Okay, so I’m in a relationship - and I met him online. I swear, 38th time’s the charm, right? Yes, I did keep track. Once you’re in double digits and you keep failing, it seems important to keep count. But Number 38, who eventually became my boyfriend, is great. He’s smart, funny, charming, and when he asked what I’d say about him in this piece, I told him the only thing I’d tell the Internet is that he has a beard.
I may be in a relationship now, but I still have all the single lady advice books I used to consult. I mean,I’m not going to lie; I was definitely a sucker for these books and I sought them out regularly to help me navigate the uncharted waters of the dating pool. In retrospect, it’s amazing how obsessed I was with trying to figure out how to get the man I wanted as if relationships were pieces of Ikea furniture — something that you put together piece by piece. Fortunately, they’re not. I realize that now.
Shame on me for failing the Bechdel Test, but if we’re going to talk about men all day long over cocktails, we might as well talk about them in an empowering way. A female-centric way. Paging through these books with a new perspective, I’ve noticed that pretty much all of the single lady advice we’re fed is focused on the guy. Do this for the guy. Be this way for the guy. How to make your cat like your guy, or whatever. But remember: there are two people in a relationship, and one of those people is you. Don’t forget how essential you are to the dating process! THAT’s the crucial thing that so many of these books seem to be missing. What I’ve realized more than anything is that there is no book that is the be-all-end-all guide, and no book has any merit if you can’t check in with your own needs first and foremost. I revisited some of these mainstays in lady literature with a fresh perspective and here are some of my observations. (Feel free to listen to Jagged Little Pill in the background for the full experience.)
1. The Rules, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schenider. This one’s a classic. It’s celebrating its 18th birthday! This book is old enough to drink in Europe and is considered an adult in the United States. But come on. There are legitimate, hard and fast rules to falling in love? Oh, if ONLY things were that easy. The Rules, to me, read like a guide book for how to be a lady — a modern-day etiquette guide for the girl who failed finishing school. It’s filled with old-school dating don’ts: Don’t call him, don’t leave things at his place, don’t, don’t, don’t. All of these don’ts are so that he thinks you’re a lady.
Well, you are a lady, with or without a that hole in the crotch of your pants. So, yeah, you should insist on being treated like a lady and not a piece of garbage, and Fein and Schnedier do get that right. But what they don’t get right is that you shouldn’t be spending all your time trying to get a guy to think of you in a certain way. Calculating every move according to a guidebook isn’t being true to yourself at all.
And besides, some guys like it when you have a shirt or two at their apartment, so you don’t have to walk of shame it after every night over. Trust me, your toothbrush isn’t going to kill a relationship. In fact, it’ll make your breath smell better in the morning so it just might even help. It’s nice to have a guy be old school and take you out for the first few dates, but if this is a relationship, you’re probably going to want to contribute. I mean, I sure know I like treating my boyfriend every now and then to dinner or a movie because I have a job and I like to do nice things.
2. Why Men Love Bitches, by Sherry Argov. First of all, do men love bitches? I don’t know. I mean, maybe they like a chase because that’s fun, but not a cat-and-mouse chase – an honest, “does she like me/doesn’t she like me?” chase, also known as courtship, or the beginning of dating.
I think Argov set out to write a feminist version of The Rules. Now there’s something valid to be said for the kind of gurrrrrrl power established by not greeting a man with a batch of freshly baked cookies (or blow jobs, which I guess are like cookies for some men). We know putting out early, depending on the circumstances, may gives a certain impression though we don’t need a book to tell us that. But here’s the flip side: if it feels right, it probably is right, and that’s when you hear those success stories of “I had sex on the first date and now we’re married!” Those women weren’t purposefully trying to be bitches. They were being themselves.
When I read this book a few years ago, I thought I was going to close the book feeling empowered, but instead, I was just assessing every “bitchy” or “not bitchy” thing I had ever done. Why did I go to his apartment? Why did I return his call? Why did I say his name in bed? Ugh, I’m such a schmuck because I’m being myself. I hate that. The beauty of my latest relationship is that I’m not being anything but myself with him — not a bitch, not a shmuck. Just me. That’s enough.
3. He’s Just Not That Into You, by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. I was never a fan of this book. All it did was push my buttons and make me to want to argue with its authors. But…what if? What if he didn’t call because his fingers got cut off? Or a horse ate him for lunch and then a donkey stole his testosterone? You don’t know! It stimulated my imagination and made me feel worse about myself because I’m not – and no woman is – an idiot. We know if he’s not calling that he doesn’t like you. We know that if he sends you on your miserable way home after a jackhammer boning session that he doesn’t wanna put a ring on it. We don’t need to spend $14.95 on book telling us that. We have feminine instincts. And more importantly, when you’re with someone who makes you feel good, you know that too. I never needed a book to tell me that the guy who never called again after our first date didn’t have his fingers chopped off and his larynx removed. And I may be realizing this now, but I wish that more strong single women could realize these things on their own.
4. Be Honest, Your’e Just Not That Into Him, Either, by Dr. Ian Kerner. Now that we’ve gotten through some of the books I hate, here is one I still really like. Finally, a that book encourages women to ask that I think we’re all ignoring: but what do I want? A friend of mine suggested I read this book some time ago, she said my ego – and not my heart – was bruised from most of my dating battlefield misadventures. This book breaks down how we’re victim to the advice we’re fed, and will eat up anything that’s nice to us, because you know, “he’s just not that into [us]” all of the other times.
I recently realized how valid this advice was in a conversation I recently had with one of my friends, she was bemoaning a guy who didn’t get how she wanted to be treated. He didn’t get that being late over and over wasn’t OK, and that saying sorry didn’t cut it. She seemed upset that he wasn’t what she wanted him to be, and it suddenly seemed obvious to me. She didn’t like him. She was dating him and sleeping with him, but he wasn’t what she wanted! Instead of saying, “I’m not into you because you’re not giving me what I want,” she was looking at it as, “Well…he’s not that bad I guess.” Screw that logic! We should be saying things like, “That date was boring, and I don’t care to see him again,” or ”I had a wonderful time with him. I like him – and oh shit! I think he likes me, too.” Direct, honest dialogue with ourselves is where it’s at. We just keep forgetting to talk to – and listen to - ourselves.
Kerner also explores the idea that because 90 percent of our relationship advice literature is temptation for our self-destructive sweet tooth, we don’t know how to see the good things. We only anticipate the negative, and forget that we’re allowed to want positive signs from men. Contrary to any rule from a book that tells us to never text, or to be bitchy if we do; we’re allowed to want him to text, “Hey, I had a good time last night!” We’re allowed to have standards and want things, and pursue guys if we want to. Kerner’s book encourages this, in fact. This permission to be myself and want what I want came in handy when I started dating Number 38. But it’s sad that we seek out permission for this.
5. Modern Dating: A Field Guide, by Chiara Atik. This is another book that I really like because it sort of maps out what dating is today. It ain’t The Rules world anymore. It also ain’t “Millionaire Matchmaker’s” world, because most of us aren’t millionaires nor do we have the Herve Leger wardrobe to attend one of Patti Stanger’s mixers. This book is realistic — with graphs and flow charts that explore different possible dating scenarios and how to handle them. It represents exactly how dating should feel — like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Another great thing about this book is that it changes the perspective of what dating is: an interaction between two equals.
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