Breaking the Rules

The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider Warner Books, $5.99, 175 pp.The Real Rules: How to Find the Right Man for the Real You Barbara De Angelis Dell Books, $4.99, 182 pp.There's got to be something right in a book that stays on the bestseller lists for 22 weeks. Right?Wrong, say feminists, therapists and any woman who's put the intrigue and plotting of high school romance behind her.Even so, The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right, made its way into millions of purses with its claim of a sure-fire recipe -- 35 rules and 12 "extra hints" -- for catching that elusive man.This 1995 moneymaker was written by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, whose expert qualifications are simple: they're both married. I heard fourth-hand -- so take it for what it's worth -- that the two began the project as a spoof, but then began taking themselves seriously.A lot of the book reads like a joke too. Is there anyone out there over the age of 16 who's actually tried to put these formulas into practice? Probably so, although we don't know whether the 2 million women who snatched up The Rules gagged or sat down and memorized it, as the authors direct.Carole Kirby, a St. Clair Shores therapist, recently spoke on a panel about Rules at Borders in Southfield. She told the mostly female audience that the given rules were dishonest, and dated from the '50s and even before that. "They're about manipulation; they're not about authenticity," she said. "When you think about all the women's movement has accomplished, it's appalling that this could be on the best-seller list," Kirby told the Metro Times. "Women have gotten into the workforce, we've made gains, but when it comes to relationships we're still flailing around."Essentially, The Rules is about catching a husband."The book panders to the lowest level of consciousness in society," says Kirby. To do so, it follows a clearly defined formula, which goes like this: Men want and need a challenge, and they must be the aggressors in relationships. Our two scientists assure us this is a biologically determined need, and therefore, women must play hard to get.Rule 2: Don't Talk to a Man First.Rule 7: Don't Accept a Saturday Night Date after Wednesday.Rule 13: Don't See Him More than Once or Twice a Week."Rules girls" set a timer when a man calls, and get off the phone after 10 minutes sharp (how do they keep him from hearing the ding?).They don't return men's calls, and they end the date first.On dates one, two and three, their philosophy is "being and nothingness." As the advice reads, "pretend you're an actress making a cameo appearance in a movie. Let him do all the work."On dates four through "Commitment Time," you can open up a little, but not too much. Don't ask about past relationships; don't "overwhelm him with your career triumphs"; "don't plague him with your neuroses!!"You must "keep up this act" until he says he's in love with you. But what if he says it on the second date? Does Rule 10 trump Rule 9? The Rules assume that men are assholes and women are neurotic, clinging bores ("your old pain-in-the-neck self").Men can keep right on being assholes, but women must play mysterious to keep men from finding out what they're really like. If women follow the Rules, they are guaranteed to become irresistible.But if men are, in fact, how Fein and Schneider describe them -- childish, shallow, manipulable -- why would any woman want one?To that end, there are some kernels of good advice in Rules. The authors counsel women not to spend time pining over failed relationships, but to move on -- "Next!"Forget men who ignore you, cheat on you or hurt you. Don't view your boyfriend as a fixer-upper; you can't change him.And the authors do recommend women have their own lives with their own interests. However, this move is clearly for the sole purpose of not boring Mr. Right.Possibly the single worst point in Rules: the authors think it's great if a man gets angry when you don't put out on the second date, or when you aren't paying him enough notice ("he wants your constant attention").Haven't these two heard about the thousands of women whose lovers beat them if they go out with the girls or are late with the beer?Barbara De Angelis, herself a best-selling advice maven in the love-and-relationships field, and author of Real Moments for Lovers and How To Make Love All the Time, got ticked off thinking about the teenage girls who might read Rules and try to get their first boyfriends by playing games and keeping their mouths shut.As an antidote, she dashed off The Real Rules, published this February, and dedicated it to "every woman who has ever lost herself so deeply in trying to please a man that she doesn't know who she is anymore."She proposes 25 "real rules" that are a lot less cut-and-dried than Fein and Schneider's, and a lot harder to put into practice.The Real Rules are actually based on the Golden Rule: treat men the way you want them to treat you.This means letting him know you like him (if you do). It also means being yourself and not playing games. Boring advice, perhaps. But as De Angelis asks, what's the point of bagging a man who's fallen for a fake persona?While Fein and Schneider advise single mothers not to mention their children at first, De Angelis says why waste time with a guy and find out later he can't stand kids?If you practice the Real Rules, says De Angelis, you'll automatically weed out the Rules-type jerks who think women should be doormats.You should feel sorry for these guys, she notes, but not enough to go out with them.It's a lot harder to follow De Angelis' and Kirby's advice -- which boils down to being an emotionally healthy, grounded person -- than to obey formulas like counting five seconds before saying yes to a date.But there can be no shortcuts, they say: if you want to attract a passionate, interesting person, become a passionate, interesting person yourself.Other bits of wisdom from the Real Rules: love is an essay question, not multiple choice. There are some areas on which the two sides agree. Don't waste time with a married man. Don't have sex too soon. Don't pressure a man into making a commitment.Your mom could have told you any of that (or at least the first two). The fact that either of these books attracts an audience is an indication of the sorry state of relations between the sexes.Kirby, who counsels both straight and gay clients, says she sees people really wanting to know how to go about finding someone. However, women and men tend to go at this at cross-purposes. "There's a 40 percent failure rate for first marriages, and it's 60 percent for second marriages," Kirby points out. "So clearly, people need to do more about healing themselves."Jane Slaughter is glad her dating days are over.

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