Virtual Book Tour: “Swoon”

swoon coverToday we’re delighted to welcome Betsy Prioleau, author of “SWOON: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them.” Betsy, in “SWOON” you reveal that ladies’ men adore women. That they romance them with ardor and style, keep them interested, make them feel cherished, fulfilled, and appreciated. With such intriguing information, let’s get started:

Mentors: In “Seductress,” you examined history’s most powerful sirens, women who used their smarts, charm, and desirability to conquer and fascinate the men of their choosing.  What made you want to write about their male counterparts in “SWOON?”       

Betsy: In both cases, I was fascinated by the mystery of erotic power—why some people are always lucky in love and enchant everyone around them.  This time, I focused on ladies’ men because I was curious to see if they’d been equally misunderstood.

I discovered, sure enough, that they’d been just as distorted and maligned as their female counterparts and had never been studied as a group before.  And what a fabulous group!

They explode all the stereotypes and possess a cache of love arts that aren’t found in how-to books.  Most importantly, these great lovers answer history’s oldest question:  what do women want?

It’s time, I realized, to even the score; reveal the kind of men women crave and the well-guarded secrets of female desire.

Mentors: Can you track any changes in seducers over the centuries? If so, can you spot any constants in the personalities and strategies of these ladykillers?

Betsy: If you look at seducers over time, you can see shifts in preferences.  A medieval love hero, for example, was a modest knight who served his lady with brave deeds, courtesy, and abject adoration.  Heartthrobs of the Romantic period, on the other hand, were erotic tornados—outsized men of operatic declarations and rash actions.  Then there were the pony-tailed minstrels and anarchs of the 1960s.

But amid these fluctuations of erotic tastes, you find a number of constants.  All these great lovers radiate sexual charisma, cherish women, and use the same approach to enamor and keep them enamored. They handle love as an art, an imaginative creation, and invest it with drama, passion, and originality, customizing charms for individual women.

Mentors: Who are the ladies’ men today? What are their chief allures and strengths compared to those of the past?

Betsy: Hollywood idols, like Hugh Jackman, Ashton Kutcher, and Ryan Gosling, and the real-life men I interviewed, are ladies’ men with a postmillennial difference.  In all the basics, they fit the template:  they have that wow factor, love women, and are creative romancers.

But they share qualities unique to twenty-first-century ladykillers.  Reflecting the tastes of today’s independent and confident women, they’re less macho, more expressive, and appreciative of feminine strength and ambition.  They’re also, in response to the new female gaze, intent on good looks, although one large-scale study found that women like a loved one’s appearance, regardless of stated ideals.

If riches and rank ever mattered, they seem increasingly irrelevant.  Only two of the ladies’ men I canvassed were wealthy, and celebrity sweethearts are portrayed as regular guys in sweats rather than plutocrats.  Women don’t require providers any longer; they want interesting peers.  As women alter so do the men they desire, but in essence, claim experts, their romantic needs “haven’t changed one bit.”  Which is why today’s ladies’ men are more similar than different from great lovers of the past.

Mentors: Is it harder to be a ladies’ man in contemporary society? If so, why?

Betsy: For the ordinary guy, it’s definitely harder now to be a ladies’ man.  There are no longer courtship rituals or etiquette guides on how to charm.  Men get their erotic education, such as it is, from porn, locker rooms, cursory sex-ed classes, the media, and couples’ therapy bromides—none of which address lovecraft.

Then, too, they’re miseducated in seduction by pick-up artists and intimidated by female romantic partners and sexual demands. Without the old need for the male initiative, many men have abandoned the mating effort altogether. The majority, writes sex research Timothy Perper, are “oblivious” about the “art of seduction.”

On the other hand, there’s a select fraternity of ladies’ men today who transcended the culture and are tearing up the track with women. It just requires the right stuff, originality of spirit, and the will to woo.

Mentors: In “SWOON” you use evidence from science, popular culture, fiction, anthropology, history, and interviews with real-life ladies’ men to reveal who these master lovers really are. What findings surprised you most from your research?

Betsy: I approached ladies’ men full of preconceptions, so everything I uncovered was a surprise.  First, I was amazed at the way they upended stereotypes.  Instead of romantic predators, for example, I found that most are more pursued than pursuing.  As Albert Camus wrote in his journal:  “I don’t seduce, I surrender.”

I was equally astonished to discover that these men sincerely love women, and are usually without looks, rank, or riches. Their complexity also threw me—their complicated mix of qualities, including positive traits like spirituality, integrity, and moral decency.

But the biggest surprise was their androgyny.  Rather than the high-testosterone he-men of popular lore, great lovers tend to have a strong feminine streak. The American icon of manhood Gary Cooper, for instance, was actually sensitive, artistic, and adored for his “ravishing androgyny.”

Mentors: What is it about androgynous men that is so appealing?

Betsy: Gender ambiguity is intensely seductive, especially to women. The attraction is embedded deep in eros. Theorists have long argued that a synthesis of male and female is a universal unconscious wish, and represents the “peak of sensual perfection” in desire. The earliest sex gods, like Shiva and the “Man-Woman” Dionysus, were gender-benders.

For women, this holds a special allure, no one knows quite why.  (Perhaps a superior grasp of the feminine psyche factors in.)  In studies, women consistently prefer computerized images of feminized male faces and choose more androgynous men in audio interviews.  After extensive research, sexual psychologist Meredith Chivers concluded that women share a greater predilection for bisexuality. Counterintuitive as it seems, men in touch with their feminine side have a romantic edge with women.

Mentors: The player or pickup artist persona popularized by Neil Strauss and dozens of online dating gurus is one of the most pervasive stereotypes of the ladies’ man. In “SWOON,” you explain that the PUA (pickup artist), is the furthest thing from a real seducer. Why is this so? And how did Strauss get this so wrong?

Betsy: The player model of the seducer is one of the most misguided, noxious versions of the ladies’ man.  It’s the brain child of an assortment of undatables who sold insecure men on the idea that women are won through dominance displays and paramilitary maneuvers.  Apprentice PUAs learn to game targets with bravado, sarcastic put-downs, trance words, and strategic touches, and to mask emotions.  The goal is modest:  to get laid not loved, and the “hits” who fall for these puerile ploys are usually a desperate lot themselves—lost, lonely singletons.

Neil Strauss and his confreres didn’t do their homework.  Real ladies’ men who captivate the best women are secure and mature, and court conquests with praise, pleasure, love declarations, and passionate artistry.

Mentors: What does the overwhelming popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and romance novels in general say about today’s sexual culture?

Betsy: Romance novels provide a fabulous read on the female libido.  The love heroes in these books reflect women’s fondest erotic dreams.  The men are fascinators—ardent suitors, great conversationalists, sack artists, and praisers who halo and deify their girlfriends. They’re also, coincidentally, a lot like actual ladykillers.

The runaway popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey is a measure of the female longing for the ladies’ man and what he brings to love.  Instead of a yen for S & M, the trilogy is really about women’s unfulfilled romantic desires, the wish to be the center of a man’s universe, to be cherished, satisfied, and noticed, and never bored. It speaks volumes about women’s heightened amorous expectations and the extent to which they aren’t being met today by men, many of whom are at sea romantically.

Mentors: In “SWOON,” you argue that women in contemporary culture need ladies’ men more than ever? Why is this so? 

Betsy: Rarely have women needed ladies’ men more than they do today.  As trend-trackers remind us, it doesn’t look like a season for romance out there.  We have confusion and cynicism, and a climate of “liquid love”—revolving partners, light attachments, and melancholy marriages.  A sexual malaise seems to have sunk over the country.

Women, according to studies, want change.  They’re weary of the role of aggressor, frustrated sexually (the orgasm gap persists), love-starved, and increasingly peeved with men.  Neglect is the most common reason for breakups, and female infidelity is on the rise.  They’ve become unhappier since 1972 (in part due to men), and are demoralized—discontented with their looks and unsure of their romantic moves.

This is where ladies’ men come in.  They romance women with ardor and style, and sate them sexually and intellectually.  They don’t do dull, and make women feel anointed—gorgeous, special, and thoroughly appreciated.

Mentors: After writing this book, what do you think women really want? And are men today really interested in fulfilling these desires?

Betsy: I think women want what we all seek in love:  to be chosen from the crowd, fully “known,” and adored by someone who rocks our world.  Who pays attention and keeps passion fresh through perpetual courtship.

Men are more interested in fulfilling this desire than we imagine. Beneath the macho bluster, most men, according to recent research, want to please women.  They fall in love at first sight more often, prefer romantic over sexual images on tests, yearn equally for long-term unions, and fare worse emotionally after break-ups.  “Love,” writes Garrison Keillor of men, “is the mainspring of our lives.”

Mentors: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Betsy: My hope is that readers will come away with a more nuanced view of the ladies’ man, will appreciate his significance in cultural history, and see his potential for a sexier tomorrow.  He’s a privileged window onto what women want, now and forever.

He doesn’t have to be taken wholesale; great seducers have their obvious flaws and failings.  But we can harvest their love secrets and arts and teach them to ordinary men.  As the love philosophers say, “every man should be Don Juan to his wife (or partner) over and over and over again.

Thank you so much for the entertaining interview, Betsy. Readers, if you want to know about her and “SWOON: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them,” here’s Betsy’s website.  And now you have the chance to make comments and ask questions through the “Leave a Reply” section below.

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15 Responses to Virtual Book Tour: “Swoon”

  1. Sherry says:

    You write about having preconceptions about seducers. What was the major one and what made you think differently about it?

    • The biggest misconception I had was that great seducers were heartless belt-notchers, predatory charmers who were only interested in conquests. In my research I discovered something quite different; the men who attract and enamor women in such huge numbers are a much more complex species. Often the pursued rather than the pursuer, they genuinely like women, fall in love with great frequency, and don’t keep score. Their lovers describe them over and over as being kind, adorable, and attentive. Thanks for your question!

  2. Hillary says:

    It seems like you did a lot of research in writing this book. Did you get most of your information from reading? If it was through interviews, how did you find your subjects?

    • I did most of my research in the library, reading biographies, cultural anthropology, history, philosophy, fiction, etc. I didn’t plan to interview actual, contemporary ladies’ men , but people kept telling me, “you have to talk to X!!” And when I did, these great lovers today corroborated my research; their love strategies, their characters, and views paralled those of the great seducers of history. It was fascinating to me that women-charmers share some many unexpected commonalities!

  3. Willa says:

    Wow – you sure do know your material!

    In what ways do you think societal changes resulting from technology have impacted love?

    • Really interesting question. Technology, social media, and the sexual revolution have upended traditional courtship. The post-hookup world of light attachments, normlessness, and “liquid love,” however, may be about to change. In studies, men and women express discontent and a wish for the return of romance.

      Evolutionary psychologist Justin Garcia thinks that courtship patterns have changed, but that the desire for commited romantic relationships remains strong; it is “essential,” he writes “to what it means to be human.” He forsees a return of the “date” transformed in the near future.

      My guess is that that this romantic revolution will include the great seducers’ traits and amorous secrets. They are deeply embedded in our cultural memory. Men have always wanted to please women; what master lovers do and did is universal.

  4. Beth says:

    When I was younger I attracted a lot of men. Now that I’m 56 and single again, the crowds have thinned. Are the seducers of menopausal women or their techniques any different?

  5. In my research I found that sexual allure is ageless; a woman like you at 56 is just as sexy–if not moreso–than when she is younger. Men really fall in love with full personhood, and time just makes you richer, more multifaceted, and interesting. (See my chapter on “Silver Foxes” in Seductress!)

    The great seducers in Swoon don’t privilege youth over age; they are just interested in finding their counterparts. (Benjamin Franklin fell in love for the first time in his life with Minette Helvetius who was in her sixties.) So, I’d say, master lovers use the same artistry across the board, and part of that artistry is tailoring their love charms to individual women.

    Of the ladies’ men I interviewed, at least four were over 55 and they were still searching for the right woman–their age. You sound like one! The crowd may have thinned, but the great catches are there for the picking!

  6. anonymous says:

    I love listening to Garrison Keillor. He has a strong feminine side and really knows how to get inside the female psyche. Don’t you think it’s related to androgyny – which is what, nature or nurture?

  7. Androgyny is powerfully attractive to women. Why? No one is quite sure, except that a synthesis of the sexes is a universal unconscious wish that dates back to the double-gendered sex gods of prehistory. Another explanation you mention is the allure of connection: a man who “gets” and gets inside the female psyche. This can be quite erotic; it creates synchrony, lighting up mirror neurons and releasing opiate-like endorphins. One of the ladies’ men I interviewed, a tall, muscled photographer, told me he felt like a gay man in a straight man’s body. Women are all over him!

    Whether this is innate or acquired, I couldn’t say. Many great seducers grow up in fem-centric homes, with doting sisters and mothers who give them an insight into and appreciation of the feminine psyche. Or maybe these heartthrobs have a rogue gene.

    But culture has to play a part. We’re moving away from the male macho ideal of the last few decades to a new model of manhood. In a book, The Future of Men, the authors predict the growth of “M-ness,” in which men combine the best of male and female qualities: expressivity, nurturance, sensitivity, and communication. Great seducers have always done that; modern men are catching the wave!

  8. Zoey says:

    I just read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In” and wonder if women can ‘have it all’ at work and at home. We want to break the glass ceiling and, according to your research, be cherished. Are we asking too much?

    • Betsy Prioleau says:

      I just read a review of “Lean In!” Sandberg credits, in part, her husband who supports her and shares 50% of domestic responsibilities. But to answer your question: I don’t think women are asking too much! One study found that high amorous aspirations led to higher-quality relationships. If we dream large, life will follow.

      Women are the natural choosers in love; as Darwin said “sexual selection depends on the will of the female.” So if we ask for more–for equal partnerships, for sustained romance, life/work fulfillment–we will get more. Excellence is a huge aphrodisiac, and professional achievement, only promotes happier relationships.

      A big YES to “can women have it all?”

  9. Janis says:

    Your answers taught me a lot today. What’s the best thing you learned from your research for Swoon?

    • I learned so much from Swoon, it’s hard to pick. But I’d say the top thing is that great seducers, contrary to all their negative baggage, possess an invaluable trove of love secrets that we can put to positive use today. We hear so much in the media about failed relationships, sexual boredom, and male cluelessness in courtship. The ladies’ men, on the other hand, are love geniuses; they know how to ignite and sustain desire and give women exactly what they want.

      They have their failings and flaws, but we can harvest the good stuff, and pass it onto ordinary men. As one love philosopher said: “every man should be Don Juan to his wife (or partner) over and over again.” That to me was the best message! Let’s cop the seducers’ erotic wisdom and arts for a happier, hotter tomorrow.

  10. phyllis says:

    We have Betsy Prioleau to thank for such a smart and lively Virtual Book Tour today!

    But we’re not finished yet. Log on again tomorrow when we’ll be posting some Fun Facts about ladies’ men that Betsy has shared with us.

    And please, Betsy, promise you’ll do an encore when your next book is published.

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