Date a girl who doesn’t read. Find her in the weary squalor of a Midwestern bar. Find her in the smoke, drunken sweat, and varicolored light of an upscale nightclub. Wherever you find her, find her smiling. Make sure that it lingers when the people that are talking to her look away. Engage her with unsentimental trivialities. Use pick-up lines and laugh inwardly. Take her outside when the night overstays its welcome. Ignore the palpable weight of fatigue. Kiss her in the rain under the weak glow of a streetlamp because you’ve seen it in film. Remark at its lack of significance. Take her to your apartment. Dispatch with making love. Fuck her.
Let the anxious contract you’ve unwittingly written evolve slowly and uncomfortably into a relationship. Find shared interests and common ground like sushi, and folk music. Build an impenetrable bastion upon that ground. Make it sacred. Retreat into it every time the air gets stale, or the evenings get long. Talk about nothing of significance. Do little thinking. Let the months pass unnoticed. Ask her to move in. Let her decorate. Get into fights about inconsequential things like how the fucking shower curtain needs to be closed so that it doesn’t fucking collect mold. Let a year pass unnoticed. Begin to notice.
Figure that you should probably get married because you will have wasted a lot of time otherwise. Take her to dinner on the forty-fifth floor at a restaurant far beyond your means. Make sure there is a beautiful view of the city. Sheepishly ask a waiter to bring her a glass of champagne with a modest ring in it. When she notices, propose to her with all of the enthusiasm and sincerity you can muster. Do not be overly concerned if you feel your heart leap through a pane of sheet glass. For that matter, do not be overly concerned if you cannot feel it at all. If there is applause, let it stagnate. If she cries, smile as if you’ve never been happier. If she doesn’t, smile all the same.
Let the years pass unnoticed. Get a career, not a job. Buy a house. Have two striking children. Try to raise them well. Fail, frequently. Lapse into a bored indifference. Lapse into an indifferent sadness. Have a mid-life crisis. Grow old. Wonder at your lack of achievement. Feel sometimes contented, but mostly vacant and ethereal. Feel, during walks, as if you might never return, or as if you might blow away on the wind. Contract a terminal illness. Die, but only after you observe that the girl who didn’t read never made your heart oscillate with any significant passion, that no one will write the story of your lives, and that she will die, too, with only a mild and tempered regret that nothing ever came of her capacity to love.
Do those things, god damnit, because nothing sucks worse than a girl who reads. Do it, I say, because a life in purgatory is better than a life in hell. Do it, because a girl who reads possesses a vocabulary that can describe that amorphous discontent as a life unfulfilled—a vocabulary that parses the innate beauty of the world and makes it an accessible necessity instead of an alien wonder. A girl who reads lays claim to a vocabulary that distinguishes between the specious and soulless rhetoric of someone who cannot love her, and the inarticulate desperation of someone who loves her too much. A vocabulary, god damnit, that makes my vacuous sophistry a cheap trick.
Do it, because a girl who reads understands syntax. Literature has taught her that moments of tenderness come in sporadic but knowable intervals. A girl who reads knows that life is not planar; she knows, and rightly demands, that the ebb comes along with the flow of disappointment. A girl who has read up on her syntax senses the irregular pauses—the hesitation of breath—endemic to a lie. A girl who reads perceives the difference between a parenthetical moment of anger and the entrenched habits of someone whose bitter cynicism will run on, run on well past any point of reason, or purpose, run on far after she has packed a suitcase and said a reluctant goodbye and she has decided that I am an ellipsis and not a period and run on and run on. Syntax that knows the rhythm and cadence of a life well lived.
Date a girl who doesn’t read because the girl who reads knows the importance of plot. She can trace out the demarcations of a prologue and the sharp ridges of a climax. She feels them in her skin. The girl who reads will be patient with an intermission and expedite a denouement. But of all things, the girl who reads knows most the ineluctable significance of an end. She is comfortable with them. She has bid farewell to a thousand heroes with only a twinge of sadness.
Don’t date a girl who reads because girls who read are the storytellers. You with the Joyce, you with the Nabokov, you with the Woolf. You there in the library, on the platform of the metro, you in the corner of the café, you in the window of your room. You, who make my life so god damned difficult. The girl who reads has spun out the account of her life and it is bursting with meaning. She insists that her narratives are rich, her supporting cast colorful, and her typeface bold. You, the girl who reads, make me want to be everything that I am not. But I am weak and I will fail you, because you have dreamed, properly, of someone who is better than I am. You will not accept the life that I told of at the beginning of this piece. You will accept nothing less than passion, and perfection, and a life worthy of being storied. So out with you, girl who reads. Take the next southbound train and take your Hemingway with you. I hate you. I really, really, really hate you.
You Should Date An Illiterate Girl, by Charles Warnke
Published 4:00 am, Sunday, November 23, 2003
Lou Andreas-Salome was considered a brilliant peer of Sigmund Freud and one of the founding mothers of psychoanalysis. The toast of 1912 Vienna, the celebrity author and intellectual wrote more than 20 books, along with countless essays, articles and reviews arguing, among other things, that women are the naturally polygamous superior sex. She was also one of the world’s great seductresses. Her list of literally hundreds of lovers and suitors included Frederick Nietzsche and the nihilist philosopher Paul Ree (she lived with both in a menage a trois), the poet Rainier Maria Rilke, even Freud. One suitor committed suicide for want of her love, and two others, including Nietzsche, attempted to end it all because their attentions were spurned. And — hold onto your hats, Barbie wannabes — she wasn’t even particularly attractive.
“No, she was not very pretty at all,” says Betsy Prioleau, author of “Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love” (Viking).
“She wore no makeup and favored sack dresses. When she was with Rilke, she was mistaken for his mother.”
What she did have were charisma, brains and power. “She was absolutely self-sufficient, her own woman,” Prioleau said.
Andreas-Salome wrote in one article that “women do not need men in any sense!” So of course men lay at her feet.
Reading Prioleau’s fascinating new book, which features profiles of 50 of the world’s most famous seductresses — from Cleopatra to Catherine the Great to Mae West — it becomes clear that physical beauty was not — and is not — a required attribute in the arts of seduction. Many, if not most, of the women she writes about were not beauties. Far more important are the gifts of wit, brains, empathy and self-sufficiency — the opposite of neediness.
“Women in this country need to be deprogrammed and detoxed!” Prioleau laughs dryly. “They are going about this love thing all wrong. If the first thing you said to a guy was, ‘Let’s not have a real relationship, let’s just have fun’ — and maybe even tell him that you’re allergic to marriage — I promise you that in Week 2, that man will be on his knees wanting to know where this relationship is going.”
It’s a secret — albeit a long-dormant one — of the femme fatale that men are drawn to women they don’t think they can ever quite possess.
“Women spend all this time chasing down this elusive thing called love,” Prioleau says. “All they need is a tiny bit of resistance, a little demonstration of their independence, some of their superior personhood, and the next thing you know, they will be worshiped.”
Pursuing amour, not marriage, ought to be its own goal, she quickly adds. “Marriage doesn’t really benefit women!” she laughs. “As long as they’re still doing 75 percent of everything — cleaning, child care, shopping — it’s not a good deal. I’ve had a wonderful 30-year marriage but I’m one of the lucky ones.”
Prioleau, a vivacious 61-year-old with a Ph.D. in English literature from Duke University, was inspired to write “Seductress” after teaching a course at Manhattan College on the subject. “The young women in my class were fascinated by the descriptions of these women throughout history who did things their way. ” She says. “They would swarm on me after class with these heartbreaking stories of self-esteem damaged by soulless hook-ups. I realized they reflected how women across the culture had lost the erotic plot, and were feeling victimized.”
She also hoped that married or partnered women could read the book and feel newly inspired in their love lives. “Marriages tend to get dull, and part of what the art of love is all about is inspiring and sustaining passion,” she says. “Some of these seductresses did marry, and it’s interesting to see how they kept their husbands enthralled.”
Writing a book that explored the seductress archetype, she thought, might help women get back on track. “Women are like Maseratis,” she smiles. “They have the most amazing machinery. I mean, 8,000 nerve endings in the clitoris? But they’re like Maseratis locked in the garage! I want them to peel out!
“Women are so afraid in this country — there are all these fears about relationships and what they must do. You go in the relationships section of any bookstore, and it’s filled with all these don’ts.”
Like the once-popular, now largely abandoned “The Rules”?
She snorts indignantly. “Asinine, infantile and retro. And its No. 1 tenet is that men don’t want women who compete and are as smart as they are, so you should just sit, listen and agree. Isn’t that stupid? If you study the great seductresses, one thing they had in common was great verbal skills. It was their chief aphrodisiac.
“Sartre said seduction is all about fascinating language. It’s why courtesans studied speech, as well as storytelling and poetry by the ream. These were things they learned in order to get inside a man’s head. Words are potent, erotic and powerful.” She laughs. “The French have a saying: Marry for conversation — it’s the only thing that lasts.”
And don’t be afraid to argue, she says. “The marriage coaches are all saying, ‘Compromise! Work it out and sometimes give in!’ But that’s not what history tells us. All these women had the nerve to say ‘I’m fabulous … how dare you try to make me into something I’m not?’ And they were completely impervious to public opinion, something we all fear nowadays.”
The same fears drive American women to the cosmetic surgeon, says Prioleau.
“Did you know that women in this country spend more on cosmetics and plastic surgery than the country spends on education? If it were delivering the goods — happiness — that would be one thing. But it isn’t! You walk up 5th Avenue in New York and see these gorgeous 30-year-old women, who have all the right clothes and the perfectly engineered bodies. And then you see them at the corner video rental place on a Saturday night looking forlorn! They’ve been sold on this infantile notion of seduction or love: that beauty buys you love — the house in the Hamptons, a dream man.”
Prioleau advocates women finding their own personal style, like the great seductresses of yore. “There’s a sad niche conformity in how women dress. Be a style-setter, dress distinctively. There’s a magnetic field, a wonderful swagger that comes with saying, ‘This is who I am.’ And you can’t get it by rushing down to buy that pair of Manolo Blahniks. If I have to hear that name one more time I’ll scream!”
The worse example of conformity, she says, is on reality TV shows. “I was asked about the new ‘Bachelor’ show, so I watched it. This is the most sexless group of Barbies I’ve ever seen! They all dress alike, do their hair alike, have nothing to say and exude this B.O. of need! It’s very sad. I don’t know how these men choose! Talk about beauty fatigue …”
Such fatigue comes, she says, when so many women look gorgeous and Barbie- like that they all begin to look the same. “In a way, it’s a good thing, this bottoming-out of the latest phase of the sexual revolution,” she says. “I’d like to think that soon it will be easier for women who work on their wit and intellect to set themselves apart and get ahead. There’s no doubt that women’s sexual pride is on the mat.”
But it’s a sickness with a cure, she says.
“Women can take back their erotic selves. They just need to be more aware.
I wrote this book to rev up women’s courage and give them some gumption.”
The tradeoff might be an unconventional life, but a memorable one. “Look at Lou Andreas-Salome. She was called all kinds of names in the press and was never completely accepted. But when she died, even though she was yellow and had lost her hair due to renal failure, she still had devoted lovers who waited on her hand and foot. There are worse ways to go.”