I will begin this article by relating a short anecdote.

Rodrigo had finally succeeding in meeting Luisa in a small barzinho. They had matched on Tinder several days before, but the logistical difficulties of meeting in their large city had prevented a convenient date from congealing.

But he had been quietly insistent, sensing from the tone of her texts that she had a high level of interest in him. When she had made a point of telling him how she was looking forward to their date, his mood was significantly elevated. They both had had to travel—by bus and taxi—some distance to meet this night.

At the barzinho, Rodrigo had gently escalated his physical contacts, beginning with her hands and forearms; this had progressed rapidly to a point where they were imprinting tongue-inflected kisses on each other.

He had moved from across the table to sit beside her, her legs now resting on his thighs; one of his hands had descended slightly inside her waistband, below her lower back. Both were fully engrossed in the moment, whispering seductive invocations to each other amid the chorus of surrounding conversations on the hot summer street.

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He eventually asked her to return to his apartment, to advance further their exploratory intimacies, but she had consistently declined, citing a litany of personal reasons. And yet he persisted. There was something about her refusals that contained a hidden entreaty of advancement, in that amorous code that only nascent lovers could decipher.

Finally she turned to him, looked him squarely in the eyes and said, I require efforts to be conquered. This, he knew at once, was his signal to advance further; it was probably one of the most feminine things that had been said to him, and it made his blood froth with expectation. Rodrigo recalled with quiet amusement two lines from Don Quixote: “A hen and a woman are lost by rambling,” and “Between a woman’s yes and no I would not engage to put a pin’s point, so close are they to one another.”

Yet Luisa still demurred, citing one reason after another to go home. And finally he relented, as it was now very late and he just wanted to return to his apartment. He paid the bill and told Luisa he would walk her to the bus stop; he himself would hail a taxi.

As they walked along the crowded streets, she turned to him and said she wanted to go with him to his apartment. And that was how quickly it had happened. That was how fast the game had changed. I require efforts to be conquered.

What are we to conclude from this tale? In matters of seduction, an opprobrious discourse on the differences between the genders simply will not do. There is indeed a logic to amorous interactions, if only we are able to see clearly through the biases of our predispositions. If we may descant a bit on the rhapsodies of love, we will see how some unexpected truths obtrude on our reluctant minds. The shattering of illusions is the first step in the acquisition of wisdom.

The aspiring lover must be hopeful. He will have innumerable obstacles placed in his path: excuses, tests, dramas, and excessive coyness will all be deployed against him in varying degrees of concentration. He must out-wait and outwit his adversary, paying special attention for clues that indicate he should press forward.

There is a delicate balance in a pursuit: it must stay within certain bounds, whose limits may shift over time. Knowing when to pursue, when to relent, and when to wait: these are the essences of the art of love. The pursuit requires a certain moral courage, for which the man will require a certain level of innate conviction.

An extended emotional gauntlet of pursuit is nature’s way of ensuring that only the most qualified contestants reach the finish line. Yet we cannot design flow-charts for the art of seduction; we cannot reduce its subtleties to neatly designed legal contracts, as some pathetic fools wish to do. As Seneca the Elder wisely noted (Controversiae. II.2.10):

In love, establishing artificial boundaries is easier than actually making love. Will you be able to get lovers to observe limits as if they might be called to account? That they do nothing without excessive thought? Promise nothing except through written legal contracts, and weigh all their words with cold logic? This is how old, senile people love.

I doubt anyone has ever expressed it more artfully. The pursuit is a righteous one if the following conditions are present:

1. You truly believe that this is the right thing to do.

Passion derived from sincerity is nearly irresistible. A man must have a sense of inner conviction that what he is doing is right. He must genuinely feel a level of passion for her; if he does not, it will show. Women are extremely sensitive to false emotions.

The keys to her castle must be granted by persuasion both artful and sincere. Naked sincerity, unadorned with artifice, is querulous and tiresome; cloaked in art, it becomes divine. Unless you truly believe in your quest, you will be detected, and you will fail. Even a small bit of doubt–or a whiff of negativity, anger, or frustration–will doom your efforts. Remember that you are not entitled to anything.

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Only the pure of heart should enter the arena, just as in the story from Greek mythology of the foot-race to win the hand of Atalanta. Readers may recall that Atalanta agreed to have only that man who could outrun her in a foot-race. Failure was punishable by death.

A clever youth named Hippomenes employed the ruse of using golden apples, supplied by the goddess Aphrodite, to outwit Atalanta and take her for himself. How ancient are the tricks and inducements of seduction, despite all sanctions and obstacles!

2. You are receiving signs and signals to advance

Here we must look primarily at women’s actions. In our anecdote above, we note that even though Rodrigo was getting rebuffed constantly at the barzinho, Luisa was not asking him to stop touching her. She was not asking him to move away from her.

He was given the permission to proceed. Being attuned to these signals is one of the key functions of the pursuit. Although Seneca the Elder overstates his case when he says (Controv. II.7.6),

Sex is close to a promise when, having been propositioned, she remains silent,

he nevertheless in this epigram seeks to make the point that a man must be sensitive to the moods and actions of our expectant lovers.

Truly feminine women do not want to have to exhaust themselves explaining matters of the heart to men. They expect us, as men, to know how to behave as men. They do not want to coach a man through a seduction: that, they correctly believe, is the man’s job. Nothing quenches the fires of desire more quickly in her heart than the perception that her man is obtuse in reading her signals.

3. You are sensitive to, and responsive to, her moods.

Remember that you are not entitled to anything. As men, we often forget just how different the woman’s world is from ours. On a recent date, a girl chanced to show me as an amusement the avalanche of texts she had received from some recent Tinder matches. I was disgusted to see text after text of groveling obsequiousness, photos of genitalia, and inept attempts at conversation.

The point is that attractive women are constantly beset by clumsy approaches in one form or another; and out of necessity, they need to hone their filtration systems in order to ensure that only the best candidates receive carnal admission.

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Some further guidance along these same lines has been found to be useful. We must constantly be mindful of the fact that the art of love is an art. There is little place in this sort of discussion for laundry-lists, bullet points, and obsessive analysis.

In ancient times, the Greek word palestra signified a training-ground for athletes or wrestlers. The game of love has its own palestra. And as in nearly everything else, there is no substitute for the palestra of actual worldly experience.

Never argue with her. Arguments are best reserved for married couples. In the dance of seduction, logic and reason assume a decidedly secondary importance. No woman was ever won over with appeals to logic. Arguments are a sign of weakness, of a lack of control of the situation, and must be avoided.

Be generous. Within reasonable limits, you must be willing to demonstrate some degree of generosity of spirit. In the anecdote above, Rodrigo made a point of telling Luisa that he would pay for her cab ride back to her residence in the morning. It may sound like a small detail, but the ability to overcome minor obstacles like this demonstrates to her that you are a man in control of the situation. You thereby engage her instinct to be protected and cared for.

Fortune is fickle. As we note in the anecdote, things can change on a dime. Just when you think all may be lost—as Rodrigo did—suddenly your luck can change. The reverse will also happen, with depressing frequency.

You must stay the course with patience and fortitude, no matter what the outcome. No matter the final result—victory or defeat—you must keep your composure, behave with philosophic dignity, and go on to fight another day. As Seneca the Elder says (Controv. I.1.5), regarding the twisting turns of fate,

Fate is fickle. Victors show their backs [i.e., flee] to the defeated, and Fortune abandons those whom it previously supported.

Nothing was ever accomplished without effort. There are no conquests without effort. Failure will be your constant companion. Salute him when necessary, and appreciate his constant imprecations; for without him we remain unrealized potential.

If the vagaries of chance and Fortune are not to your liking, and if the sting of failure unduly swells the tissues of your vanity, then you should not enter the palestra. The only protection from failure is never to try. As Seneca the Elder (Controv. I.8.16) says, quoting Diocles of Carystos:

There is one safeguard against Fortune: not to make an attempt of it too often.

This is true, perhaps. But can we even call this life? I for one cannot. I prefer my victories, however sparse, to be attended by a phalanx of failures, that they may taste sweeter still.

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