Culture > Books

Books: Courtship by the rules

Books | Catching a man or developing covenant relationships?

Issue: "Forbes: Right on the money," Nov. 8, 1997

With 35 quick and easy steps to finding the perfect man, Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider shot themselves to the top of the New York Times Bestseller chart with The Rules. There's nothing like offering simple solutions to complex problems to create a bestselling piece of paperback pulp nonfiction. Now there's a sequel, The Rules II. The spirit of The Rules is simple: Women seeking men should act aloof, inscrutable, and preoccupied when near the object of their affections. That way the mark will see the woman as a challenge and try to make a conquest of her. Thus the woman can drag the poor sucker all the way to the altar. Future Hubby can be forced into a commitment because he's worked so hard at gaining her attention. In their words, "Make Mr. Right obsessed with you as his by making yourself seem unattainable." Two volumes of The Rules equals 380 pages of advice on playing hard to get. There's lots of cheerleading to the lonely bachelorette reader that she is a "creature unlike any other" and that by sitting up straight and hiking up her skirts she will get the man of her dreams. The goal is that big engagement ring on the front cover. And if you're a good Rules Girl, some guy will rush to Zales and buy it. The style of these books is an odd mix of Cosmopolitan and Dale Carnegie. The Rules is a sales technique of the same species as Think and Grow Rich and How to Win Friends and Influence People. The chapters in these books are a whopping three to five pages long with such profound headings as "Don't Break the Rules," "Observe His Behavior on the Holidays," and "Don't Date Married Men." Much of the content is an almost military discipline of indifference. Don't return a guy's phone calls. Don't accept a Saturday-night date after Wednesday. Let him initiate romance. Sit up straight. Don't play with your food. And never let him see you sweat. And if the Rules don't work, obviously you aren't trying hard enough or you haven't had time. Since the Rules are guaranteed to work, why are there chapters on dealing with rejection? Ms. Fein and Ms. Schneider set up an ideal of romantic behavior that is ripped out of their high-school yearbooks. All this quixotic effort exerted on being "honest but mysterious" takes away from the real goal of courtship: communication. They'd prefer that a guy have a rapturous fantasy about the Rules Girl than have her open up and reveal her real personality. In fact, the authors mock the idea of a woman's being herself and not playing games. The authors' incessant one-dimensional view of men as warriors in the Jungle of Love looking for the next kill gets old fast. Their view of marriage replaces the stereotypical Trophy Wife with the Trophy Husband. They major in pointless issues of romantic chemistry and minor in areas of character and respect. The Rules is nothing more than another manifestation of our culture's consumeristic attitude toward marriage. If you meet my needs, I'll keep you. If not, get lost. In fact, Rules II's chapter on engagement is called "Closing the Deal." The popularity of these books shows that, feminism notwithstanding, marriage is still to be desired. And yet, the sheer manipulative shallowness of these books should make us weep for the loss of genuine covenant relationships.

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