I recently re-read the 1995 book The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider as research for one of my works in progress. It was an eye-opener. Released just as online dating was becoming a trend, this book seemed so wrong, so sexist and so manipulative at the time that it was scorned and spurned by many readers.
It’s a guide to capturing and marrying the absolute right guy and frankly, the rules that are explained to the reader – obviously meant for women looking for a husband – ARE indeed all those things. At the same time, after two marriages, several years of dating and a bunch of years of just living, the girls are right about much of what they say.
The basic premise is that men must be challenged, it’s in their nature, so the best thing a woman can do is remain aloof, allusive and mysterious. The mystery is created and maintained by not revealing anything about themselves, until the time is right and even then, don’t reveal unattractive things – until you have a ring on your finger.
I broke every one of their rules. Just take a gander at the first 5 and you’ll see why my dating history is spotty at best:
#1 Be a “Creature Unlike Any Other” – Seriously? I love the concept but the execution is a little difficult. You must BELIEVE you are a creature unlike any other or be a damn good actress. However, if you can pull this off – I’m sure it has value.
#2 Don’t Talk to a Man First (and Don’t Ask Him to Dance) – Are they kidding? No, they are not and they do have point here, but I hadn’t read the rules and did both of these things whenever I spotted someone I didn’t want other women to snag first. Their take on it is that you may get the guy, but only for the one time. In the long run, men don’t like it to be easy to capture your heart. I have to agree.
#3 Don’t Stare at Men or Talk Too Much – Guilty on both counts. I always look directly at someone when I’m talking to them, male or female. This can be off-putting for some people, but men interpret this as overt interest. I’ve had men assume I was interested just because I looked at them when I spoke to them. Whoa! And telling me not to talk too much – well, you may as well ask me to wear a muzzle, because that’s what it would take. I love to explore a new person or situation, and have a tendency to ask a lot of questions. Sure, I can tamp that down a little, but I’m sure I’ll still be the more talkative of the two in any coupling.
#4 Don’t Meet Him Halfway or Go Dutch on a Date – I was famous for this, but my motivation was mostly to be safe and not to owe the gentleman anything. The authors contend that you don’t owe him anything but the pleasure of their company, and they are right. Also, being too accommodating IS a mistake. You are quickly taken for a pushover. Sad, but true.
#5 Don’t Call Him and Rarely Return His Calls – Okay, this is great advice. I wish I had read it when I was dating. I never assume there is going to be any game playing in a relationship, but Fein and Schneider say it’s to be expected and phone gamesmanship is essential. Again, appearing to be unattainable is the goal.
Okay, a quick breakdown is required here. In my opinion, it is true that men are hardwired to want to pursue their mate and any other goal that crosses their paths. There are some exceptions, but as a rule, it’s a pretty correct assumption. I’ve been amazed in my life at the women who have attracted devoted mates and how often that woman is a complete and utter ice queen, unable to be satisfied with life, their mate and any other circumstance. The more difficult to please, the harder some men try to win the approval of that woman.
So, I conclude that as much as I’d like for The Rules to be wrong-minded, much of what the book professes is true and right. As much as we’ve progressed as a society, we still program women to be giving and men to be achievers. Until that changes, if it ever does, then most of The Rules will still apply.
If you get a chance, read or re-read The Rules and see what you think nearly 17 years later.