Self-Help Book Club: The Rules

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Written by Ellen Fein and Sherri Schneider and published in 1995, The Rules was an immensely popular and controversial dating guide that featured 35 (!) dating commandments that women must follow if they wanted to get married quick-smart.

The Rules promised women it could deliver their Prince Charming and a happily ever after. In fact, that was one of the rules!

Rule 33: Do The Rules and you’ll live happily ever after!

The book garnered immediate media interest thanks to its other more questionable bon mots like –

Rule 3: Don’t stare at men or talk too much

Rule 11: Always end the date first


Rule 7: Don’t accept a Saturday night date after Wednesday

If you’re reading these rules and thinking: huh?

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I’d argue that was probably the point.

The Rules were short, quotable and incendiary. They stuck in your craw AND your brain and no sooner was the book released than the author’s were asked to clarify their advice on shows like 60 Minutes and Oprah.

“Woooooh” – The Publishers
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When addressing claims that their advice could be viewed as manipulative, unethical and anti-feminist, the authors said (and I’m paraphrasing) that while feminism was cool and they wouldn’t change it for the world, maybe the reason so many smart, cute, educated women were unmarried was because they approached romance the same way they approached a merger or acquisition.

I’ve created a graph of our relationship trajectory over the next 5 years.
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This was a mistake they said because men didn’t care for women who were assertive:

Rule 2: Don’t talk to a man first.

Men wanted women who played their cards close to their chests and who ALWAYS wore make-up, no matter the circumstance:

Put lipstick on even when you go jogging!

Okay, but it’s gonna get messy.
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The book told women to “be a creature unlike any other” while also telling them to follow The Rules NO MATTER WHAT:

Rule 32: Don’t break The Rules

Disinterested in helping women find a GOOD man, or even one they liked, the book instructed them to avoid the pitfalls of romance by discouraging them from having emotions or a personality.

The problem with unmarried women of the 90s, it said, was that they:

talked too much and were overly eager…(they) mistakenly tried to be friends with men rather than elusive butterflies.

Fun Fact: the average life span of a butterfly is about two weeks.
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You weren’t allowed to get excited about someone you clicked with, or express your delight in hearing from them, or be enthusiastic about them (at least, not outwardly). Instead, you had to rein in your emotions, cut dates short and end phone conversations after 20 minutes. Even if you were having a fantastic time.

So where did all this masochistic “wisdom” come from?

The same place that our conception of how things SHOULD be usually comes from: the past.

A past informed by faulty memory, movies and other books.

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According to the authors, they were sitting around with their attractive, educated and painfully single friends one evening, when they remembered their dumb, boring, ugly, college chum, Melanie:

If you had met Melanie, you wouldn’t have thought she was extraordinarily pretty, smart or special.

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Melanie, it seems, was a total dude magnet and the women were keen to know why, so they begged their dull, dim, considerably-less-attractive friend to spill her secrets. Secrets she had learnt from her grandmother who as a teenager in a small Michigan town circa 1917 would:

(make) men wait nervously in her parents’ parlour…playing hard to get (and acquiring) more marriage proposals than shoes.

Sounds terrible

Modern women could achieve the same results by simply:

(treating) the men we wanted like the men we didn’t want


A method also known as: treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen.

This, the book claimed, would motivate a man to do whatever it took to be with her. Her disinterest would fuel his desires. A belief has never caused any problems for anyone. Ever.

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At it’s core, this theory is basically the first lesson of economics: “scarcity”. The rarer something (or someone) is, the more valuable they become.

It’s scarcity that motivated Jay Gatsby to amass great wealth, in The Great Gatsby. Something he did solely to win the affections of the unattainable Daisy, and that worked out just great for everyone.

“You were worth the whole damn bunch put together”
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Now, I’m not saying scarcity isn’t a thing. Or that it has no impact on romantic relationships. I’m just saying that you might want to consider whether or not you actually LIKE the person you’re plotting to marry.

Sadly, this important detail is entirely absent from in The Rules.

The book also made the bold (and possibly class-actionable claim) that the only reason men strayed or broke up with women was because those woman had, whether they realised it or not, broken at least one of The Rules. Men, it claimed, wouldn’t be running off with the secretary if their wives did The Rules.

Meanwhile, women who didn’t do The Rules might get married, but would ultimately be punished by the universe:

Sure, a man may marry you if you don’t do the rules, but we can’t guarantee yours will be a good marriage

p.7 The Rules
Why would you put that in writing?
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These claims become particularly hilarious when you learn that one of the authors, Ellen Fein got divorced 6 Years after the book was published.

What rule did you break, Ellen? Was it:

Rule 35: Be easy to live with

(DM me. I simply must know.)

The Rules weren’t completely archaic though. Women could still have things like opinions and thoughts and feelings, they just couldn’t have them in front of their beloved. Either before or after marriage. (Is that what happened, Ellen?)

According to the authors, men had no issues that they needed to address, no behaviour worth improving and nothing they could do better. The blame for all failed relationships, the said, could be placed squarely on the shoulders of women.

When you do The Rules you don’t have to worry about being abandoned, neglected or ignored.


For self-proclaimed feminists, this claim makes the authors sound unbelievably…um…oh gosh…what’s the word? Hateful? Dumb? Misogynistic?

Help me out here, I’m just a girl.

Send help.
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Still, what do you expect from two individuals who think women are such morons they need to be told:

Men like women who are neat and clean


So, don’t turn up on a date wrapped in a filthy sheet with visible stink lines radiating from my body? Got it.

My EHarmony Profile PIc
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Meanwhile, men, who were heads of corporations and captains of industry (and never mechanics or teachers etc), were written about as if they were also elusive woodland creatures who would dart back into the forest if a woman so much as looked at them.

If women wanted to coax a man from his hollowed-out tree trunk cottage, they needed to shut-up, look pretty and follow The Rules.

Every. Single. One.

If you’re very still, he might just ask you out.
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If you couldn’t do that, you were cursed to live out the rest of your days alone. And, according to The Rules, there was no worse fate for a woman than that.

Which, if you’ve been paying attention to human history, isn’t even remotely true.

The Rules told women they needed to value themselves no matter what, while also telling them:

We can all look a lot better than we do



If you have a bad nose, get a nose job


Words that need to be embroidered on a pillow and sold on Esty.

So, should you read The Rules?

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Yes. It’s hilarious.

Particularly when you reach the end of the laundry list of lunacy and find:

Rule 34: Love only those who love you.

Good advice, but how can he love you, if he doesn’t even know who you are?

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Or maybe, I’m reading too much into it.

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