There is only one rule for relationships

by Adrienne

Um, is this a joke?” I asked the friendly informative-type person at Barnes & Noble.
“Hey, you guys.” She waved to three more informative people, all male. “This lady wants to know if this book is a joke.” She pointed to the copy I was holding of “The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right,” a New York Times No. 1 best-seller. All four of them burst out laughing. A good sign, I thought.
“No,” one said, “but it’s good that you think it is. The authors were serious.”
The authors are Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. Fein and Schneider would like to teach single girls how to snag a man and keep him. In other words, play hard to get, because biologically, a man loves a challenge and we don’t want to take that away from him, do we girls? Or else he will break up with us!
At this point in the column, I am tempted to resort to profanity, but in the tradition of “Rules” girls everywhere, I will exercise some discipline. Not that Fein and Schneider advise us girls not to swear. They do, however, advise us not to ask him out, not to call him, not to tell him what to do, not to stare, not to talk too much, not to open up too fast … well, you can read the whole list in Cosmopolitan, American Woman and Woman’s Own magazines. You can also take seminars in The Rules.
Or you could just join a convent. It certainly would be more pleasant than following The Rules. But chastity, you protest? What’s the difference — Rules girls can’t have sex when they want to anyway. Nor can a Rules girl tell a man what she likes in bed, or ask a man what he wants. Or talk at all. Or show emotion about sex.
“The Rules way is not a hobby, but a religion.” Ah, a religion. And marriage is the institution and your husband/prospective husband is the god.
As I read on, the book turned from funny to skin-crawling.
If your parents and friends think you’re nuts, you are supposed to ignore them, stall them, but no discussing. Just an island of Rules. You can’t discuss it with anyone anti-Rules because “It’s hard enough to do The Rules when you believe in them, it’s even harder when you talk to people when they’re downright against them.” (Excuse me, but last I checked, I knew how to think for myself, and so did most of us little girls.)
Fein and Schneider also advise followers not to read books about other methods, or counter to the Rules philosophy, “particularly books that encourage women to pursue other men or express their inner child.” Now I, too, believe inner children are a load of horsepuckey, but I wouldn’t want to stop anyone from reading those books any more than this book.
Sound like cult brainwashing techniques to you? Me too.
The messages about women are another problem altogether. You can’t discuss The Rules with your therapist, because he or she might try to talk you out of it. (Actually, the book trashes therapists at every chance.) Your therapist might find The Rules “dishonest and manipulative.” (Small wonder.) Your therapist might want you to try a more open and communicative approach to relationships. And your therapist certainly couldn’t understand the hidden capacities of women “for forcing themselves on men who don’t want them and trying to make relationships happen.
“If they only knew how we wandered around campus hoping to run into men. … A woman in love with a man who is not in love with her can be dangerous to herself and him. Her only hope is to do The Rules.”
Who buys into this stuff, anyway?
Oh, right. Those who want results, girls! The rewards are a list of 20, ranging from a marriage proposal to your sweetie sitting right next to you in a restaurant booth. After marriage, “He gets angry when you don’t pay attention to him. He wants your constant attention and companionship.” Great. Demanding and angry. ‘Til death do us part. “He gets involved in every aspect of your life. You don’t bore him.” I’m smothering here. “He wants the phone number of where you are … .” Suspicious and jealous. “He doesn’t like it when you go to bachelorette parties.” Possessive and restrictive. “He watches out for you.” Yeah, like he punched that guy on the street for looking at you.
Let’s re-christen the book, shall we girls? “The Rules for Entering an Abusive Marriage and Never Getting Out.” The authors promise no abuse, no anxiety, no cheating. But they also promise no divorce and no outside counseling for marriage based on fallacy and dominance.
New rule. Just one.
Trust your own thinking, young women.

— Adrienne Janney’s column was first published in the Jan. 13 issue of the Michigan Daily.