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Bianca James Headshot

Revisiting the Rules

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I recently read that Blake Lively of Gossip Girl hooked Leonardo DiCaprio by manipulating his affections with that old chestnut of female wiles, The Rules. (Does anyone else think that LD kind of looks like one of those babies that look like tiny old men? But I digress.) Clearly none of his attraction to her was based on the fact that she's a youthful blonde starlet, because no heterosexual man would EVER want to date Blake Lively unless she tasered him into submission with extensive mindfuckery.

I've never read the rules. At the point that it came out in 1995, I was fifteen years old and had no particular desire to trick a man into marrying me. I'm 31 now and still have no desire to trick a man into marrying me, but as a blogger who writes a lot about sex, dating and gender, my curiosity got the better of me, and I looked it up on Google Books.

I often wish that I felt a stronger sexual attraction to women, because I feel my cultural identity and personal politics are most likely much better suited to queer dating than attempting to conform to hetero culture. As I wrote in my essay "Passing," there are ways that I do have an accidental lesbian identity, at least on the basis of appearance. Deep down inside, I identify much more as a transgendered gay man than a straight woman or a lesbian, but having chosen to stick with my female body, I'm pretty much stuck dating straight (or bisexual if I'm lucky) men. I generally refer to myself as "heteroqueer" in order to make the distinction that yes, I like boys, but I can't wrap my head around mainstream straight culture at all.

The Rules have always been a part of heterosexual woman lore that I could never wrap my head around. It was the first in a long line of books on the theme of "YOU CAN'T GET A MAN TO COMMIT BECAUSE YOU'RE DOING SOMETHING WRONG SO DO WHAT THIS BOOK SAYS AND IT WILL FIX ALL YOUR PROBLEMS." Then asshat "Pick Up Artists" like Mystery and Style responded by writing their own "Rules" for manwhores -- Rules of the Game to be precise, on the inverse theme of "YOU CAN GET ATTRACTIVE WOMEN TO HAVE CASUAL SEX WITH YOU IF YOU JUST INSULT THEM PROPERLY!"

If The Rules built a better husband-catching mousetrap, then the Rules of the Game built a smarter, sleazier mouse. The end result is a lot of creepy, desperate people obsessing about how much energy they should invest in playing mind games with potential marriage/sex partners, because it clearly worked for the authors of these books!

I went ahead and read the first few chapters of The Rules (which is hilariously outdated to the point of telling you how to behave at "singles dances") until Google cut me off, but you can pretty much figure out the system by reading the introduction and skimming the chapter titles. There are aspects of the program that make a lot of sense, mainly that you should have an interesting life of your own as a single person and not spend all your time obsessing about crappy dudes.

But the problem is the book also advocates styling yourself as narcissistic, game-playing, emotionally unavailable manic pixie dream girl (aka "creature unlike any other") who is never allowed to initiate a phone call, pay for anything, "talk too much," reveal personal information, or make out on the first date. That sounds kind of awful, actually, but these are still tropes that still haunt single heterosexual women 16 years after this dumb book was published.

Fun fact: The Rules for Marriage: Time-Tested Secrets for Making Your Marriage Work came out around the time that co-author Ellen Fein was getting divorced, so apply these principles at your own risk.

I am an abject failure by the standards of The Rules, but I'm kind of okay with it. My two longest relationships were with men that I chased (to be fair, they were shy boys who probably wouldn't have made the first move on their own, but that didn't mean that my aggression was somehow revolting to them). The first one was a sleazy college hook-up that turned into a four-year relationship. The second one I had sex with on the second date. I had TRIED not to, and explained to him that I didn't want things to "get weird" between us before we wound up having sex anyway. Things didn't get weird, and we stayed together for almost year before I decided it was time to move on. You know what's wrong with me? I keep settling for egalitarian, feminist men who don't ostracize me for being sexually aggressive and honest!

The relationships I've had that have most closely followed the "Rules" archetype have been kind of awful. If a man aggressively chases you, it's most likely because he has some fantasy version of you in his head that you most likely won't be able to live up to. Sure, it's nice to be wooed with expensive dinners and fancy presents, but not when these things are ploys for control.

The reality is no matter how hard you try to psychologically manipulate someone into committing or having NSA sex with you (depending on which version of the "Rules" you follow), there's no guarantee that it will actually work. And if it does work, what do you have? A person you psychologically manipulated into dating/fucking you. Hot. There will always be dudes who want chase women they perceive as unattainable. The Rules will probably work on these dudes, but then (according to this book) you have continue acting rulesy even after you've married them. Isn't the whole point of a committed relationship that you feel comfortable enough to be genuine and vulnerable with your partner?

The reality is that dating sucks. You will probably get burned. You will probably get rejected. You can try to protect the defenseless moosh that is your aching heart or throbbing genitals with an arsenal of mindfuck tricks, but if this shit truly worked, we'd already have a nation of happily married straight women and sexually gratified straight men. (Never mind the fact that there are plenty of straight men seeking commitment, and straight women seeking casual sex only.) These books exist solely to sell you bullshit and false promises so that the authors can get rich and then charge you even more money for seminars and spin off books.

So seriously, straight ladies: call dudes. Make out on the first date. Hell, fuck on the first date, if you want to. Pay for dinner on occasion, especially if you make more money than he does (and studies say that a lot of us are these days). And if these things scare him off, is this really a person you'd want to be dating anyway? Congratulations, you just dodged a bullet.