Girl Game Today, Same As It Ever Was

December 11, 2012

Louise Brooks

“The Technique of the Love Affair makes, I am bitterly afraid, considerable sense. If only it had been placed in my hands years ago, maybe I could have been successful instead of just successive.” 

Dorothy Parker

In 1928 Doris Langley Moore wrote The Technique of the Love Affair at the age of 23. Langley Moore was a Byron scholar, a costume designer, a novelist, a friend of George Bernard Shaw’s and a a newlywed when she penned the tongue-in-cheek guide to making men fall in love with you. Modeled after Plato’s Symposium, it was an immediate sensation and scandal in England.

Long out of print, the book was rereleased ten years ago, and received a positive reception from critics. Reviewing it for the New York Times, Liesl Schillinger wrote:

If enough women read it, there may yet be time for the Irresistible Woman to avoid going the way of the dodo.

The book…is a virtual cocktail shaker on paper, written by a young woman who styles herself ”A Gentlewoman,” and it could very possibly undo the years of damage that earnest flocks of pastel volumes have worked on formerly swashbuckling female psyches. 

Reading about the SMP of the 1920s, I was immediately struck by the similarities to our own era. From the book’s jacket:

Its readers were the so-called New Women who emerged during World War I. The subject of cartoons in The New Yorker and Punch, the typical modern woman lived in a bachelor flat in the city; she earned her own living and believed in “sexual freedom” (although she might not have known exactly what that meant). She smoked cigarettes, drank cocktails, and swore in public. She even looked different: Slim and uncorseted, she wore her skirts short and her hair bobbed. To all appearances, she was physically, legally, and emotionally emancipated. The generation gap between the woman of the 1920s and her Victorian mother was all but unbridgeable, and a girl could no longer look to her elders for advice.

Langley Moore understood the sexual economy of the time – a male shortage after WWI resulted in a sex ratio that increased female intrasexual competition. Her book was meant to give women an edge over their less prepared flapper sisters. Technique offers specific guidelines for the newfangled practice called “dating.”

In one generation the Byzantine rituals of Victorian courtship had undergone a revolution: single women no longer extended invitations to suitors to “call” or held “at homes.” Now even respectable women went unchaperoned to nightclubs, restaurants, and movies. The modern date was born, and the once neutral telephone became an instrument of both despair and bliss.

…It was a time when men and women had dalliances or affairs, not relationships…This was an age in which it was important not to be earnest; flippancy and cynicism were sane responses to an insane war.


Where the Rules girl seeks a clothesline of her own, the Technique woman wants frolic, Champagne, banter and devotion, although she knows that ”it is generally only in the course of a light affair that the serious one springs up.”

Sounds like hookup culture, no?

Still, she is a sensualist who courts experience to perfect her craft, as well as a realist who knows that ”it is useless to tell men we are independent, and then beg them to come and dance with us,” so one might as well admit the need to scheme all along.

This is the refreshingly honest dissimilarity – the acknowledgement of sex differences allows the open sharing of the secrets to tripping a man’s switches, which can not really have changed much in just 80 years. Keep in mind that this guide is about sexual attraction, not finding a husband. It assumes that men are in a position of strategic advantage – no assumption of apex fallacy here. 

Here is a summary of Langley Moore’s strategy – all written by her or paraphrased.

Ten General Principles

1. We dare not give reign to our generosity, because men soon tire of what is soon obtained. 

2. A woman has not made a conquest until she finds herself pursued. Her conquest and the pursuit are synonymous; there cannot be one without the other.

3. Your surest weapon and most powerful spell lie in his own hunger for possession of you. Until you fulfill your ambition, you must always remain unattainable.

4. A man does not often want what nobody else would have. He covets what others have already found desirable. The more proof he has that you are sought after, the more convinced he will be that you are worth seeking.

5. You must not let his love stagnate the moment he has obtained you, but subtly rouse him to fresh pursuit whenever he shows apathy.

6. The most certain way of losing prestige is to let a man see that he occupies a more important place in your mind than you in his, but a woman who is infatuated will find it difficult to conceal her feelings.

7. The knowledge that there is a soul desperate with devotion before them can only excite pity or amusement, not love. In her abjectness and anxiety she ceases even to be congenial company. Her unhappiness is tedious, and he begins to chafe under his responsibility.

8. Never remonstrate with a man whose desire is flagging. Cease to see him, cease to communicate with him, let him hear rumours of others’ interest in you. If he has any lingering residue of possessive passion for you, these measures will bring him back to your side, and if not, you are acquitted without indignity.

9. It is not just physical desire that he seeks. He also wants intimacy. When he cherishes and protects you, enjoy it. Draw him into slight intimacies that seem charming, he will want more.

10. Do not give a man an idea which may prove disadvantageous to you. E.g., that he finds a certain other woman more fascinating that yourself, that he will cheat on you, etc. If you show that you expect infidelity, you will get it.

The Fundamental Principle of Femininity

1. Contrast is the keynote. Be different from the man in female ways.

2. Avoid being nasty about other females or blabbing their secrets.

3. If a man is able, he enjoys the burden of providing for you, and enjoys the feeling that you are dependent, his dependent. Be dependent materially and independent spiritually.

4. To sustain admiration for an indefinite period, display good nature, a sense of honor and a capacity for friendship. But never show yourself to be completely unselfish in your devotion to him.

5. Refinement of taste is an important virtue. Avoid indelicate conversation and coarse language.

Men to Avoid

1. Men whose prestige is much greater than your own. You need to feel at ease, even a little superior, to enjoy yourself.

2. Men with whom you would always have to make the first move.

3. Men who must conceal you

4. Men who are dissolute


1. Be interesting

  • Have poise of manner (free from self-consciousness or arrogance)
  • Don’t laugh with abandon, becoming ungainly
  • Don’t become vehement in discussion
  • Be lively without being obstreperous.
  • Be spirited but never carried away.

2. Display accomplishments and allurements without calling attention to them.

  • Be cheerful, free from hint of grief or dejection. Misery long sustained begets pity without sexual love. 

3. Dress well.

  • The less women’s clothing resembles their own, the more men like it.

“Whether is was the first cause or not, from the earliest times one impt. Function of clothing was to promote erotic activity: to attract men and women to one another, thus ensuring the survival of the species. One basic purpose of costume, therefore, is to distinguish men from women.

Alison Lurie, The Language of Clothes, 1981

  • Dress like the women around you, only more sumptuously. Originality and distinction makes men uncomfortable.
  • If a woman is not groomed to perfection from head to foot, she will lack the necessary self-confidence.

4. Display a talent for flattery.

  • Seem attentive to his conversation; conceal signs of boredom, but don’t look too eagerly engrossed.
  • Draw a man out to speak about himself, but never attempt to probe him for secrets. This will make him think of you as more of a friend.
  • Don’t tell him secrets of yours until you are sure he likes you.

5. Be more generous with words than actions.

  • Actions should seem more indifferent than infatuated. If you are always flattering a man, he will see that you want him badly, and stop pursuing.
  • If you are always cold and casual, he will think you don’t want him at all, and a passion cannot flourish when rebuffed at every turn.
  • Many women [are] rude in their speech but complacent in every act. Better to spare no kindness that the tongue can utter.
  • Express gladness to see him, but show no desire for his company in any of your actions, i.e. pursuit.
  • When he is with you, let him feel strong, courageous, generous. 
  • If you signal to him that you expect to be treated poorly, he will comply. Men will give you whatever you seem to ask of them, so ask much. 

Methods of Approach

1. Don’t approach a man who is engrossed in another woman.

2. Any appearance of haste is unseemly and may defeat the purpose.

3. Don’t single a man out for special glances or flattery, unless you know you will have no opportunity later. Be encouraging at the second or third meeting, giving a hint of sexual interest.

4. Being good at flirting lets him know that you are used to the attentions of men.

5. Do not respond as much as he would like; make a little show of surrender. Always give a little less of yourself than is wanted, a little less than satisfies.

6. If he is indifferent, give it up immediately. An unattached man who is indifferent to your flattery is indifferent to you.

7. In a group of men, be delightful and personal with each of them. Don’t single any one man out for particular attention unless you can do it without being observed. Be so kind to the women that your attention to the men does not stand out. If there is a woman likely to resent you, be extremely amiable to her, and distinguish her by all the courtesy you can show.

Errors Common to Love Affairs

1. Allowing yourself to be won without adequate preparation, or taken unaware. The occasion of your surrender should be prearranged and have the ideal background. Do not let him think his victory an easy one. What he wins, or thinks he wins, easily, he will not esteem.

2. Attempting to arouse a fatigued or worried man to demonstrations of emotion. By taking the role of supplicant you make him feel that the right order of things has been upset, and give him a mortifying memory of yourself. Before a man has declared himself, make no concessions of any importance, but once he has done so, it is very unwise to demand repetitions and confirmations, for it will indicate over-anxiety.

“It is proverbial that after a woman tells a man she loves him, he assumes she’ll continue to do so until she says otherwise. In contrast, women seem to require periodic updates on a man’s emotional temperature. Fear and anxiety, and the behavior they engender, are lethal to love and well-being.”

3. Calling attention to one’s own defects. Conceal flaws if possible and do not apologize for them. In a love affair, you should display your assurance and conceal your humility.

Langley Moore’s only nod to marriage:

“Even those who would reform or abolish matrimony are prone to forsake their principles when they are seized with a passion for one who cannot be otherwise obtained.”

There is much wisdom here, and little I would disagree with. I have used many of these suggestions to great effect myself. Unfortunately, feminine and masculine roles have largely been lost since DLM wrote her book. Women are not practiced at communicating interest and attraction, and men are not practiced at reading those cues. Much of what DLM recommends will be most effective with men displaying a high degree of self-confidence. Then again, self-confidence is a strong female attractor, and she provides an excellent roadmap for engaging those men. It is interesting to note that Langley Moore speaks of the benefits of preselection, playful teasing, and a bit of push pull as important tools.

Finally, as noted above, Langley Moore has written a how-to for passionate love affairs. I see no reason why one’s approach to relationships should not be the same, as exciting a man’s sexual interest is crucial for both. The key is to follow her 1920’s guidelines for when to have sex, not contemporary ones.