Dating Donts: Let’s Talk About The Rules

I was sitting with a couple of smart women that I respect when the subject of dating came up, as it tends to do. “I read The Rules, and it changed my life,” one friend told me, in complete earnestness. “I swear by The Rules. They really work.”

I was taken aback, and for good reason. I’m a generation behind The Rules’ target demo. Twenty years ago, when this book was first published, I was in middle school, when “dating” meant writing about someone in your dream journal and holding hands. As my dating life developed, any mention of The Rules felt laughable, like an ancient relic from a never-seen “Sex And The City” episode, something the girls would discuss over cosmos at Buddakan.

“Aren’t they old-fashioned and sexist, and you know, stupid?” I asked. My other friend interjected. “Seriously, they’re great,” she said. “Trust me.”

My curiosity was piqued. I picked up a copy and thumbed through, and was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the advice given is the same kind of advice that I give most of my friends when we talk about dating. It seems the essence of The Rules is that your power lies within making the object of your affection come to you. By having confidence, and most importantly, living your life uninterrupted by the dating process, your calculated aloofness actually draws men to you. It’s a textbook “play hard-to-get” strategy. With rules like “Always End the First Date First,” and “Let Him Take The Lead,” The Rules traffic in a very specific kind of relationship advice, operating under the assumption that if you step back, and exert only minimal effort, you will reap great rewards.

The Rules were written for the sneakers with skirt suit generation of women that entered the workforce in the late eighties and nineties . These women were the first to really take on the notion of “having it all”, balancing the desire to have a successful career while also looking for “Mr. Right.” Time has made little progress in the way of women in the workplace. Professional women are still career-oriented and independent, but are still grappling with finding a balance between healthy relationships and cultivating their career. The Rules, for all their outdated talk about answering machines and tennis clubs, still apply.

The advice still holds up. The Rules advocates for the long game, playing hard to get by refusing to compromise, remaining aloof, and not putting in all the work in the pre-relationship stage. Establish yourself as an independent, fully-functional woman with a career and a rich life, and the men you want that want you will seek you out.

Really, all this book is advocating is to relax. Dating doesn’t have to be a high-stress, anxiety-riddled experience, despite the fact that the very nature of finding someone you care about that cares about you in just the right ways is a situation fraught with unease. The impulse to go nuts when you find someone that you really like, via a tsunami of texts, Gchats and late-night deep Facebook stalking sessions is very real, and unlike The Rules, I think it’s okay to indulge these impulses — but only for a little while.

Being caught up in a crush is fun. That hit of adrenaline and the flutter of nervous butterflies in your stomach when you think about the person you’re into is a great feeling, one that lots of people spend years trying to get back long after it’s gone. Reveling in it for a short while is fantastic. Just be careful — false hope is born out of Twitter deep dives and Instagram stalking. Learning every single thing you can about the person before they’re really even a player in your life is dangerous because you catch feelings for something that’s stlll a concept, not fully formed.

Like the other great dating tome of our generation, He’s Not That Into You, The Rules advocates a strictly hands off approach, likening the dating process to handling a colleague at work. You wouldn’t compromise on something you wanted to get done in the workplace, so why should you do that in your dating life?  It’s an interesting  spin on something that most women do already: letting the man come to you, being busy and important because you are busy and important, letting him make the first move. We let the men operate under the assumption that they’re driving the car, when really, they’re merely passengers.

There are some things about The Rules that irk me. “Don’t overwhelm him with your career triumphs, try to let him shine,” crows the chapter on how to behave on the first, second and third date. The intention behind many of the actions is also disappointing. The end game for a woman employing The Rules is to get a man, stat, and therefore assumes that every woman who is turning to this strategy is wild-eyed and desperate, silently counting the days til her eggs wither away inside her body and she is a grey-haired, bespectacled spinster, wiling away the hours by talking to her cats and crocheting afghans for her nieces and nephews.  If this isn’t your endgame, that’s perfectly all right! Don’t let The Rules make you feel like you have to feel a certain way about dating, being in a relationship or getting married.

The Rules’ insistence on the long game can be a dangerous gambit. For all the self-proclaimed Nice Guys out there, who are already convinced that every single woman is playing a never-ending game with their hearts, being a Rules girl is probably not going to help anybody out. Also, the notion of playing games in dating is something that has always rubbed me the wrong way. I’m a worrier, someone who hoards anxiety like some people store shoes, in clear boxes stacked at the foot of their bed. I’ve never attempted anything like The Rules because I have a tendency to put my eggs in the basket that’s in front of me at the time. The basket falls, the eggs break, I go hungry. Maybe this time around, I’ll give The Rules a shot.