After our waiter spilled all over himself serving Cathy her enchiladas, I asked her what it felt like to exercise such awesome sexual control.
"It's not that great," she said with a sigh. "In fact, it can get lonely. You have to learn to get past casual sex and create lasting relationships, and that isn't easy."
I stared at her. She might as well have asked me how you get past calculus to create a mud pie. I associate the word casual with khaki pants, not carnal pants. Why? Because for some reason, I just can't help indulging in forethought before getting to foreplay.
This isn't true for most people: Sexual signals usually zip right past the rational brain, because as Rodgers puts it, if two people "immediately considered all the possible risks and vulnerabilities they might face if they mated or had children, they'd run screaming from the room." Now, that I can understand. To actually have sex, I must be not only in love but also in full legal possession of the other party's medical records. The advantage of this approach is that what you miss in casual thrills, you gain in long-term compatibility. That initial spark of interest leads not to the nearest motel room but to the prolonged scrutiny you would give an unrecognizable substance before deciding to include it in a cake.
If you consistently wake up next to people you no longer respect, try doing deliberately what I do involuntarily: Hold in your mind a vivid picture of a genital wart. (The Internet provides plenty, and I am here to tell you, they're the opposite of pornographic.) Superimpose this image over the dashing smile of that cute guy at the bar. This should give you pause—a pause you can use to investigate whether the dashing smile is backed up by kindness, humor, honesty, and other qualities you probably want in a mate.
If you do this, you're on the verge of discovering something amazing: Simple, sustained attention can be more powerfully seductive than all the eyelash-fluttering, tongue-flicking, back-swaying displays that make men want to fondle the likes of Cathy and prescribe seizure medication for the likes of me.
Step 2: Lust for the other person's subjective experience
Here is the secret of sexual success for the confidence impaired: While people will decide to have casual sex with you based on how you look, they'll decide to have meaningful sex with you based on how you see. The reason I've managed to make the connections I desired is that I'm fascinated by people's stories. Beneath the small-talk surface, every life is a fascinating novel, so I always follow the suggestion from Proverbs 4:7, "With all thy getting get understanding." This directive means stand under, in the relatively lowly position of student, and let whomever we're trying to understand occupy the high ground of teacher. And—this is key—the body language we use to do this overlaps significantly with the biology of flirting.
Anthropologist David Givens, author of the book Love Signals: A Practical Field Guide to the Body Language of Courtship, says that a crucial sexual-attraction message is "I am harmless." We communicate this with "submissive displays," such as turning our hands palm up, tilting our heads, exposing our vulnerable necks. A tilted-head half-shrug is typical of sexually attracted people having their first conversation. It's also a posture you'll unconsciously assume when you're trying to understand another person's experience. I suspect this is a major reason so many clients fall in love with their therapists: The counselor who tilts her head while gazing quizzically at a patient, trying to see into his soul, may unwittingly be signaling that she'd also like to see into his pants.
Throughout my adolescence, I had terrifying encounters with innocent, well-meaning boys who interpreted my intense curiosity as sexual interest. A handful told me in so many words that, despite my obvious flaws, they had decided to accept me as a mate. In this way I learned that detached, genuine interest in another person's inner experience is, if anything, more seductive than the hair flips I will never master. This realization was almost worth the time I spent hiding behind trees and under staircases to avoid those poor misguided fellows.