‘The Rules’ Are Coming Back, and They’re Still Not Helpful

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For a period in 1995, women stopped calling men on the phone and approaching them in bars. The reason? The Rules, a bestselling dating advice book by Ellen Fein and Sherri Schneider (left, seen with — that’s right — Don Imus). The book, which became a cultural flashpoint, encouraged women to adopt more old-fashioned rules about dating and relationships, like using an egg timer to limit phone calls to five minutes and never, ever sleeping with a guy on the first (or fifth) date. Though the book was popular enough to spawn several sequels, Fein and Schneider have mostly stayed out of the media in the new millennium. Until now. Their new book, Not Your Mother’s Rules, will be published in February 2013. Though the basic approach is still the same, they’ve updated their formula to include advice about texting, sexting, emailing, and (of course) online dating.

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Here are some of the online dating tips in the new Rules book: post sexy photos, wait for a guy to respond to your ad instead of responding to his, never email or make first contact with a guy, and never refer to anything on his profile as proof that you read it (even though you did). Fein and Schneider argue that men love the thrill of the hunt, and when a woman becomes the aggressor (because sending one email automatically makes you a big slutty slut who sluts) it immediately makes men lose interest. Therefore, you should play hard to get and be a little mysterious so that he has to chase you.

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The fundamental problem with The Rules is that they still believe that men hold all the power in a relationship and it is the woman’s job to keep her partner or potential partner attracted and intrigued. Yes, they worry a lot about women being hurt, but their hold-back-everything approach reminds me of those kids whose parents shield them from all germs and diseases so much that the kid develops an allergy to every substance on earth. They also make a lot of assumptions about women and what they want, assuming that all women are straight, looking only for a relationship that ends in marriage, and not that interested in sex except as a means of gaining power in a relationship. Trying to force all men and women into these specific gender roles is dangerous and unfair. The truth is, people are complicated. Some men love to chase, some love to be chased. Some women are looking to get married, some want to date around and have fun. Dating isn’t math. You can’t just plop the same X and Y into every formula and expect it to work the same way each time.

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Just like every diet eventually boils down into “eat healthy and get some exercise,” all dating advice books boil down into “build trust, be honest, and communicate.” But six words aren’t long enough to fill a book, and The Rules trades on being yet another fad, the dating equivalent of The South Beach Diet. The truth is that they haven’t discovered a new or secret way to date, just a well-packaged one.