Sunday, July 15, 2007

Being Ruled by "The Rules", Part I

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I've read the book called "The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right", hereafter known as "The Rules". It was a book I had heard of, in that I had heard some commotion about the publication a few years ago. Something about them being a source of conflict between different ideas of how to date. I'd basically forgotten about them until I stumbled on them while browsing through the shelves at the library.

Well, secrets for capturing hearts! That sounds like rollicking good reading material, for laughs if not for actual useful knowledge. Sounds kind of strict, though. I mean, rules doesn't sound like you get much flexibility, and flexibility is sort of my own personal relationship "guiding star". Can't hurt me if I'm prepared, though. Roll up my sleeves and dive into ink.

"The Rules" begins with a staple declaration of the genre of "relationship self-help" books: it disavows anything that's ever been tried before as unhelpful at best, while trumpeting all the success stories of people who follow the plan. I say "people" who follow the plan, but in actuality, The Rules are only for women. As with other books like this I've read, there is absolutely no acknowledgment whatsoever that a man may pick up this book and read it. This is probably called "focused authoring" or something, but in reality, it really drives a wall down between men and women. This is ameliorated somewhat because a man CANNOT follow these guidelines; the Rules are definitely NOT gender neutral. I'll touch on this in another entry, but know that these Rules have a serious dark side which I feel is not fully cautioned against.

Now that it's just us (ahem) women, it's time to work through the book's main ideas. Page 5 says, "Ever wonder why women who are not so pretty or smart attract men almost effortlessly?" Gosh, I'd never really noticed. Without thinking about it too hard, I would have said that men do go after women who are either pretty or smart. But according to the authors, there's this plain, average streak of ladies who are getting all the good men! I know that's what I want, someone who's neither smart nor pretty and completely median. Yep, sounds like an exceptional girl!

While I'm thinking of it, I should mention that the authors purpose for this book is to get people married. People looking for anything other than marriage-prospects need not read this book. So keep in mind that everything that's said is with an eye towards getting a good husband.

"If you follow The Rules, you can rest assured that your husband will treat you like a queen--even when he's angry with you. Why? Because he spent so much time trying to get you."

One of the basic concepts of The Rules is that men like to be ignored, because then they are forced to engage their hunting reflexes and pursue. The book goes over and over on the fact that women should never return calls, always hang up the phone first, never make the plans, etc. In short, don't ever make it easy for the man, because when things are easy, men will stop pursuing because they love the chase so much.

"In a relationship, the man must take charge. [...] We are not making this up -- biologically, he's the aggressor." There's something quaintly Freudian in this sort of anthropological statement. The authors are referring to that time long ago when Cro-magnon man was a hunter. Somehow, that genetic history is still encoded in men today! I'm not sure what Cro-magnon woman was doing, but if The Rules are any indication, she was telling the man she really didn't LIKE mastadon meat, and that she had plans for the next 5 campfires.

The whole point is that as long as man is pursuing woman, then the relationship works. In today's times, that leads to marriage. I'm not sure what happens after the man "gets" you into marriage, but the book just suggests you continue using the rules, switching the focus from "getting" to "keeping". Easy, right?

What's the great fear of The Rules? What's the motivating drive behind why a woman should do these things? Because you don't want to be alone. When you break The Rules, "you could easily end up alone. [...] Imagine a husband you love, beautiful sex, children, companionship, and growing old with someone else who thinks you're a great catch. Think about never having to be alone on a Saturday night." So it's fear that should drive women. Fear of being an old maid.

Their first example Rules girl is Melanie. (Hi, Melanie!) Melanie is not pretty or smart or special, but she followed the Rules: she wore makeup and clothes well and acted elusive. She was always "happy and busy" when interacting with men. Can't be too available. Eventually her boyfriend proposed because, the authors say, she was the girl he couldn't get! Easy, right?

Apparently, Melanie is a friend of the authors, because after her proposal, the authors said, "Gosh, why all the men, when you are so plain, with no wit or individuality?" Actually, they probably didn't say THAT, but something slightly nicer. And lo, didst Melanie hand the down from on high, saying Go forth and be stingy bitches with thy nookie, verily. But the Rules were shocking to the authors, as their story goes. "This will set the feminists back twenty years!" the authors pined (and opined). But the siren call of having a husband was too great.

There are 35 rules. Some are just common sense:
#16 - Don't tell him what to do.
#23 - Don't date married men.

Some have good thoughts behind them that need a little help to understand:
#11 - Always End the Date First.
#13 - Don't see him more than once or twice a week.

But some just seem strange right off the bat:
#31 - Don't discuss The Rules with your therapist.
#12 - Stop dating him if he doesn't buy you a romantic gift for your birthday or Valentine's Day.

There's some good advice here. The best of it comes with the idea behind Rule #1 - Be a creature unlike any other. It encourages women to embrace that which makes them unique. Further on, the authors also direct that women should act cool and distant in the beginning in part to prevent them from latching all their hopes and dreams onto a single date, which may turn sour and lead to depression. They encourage women to have power and be picky over who to allow to take them out. All good stuff.

But as a man, I object to the part I'm supposed to play. Women are encouraged to allow men to be in charge of asking for further dates, planning dates, rearranging their own schedules to meet with women, and proposing; all this in the name of giving men the chance to pursue. It also reinforces the stereotype that men are simple and one dimensional. And possibly the greatest threat of all, it's all about playing power games. Women are directed to make the men believe they have the deciding impulses and that the men can feel free to exercise the power in the relationship. But in reality, it is the women who GRANT the men the power. Secretly. Jealously guarded power.

If you read my blog, you know I'm sensitive to any hint of furtive manipulation of other people. I abhor it coming from my own person. This book sets off my alarm bells. It's all about women manipulating the uncomplicated and direct-action men into chasing after the carrot, intimacy: a carrot, I might add, which women are encouraged to keep mostly out of reach, at least until after the wedding. By intimacy, I don't specifically mean anything sexual. I'm referring to interpersonal intimacy, with the component parts of honesty, communication, and commiseration.

In another entry, I'll talk about the dark side to all this relationship manipulation. What happens when you get a man who embodies what the Rules girls are seeking, and he saves you from loneliness on a Saturday night?

What happens when you get what you get all the "togetherness" you hoped for, plus a whole heap more?


  1. So I'm supposed to "#1 - Be a creature unlike any other" while not being either "pretty or smart" and merely "plain average" to "attract men almost effortlessly"? Okay. Got it....

  2. Well, I think it's perfectly all right to be smart or pretty. Or maybe even BOTH. It's just the authors being "helpful" by telling women that OTHER women (who aren't nearly as fabulous as the reader) are getting men all the time by using The Rules.