I have a slightly shameful secret. I haven’t told many people before, but I think I can trust you. We’re getting to be good friends, you and I, and you’ve got a kindly face.
As a callow youth, I was not very successful with the laydeez.
I was not totally unsuccessful. I have been married twice and then there was the time when … and that occasion … and, the less said about that episode the better.
But in my youth I was not what you would call a ladies man, a babe magnet, an eligible bachelor, a prize catch. It gives my ego a good kicking, but it’s the truth. I wasn’t very good at the whole “chat up” thing.
Where my friends had little black books full of telephone numbers, I had the corner of a post-it note. Or I would have done if post-it notes had been invented back then.
My friends would regale me with tales of amorous exploits in the back seats of Vauxhall Vivas and some of them might even have been true. Meanwhile all I was getting was the occasional glimpse of something anatomical in a subtitled French film late on BBC2.
Then I went to University, and things improved. A little. That’s where I met the woman who was later to become my ex wife. But I also met two mature students, experienced ladies of the world in their late twenties. They had lived life, savoured its mysteries, had jobs, stayed up past midnight without their parents nagging them.
When I say “I met” these two ladies, I meant “was occasionally in the same room with”. They walked through our degree course like demigods amongst mortals. Slightly aloof, superior, elegant. I observed them from a distance like a space probe flying past Pluto. They would barely have registered my existence.
And I recall ear-wigging one of their conversations. Elegant creature #1 was telling elegant creature #2 about a romantic exploit she had had the previous night – a liaison with a genuine adult man with a job and a car and his own flat and … lots of things I didn’t have as a penniless 18 year old student.
This liaison had not gone well. Apparently when she had unwrapped him, the contents were not as appealing as the exterior. But the most damning criticism she made has stayed with me for the past 30+ years: “I do so hate a man who fumbles.”
And her friend agreed, with a mutual BFF sigh of shared experience.
Amongst my male friends, we had a perpetual conversation about the best chat-up line.
“Are you tired? You must be because you have been running through my mind all night.”
“If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?” (Dr Hook).
“When you’re in love with a beautiful woman, it’s hard.” (Also Dr Hook).
“I come from a long line of warriors.” This was allegedly the winner of a radio one poll of chat-up lines, but it has to be said that it doesn’t work so well if you are short and white.
None of the chat-up lines worked. Some time later, a female friend told me a secret. “Do you want to know what your problem is? You try too hard.”
I didn’t understand her at the time, but time has a funny way of giving you understanding, as well as grey hairs and an appreciation for elasticated waistbands.
Ladies don’t like the whole tongue-hanging out, sweaty palms, “desperate” look. Very few meaningful relationships start with the words “hey you in the bushes”.
I know, I know, it’s really unfair. At a time in your life when you are feeling most desperate they tell you to look slightly disinterested. Not totally disinterested, but cool. The effect you are looking for is “I could have any woman in the world, but I have chosen you because you are special.”
And not “I’ve tried everyone else and you’re the last one on my list. Please please please.”
You might wonder why all of this matters to me now. I am happily married and long since past the dating game stage. With a few days to go before the odometer flips to 51, I can be fairly confident that I am more than half way through life’s little adventure. My back seat days are long gone.
Except they are not. I find myself writing books and trying to persuade people to buy them. And that is like being a teenager at a party all over again.
And it seems that the same advice works here too. Every aspiring author is looking for that perfect formula. The winning chat-up line.
And many are lapsing into the “hey you in the bushes” desperation mode. They are trying too hard.
So how do we win this dating game? I’m no expert, but I think it goes something like this:
Don’t beg, spam or try clever tricks. Chat up lines only ever work in the movies. Or if you are genuinely descended from a line of warriors, in which case you’re probably going to be successful without the chat-up line.
“Buy my book” is 100% desperation. Tell me why I should buy your book.
Make your reader feel special and not cheap. The book you are offering them is a superior product. Reading it will be a luxurious and life-enhancing experience for them, and not doing you a favour.
More than 50% of self-published books are insta-turnoffs because they have either cheesy titles or too many exclamation marks or both.
Work hard to make the book as good as it can be and to market it responsibly to people who want to read it. Don’t work hard on your spamming techniques.
But most of all remember the advice of the elegant lady from my degree course: “I do so hate a man who fumbles.”