Mate Expectations: How to Bait the Tender Trap

Times Staff Writer

Most curious was the gender breakdown.

Thirty-two people had trekked up the piney woods to Elysium in Topanga for Tracy Cabot's seminar. Cabot, they knew, had written the hot-selling guide entitled "How to Make a Man Fall in Love With You." Yet 22 of the seminarians were men, only 10 women.

Had the men--upscale, articulate, professional types for the most part--shown up figuring on a large turnout of pickable-uppable women? As it turned out, not really. ("Yearning knows no sex," Cabot had said later. "Well, you know what I mean.")

Before an expansive, crackling fire, Cabot, in a brook-soft, soothing voice, held her audience spellbound as she said the magic words: true love "guaranteed," she'd written in her book, and she still stands behind it.

Cabot, married two years ago--for the first time--at the age of 42, was telling her audience how she'd researched the love technique. Then, in the classic method, she'd set out to do her own experiments.

In the interest of science, she'd made out a "Man Plan," found a total stranger who met the prerequisites, and zeroed in.

"Once I decided on him," she said, "he didn't have a chance."

"It's true," she laughed a few days later at her Van Nuys home, "every word of it."

Cabot crossed the living room--nudging aside a sleek Doberman with the improbable name of Precious--to fetch a wedding memento. From the happy-ending photograph grinned husband Marshall--tall, strong, athletic, radiating success (he's a movie producer).

Quite a catch. Cabot, too, though not quite as obviously. On the short side, not exactly statuesque, Cabot--physically--is not a woman you'd describe as stopping traffic. OK, slowing it down a little, but not your major freeway jam.

As she speaks, though, you begin to notice little things. A sweet, modulated voice that's a little spacey, consummately feminine. Laughing eyes, capable of a glint, a flash, but in the main genial and winsome. Little things. Lovable things. You wonder if she's been practicing, following the tenets of her book, and after a while you don't care.

Few of us, after all, are Tom Selleck or Jacqueline Bisset, and we can identify with Cabot. There's a feeling there that if she can do it, we can do it. She insists we can. Guaranteed.

Having Too Much Fun

Cabot hadn't really avoided marriage/commitment until 42. It just hadn't happened. A roving writer/reporter, she'd just been having too much fun.

"I fell in love over and over and over," she said, "but nothing took. I don't think I was looking for it to take.

"By the age of 39, though, I was tired! I'd been around the world. I had a guy in every port. Hey, the guys I was working with had a girl in every port. I was doing the same work, making the same money. Why not me?

"And then I was tired. I wanted company and love and affection and support--but I didn't want to go out and find it fresh every Saturday night."

Cabot studied love: what it is, what makes it happen on a permanent basis. "I was writing the book when I met Marshall. I honest-to-God did the whole routine. I did everything in the book."

At Elysium, Cabot distributed sheafs of mimeographed pages to be filled out.

The first sheet was the "Man Plan," modified in this case to "My Fantasy Mate," a list of sine qua non qualities one would insist upon in one's mate. The only sounds in the conference room were the exaggerated snap-crackle-pop of the roaring fire as 30-odd anxious, earnest single people described their dream men/women to themselves.

Lists were read aloud by the less inhibited.

One woman stopped halfway through and giggled.

"Go ahead," Cabot cajoled.

"I can't," said the woman. "I just realized that what I want is not a man but a sheep dog."

"I met my husband through a video-dating service," said Cabot, back home in Van Nuys. "I was doing a story on video-dating to supplement my income while I was writing the book.

"Don't laugh. You should see the people in there: lawyers, doctors, tycoons. No creeps--a real creep doesn't put himself on videotape to be seen by the world. Mainly, it's people who are too busy, who want to make connections with people they wouldn't ordinarily meet. What do you want them to do, hang out in a singles bar?

"Anyway, I was taping like crazy, having a great time. Marshall was the 37th man I went out with--from that place alone."

At Elysium, Cabot had cautioned her students that their plans, perforce, would be flexible, that it was possible--once you got to know him--to love a man with a bald spot, a man who wears polyester, even a smoker: "As your list narrows, your possibilities get broader."

Close Enough

Marshall wasn't perfect , but close enough, she said at home. "Of course, I had to get over the country club. . . . "

Cabot, as so many of her generation, was a lifelong, committed radical. "I was born right on the edge. First we were Bohemians, then beatniks, then hippies. . . . We were the first generation of women to be liberated--socially, sexually, professionally.

"If there was a flag to be raised, a slogan to be yelled, a demonstration to be demonstrated, I was there. I just loved it. And here was this Marshall and he belonged to a country club ! And now I'm sitting around this pool thinking, 'Oh my God, if my parents could see me now!' Still, if you want something bad enough. . . . "

The people at the seminar, she volunteered, wanted it bad enough. Desperately. "They're givers, I can tell. Sure, some of them have been married two, three, four times, but I think it's because they've been trying to give the wrong person the wrong stuff in the wrong way."

In Topanga, Cabot was gently but firmly insisting on the right stuff.

"Don't give too much too soon," she was saying, a seemingly self-evident chestnut that elicited a surprising number of confessions from people who had done just that.

Cabot told the story of the overly eager swain who had started off delivering a dozen roses a day to his intended, until she began groaning, "Oh, no! Roses again?"

Deflated, he stopped. Her response? "How come you never bring me flowers any more?"

Build up to it, Cabot suggested, and then ventured into a more positive--and allegedly powerful--phase of the Love Technique: mirroring.

Mirror--or mimic--your target, she suggested. The way he sits, walks, even breathes. It will make him feel very comfortable with you, without his knowing why.

Furious scribbles in notebooks.

Mirror his unconscious body language, Cabot continued. Mirror his words, his responses. Mirror the way he dresses. . . .

"These are potent techniques," Cabot was saying in Van Nuys. " Proven techniques. Heavy. Salesmen use them. Doctors. Similar techniques are used to cure phobias, to enable people to walk on hot coals."

But mirroring a man's dress ? Isn't that a little much?

"When I was dating my husband, I wasn't exactly a fashion plate," she said. "I'm a writer, and you know how they dress.

"Whatever, Marshall had this party. He had plenty of women friends, believe me, and I didn't know what they were going to wear, but I knew him and I had a feeling he'd be wearing a white silk shirt and jeans and cowboy boots.

"Well, I was outrageous , I'll admit it. I wore a white silk shirt, jeans, cowboy boots.

"He saw me at the door and said, 'Boy, you look great!' He never even looked at the other women in all their finery. To him, I was perfect. When you mirror a man, he thinks, 'Wow, does she have great taste and style!'

"Was he conscious of the ploy? Never! Until I'd written up the episode in the book, he hadn't a clue as to what I'd done."

Another essential part of the technique was being explored at Elysium.

Everyone, Cabot emphasized, is predominantly a visual person, an auditory person or a "feelings" person. Each expresses himself in terms appropriate to his predilection. Each feels more comfortable--eventually, more susceptible to love--when addressed in his own language pattern: Talk about how something looks, or sounds or feels.

Each type has its own distinct traits, habits, hobbies; the more you move, speak, dress, react in harmony with the traits, the closer the man will feel to you. Guaranteed.

Seminarians were paired up to study each other's eye movements (a sure tip-off as to type) and speech patterns (ditto).

It took a little practice, but soon everyone was convinced that his/her partner was definitely visual, auditory or feelings-oriented. Or almost everyone.

"What if he doesn't look up, down or sideways?" a woman asked. "What if he stares straight ahead?"

"Easy," said another woman. "He's catatonic."

Back home, Cabot defended her techniques: "Yes, it's a trap, I guess, but it's a tender trap, a kind, loving trap, and nothing that's going to hurt anybody.

"Underhanded? No more than makeup, or plastic surgery, or dyeing your hair.

"Manipulative? Certainly, but there are good and bad manipulations. If someone's on a diet and you say, 'Let's not go into the pastry shop, OK? I'm in a hurry,' that's good manipulation.

"Demeaning? No. You're not really changing yourself that much; you're changing how you communicate. Later, of course, when a commitment has been established, you'll find ways to make him change, and he'll be glad to. You'll both understand each other better.

"Once I confessed to Marshall what I was doing, he was flattered, and amused, and finally fascinated.

"He tried the same things on me. It got so we didn't know who was doing what to whom."

In Topanga, Cabot sketched in the rest of the love technique to an increasingly avid audience, the men now as fully caught up in the arcana as the woman. The "anchoring" routine; ways of detecting, early in the game, the types you don't really want to pursue; the healthy syndrome of fantasizing; even the "underhanded" techniques, like going through his garbage.

And at home again, Cabot swore one more time that her methods not only can work but do .

"It's inevitable," she said. "It has never failed. I get letters and calls from all over the country, from abroad--women who are ecstatic.

"Even back when I had the book in proposal form, girlfriends would come over and read the manuscript and just disappear, to try it out. They'd use it in church to pick men up. At funerals ! And they'd come back beaming.

Cabot is off on a book tour now--the paperback (Dell: $5.95) is coming out today--and she remembers with fleeting wonder her last book. It was called "Letting Go" and it was a guide to healing a broken heart.

A book on getting over a man, then a book on getting a man. What's next, a book on getting rid of the poor slob?

"No," said Cabot, with a loving glance at her wedding portrait.

"It's going to be 'How to Keep a Man.' "

Guaranteed.

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