‘What’s a wingman?’
“If a man hasn’t what’s necessary to make a woman love him, it’s his fault, not hers.”
W Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil
So, young man. Here it is. The final and most important instalment of my letter from the future: a list of the things I did in my dating life that brought success. (Or rather, to be more scientific about it, a list of the things I did that coincided with success. Never confuse correlation with causation.) These are the things you need to do much, much more of if you’re going to avoid a life of single-room supplements ad extremely one-sided conversations, of being Uncle Andy instead of Dad.
1. Man up.
The first conclusion I came to when I started looking over my romantic misadventures was a deeply depressing one. I thought, for quite a while, that the one Big Truth my research was leading me to was that women love assholes.
It’s all there in the science. Women have evolved a powerful preference for protector/provider figures; men of high status, who can defend them, give them lots of healthy, sexy children, and feed them. (Any who didn’t were cleansed from the gene pool in prehistoric times.)
How many times have you heard a woman say, “I’ve had it with bastards”, only to leap into the arms of an even bigger piece of shit? How else do you explain the undying appeal of the likes of Oliver Reed, George Best, Russell Brand, Chris Brown, Jude Law, Ashley Cole, Tiger Woods and Darren Day? How else do you explain the fact that the French president cheating on his partner increases his approval rating among female voters? Even the brightest of my female friends say – albeit with a guilty grimace – things like, “I want a guy with a bit of an edge”, “I like a man to be a man” and “Manly men make me feel feminine”. (I hear you, sister. They make me feel feminine too.)
However. True or not, I cannot, even now, in my lonely, embittered and cynical state, knowingly sanction shitty behaviour. Because the longer men like this are looked up to, and bent over for, the more unhappy women and fatherless children will be foisted on the world, and longer the status-driven patriarchy will persist. Women may not like being meekly shadowed by yappy puppy dogs, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a slavering rottweiler. Aim for … a husky, maybe.
While I can’t ask you to become an asshole, I can exhort you to take a few leaves out of their book. Be decisive. Have strong opinions on things (whether you’ve thought about them or not). Stop apologising for yourself all the time. Learn to deal with spiders, and mice, and master a few basic DIY tasks. And there’s one trick in particular you can nick:
2. Be confident.
There will be brief spells in your life when you’re happy; when things are going more or less according to plan; when a good stand-up gig, low-level TV fame, or maybe just alcohol, have given you a temporary boost, a little spike in self-belief. Every time you approach a woman in this state, practically without exception, she will welcome you with open arms. By contrast, every time you approach a woman diffidently, in expectation of rejection, that’s precisely what you’ll get. It doesn’t take five years of scientific research to come to the conclusion that self-assurance is key component of attraction.
The trouble is, you’re not a naturally confident chap. What’s more, you have an innate distrust of confidence in others. You know that it often tips over into arrogance. You have seen that it can be faked; that, more often than not, it is faked, that far from being an indicator of intelligence, charisma, wealth (or potential wealth) or power, it’s actually a mask concealing the absence of those things. You find modesty and self-doubt far more appealing, and more compatible with other qualities that you value, such as openness, empathy, and a willingness to learn about the world and others.
Well, stop it. In virtually every survey ever conducted of the characteristics women look for in a partner, confidence comes top, or thereabouts. “Confident, but not cocky” is probably the single most common phrase in female want lists on internet dating sites. A lack of confidence, for right or wrong, rules you out of contention.
Of course, unlike some people, you can’t just pull confidence out of your ass. You have to build it up. There are a few ways to do this.
3. Be passionate.
It was only after raking over the coals for the umpteenth time that I noticed my success stories had another thing in common. Each time I made the grade, I was feeling reckless, or hard done by, or actively angry about something. There was steel in my eyes and fire in my loins. I was, for however brief a time, exhibiting passion.
As I’ve noted before, “passion” is one of the most common words in “What I want” section of women’s internet dating profiles (third, by my reckoning, behind “confident but not cocky” and “looking for my Mr Darcy”).
It’s not immediately clear why this should be true from an evolutionary perspective. But I guess if you’re passionate about someone, you’re more likely to stick by her. And if you’re passionate about something, you’re more likely to be good at it, and thus able to bring home more bacon.
Because the passion doesn’t – initially at least – have to be directed at the woman. I think it almost helps if it’s not. Most women, I’ve found, are suckers for fierce devotion to just about any interest or cause, even if it’s something they have no time for themselves. So get a hobby. Develop some skills. Find something (other than women) that gives you joy and pursue it with all your heart.
By all means keep up the writing: you’ll enjoy it, and you’ll eventually turn into a halfway competent hack. (But don’t, maybe, waste quite so many hours churning out formulaic sci-fi plots in an adorable but ultimately fruitless bid to become the youngest ever writer of an episode of Doctor Who.)
You’ll try out a few activities in the years ahead. Drawing. Stand-up. Singing in a choir. And as soon as it becomes apparent that you’re not going to be the best in the world, you’ll jack them in. Don’t. They’re fun, they’re a great way of meeting people, and they make you a more interesting and attractive person.
And while you’re at it, broaden your palette a bit. Learn a musical instrument. Sign up with Samaritans. Become a tae kwon do master. Hell, develop an obsession with traditional Belgian folk music if you must. Trust me: it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.
4. Cultivate male (and platonic female) friends.
You’re looking at me strangely. You’ve got loads of male friends. That chap in the photo, for example, although you’re still mad at him for treading dog shit through your hallway.
Well, that’s about to change. The second you hit puberty, you will start to regard all males not as companions, but as competition (and you’ll notice many of them doing the same). With a few fleeting exceptions, you will never again treat another boy as an equal, but rather, according to his place in the pecking order. Once you discover the game of love, you’ll discard your male friends like yesterday’s toys.
From that day forth, you will seek only female company. You will approach them, initially, in the hope of persuading them to be your girlfriend; and when, inevitably, it became clear that isn’t going to happen, you’ll settle for a gin and platonic.
Don’t get me wrong: this will lead to some joyful, wonderful, beautiful friendships; friendships you wouldn’t give up for the world. But they are friendships that are uniquely vulnerable to interlopers – namely, boyfriends – who will often, quite correctly, doubt your motives. And they will be friendships that will not always survive the arrival of children, or the move halfway across the country for Darren’s job.
This is dumb in so many ways.
An evolutionary psychologist reading this might raise a hand. “Of course male friends are useful, but only if you’re the leader of the pack. Look at those situations: you were the lead singer in the band. One of the social ringleaders in the comedy troupe. You organised the card night, and it was, after all, your 32nd birthday. Those women were responding purely to your status.”
But I’m not sure your rank within a group is that important. The crucial thing, I think, is that you have a role at all: you are accepted, you fit in, you are valued in some capacity. After all, in many of the fond memories, I was with men who didn’t particularly look up to me: Adrian in Aups. Guy, with Claudia, and in Benidorm. Adam, with Frankie
, and with Catherine
.(I believe this phenomenon also goes a long way towards explaining the success of pick-up artists. Yes, they learn tricks, yes, they peacock, yes, they have good lines, and they neg. But more important than all of this, I think, is the wingman: male company. Proof that you are not a complete social outcast.)So, counterintuitive as it may sound, if you want girls to like you, hang on to your male friends. Yes, even Dog Shit Boy. And make more. As well as increasing your appeal to the opposite sex, having male friends will boost your confidence, make you more relaxed around other people, and provide a handy source of first-date anecdotes.
More to the point, mate, having male friends – like having passions in life – is actually quite fulfilling in its own right.
Which bring us, fairly neatly, to my final point.
5. Stop caring so much about sex.
This will, I think, be the hardest lesson to drum into that thick skull of yours. Your hormones are overpowering. You can’t see a pretty girl without imagining her naked. The only true joy you’ll ever feel from now onwards will be derived from sex, whether real or virtual. It seems to make perfect sense to devote your every thought to the acquisition of a mate.
There’s a problem with that. If you spend too much time talking to, fantasising about, and devising elaborate plans to win the hearts of women, that won’t leave any time to turn yourself into something women might be interested in. (Imagine the action your inbox would see if, in the “interests” section of your internet dating profile, you wrote simply “Women”.) Moreover, if women are the only passion in your life, you’re going to be pretty miserable if, for whatever reason, you end up without one.
It’s not going to be easy, but you’ve got to find a way of lessening their importance in your life. The mistake I made – and, to be fair, the mistake a lot of other people make – was to assume that love is the key to happiness. I had it ass about face. Happiness is the key to love.
So don’t choose your activity on a Saturday night based on how many cute girls are going to be there. Don’t let gender mix be the main criterion for your choice of degree. Don’t spend days composing witty poems for women who, frankly, aren’t that interested. Instead, build yourself a strong, happy, fun, successful life without women – in spite of women – and hopefully, some day, one will come.
And if she doesn’t, at least you’ll have your passions and your male friends to fall back on.