.
The central character of the eighteenth-century French novel Marianne, by Marivaux, would think of something sad in her past to make herself cry or look sad in the present. Use tears sparingly, and save them for the right moment. Perhaps this might be a time when the target seems suspicious of your motives, or when you are worrying about having no effect on him or her. Tears are a sure barometer of how deeply the other person is falling for you. If they seem annoyed, or resist the bait, your case is probably hopeless. In social and political situations, seeming too ambitious, or too controlled, will make people fear you; it is crucial to show your soft side. The display of a single weakness will hide a multitude of manipulations. Emotion or even tears will work here too. Most seductive of all is playing the victim. For his first speech in Parliament, Benjamin Disraeli prepared an elaborate oration, but when he delivered it the opposition yelled and laughed so loudly that hardly any of it could be heard. He plowed ahead and gave the whole speech, but by the time he sat down he felt he had failed miserably. Much to his amazement, his colleagues told him the speech was a marvelous success.
It would have been a failure if he had complained or given up; but by going ahead as he did, he positioned himself as the victim of a cruel and unreasonable faction. Almost everyone sympathized with him now, which would serve him well in the future. Attacking your mean-spirited opponents can make you seem ugly as well; instead, soak up their blows, and play the victim. The public will rally to your side, in an emotional response that will lay the groundwork for a grand political seduction.