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Home » Culture and Criticism

Playing By The Rules

Submitted by on March 11, 1996 – 7:58 PMOne Comment

Last week, on one of my perambulations through the aisles of Barnes and Noble, I spotted a little book that had caused quite a stir both in the self-help community and among feminist folk for its unabashedly fifties-esque approach to trapping a man.The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right nestled demurely on the shelf next to such psychological masterpieces as Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and the latest sunshine-blown-up-your-butt musings from Robert Fulghum; its cover was adorned with ribbons and roses and a tres feminine font.I threw the tome onto my customary wavering stack of unnecessary reading material.I wanted to know what all the fuss was about, and I was willing to endure the skeptical lifted eyebrow of the sales clerk to do so.

I won't waste your time or mine by quoting from the book at length (though I laughed aloud several times), since the much-storied rules boil down to just one: play hard to get.The authors admit this, and they also admit that many women will find The Rules dated, antiquated, pathetic, an affront to forward thinking and feminism and forward-thinking feminism, a patent threat to equality for women, and so on and so forth.But Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider insist that The Rules worked for them, that making themselves seem unavailable and mysterious proved just the thing for snaring a hubby right quick.Men love a challenge, they say, and if you don't present a challenge, men will lose interest in you.That's it, the whole book, which took me under an hour to read in its entirety and which has withstood both the fulminations of feminists and the derision of the press and hung on to a notch on the bestseller list for many weeks.Frankly, I don't see the big deal.

Okay, so Fein and Schneider tell their readers — referred to as "Rules Girls" throughout the book – to conceal their true selves from any prospective mates.Okay, so they advise readers to wear make-up at all times, even while exercising, just in case.Okay, so they seem to find sexual intercourse an irritating and sticky footnote to the pursuit of matrimony, warning Rules Girls not to sleep with a man until at least the fourth date (or something like that — I found this counsel so irrelevant to my life that I forgot it as soon as I had read it).These and most of the other bonbons of Doris Day-ish wisdom vaguely disturbed me, but hey, I don't intend to follow The Rules in order to find a hubby.If women out there cherish getting married as their heart's desire and want to follow these instructions, let them.Who cares?They deserve the men they end up with.I have better things to do worry about, like the fact that women still earn about seventy cents to a man's dollar and the knowledge that OJ Simpson walks around free.

In the end, the book kind of disappointed me.I would rather have seen a book of rules that already exist in nature, rather than rules that I as a marriage-minded sheep have to follow so that some guy will, in the words of Edith Wharton, do me the ultimate honor of boring me for life.The feast-or-famine rule, for example — men pursuing me all the more avidly when I already have someone to bicker over the birth control with.I'd love to see a book explaining that one, or the law which states that you must have completely and utterly given up any shred of attraction to your old flame before he finally admits to one of your friends that he has officially deemed you all that and a bag of chips.How about a book that tells us what we've wanted to know all these years, a snappy retort to "it's not you, it's me"?

And what exactly does marriage have that makes it the be-all and end-all for so many women's existences anyway?Joint checking — oooooooh, I'm damp with anticipation.Um, not.I mean, really.If you that desperately need someone strong enough to carry your luggage, hail a porter, get a pony, or pack lighter, but do you have to get married?Why?You don't fight with your mother enough, so you want to add scuffles over the napkins and brouhahas over the guest list and kerfuffles over thank-you notes to the mix, not to mention acquiring a second mother that doesn't have to love you?I fail to see the logic, I'm afraid.Standing around in a big-ass boofy dress that weighs sixty million pounds, eating a cake that looks and tastes like papier mache, smiling until my face breaks in half, just to commemorate my successfully following…rules?That'll be the day.

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One Comment »

  • Ruth says:

    Like irony? "The Rules for Marriage: Time-Tested Secrets for Making Your Marriage Work" was released as one of the authors was getting divorced. Maybe she didn't read the book?