The Oldest Dance

On love, lust and why monogamy is alive and well – but only in Hollywood.

Women fall more deeply in love but recover faster; Men fall firstly in lust, but pine for longer. Or so agree our panel of interviewees, to whom we have guaranteed anonymity in exchange for complete candour.

We asked an equal number of highly successful men and women of different ages a variety of questions on the perennially topical, occasionally controversial and always polemical subject of relationships:

  • What do you most appreciate in women/men?
  • What makes a woman seductive to a man and vice versa?
  • Can a woman/man remain seductive and attractive to the same man/woman for a number of years? How many?
  • Do you subscribe to the school of thought that girls tend to like bad boys?
  • Do curiosity and enthusiasm about life, romance and sex abate with age or not?
  • Is monogamy unnatural?
  • Do you believe in the concept of romantic love as espoused by Hollywood?
  • Do men fall in love or in lust?
  • Is passion to be feared or celebrated?
  • What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

This feature represents the mixed views of our panel.

So girls, what you’ve always and secretly suspected is really true: men fall in lust, not in love at first sight and they do so on a basic, sensual level. You could be the smartest, best-educated, wittiest girl on the block, yet not have a chance next to a well-turned out, youthful charmer who stands out from the crowd – and not for her intellectual attributes.

In the 19th Century, Oscar Wilde satirised his own intense aestheticism in The Picture of Dorian Gray through Lord Henry Wotten – ‘Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!’

In the 21st century, the ‘be young and beautiful’ adage holds as strong as ever in the love and sex stakes. Hence the immense popularity of plastic surgery, the cosmetic industry and anti-ageing clinics and institutes – contemporary society’s heroic attempts at eternal youth.

The slightly better news – for the ladies, at least – is that men fall in love too but it takes them longer to do so, just as it takes them longer to recover from a break-up. The last charm for monogamy perhaps lies in our panel’s general consensus that smart women can make men fall in love with them and keep them in thrall for a good long time – if not forever.

For all their masculine, sensory drive, most (if not all) worldly men concede that while great lookers can capture the attention, brainless good lookers cannot hold it for long. Successful men will always expect the woman on their arm and at their side to validate their status in a variety of ways. The bar is high and the more successful the man, the higher the bar.

Looks, intelligence, polished manners and a sense of humour are all indispensable. The more discerning players consider an all-round education, varied and eclectic interests and well-informed, multidimensional conversation to be just as important. Truly accomplished and sophisticated men seek women with the ability to dazzle.

Successful women, on the other hand, are happy with a sense of humour in a man and – let’s be frank – a good deal of testosterone, in and out of bed. Girls really do prefer bad boys.

Virtuous and dependable men are the meal tickets of girls on the make. Independent, world-savvy women prefer their men to be slightly dangerous, predatory and adventurous; true veterans of the seduction game. Fast talkers, provocateurs, riotously funny one line deliverers, rakes who have sinned and are partial to overstepping the mark; these are the men that have an unfair advantage. Whilst a domineering woman is a definitive turn-off, power in a man is compelling and sexy.

The accepted Hollywood model of man meets woman almost always ends in the happily ever after scenario. Although we are culturally conditioned to accept this as the norm and thus constantly strive towards this ‘ideal’, we are not naturally programmed to exist in a totally exclusive relationship over a long period of time.

Thus the seduction game is only the first stage of brinkmanship between two partners. As a relationship evolves we are forced into a position of concealing and cheating, even if only in the spirit. All but the truly naive know that deceit, one-upmanship and coy gamesmanship are the hallmarks of any long-term liaison. In light of that fact, one is compelled to ask: is monogamy viable today? Has it ever been?

Truthfully, no – for either sex.

This is for the simple reason that we all have the capacity to be unfaithful either in the spirit or in the flesh, or both – and many of us choose to exercise this capacity. We none of us want to hurt our partners and opt for having a secret life of sorts – in the long term most of us have an affair.

Instinctively, men stray in spirit all the time. Skilful men are just better at concealing that fact and, when necessary, at outright deception. Women are believed to sublimate more than men but in truth are no more faithful in the flesh than their male counterparts. Success breeds a common ground for men and women: they both face temptation a lot more than the rest and they need more stimulation – emotionally, intellectually, sexually…

Traditional monogamy thus debunked, for how long can a woman or a man remain attractive to their partner? Can passion be kept alive through artificial means once the first flush of it is spent? The ‘seven year itch’ may be a cliché but only because there is a lot of truth in it. Fast-living, successful individuals tire of a partner more easily. They remain in the relationship long beyond passion has gone for a variety of other reasons: friendship – partnership even; the sense of having built or continuing to build something together; kinship and a certain reluctance to go outside of their peer or comfort zone. And then, of course, there’s always money…

Passion, though , is what keeps the fire burning and it is what makes us feel alive. Surely, then, it should be celebrated, even at the expense of compromising a relationship. True or false? Although opinions seem to vary, most long-term relationships go through the vicissitudes of emotional or sexual betrayal. Those that survive evolve and have flexibility.

One of the men interviewed said he is no different from his peers in that he keeps several girlfriends in different countries, none of whom are aware of the existence of the others. He has maintained a relationship with some of them for decades, he claims.

His secret? Don’t get found out. In fact, this appears to be the best all-round advice anyone has been given. Knowledge equals heartache and clever men and women protect themselves – and their partners – from it.

What if (or when) the relationship collapses? Men, we are told, go into an overdrive of sexual activity to compensate for the emotional bereavement. Women crash and burn but once they are over it, they are healed. It is a purely masculine characteristic never to deal with the emotional outfall of a break-up. When men come across a former lover, from however long ago, they often feel a pang – particularly when the woman in question seems to have utterly dispensed with the emotions of their affair.

The Hollywood ‘happily ever after’ story of romantic togetherness and marriage is just that – a product of cinema’s Golden Age bullishly brought on by the Disney Corporation. Worldly men and women know, or at least suspect, that romance doesn’t fit in with marriage. The waiting by the phone, the breathless emails, the pining, the pent-up desire, the chase and the excitement (often excitement that accompanies deceit) are all gone. Once we get over the joy of being able to spend every night together, the repetitiveness of it all kills Hollywood-style romance.

The more conservative among us might vouch for honesty and truth as a viable substitute for passion. It is not. It certainly doesn’t hold a candle to the excitement of the chase. Having said that, we come to one of the more surprising responses to one of our questions. Both men and women across the board believe in ‘happily ever after’. Not only that, but many search for it all their lives. Even the most hardcore Lothario of them all can (and did) begin a sentence with ‘When I am in love’.

Meaning, of course, ‘when I am intoxicated with the chase of a new conquest’…

Cynical? Perhaps.

Realistic? Without a doubt.

It seems fitting to close the subject with what might have caused Oscar Wilde a wry smile or two – do curiosity and enthusiasm for life, romance and sex abate with age or not? The response is resounding and overwhelming – they never do. Men, however old, never cease to hope for one last arousal. Women, however aged, never stop hoping to inspire one last passion.