| The problem with following The Rules

On a recent girls’ weekend, a friend of mine handed me what she promised would become my Bible. She entrusted me with a copy of Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider’s The Rules?: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right, a bestselling dating guide published in 1995 but still widely circulated among single women.

I cracked it open and began to read aloud. What I found within this popular tome truly shocked me: “the basic premise of The Rules: man pursues woman.”

This opening revelation was followed by a litany of rules that scandalized every remotely feminist bone in my body. “Don’t call him back;” “If you are in a long-distance relationship, he must visit you at least three times before you visit him;” “Don’t meet him halfway;” “Don’t ask him out;” “Don’t cut your hair short – men like long hair;” “Don’t leave the house without lipstick;” and so on and so forth. By rule 43 (“Always follow the rules”), I was so incensed that I threw the book across the room.

“Why’d you do that?” my friend asked, “you know, this stuff works.” She was confident that by following these rules she’d have a serious boyfriend within the year.

The scary thing is that she might be right.

The Rules has sold two-million copies worldwide, is translated into 26 languages, and was number one on the New York Times Best Seller list. People Magazine calls it a “must-read” and Mademoiselle touts it as “empowering.” Even Oprah endorses the thing.

As much as the rules are appalling from the get-go, what’s frightening is the idea that they may hold some truth; maybe men are actually attracted to women who don’t call, who let men make all the moves, who are mysterious and play it cool, and who, in short, do absolutely nothing in order to entice or entrap the opposite sex.

Though The Rules purports to be about helping women be proactive (“The Rules book can give you control of your dating life,” according to Mademoiselle), these rules are in fact all about passivity and the ways to make yourself seem appealing without actually doing anything.

According to The Rules, I shouldn’t talk so much, or be so funny – men don’t like women who are sarcastic. I should leave him wanting more. I shouldn’t have sex on the first date, or the second, or the third. The Rules tells me that men will like me because of “the way you smile (you light up the room), pause in between sentences (you don’t babble on out of nervousness), listen (attentively), look (demurely, never stare), breathe (slowly), stand (straight), and walk (briskly, with your shoulder back).” Really? This model of womanhood sounds eerily like one straight out of the Victorian age: one who never oversteps her place as a sweet domestic ornament. I’ve always thought that we were past the time when a woman’s life consisted of waiting for a man to roll along and marry her.

Yet that style of waiting, albeit attractively and within view of men, is exactly what The Rules seems to be recommending, and, more shockingly, what many men who I’ve spoken with recently on the subject seem to desire. “Guys like to make the first move,” a male friend recently told me.

So, for the sake of science, I tried to follow The Rules. I tried to smile sweetly and let men talk over me, let them call me and kiss me. And it was fun for a bit. But, truthfully, I think that these rules of dating are outdated. As a modern woman, every other aspect of my life demands that I be a go-getter and actively pursue what I want. Why should dating be any different?


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