The Forgotten Art of Wooing

Jakarta, 8 February 2006

Written under Miss Sassy (11)

Oxford dictionary: v. court, seek love of; seek to win, invite.

I define ‘woo’ as the art of winning over someone’s heart through actions or words showing how that person means the universe for the other person, how the other person is the only one that sees and appreciates it to this level, and how for those reasons only they should belong to each other.

It’s mostly within the context of romantic courtship. Involves seduction, flattery, and sometimes, laced-up bribery.

It’s a forgotten art. And I miss being wooed.


How would I not? Courtships nowadays have been simplified, if not reduced, to the carefree, and often chivalry-free, casual dating. The kind of yeah-wanna-grab-a-quick-bite-afterwork-tonite-so-I’ll-see-you-there, or the hey-fancy-a-movie-this-weekend-and-I’ll-show-up-in-my-beatupjeans-and-raglantee. And often, over an SMS.

I understand that the fast-paced, deadline filled, traffic jam ridden, harried modern life doesn’t leave much room for unnecessary flowery frou-frou. I live in and breathe the same cosmopolitan air, too, and I appreciate the freedom of wearing raglan tees and (for me) cargo pants on weekends just as I appreciate straightforward, tough, street smart, no wishy-washy men.

But shouldn’t tough, smart, modern men still know, understand and capable to woo? After all, books like The Rules, Men Are from Mars & Women Are from Venus and He’s Just Not That Into You argued and dictated that, despite the Darwinian evolution, men remained the age-old hunters who loved to pursue and plan their pursuit. And unless you’ve been cloned directly off Casanova or Rasputin, wooing does take some strategic planning of resources and opportunities. So, why aren’t more men wooing more?

There was this artist. Bohemian, brainy, dreamy, capable of throwing a creative block’s tantrum as easily as reciting an emotive poem, and roguishly handsome—yes, that helped. I have a ritual of listening to GunsNRoses’ November Rain every day in November. That November I was seeing him my compo broke down. He lived in another city, and every morning that month, until he visited one weekend bringing a Discman, he played the song over the phone so I wouldn’t miss my ritual. I couldn’t help feeling how my silly little amusement, how I, was that important to him. Seduced, too– have you heard the lyrics? Smart man, hitting two heartstrings with one wooing chord.

Later in another side of the world another brainy, dreamy man courted me throughout spring and summer. A self-proclaimed philosopher in pursuit of the 2nd master’s in economics –too cerebral, indeed—he kept such rapturous fire within his strapping 6-ft-1 frame that he could’ve been the younger version of the enigmatic warrior Ken Watanabe played and outshined Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. And with all that flair, he wooed me.

His countrymen weren’t known for domestic prowess, but he’d carry utensils to my place and cook from scratch. Handpicking eggs, cleaning prawns, mixing dough and sauce, got it down to a science, plus a touch of citrus yellow paper napkins, all because I, the hopeless cook, had wondered of other ways to prepare eggs. Food can be a seduction. Also bribery, since then I felt more compelled to watch baseball with him.

Once his tactless action got us into a heated row and slammed phones. When his sense came around he called to apologize. Unready to talk calmly and trying to avoid another phone spat, I told him that my countrywomen were used to more personal and proper apologies.

Lo and behold, 30 minutes later I heard a knock. I opened the door to find him standing tall in the sweltering midsummer afternoon heat, wearing a 3-piece pinstriped suit and silk tie, carrying a bottle of Chardonnay and Mrs. Fields’ white choc macadamia cookies. He said he just wanted to apologize personally, and properly. And since it’s already late Sunday afternoon and everything’s closing, would I be keen instead to have breakfast at the riverside inn first thing in the morning tomorrow. Seduction, at the very least. Flattery, at its best.

Now, now, before you guys accuse me of being unreasonably sappy, let’s all agree that wooing alone wouldn’t secure relationships. Those two romances eventually faltered due to very fundamental reasons, even after serious salvaging attempts. Relationships need more work than just romance. And yes, excessive sugarcoated sweetnothings or cheesy gallantry could shift adulation into asphyxiation—been there, suffered that.

But still, the elation, the sheer joy ignited in your lady by your sincere woos, they’re worth the endeavor, gentlemen. Gender emancipation and evolution aside, we’ve still got some Venus inside. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, then only heaven knows the bliss of a woman wooed. Every woman has her own way to reciprocate, and moi, among other fortes I can’t discuss here, compose love letters. Not the lame, tasteless ones, but as I’d been told, the witty and thoughtful ones. Who knows what she may do.

So call, not text or email, by Tuesday the latest, if you want to ask her out on Friday. Fancy isn’t a must, but picking up the tab at first date is. No procrastinating for days to thank her for a date, despite how it went.  

Occasionally bring her to one of those cozy places, and let her know beforehand so she could get all dolled up – we love that. Have sense to show up pulled together yourself when you know she’d dress up, and no walking 8 blocks for a woman in matte-jersey blouse and heels. Compliment her shoes or accessories, only genuinely. A man once observed nonchalantly, but earnestly, how my tiny earrings always matched my wardrobe, and for 5 seconds I contemplated having his babies.

Send flowers, not just the cliché pink or red roses on birthdays or Valentines, but try the ethereal peach roses or lush purple hydrangeas, and send them just because.

Perugina’s Baci and Hershey’s Kisses are equally symbolic, but bring Crunchy M&M or Godiva, if that’s what it takes.

No need to force serenading under her window if your vocal could risk awaken the hidden Simon Cowell in her neighbors’, but get your iPod and burn a CD of her favorite tunes—Madonna and Eminem alike. Slip Elton John’s Original Sin for a touch.

Proficient as you are in Proust, acknowledge the chick-lit and chick-flicks if they please her—she can always get her highbrow crash course later. Or immerse yourself in her favorite Emerson if ESPN is your main repertoire by far.      

And as revolting as you think in-line skating is, if she finds it riveting, you’d only impress her if you could discuss how Sasha Cohen performs in the Turin Winter Olympics. It’s currently going on in the ESPN, dude, and Google can explain to you just what the heck Double Lutz or Triple Salchow is.

Remember, it’s all about getting her swooned, not showing yourself off.

Little things or grand gestures, her true-and-tested favorites or your new brilliant ideas, always being sincere. And remain so, even when she fails to reciprocate or your feelings unrequited. By wooing with a class, you separate yourself from the rest of the wolf pack.  Destiny will determine whether or not you belong together, but as you’re in it why not add some touch and reap her blossoming heart just a bit more assuredly, and profoundly.

You who are cool mist to my burning longing,

            rumbling thunder to my desire,

            lightning that illuminates the darkness of my heart,

You are the fine showers of my poetic rapture,

            disappearing when regarded too closely,

            but turning into gentle rainfall

            when you allow me to take you on my lap

(Prince Aja’s courtship poem for Indumati, Sumanasantaka, Canto CIII, Verse 2).

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.

Published on The Sunday Jakarta Post, Lifebites column (pg.6), 12/2/06.

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