dating advice

Reviewing ‘The Rules’ and its ‘secrets for capturing Mr. Right’ 20 years after it was first published

Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

You're needy, empty and need a new nose. 


Illustration by Michele Melcher

On Feb. 14, 1995, a little book called The Rules hit the shelves. Subtitled "Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right," the book has been called "the modern woman's dating Bible" and has been referenced across popular culture, for better or worse, for years.

I found it tucked away on a shelf at The Next Page bookstore on Chestnut Street at its closing sale last month.

The main dictums by which the authors of The Rules — Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider; Fein got divorced after writing the book — want women to abide are essentially these: you must be aloof, never expressing too much interest; you must let the man be “the man,” and you must do these things so you can get married.

There's supposed to be romance in the air this time of year. With that in mind, consider this "advice" for finding love.


On preparing for a date:

“Most women go on dates with a lot of expectations. They want the man to find them beautiful, to ask them out again, and to father their children.”

Right. When you’re out on an awkward Tinder meetup with the only guy whose opening line wasn’t a plea for your nudes or a picture of his sack, the theme of the entire experience is “I really hope he gets me pregnant.”

“It’s best to be busy right up until the doorbell rings so that you’re slightly breathless and brimming with energy when you finally see him.”

If "busy right up until the doorbell rings" means "frantic and panicking because I napped for an hour too long, singed my forehead with my curling iron, can’t find my magic ass-improving jeans and forgot to wax my lady-mustache," then call me a Rules Girl!

“Go to the movies (see a comedy not a romance, so love isn’t too much on your mind), read the newspaper or a book to fill your head with something other than how your first name sounds with his last name. If you’re busy all day, you won’t be so needy and empty when he picks you up.”

"Oh, we mean, you'll always be needy and empty, you're a woman. Maybe just not so needy and empty."

“Remember that you’re dressing for men, not other women, so always strive to look feminine.”

Other things you, as a woman, can be dressing for:

+The job you want
+The food you want (eatin’ pants!)
+Forgetting to do laundry
+The gym
+No real plans for the gym if we're being honest, but yoga pants make you feel athletic
+Whichever way your body is currently disappointing you
+A theme party or masquerade
+A day when no other humans will see you
+Cosplay
+Sex play

On how women should be:  

“Women who call men, ask them out, conveniently have two tickets to a show, or offer sex on the first date destroy male ambition and animal drive.”

As a member of the arts and entertainment press, I have convenient access to two free tickets to many shows. My deepest regrets, future men I’ll date — I’d offer you my plus-one, but I’m afraid of obliterating your subconscious belief that you’re a lion or a Viking or whatever.

 “…we asked Melanie [some likely imaginary woman the authors idolized before they wrote The Rules] how she got such a great catch. She took pity on us…she said that we were nice but we talked too much and were overly eager, and that we mistakenly tried to be “friends” with men rather than elusive butterflies.”

For Halloween this year I’m going to be a Sexy Elusive Butterfly. It’s this... 

...but I’m going to hide behind the curtains and refuse to speak to anyone all night.

“Men like women who are neat and clean. They also make better mothers of their children — the kind who don’t lose their kids at the beach.”

There seems to be an implication here that this has happened more than once to a woman the authors know personally: “...the kind who don't lose their kids at the beach, Sheila.”

“Don’t leave the house without wearing makeup. Put lipstick on even when you go jogging!”/ “Grow your hair long, men prefer long hair…the point is, we’re girls! We don’t want to look like boys.”/ “If you have a bad nose, get a nose job.”

Kris Jenner taught her daughters how to read by having them practice this excerpt. 

“Don’t act like a man. Be feminine, don’t tell sarcastic jokes. Don’t be a loud, knee-slapping, hysterically funny girl.”

Please. As if funny women could exist! 

Miscellaneous advice:

[Elaborating on why you should never call a man] “Sometimes we want to call a man we are dating not to speak to him, but just to hear his voice. We feel that we are simply going to die if we don’t hear his sexy voice this minute! We suggest you call his home answering machine when he’s at work. Hang up before the beep. It really works!”

“He’ll be at work, and you won’t, of course, because you haven’t gotten a nose job yet and therefore can’t leave the house.”

"Still another incentive for doing The Rules is what you won't get…No physical abuse. When you do The Rules, he treats you like a fragile, delicate flower…You don't have to worry about being battered."

...I, um...let's slowly back away from this one.

"Lest you think this advice is old-fashioned, remind yourself that you are a very fulfilled person—stable, functional and happy."

See also: “empty and needy.”

"Remember, you won't have to keep such things ["your career triumphs,” "your neuroses," "what your astrologist thinks of him"] to yourself forever. Just for the first few months…until he says he's in love with you. Eventually you will become more of yourself."

"It’s only after four months that you can feel secure in allowing him to see the real you and be present for your nightly molting process; you’ll unzip your female skin suit and allow him to lay eyes upon your true, half-scales, half-feathers, gelatinous form. If you have bad scales, get a scale job.”

"When a man is not in love with you, he notices nothing or only the bad. For example, he might say "Lose weight and I'll take you on vacation."

That’s terrible. A nice guy would send you to fat camp as a vacation.

"What Rules should you follow in bed? First and foremost, stay emotionally cool no matter how hot the sex gets."

"Sup, man? Just FYI, it's chill, I'm about to come or whatever, but like, no big deal."

"[During sex] Don't be a drill sergeant, demanding that he do this or that. You have to trust that if you relax and let him explore your body like uncharted territory you will have fun and be satisfied."

Girls, if he watches porn, he’ll know exactly what you’ll want. Those women are always genuinely satisfied.

"Before he comes to your apartment, tuck this book away in your top drawer…hide in the closet anything you don't want him to see, such as a bottle of Prozac."

"Because you're obviously on Prozac."

[On personal ads] "They [typically] contain too much information…of course you like walks on the beach, who doesn’t?"

The kid Sheila lost on the beach, that’s who doesn’t.

"Don't initiate sex, even if you want it badly. Let him be the man, the aggressor in the bedroom."

Unless...

And finally:

"We suggest you try The Rules for six months before doing anything else. You can't do The Rules and something else at the same time."

Like think!

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