Plato asserted that poetry should be taught because it makes people better lovers. Well, John Wilmot (1647–1680) certainly wrote some great poems. He was also, in a rather decadent way, quite popular with the female of the species. But would Wilmot have been successful today? I asked the old libertine how he would "change his game" if he had to play in 2009.
MS: I hate articles -- and there are a million of them -- that begin with that Freud quote: "What do women want?" But it is a good question.
Wilmot: Yes. I can't give a definitive answer, of course. There are many different kinds of women. But let's speak of the educated, artistic, highly evolved women who are likely to read this excellent blog. I believe there are three areas of interest that these women respond to in a man. Perhaps they're even essential.
MS: Yes? And they are???
Wilmot: First an interest in spiritual matters -- which may include organized religion, but probably not. Second, an interest in food. Eating food, preparing food, and even shopping for food. And third...well, I'm not quite sure about this. I'm tempted to say an interest in popular music, but it could also be politics. I'm just not certain.
MS: Let's take them one by one. When you say spiritual matters...
Wilmot: I'll put it this way. Professor Steven Weinberg won a Nobel Prize in physics. He also said, rather famously, "The more you know about the universe, the more you realize how meaningless it is." Believe me, people who say that to women are the ones you see on Saturday nights going home alone on the subway with a copy of Sunday's New York Times. Very, very few women today will admit to a purely materialist worldview. So if I'm on the subway, I'll replace that copy of the Times with The Path to Love, by Deepak Chopra. Or perhaps, by the same author, Perfect Digestion.
MS: Which leads to the second element: food...
Wilmot: Ludwig Wittgenstein was a really beautiful man. Wealthy too, for a time. I've heard he was also homosexual. But I suspect the real cause of his estrangement from women was his statement that "I don't care what I eat, as long as it's the same thing every day." Not care what you eat! You'd better care, and care plenty. But increasingly I've noticed that you must also care where you shop. My advice: mention Whole Foods in at least every third sentence when you're speaking with a desirable woman. Or, even better, Trader Joe's. I could speculate at length about why this is true, but as Deepak Chopra said, you don't need to understand the law of gravity to get hit on the head by bird poo.
MS: And finally -- music? Or politics?
Wilmot: Right, and here I really am stymied. On one hand, when a beautiful young woman asks, "What's on your ipod?" you'd better have a good answer. On the other hand, there does come a time when it's a little ridiculous for a man to profess interest in hip hop and the like. So i thought maybe enthusiasm for Barack Obama could be the final sine qua non. But I'm not quite happy with that either. I just don't know. Still, as Pound said, "No teacher ever failed from ignorance."
MS: But what is on your ipod?
Wilmot: You're not a woman.
MS: I'm a male lesbian, like Flaubert.
Wilmot: Well, keep trying!