Several years ago, I was watching an episode of Oprah. She had a guest on who had been a cop for years. He offered all kinds of advice for women about how to avoid con men and scams.
The former cop pointed out that, culturally, we tend to value people who are "charming." We treat it like it's an implicitly good thing.
But, as he pointed out, anyone--male or female--who is attempting to "charm" another person is, in fact, deceiving that person. S/he is trying to get the person to voluntarily agree to do something that they would not otherwise be inclined to do.
It's a trick. That's why it's linked to a "charm." It's grounded in absolutely nothing. It's an act of pure deceit.
His advice: when someone tries to charm you, be on your guard. They want you to do something they know you wouldn't otherwise to agree to do, if they simply asked you outright.
"Hey, would you give me $1000.? Noooo... actually, I'm not going to pay you back. Ever. I don't pay people back when I borrow money from them--ask any one of my former friends. They'll tell you."
"Babe, I would love it if you would sleep with me tonight. I know I'd have a great time. Oh, and just so we're clear-- I'm totally not going to call you tomorrow."
A very wise friend of mine once said, "I'm always wary of anyone who's got a lot of charm." I pointed out to her that it's because, two hours later, you're sitting on your couch eating Cheez-its and you suddenly realize, "Hey. Hold on a second. I think that person told me to ram it up my ass... how did I not see that?!'"
And you realize that there's nothing you can do about it. You sat and laughed and joked and willingly agreed to let the person pork you. Because you were charmed by them.
I think of a person who once told me, "Honey, that's too much sugar for my dime." At the time I thought, "Oh, yes, of course, who'd want more sugar than what they actually paid for?"
An hour later, on the drive home, I thought, "Hey. Wait a minute... ".
But all too often, when I've questioned my friends on the topic, they're unwilling to discount the intrinsic value of charm. They typically say, "Oh, but charming... that's a good thing. I like that. I can't help it--I love someone who's, you know, charming. It means they're ... interesting... And I'm sure they mean it, on some level."
Yeah. Sure. In an identity-theft, I-may-prosecuted-for-this-and-I'm-too-stupid-to-live kinda way.
Another friend of mine observed to me, many, many years ago: "I'm afraid you like guys who have a bit of mystery to them. But bear in mind: guys who are mysterious often have something to hide."
I think that's the difference between old and young. Or at least one of the key differences. When you're young, "complicated" and "mysterious" is "interesting."
When you're old(er), "complicated" is annoying and "mysterious" is downright "deceitful."
And honesty (note the absence of scare quotes) is oh-so-very charming. Really.