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Since boy first approached girl, the dating game has felt like a game of kiss-chase, chess, and Battleships all rolled into one. What’s more, it’s reassuring to know that our ancestors often struggled with the same problems we face – how do I get her attention in a sea of other suitors? Am I coming on too strong? Is this ruff too much for a second date?
I've been scouring the history books, looking at what the past has to tell us about hook-ups and happy-ever-after for my book The Curious History of Dating. So, here are some solutions to today’s dating problems straight from the family tree. It's 1066 and all that. If only they’d taught you this stuff in history…
It seems such a basic point, but as the old adage goes, “Manners maketh the man” – and his dating success. Why? Because you get respect by giving respect. From Victorian instructions on how to greet a lady on the street – “Never allow it for a moment to be seen that you were not expecting to have to salute her”, to the GI strategy of wrapping a military coat around him and his lady love so they could get frisky in the park, showing consideration and setting a respectful tone will actually encourage her to reciprocate your efforts.
What’s more, the key lesson here is not to return like with like, but to aim to be the better-mannered: “It is a moot point whether it is a more difficult matter for a man or for a woman”, advised the Victorians.
The take-home: The more relaxed you are being well-mannered, the more genuine you’ll seem. If you’re not used to holding doors open, practise until it becomes natural. As a 1902 etiquette guide put it, “Etiquette demands that a man shall at least appear as his ordinary self, and not make the fact patent to the most casual observer.”
RELATED: It’s 2017. Is Chivalry A Gentleman’s Pursuit Or Just Plain Sexist?
Dress up out of respect
Think the burden of looking good has always been a female preserve? Think again. From Edwardian gents in corsets to Seventies glam rock labourers protecting their luscious nape-length locks under hair nets, it was only recently that short hair and t-shirt and jeans could suffice as Friday night best.
Let’s face it: a same-day ASOS-ordered shirt is great in an emergency but is it really going to impress the lady who invests triple her pension contribution in tanning products alone? You know the answer. Given that it’s rare for men to make as much effort, upping your sartorial and grooming routine is actually a great way to show her you honour the effort she makes for you.
The take-home: As a 1907 guide to dressing put it, “The man who looks really well in a dress suit is he who gets into it every night of his life”. We think this explains why the always suited James Bond has a plethora of beauties at his feet. Practise makes for perfect pulling.
Pay her attention – the right kind
“I dumped him because he paid me too much attention”, said no woman ever (NB we aren’t talking forensic stalker-beam here). Since the birth of etiquette manuals, keeping your eye on the prize, even once she’s yours – has been of utmost importance to the courtship process. As an Edwardian gentleman’s guide of 1907 put it, “What a girl likes most in a man is a never-failing, quiet attention to, and care for her tastes, needs, wishes.”
Easy to start, not easy to sustain, right? We get it. As Vanity Fair agony aunt Dorothy Dix once observed, “A man’s love, no matter how ardent and passionate in the wooing days soon settles down into a good, useful friendship and partnership sort of a feeling”.
But if you can find a way to give her your unremitting attention just twice a week, we reckon you’ll be able to see your mates, train for that marathon, or just play Resident Evil 7 until 3am without too much consternation.
The take-home: “He should pay her every attention in his power, but never in such a way as to make the subject of remark.” That means, sure, she’ll be flattered if you post a picture of her on Instagram, but not the one of her wearing the thigh-highs she only came round to show you… you get the picture.
Learn to dance
From Georgian square dancing, to the Jazz-era Charleston, to today’s Latin and Swing boomtime, being able to show just how well you can move your body has always been an aphrodisiac – it’s the easiest way to intimate your bedroom moves before you’ve got anywhere near naked.
As playwright and actor Stephen Berkoff noted in his memoir about courting in the 50s, “the dance was all-important since this was a way of demonstrating your skill as a mover, your grace, wit, balance and tricks.”
What’s more, dancing conceals a multitude of other minor personality flaws. Not great at small talk? Can’t put up a shelf? She’s not going to care if you can whip her round the dance floor smoother than a blended frappe.
In times when men and women weren’t to be left alone without a chaperone, touching through gloved fingers as they stepped to the beat was the only opportunity they got. So if you’ve just started dating and it’s not appropriate to go home together yet, dancing is the best way to share a non-naked tactile experience. You’ll release dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin together in the process, all crucial to persuading her she wants more cheek to cheek time with you.
The take-home: A little tipple never hurt for loosening yourself up but if you’re new to one another, avoid other narcotics. Dancing on ecstasy might have been a great community-booster during the Acid House days but it does nothing for your sexual capabilities. Plus, you don’t want to have to come to rely on chemical help to get your groove on.
Drop the game-playing
OK – it’s wise to be cautious at the beginning when you’ve just met someone. Nobody wants to get hurt, decent people don’t want to give someone the wrong idea. Waiting a little to text, not getting over-invested from the start, and going steady with the romantic platitudes are all wise tactics. But once you both know you’re into one another, you need to drop the game-playing. There’s nothing that’ll turn off a confident, well-adjusted woman quicker than a guy who resorts to cheap tricks in a bid to make her crazy about him. Why? Because although you’re trying to maintain control by feigning disinterest, encouraging her to feel insecure about herself, ergo incredibly lucky to have you, actually smacks of insecurity and most women see through it. As Neil Strauss, author of The Game and proponent of pick-up artistry, realised some decades after playing himself into the ground, “Most women are smart enough to know exactly what you’re doing. They just might like you enough to go along with it”.
The take-home: Own your feelings and dare, on occasion, to express them – albeit in a curated way. We’re not talking a stream of consciousness or bout of verbal diarrhoea. More a short, sincere remark: “I love spending time with you” or “I love having you in my life” will more than suffice. If she can’t handle them or doesn’t reciprocate, move on to someone who’ll appreciate your mature honesty.
For more historical dating lessons, check out Nichi Hodgson’s The Curious History of Dating: From Jane Austen To Tinder, out now.