Thanks to the “most interesting man in the world,” pictured above in the ad for Mexican beer, I don’t have to explain what I mean by “seduction.”  Look deeply and fixedly into his eyes, ladies, and tell me nothing is getting through.

What’s afoot here?  Isn’t it a promise that won’t be kept, an invite to intimacy that will recede as one goes toward it, an intimation that one has been profoundly understood, followed by the payoff: there are other fish to fry?

A woman, a girl, needs to keep herself sufficiently open so that a friend, lover or suitor who deserves her trust can get it.  There are worlds in each of us that can’t be discovered if we are too wary.

But it’s more complicated than the conventional story will allow.  Women have vulnerabilities that they need to manage, by alluding to them gracefully rather than in the manner of unedited self-exposure.  So we hint at our vulnerabilities sidewise, in a laughing way or a brisk, no-nonsense way.  We do this all the time, without thinking about it.  It’s an appeal for gallantry, in the unconscious shorthand of coquetry.  Which means that, in some very odd sense, the seducer pictured above is a species of colleague.  We recognize what he is up to, we can empathize with him, want to “help” him – all features he will play on.

What’s the upshot?  To be deliberately anti-seductive can mean buckling on the armor that will keep the good guys away as well as the bad.  To be luxuriantly coquettish, on the other hand, leaves one open to the predators and their intentionally false promises.

One can learn not to make the same mistake twice.  But does that prevent  making different mistakes the next time round?

Two thousand years ago, in classical antiquity, a Roman matron asked a well-regarded rabbi, “What has your God been doing since the creation?”

“Making marriages,” replied the rabbi.

“Oh, that’s no big deal,” said the Roman matron.  “I can do that whenever I please.”  That night she went home to her villa, paired off her slaves one with the other, and conducted a mass marriage ceremony.  Seemed simple enough, but by morning they all came back to her, pouring out complaints, bruised from quarreling and begging her to divorce them.

When next she met the rabbi, she was obliged to grant that, when it comes to pairing off human beings, it goes better when the Creator takes a hand.


About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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