An excerpt from The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene.
(A Joost Elffers Book.)
Buy it on Amazon.com: The Art of Seduction
Greene, R. (2003). The Coquette. In The art of seduction (pp. 68-78). New York, NY: Penguin Books.
The Cold Coquette:
The ability to delay satisfaction is the ultimate art of seduction – while waiting, the victim is held in thrall. Coquettes are the grand masters of this game, orchestrating a back-and-forth movement between hope and frustration. They bait with the promise of reward – the hope of physical pleasure, happiness, fame by association, power – all of which, however, proves elusive; yet this only makes their targets pursue them the more. Coquettes seem totally self-sufficient: they do not need you, they seem to say, and their narcissism proves devilishly attractive. You want to conquer them but they hold the cards. The strategy of the Coquette is never to offer total satisfaction. Imitate the alternating heat and coolness of a Coquette and you will keep the seduced at your heels.
Cold Coquettes create space by remaining elusive and making others pursue them. Their coolness suggests a comfortable confidence that is exciting to be around, even though it may not actually exist; their silence makes you want to talk. Their self-containment, their appearance of having no need for other people, only makes us want to do things for them, hungry for the slightest sign of recognition and favor. Cold Coquettes may be maddening to deal with – never committing but never saying no, never allowing closeness – but more often than not we find ourselves coming back to them, addicted to the coldness they project. Remember: seduction is a process of drawing people in, making them want to pursue and possess you. Seem distant and people will go mad to win your favor.
According to the popular concept, Coquettes are consummate teases, experts at arousing desire through a provocative appearance or an alluring attitude. But the real essence of Coquettes is in fact their ability to trap people emotionally, and to keep their victims in their clutches long after that first titillation of desire. This is the skill that puts them in the ranks of the most effective seducers. Their success may seem somewhat odd, since they are essentially cold and distant creatures; should you ever get to know one well, you will sense his or her inner core of detachment and self-love. It may seem logical that once you become aware of this quality you will see through the Coquette’s manipulations and lose interest, but more often we see the opposite.
To understand the peculiar power of the Coquette, you must first understand a critical property of love and desire: the more obviously you pursue a person, the more likely you are to chase them away. Too much attention can be interesting for a while, but it soon grows cloying and finally becomes claustrophobic and frightening. It signals weakness and neediness, an unseductive combination. How often we make this mistake, thinking our persistent presence will reassure. But Coquettes have an inherent understanding of this particular dynamic. Masters of selective withdrawal, they hint at coldness, absenting themselves at times to keep their victim off balance, surprised, intrigued. Their withdrawals make them mysterious, and we build them up in our imaginations. (Familiarity, on the other hand, undermines what we have built.) A bout of distance engages the emotions further; instead of making us angry, it makes us insecure. Perhaps they don’t really like us, perhaps we have lost their interest. Once our vanity is at stake, we succumb to the Coquette just to prove we are still desirable. Remember: the essence of the Coquette lies not in the tease and temptation but in the subsequent step back, the emotional withdrawal. That is the key to enslaving desire.
To adopt the power of the Coquette you must understand one other quality: narcissism. Sigmund Freud characterized the “narcissistic woman” (most often obsessed with her appearance) as the type with the greatest effect on men. As children, he explains, we pass through a narcissistic phase that is immensely pleasurable. Happily self-contained and self-involved, we have little psychic need of other people. Then, slowly, we are socialized and taught to pay attention to others – but we secretly yearn for those blissful early days. The narcissistic woman reminds a man of that period, and makes him envious. Perhaps contact with her will restore that feeling of self-involvement.
A man is also challenged by the female Coquette’s independence – he wants to be the one to make her dependent, to burst her bubble. It is far more likely, though, that he will end up becoming her slave, giving her incessant attention to gain her love, and failing. For the narcissistic woman is not emotionally needy; she is self-sufficient. And this is surprisingly seductive. Self-esteem is critical in seduction. (Your attitude toward yourself is read by the other person in subtle and unconscious ways.) Low self-esteem repels, confidence and self-sufficiency attract. The less you seem to need other people, the more likely others will be drawn to you. Understand the importance of this in all relationships and you will find your neediness easier to suppress. But do not confuse self-absorption with seductive narcissism. Talking endlessly about yourself is eminently anti-seductive, revealing not self-sufficiency but insecurity.
The Coquette is traditionally thought of as female, and certainly the strategy was for centuries one of the few weapons women had to engage and enslave a man’s desire. One ploy of the Coquette is a withdrawal of sexual favors, and we see women using this trick throughout history: the great seventeenth-century French courtesan Ninon de l’Enclos was desired by all the preeminent men of France, but only attained real power when she made it clear that she would no longer sleep with a man as part of her duty. This drove her admirers to despair, which she knew how to make worse by favoring a man temporarily, granting him access to her body for a few months, then returning him to the pack of the unsatisfied. Queen Elizabeth I of England took coquettishness to the extreme, deliberately arousing the desires of her courtiers but sleeping with none of them.
Long a tool of social power for women, coquettishness was slowly adapted by men, particularly the great seducers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who envied the power of such women. One seventeenth-century seducer, the Duc de Lauzun, was a master at exciting a woman, then suddenly acting aloof. Women went wild over him. Today, coquetry is genderless. In a world that discourages direct confrontation, teasing, coldness, and selective aloofness are a form of indirect power that brilliantly disguises its own aggression.
The Coquette must first and foremost be able to excite the target of his or her attention. The attraction can be sexual, the lure of celebrity, whatever it takes. At the same time, the Coquette sends contrary signals that stimulate contrary responses, plunging the victim into confusion. The eponymous heroine of Marivaux’s eighteenth-century French novel Marianne is the consummate Coquette. Going to church, she dresses tastefully, but leaves her hair slightly uncombed. In the middle of the service she seems to notice this error and starts to fix it, revealing her bare arm as she does so; such things were not to be seen in an eighteenth-century church, and all male eyes fix on her for that moment. The tension is much more powerful than if she were outside, or were tartily dressed. Remember: obvious flirting will reveal your intentions too clearly. Better to be ambiguous and even contradictory, frustrating at the same time that you stimulate.
Coquetry depends on developing a pattern to keep the other person off balance. The strategy is extremely effective. Experiencing a pleasure once, we yearn to repeat it; so the Coquette gives us pleasure, then withdraws it. The alternation of heat and cold is the most common pattern, and has several variations. The eighth-century Chinese Coquette Yang Kuei-Fei totally enslaved the Emperor Ming Huang through a pattern of kindness and bitterness; having charmed him with kindness, she would suddenly get angry, blaming him harshly for the slightest mistake. Unable to live without the pleasure she gave him, the Emperor would turn the court upside down to please her when she was angry or upset. Her tears had a similar effect: what had he done, why was she so sad? He eventually ruined himself and his kingdom trying to keep her happy. Tears, anger, and the production of guilt are all the tools of the Coquette. A similar dynamic appears in a lover’s quarrel: when a couple fights, then reconciles, the joys of reconciliation only make the attachment stronger. Sadness of any sort is also seductive, particularly if it seems deep-rooted, even spiritual, rather than needy or pathetic – it makes people come to you.
Coquettes are never jealous – that would undermine their image of fundamental self-sufficiency. But they are masters at inciting jealousy: by paying attention to a third party, creating a triangle of desire, they signal to their victims that they may not be that interested. This triangulation is extremely seductive, in social contexts as well as erotic ones. Interested in narcissistic women, Freud was a narcissist himself, and his aloofness drove his disciples crazy. (They even had a name for it – his “god complex”.) Behaving like a kind of messiah, too lofty for petty emotions, Freud always maintained a distance between himself and his students, hardly ever inviting them over for dinner, say, and keeping his private life shrouded in mystery. Yet he would occasionally choose an acolyte to confide in. The result was that his disciples went berserk trying to win his favor, to be the one he chose. Their jealousy when he suddenly favored one of them only increased his power over them. People’s natural insecurities are heightened in group settings; by maintaining aloofness, Coquettes start a competition to win their favor. If the ability to use third parties to make targets jealous is a critical seductive skill, Sigmund Freud was a grand Coquette. … It is important to realize that coquetry is extremely effective on a group, stimulating jealousy, love, and intense devotion. If you play such a role with a group, remember to keep an emotional and physical distance. This will allow you to cry and laugh on command, project self-sufficiency, and with such detachment you will be able to play people’s emotions like a piano.
Coquettes face an obvious danger: they play with volatile emotions. Every time the pendulum swings, love shifts to hate. So they must orchestrate everything carefully. Their absences cannot be too long, their bouts of anger must be quickly followed by smiles. Coquettes can keep their victims emotionally entrapped for a long time, but over months or years the dynamic can begin to prove tiresome. … Timing is everything. On the other hand, though, the Coquette stirs up powerful emotions and breakups often prove temporary. The Coquette is addictive.
Symbol (of the Coquette): The Shadow. It cannot be grasped. Chase your shadow and it will flee; turn your back on it and it will follow you. It is also a person’s dark side, the thing that makes them mysterious. After they have given us pleasure, the shadow of their withdrawal makes us yearn for their return, much as clouds make us yearn for the sun.
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