Giacomo Casanova: The master of seduction

Casanova has become a noun today to denote a rake. A seducer of women. But Giacomo Casanova was an actual person who lived in 1725. Prince Charles de Ligne called him the most interesting person he had ever met.

Casanova helped Mozart with music. He used his medical knowledge to save senator Dan Matteo Bragadin’s life when he had a stroke. He got Pope Benedict’s permission to read all the forbidden books. And yes, he seduced 124 women.

But he was neither rich nor handsome. He didn’t have a prestigious background. All he had was instinct.

How did Casanova get over a 100 women to fall in love with him?

An old joke explains Casanova’s instincts.

Mary and Jane are having lunch together. They’ve met after a year and are catching up on their lives. Jane narrates why she marries Jerry instead of George…

Jane: “George has everything. He is handsome. Has a great sense of humour. Went to Harvard and is damn intelligent. Runs his own business too. In fact, when I was with him, I felt like I was with the most wonderful person in this world.”

Mary: “Then why did you marry Jerry?”

Jane: “Because when I am with Jerry, I feel like I am the most wonderful person in this world!”

Casanova made women feel like they were the centre of the world. How did he do that?

“​​Praise the beautiful for their intelligence and the intelligent for their beauty.” – Casanova

Bestselling author Robert Greene studied Casanova and gave us his playbook: that there is no playbook. There is no fixed step by step process that Casanova followed. No shortcuts. It was just being empathetic to the women he met.

“On meeting a woman, he would study her, go along with her moods, find out what was missing in her life, and provide it.” – Robert Greene

Casanova simply spent time understanding the women and giving them what they craved the most. He perfected the art of tuning into what they felt. But how did he pull it off? How did he become the master of empathy?

1. Empathy begins with curiosity

Casanova is a truly curious person. Even as a youngster, he studied everything from medicine to law to maths to music. And he was very curious to know what made women tick.

But what do you do if you’re not naturally curious? What do you do to build up your curiosity?

Curiosity begets more curiosity. So you just need to get started. Push yourself to ask the first question. And the rest becomes easy.

As George Loewenstein pointed out: someone knowing the capitals of just 2 or 3 American states won’t have the same curiosity drive to learn more as someone who knows the capitals of 47 American states.

Curiosity begets more curiosity. And this has been proven under fMRI scans too. Curiosity lights up the same parts of the brain as does pleasure. Curiosity is intrinsically rewarding.

What our brains don’t like is unsolved mystery. But when something gets solved because of our curious questions, the pleasure received is enormous.

Curiosity killed the cat. But satisfaction got her back. 

Why is curiosity important? Because it makes people feel connected. It shows that you are investing something in the relationship to put in the effort to learn more. 

But Casanova went in deeper than merely building a connection. The second ingredient to make people fall in love with you is to show them that you understand them.

2. Connection deepens with understanding

Most people listen to respond. But Casanova listened to understand. He never judged. He simply accepted.

This created a sense of safety for women. They felt safe in being themselves. When they felt accepted, they thought Casanova liked them. And being liked made them like Casanova more.

As Anais Nin says: feeling unsafe is the first obstacle to love.

You have to make people feel safe and understood. How can you learn this skill? You learn from the FBI’s hostage negotiators.

Chriss Voss, a hostage negotiator teaches a few tactics that you can use to deepen connection. 

i. You mirror the opponent. You use the same mannerisms as them. You repeat the last few words they use. You show them you are like them – which makes them feel understood.

ii. You use labelling. You try to figure out the emotion the opponent is feeling. And then call it. “It feels like you’re feeling adventurous.” 

How Casanova was seduced

Casanova had a lot of lovers. But there is one lover that he never forgot. Henriette. She was 10 years older to Casanova. And their escapade lasted just 3 months. But she somehow had a deeper impact on Casanova than anyone else. He cried and didn’t come out of his room for 2 days after she left him.

How? Because she pulled a Casanova herself. She understood that Casanova was a chaser. He liked novelty and chasing new experiences.

And so, she played hard to get. She challenged him and asked him questions that would make him think. She would have deep conversations with Casanova. But she refused his proposals.

Until she accepted. 

There was no one that Casanova felt understood him better. And that’s why he fell head over heels for her.

Action Summary:

  • Focus on the other side. Make them the centre of the world. No one cares about you. All they care about is what you can do for them. 
  • Build empathy. Try to know folks well. Try to understand them.
  • Be curious to make people feel connected. Be understanding and accepting to make people feel safe. And they will follow you forever.