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Flirting My Way to the Top

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For the past few months, we've become accustomed to hearing the depressing or desperate the-economy-is-in-the-shitter talk.

For some women, these conversations are focused on the way that they're trying to get men to support them through these times. Whether it's bankers' girlfriends commiserating or pretending to commiserate over having to adjust to a less decadent lifestyle or women putting the emphasis on finding a husband rather than a job, our dating and sex lives are very much impacted by the current economic situation.

Of course, those of us who have primarily supported ourselves since we entered adulthood judge women like that for being materialistic or gold digging or simply weak. We don't ever need to say this out loud -- the thought I'm better than them emanates from our very pores.

But are we? Or, more specifically, am I? Because I have flirted -- actively, passively, even passive-aggressively -- to get ahead in my career. My favorite pattern was to develop a deeply dysfunctional relationship with my male boss -- carving my way into a position as his Office Favorite and revealing enough about my personal life to shock a Human Resources representative right out of her sensible suit before ending up horribly miffed when he eventually dared to treat me as an employee and not as his little princess. (Yes, my Daddy issues have caused me years on the couch.)

Even though recovery and therapy -- not to mention becoming my own boss -- helped arrest that pattern, a tiny voice that has the ability to grow deafening at times always seems to float alongside my more rational one when a bright and shiny work opportunity looms slightly outside of my grasp: Make him think you're interested in him and he'll give it to you might be the thought. Or: He likes you. You can work this to your advantage.

And this is how I've found myself "represented" by agents who only seemed to want to discuss my writing over drinks, meeting with television executives who really thought I'd be perfect for the show that never seemed to get developed or in an editor's office hearing about his issues with his wife.

But here's the problem with my attitude -- something that many women who dance on this line may also have to find out the hard way: it never worked. And I don't mean well-it-tended-not-to-help-but-once-it-did, either. I mean that one hundred percent of the time, acting this way backfired. I usually ended up feeling resentful and misled by whoever it was and sabotaging the entire relationship altogether. But I was the one doing the misleading; these men were simply dangling carrots, and if I really believed I could get whatever it was they had the power to give me without using my sexuality or their interest in me, then I would have said no when the drink and dinner offers were extended or inappropriate topics were introduced. I also might have buttoned up that cleavage-revealing top a bit more.

I pretended that I had the power in that dynamic and that I could use the vague promise of a personal relationship -- or, more overtly, sex -- to manipulate whoever it was. But what really happens when we do that? Well, the agent realizes you're not going to sleep with him and turns his attention back to his money-making clients; the television executive never seems to come through on his promise to turn you into a household name; and the magazine editor assigns the column you'd hoped for to the less-experienced writer who hasn't been privy to all his relationship woes.

Maybe it would have worked if I'd actually put out; I've certainly heard tales of other women who were able to cut to the front of the line because of their willingness to part their legs at just the right time. But I wouldn't do that, I tell myself, feeling a familiar glow of superiority whenever I hear how another woman got where she is that way.

Yet who am I really to judge her? Because what I was doing was far worse than playing her game; I was trying to cheat at it.

Anna David (www.AnnaDavid.com) is the author of Bought, a novel about high-class prostitution in Hollywood, which will hit shelves in May 2009.

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