Part 163: The Art of War


It struck me recently that I have been doing life all wrong. You’ll probably have noticed as much if you read this blog on a semi-regular basis. For it example, it turns out that spending 70% of every day alone, in your pajamas, leaving the bed only to fetch cheese strings from the fridge and, occasionally, to quench your thirst by swigging orange juice straight from the carton, is not great for your mental health. See also: continuing relationships with men who have stood you up more than twice – especially if you suspect they’re concealing an opiate addiction – and watching Dance Moms to the point where you understand what a ‘sickled foot’ is and feel actual, physical pain when Abby Lee resigns.

On that note, have you ever read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War? It’s a military strategy written by a Chinese general in the 5th Century BC, broken down into easy-to-digest sections such as ‘Waging War’, ‘Attack by Fire’ and ‘The Use of Spies’. It remains popular with army types, business strategists and, if The Sopranos is to be believed, Italian American Mafiosi, all of whom are engaged in physical and psychological battles, where strategy and overcoming the enemy is paramount to survival, or profit.

What it is not, I have come to understand, is a dating guide. The Art of War, is not, in any sense whatsoever, a self-help book in the tradition of The Rules, Men are From Mars Women Are From Venus, Keeping the Love You Find, or similar – none of which, I should probably point out, I have read. The Art of War is, in fact, the only relationship self-help guide I have ever read, except that it isn’t, as I’ve just pointed out (despite the efforts of several men with tiny penises to make it so – FYI, I’ve not read any of these either). It was only this week, on discussing my dating tactics with a therapist, that I realized why my romances I have tended to go spectacularly amiss.

I’ve been selecting lovers, and subsequently treating them, as though they were opponents in ancient warfare, rather than equal partners whom to trust, nurture and one day, perhaps, make tiny fat babies with. For example:

• ‘The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.’

As any of my ex-lovers will tell you, I very much enjoy a great explosive row that allows one to expunge negative thoughts and feelings in a tirade of insults and objects blindly flung across a domestic space. However, I also know that if one really wants one’s own way, this is a risky strategy for success. Better to subdue him and slowly manipulate him into doing what you want without fighting. I find blow jobs are often quite effective in this regard. Also, asking in front of his mother when you want him to do stuff you know he won’t want to do. Alcohol can be quite useful in both situations, for tranquilization purposes, so long as you aren’t dating a bloke that gets wound up and aggressive, or impotent on it.

• ‘Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.’

Remember that ‘39 questions to make someone fall in love with you’ quiz that was circulating online last year? I have long used a version of this to ensnare men and make them susceptible to manipulation. For example, if he tearfully describes how his Dad walked out on him the week before his 12th birthday, I have tended to realize he will likely have a deep fear of abandonment, which is one of the easier fears to exploit, and, when necessary, have threatened to withdraw my company and labour until such a time as he does what I want.

• ‘Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.’

Mostly, he’s my enemy, but every now and then – usually after he has delivered a particularly intense orgasm – I consider him my soldier and therefore attempt mother-figure type behaviors, such as cooking him dinner, stroking his poorly shoulder and sending him texts asking where the fuck he is at 3o’clock in the morning.

• ‘Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.’

A taxi driver once told me that men don’t want a woman more educated than them. Thus, at the wooing stages, it is very important to pretend to be a little bit stupider than you actually are. I find this is easily done by a) giggling a lot, b) asking basic questions about subjects on which he feels he is an expert (snooker, Mortal Kombat, the molecular impact of environmental pollutants on the atmosphere, whatever) and c) emphasizing that your PhD is in an expressive arts subject and, therefore, non-threatening.

• ‘Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.’

You won’t always be pissed off because he borrowed £56 and never gave it back – one day it might even make an amusing anecdote for a blog post. But, once it’s over, it’s done babe. If the relationship ends you have to go no contact and sign up for an extreme sports event, such as a half-marathon or Iron Man challenge, to take your mind off him and replace the endorphins you’re no longer getting from sex. Otherwise you’ll end up in a decade-long on-again-off-again nightmare that will severely impinge on your ability to form functional romances long into the future.

Actually, that last one is quite good advice – although you’ll be unsurprised to learn it is the only one I have failed to implement. The rest are, obviously, terrible, terrible strategies for establishing a stable, satisfying romance. And while most relationships are shambolic, painful and dysfunctional, you probably want to avoid following my example, if you can help it.

Don’t do as I do, is the moral of this story.

*Image is ‘Art of War’, by Stuart Miles from

**Shout out to Trish from work, who told me – after I published my last post – that the way to keep your whites white is to dry them in the sun. This will bleach them naturally, removing unsightly faded stains and other evidence of debauchery.

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