Look good. Wear a short skirt. Never make the first move with a man. Ever. Don’t even speak to him first. Once you’re dating, don’t respond to every message he leaves you. Only respond to date requests. Never drive to see him at his place. He always comes to yours. Play hard to get. Be a challenge.
These are some succinct examples of The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right, first published in 1995. Written by thirtysomething New Yorkers Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein, the book immediately touched a nerve in America. Its main message–to attract a good husband, a woman must always play hard to get–had no shortage of vehement detractors. Women and men argued it was antiquated and anti-feminist. On the other hand, it was a New York Times bestseller, moving over two million copies. Schneider and Fein appeared on The Today Show and 20/20; and the book was the subject of countless water cooler, dinner table and cocktail conversations nationwide. The authors, now in their fifties, have just written their latest book, which apples the rules to modern dating technology including Facebook and texting. It will be published in early 2013.
We talked to Schneider about the genesis of The Rules, how she feels about them now, and how they apply to FOFs compared to women just starting out in the dating world.
How did you decide to write The Rules?
Ellen and I met in our 20s. I was single. She was married. We were always talking about dating and marriage. Someone had told Ellen about this thing called “The Rules,” where you let men do all the pursuing. I completely believed in it. It wasn’t a hard sell at all. I have two older brothers, so I knew guys like a challenge. And all the girls I knew who did well with guys in high school and college were pursued by the guys. Ones that chased guys never got anywhere.
And you and Ellen wanted to test this doctrine in the field, so to speak.
We would meet for dinner once a week with some of our friends, and everybody would discuss their dating problems. Anyone who used the rules got the guy. Anyone that didn’t–who called him a lot, or slept with him too soon–got dumped eventually.
It got to the point where Ellen, who at this time was married with two kids, thought, “We should write this all down.” I’m a writer, so we started to write every rule down and put it in book form. So every woman had the rules at her fingertips.
Had you been practicing these rules yourself?
I was practicing the rules with different guys, and by the time I met my husband, we had already been writing the book. I went to a singles event, he asked me to dance. I toldhim I was a writer, but I didn’t tell him what I was writing. He proposed nine months later. I met his mother who asked “What is this book about?” I finally told him and his mother, and they both fell off their chairs. He had been the guinea pig for everything.
Did his mother respect your methodology?
His mother said, “These are rules from my grandmother!” Basically, the reason we had to write the book was that we were dealing with women in the 90s. These women were educated – doctors, lawyers, therapists, MBAs. They thought that because they could make things happen in their careers, they could make things happen with men. They were suddenly making the same money as men, and pursuing great jobs, and thinking, “I’m powerful in my career, why can’t I be powerful in my relationships?”
But it didn’t work that way?
They started to ask men out, call them, pay for them to fly to their city. All kinds of things that men traditionally did. And it didn’t work. They were either dumped or not treated well. They definitely weren’t proposed to. They thought they were gaining power by being more proactive, but they were losing it.
It sounds strange to argue against being proactive.
Feminism is great for the workplace. Women should make equal pay, they should be CEOs and doctors. But men and women, biologically, are different. Feminism cannot change the fact that men love a challenge–Bungee jumping, hunting, the stock market. And women like security. That dynamic will never change. So we showed them they needed to be as aggressive as they wanted to be in business, but with dating, they had to let men make the first move. Most men have a type, and if you’re a tall blonde and the guy you’re pursuing likes short brunettes, you could stand on your head, he’s not gonna go after you.
Obviously many people were not happy with that assessment. And probably still aren’t!
Some women said, “This is terrible, it shouldn’t be this way.” Even we said it’s shouldn’t be this way. We wish we could just walk into a party and go after the guys we wanted. We don’t like that this is the case either. But you have to accept reality and do what works.
It’s hard to dispute that men respond to women who play hard to get. But isn’t romance different, case by case?
This is universal. The book was published in 27 countries. We did consultations by email and phone, and we have support groups all over the world. Women ask us, “Is it different if I’m dating a man in France? Is it different in Greece?” And we say, “Men are the same all over the world.” They all want the challenge. They’ll date women who pursue them and sleep with them and travel with them, but they won’t marry those women.
Are there rules for men, then?
Men don’t need a relationship book. Men don’t think about relationships in the same way. If they see a pretty girl, they walk over to her, and that’s the end of it. They go on a date, they come home, they watch a ballgame. It’s not that deep for them. When a girl goes on a date, she calls 20 friends after the date to analyze it.
Although, we did write a chapter in our second book, because some men were being turned down when they asked women out, and they were blaming the rules. And we said, “No, she’s just not that into you.”
But that brings up a good point. If a woman really likes a man, and he really likes her, isn’t that all you need? Does she have to keep playing hard to get?
Women have to do the rules strictly. The man can try not to act desperate, but it’s not life and death for the man. It is life and death for a woman to do the rules.
Woah. Explain that please.
If a woman wants to get married, if she wants to have children, she can’t waste time. For example, we have many clients in their thirties, who hope to have children. We have one client who’s 37 years old, and she has a window of opportunity to have kids. She really can’t break the rules. If he wants to take her away for a week vacation, or he wants to see her five nights a week, she cannot afford to do that. Because then he’s getting all the benefits of being married without marrying her. If she doesn’t do the rules, he could date her for five years and not marry her. And she’ll lose her chance to have a child. But if she does the rules, then he has to figure out ways to see more of her, and eventually, he’ll realize after eight or nine months, that the only way to see her all the time is to marry her. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas are a good example.
Michael Douglas, who was 55, was dating Catherine Zeta-Jones, who was 30. He could have had anybody. She did the rules. She didn’t say, “I did the rules,” but I read an article where she said her mother taught her, “Do not give it away. Keep it close to the vest.” They had been dating for months, and he said, “Do you even like me?” She knew he had a reputation, and she was not going to be another girl he slept with. She played hard to get. Every other woman would have been like, “Oh my god, Michael Douglas.” She waited months to sleep with him. She said to him, “I can’t imagine life without children,” and he said, “Me neither.” He would not have said that to a woman who was all over him.
What about for women over 50 though? The biological clock is less important there.
A 35-year-old needs to wrap it up in nine months – get the ring, the wedding date. She doesn’t have the luxury of much time. But a 55-year old who’s been married before can afford to take a few years. You’re not in any rush. You’re not going to have children with the guy. But it should be because you’re not in a rush, not because he wants to wait.
So it’s not as life or death over 50.
It’s still life and death for women over 50 too. We have clients in their 50s and 60s. We’re helping many clients that have gotten divorced after fifteen, twenty years. They are devastated. They haven’t dated in 20 years. It’s harder for a 55-year-old woman to meet a man than it is for a 55-year-old man to meet a woman. A 55-year-old man can get anybody. A 55-year-old woman doesn’t have as many choices. And women get devastated more easily, so it’s always life and death for them. They can’t date any age. We don’t believe in cougars.
What would you say to a critic who thinks this all sounds too contrived, too controlling?
The bottom line is, there has to be this feeling that you give a guy, that you’re a hot commodity. When he asks you out, you might say, “I’d really like to, but I’m busy.” You don’t give the man the feeling you’re trying to control him.
One of the things that’s happening with women right now is that guys want to meet you halfway to keep things casual. They want you to come over their place, for example. We have women say, “I don’t drive on highways” or “I can’t get away,” forcing the guy to come to them. We don’t say, “You drive to me.” They have to decide – are you worth driving to? We deny them last-minute, impulse dating. We try to get them to see the right thing to do, rather than telling them.
Can the woman make the first move, to get things started, and then become a challenge?
Never make the first move. Cardinal rule. Never speak to a man first. Never email him first on a dating site. Never friend a man first on Facebook. Because then there’s no challenge and it’s over for him.
Can you get his attention somehow, short of asking him out?
Go to a party. Show up. Go on match.com. But wait for him to contact you.
We have clients that say, “I broke the first rule. I emailed him. Now we’re dating. How do I rectify that?” And I say, “Even if he marries you, he won’t treat you as well. There will be something missing in the relationship.” One woman was adamant. I had her do all the rules. She was busy, was hard to get. He did marry her. But he never wanted to sleep with her. He took separate vacations with his friends. And when it ended and she called me hysterical, I said, “I think you should do the rules with a new man.” She put an ad up, waited for a man to contact her, and now she’s married to that guy.
Once you show interest in a man, he’ll take you for granted. He won’t treat you like the special woman he has to work for. It sounds extreme, but we get the letters, emails, calls. We’ve heard it all. We’re in the know. We know. Maria Shriver is another good example.
Now we’re talking. Go on.
We like to find out how a couple met, because it’s life and death how you meet. So we researched it and saw that she was at some tennis tournament and Arnold was there. She thought he was hot, and she asked Tom Brokaw to introduce them. Now, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be, Arnold should think she’s hot. It was the reverse. And then supposedly she took him on her private plane to the Kennedy compound. She initiated the relationship. Now, is that the reason he cheated on her? We’re not saying that’s the full reason, but the beginning was not good. Once a guy knows you’re so into him, he won’t treat you as well as he would have if he found you, pursued you. It’s just not the same.
The rules can’t begin unless he makes the first move. But once he makes the first move, we can help close the deal.
Maria Shriver is an interesting case, though. What if she were to respond, in her own defense, that men are intimidated by her stature and wealth, and that she therefore has to move first?
We don’t buy “no one approaches me.” Movies stars get married all the time. Joan Lunden was just sitting in a coffee shop and her husband approached her. He was a camp owner. And she’s Joan Lunden. He would not be as crazy about her if she approached him.
Okay. So a woman over 50 comes to you after a divorce. Or she’s never been married. What are the steps you advise?
We get a photo. We have to see what you look like, how you present yourself. We had this one client in her early 60s coming out of a bad marriage. We had her get a makeover – that’s a big part of our business. Guys are visual. You need to be attractive. You don’t have to be a model, but you need to be attractive. You’re a product, and if you don’t look hot or sexy, or do the best with what you have, you’re not gonna attract the kind of guys you’re really into. Look alive. Long, straight hair. Tanned. Work out, lose weight. Short skirt. Hoop earrings. V-neck top. Not slutty. Sexy. We had her go for a photo shoot. We got 25 photos. We picked out the two best – head shot and body shot. We put them on match.com with a light and breezy ad. And this woman is dating like crazy.
You endorse online dating then.
Online dating is not weird anymore. It was weird 20 years ago. It’s completely normal now. People at work are on it. My neighbors. My dentist. Everyone. It’s not weird or unusual at all. But dating sites are one component. You also need to go to live events. Anything that’s singles oriented.
You and Ellen have a new book, coming out in the new year, that applies The Rules to new technologies like Facebook and texting and online dating.
This is important for women in their 50s and up, because they’re dealing with it for the first time in their lives. The rules stay the same. She still texts back once every three texts. Some women text back every five seconds. We don’t let women do that because it says you have no life in between the dates. We’re still hard to get. We disappear in between dates. That’s all the same, whether you’re 55, or 35.
We train women to only respond to being asked out. Because otherwise men can eat up your time all day with nonsensical texts when they’re bored. Women think, “Oh my god, he’s crazy about me, he’s texting me all the time.” No, he could be bored. You want dates. You don’t want texts. Because Saturday night dates leading into marriage is what you want, not just a lot of contact.
If you were to give a pep talk to a FOF who is entering the dating scene, what would you say?
Women over 50 should not shortchange themselves. They need to play hard to get. They cannot date recklessly. One woman told me she was out of a bad marriage. She had gone online; a guy emailed her, “What are you doing tonight?” She drove three hours to go to his place, she had sex with him that night. Crazy behavior. She felt entitled to this because she was in a bad marriage for twenty years. It’s fine you want to have fun. But you’re not going to get a guy like that.
Telling a woman “No sex on the first date” can’t be bad advice, granted.
You have to train men silently to treat you with respect. The Rules are really about boundaries and self-esteem. It’s dating with dignity. So if you call men all the time, sleep with them the first night, have eight hour dates – you’re gonna create a monster. Or he’s just going to dump you. Date with dignity. Don’t lose your power to men by being aggressive and desperate. You’ll feel better about yourself as well. And you’ll get the guy.
And you might feel better about yourself, regardless.
You can’t wait five years to do all the therapy to raise your self-esteem. But if you change your behavior, your self-esteem will rise. The behavior raises your self-esteem in and of itself.
The bottom line is, women deserve to have a companion who treats them well, who remembers their birthday, who buys them flowers for Valentine’s Day.
Please visit Sherrie and Ellen at www.therulesbook.com for additional information, and to email them for more advice.