In our increasingly secular society, dogma of all kinds has been losing ground. That is, except when it comes to dating. Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, authors of The Rules have, since 1995, been claiming that they know the method for nabbing Mr. Right.
Like the priests of romance, they demand faithfulness from their acolytes. Ever unsatisfied, they are continuing to spread word with the upcoming publication of yet another book, Not Your Mother's Rules: The New Secrets for Dating. Whew, just in time, we would have been so lost without their entirely original and groundbreaking advice telling us how to deal with dating now that there is the Internet.
Original rules included:
Don't call him and rarely return his calls
No more than casual kissing on the first date
Be honest but mysterious
Don't stare at men or talk too much
Don't talk to a man first (and don't ask him to dance)
New online rule:
"A woman cannot e-mail, or even wink at a guy's profile, without becoming the aggressor and possibly getting hurt down the line when the guy dumps her for the woman whose profile he really likes. The only way to be sure that a guy is interested is to let him make the first move."
Fein and Schneider have made a fortune preying upon the desperate and hopeful. Millions of women, and men too, have consumed The Rules praying that, at last, here was something that could rescue them from their singleness.
Being on our own, in whatever capacity, has its difficult moments and I know full well the peculiar terror and loneliness that can erupt. Wanting that special someone is a perfectly normal hankering but one that can leave us very vulnerable to stupid advice. I say stupid because I am now a married lady, despite the fact that I broke every single damn rule listed in the book.
The rule breaking goes as follows:
I spoke to him first
I did ask him to dance
I talked a lot
I drank too much and told him to come home with me
I did have sex with him
I was, in short, not mysterious.
Some time ago, I fell in love with a handsome young hipster. With desire hot in my heart and insecurity ever threatening to rise, I calculated and schemed. I dissected every text, did a crash course in coyness, and listened when my friends told me to let him take the lead. I played that game with every cell in my body. But to no avail. His love was not won and I merely grew older. The man I married however, was interested from the very first moment we met and no amount of feminine maneuvering would have made an iota of difference.The real truth is that we cannot control other people's behavior or motivations. There is no "method." The Rules , like a band-aid for a kidney infection, are a false and limpid stand-in for the only thing that can actually contribute to enjoying a healthy, loving relationship -- self respect.
That terrible potential to lose ourselves in the pursuit of romance, is where help is really needed. Says Dideon, "to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves -- there lies the great, singular power of self-respect." The Rules authors scratch at but ultimately undermine this. They suggest walking away from dating situations where the object of our affections is not correctly responding. Indeed, it is always good to check our impulse toward self-destruction. Wise not to drunk text the musician who hasn't returned your calls. Not because he will be disturbed that you are too aggressive but because you are chasing after a lost cause.
But this only an accidental positive buried in the midst of throw back, anti-feminist, dangerous dogma. Proof that The Rules is committed to creating faithful converts to fill the author's ever-growing coffers are the other rules in the book that have nothing to do with dating.
Do the rules, even when your friends and parents think it's nuts
Don't discuss the rules with your therapist
Don't break the rules
The authors' claim that, "some therapists will think that The Rules are dishonest and manipulative. They will encourage you to be open and vulnerable in your relationships with men." Hmm. I am always very suspicious of any belief system that demands rigorous adherence to laws and advocates for disregarding other opinions. Especially as most cults also have the exact same rules.
I am not a expert on love merely because I am now married. I have no secret wisdom to offer. But just for the record, I was open and vulnerable and honest. I have pursued, with many a transgression, self-respect. A few years ago, I did sit down with the fact that love is not a given and that I very well may end my days alone wearing moo moos and harassing teenagers on the bus. I cannot say that any of these things directly contributed to finding someone to share a life with but I can say that they sure as hell didn't get in the way.
Love does not solve all problems nor heal all wounds, it is simply a grace of life, one of many. The movement that told women that they didn't need a man to define them was not made up of a bunch of hairy arm-pitted, raised fist man-haters. Those women fought for us to have a greater opportunity to cultivate our character and to not judge our worth by our marital status. They believed, as do I, that, as Simone de Beauvoir wrote: "On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself -- on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not a mortal danger."
The Sweet Spot is a blog column by Ginger Murray who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.