“You, who for the first time are taking up arms beneath the standard of Venus, find out, in the first place, the woman you are to love.”
Ovid, in his two-thousand-year-old dating guide ‘The Art of Love,’ lays out his plan in three stages: (1) find your woman, (2) “bend her to your will,” (3) do what you need to do to make your love endure.
We shall talk about all these stages in due course, but in passing I’d like to say that we often neglect the third. Once you’ve made a conquest, don’t slack off. You need to keep the flame alive. Don’t start being a typical bloke and fart and belch in her company (sorry, but it needed to be said). Don’t neglect oral hygiene if you still want deep kisses and more. Don’t stop the behaviours that she found attractive and exciting in the beginning. Especially when married, tend the fire.
Back to the matter in hand.
Ovid goes on, “Now that you are still fancy-free, now is the time for you to choose a woman and say to her: ‘You are the only woman that I care for.’ She’s not going to be wafted down to you from heaven on the wings of the wind. You must use your own eyes to discover the girl that suits you.”
I definitely don’t agree that you should go up to a woman and straightaway say, ‘You are the only woman that I care for.’ She’ll run a mile unless already desperately in love with you, and that you cannot count on. You have to work on attraction – a process explained in my own book. One important principle of attraction is, let her come to you. Paradoxical. For now let’s just say, never appear desperate. But Ovid is right that your soulmate is not going simply to turn up and ring your doorbell.
Ovid goes on, “The hunter knows where to spread his nets… .” This should be part of your strategy. You need to think about where the woman of your dreams is likely to hang out. If you’re a wild party animal, don’t look for her in the library. And if you hate parties and prefer intelligent conversation, don’t torment yourself by going somewhere where the music is so loud you end up deaf. Your soulmate won’t be there anyway. However you do have to go out looking. And wherever you go, you need to keep practicing the arts of attraction until your babe magnetism is fully charged and under your control.
By this we know that we are dealing with Eros, desire, Cupid’s Greek equivalent, from whom we get the words erotic and erogenous zones. There are of course other loves.
C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves gives us not only Eros but also Storge (affection, as a parent for a child or a child for a pet), Philia (friendship) and Agape (in the sense used in 1 Corinthians 13 – divine love).
The happiest marriages and sexual partnerships include all four loves. The case for friendship is easy to make, and of the others I shall perhaps treat another time.
Back to our ancient Roman guide through the difficulties of love. Ovid says that he is well-qualified to write on this subject because he is old enough to have learned Cupid’s ways. Cupid is notoriously mischievous. If you are anything like me, you will have fallen in love many times and had no idea how even to get a kiss. But Ovid says his poem springs from experience.
Just as the fierce warrior Achilles was taught and tamed as a boy by his teacher, the old Centaur Chiron, so Ovid says he will tame the wild boy Cupid, ‘though his arrows riddle me.’
Over the coming weeks it is my intention to look at what Ovid says and see how much of it still applies today.
It boils down to this: (1) don’t be in imagination; (2) do things in the right order.
Don’t make a lunge when you’ve had no signals whatever that it is the right time to do this. Be aware of signals that are actually coming from her. And not signals you’ve merely convinced yourself are coming from her.
The more we are thinking about what we want, the more detached from reality we become. We have a hope in our heads, “she likes me/ she wants me to kiss her,” and then we look for signs that fit with what we want to believe (I referred previously to the classic portrayal of this in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night). We become victims of imagination.
The antidote to this is always to be considerate and to concern yourself with what she wants. That doesn’t mean being a wimp but it does entail keeping a clear head.
Combatting our own imagination is very difficult. When in doubt, don’t make the pass. Wait for her to make it obvious that she wants you to. You still have to be the one to lead, in most cases, because that’s what men do and that’s what most women want you to do. But make haste slowly. In any case, anticipation works in your favour.
Practical example: if you think she wants physical contact, start by touching her forearm or wrist very lightly (but not so quickly that it looks like an accident). Make eye-contact. See how she reacts. Then withdraw. This builds anticipation if she is ready, and does no harm if she isn’t.
If she sits so close to you that the side of her bottom is firmly pressed against yours it is probably safe to give her waist a little squeeze. Done correctly, this simply comes across as an affectionate gesture rather than a pass, so if more is not wanted (and you’ll know by whether she relaxes towards you or pulls away a little) no embarrassment is caused to either party. If this is received without recoil it is a sign that you can leave your arm round her waist for longer.
Key points: Do lead, but at the same time she must feel in control. Do not rush. Be sensitive to signals, not what you want to believe but what is. Do it in small stages: anticipation works in your favour. It is better to quit while you are ahead than to push it too far.