There is one set of rules I have never followed and that is The Rules. I had a friend who owned a copy of The Rules and, at 14, followed them right down to the number of times the phone had to be left to ring (thrice). Of course as teenagers this was a little bit of a game, no-one should be looking for their life-partner before they’ve sprouted their full complement of armpit hair. The UK is not a country that dates as a rule (hah) and teenage dates tend to involve hanging around the town centre pretending not to know each other, only talking to the friend (me, always always me)you brought along. I had little use for my friend’s copy of The Rules due to nobody, besides her, calling my phone in the first place, let alone to arrange such rendezvous outside Boots.
In 2013 an updated version of The Rules will be published for those negotiating the dating scene now, in a world of poking, friend requests and Googling. This will be called Not Your Mother’s Rules. Because we all know Mums don’t use teh internets. Although The Rules, and Not Your Mother’s Rules look an awful lot like your Mother’s rules, revolving primarily around The Rule that you don’t let a guy put anything inside you other than a hot dinner (paid for by him) on a first date, young lady.
Not Your Mother’s Rules has updated rules such as allowing the phone to ring 3 times before picking it up, to allowing 4 hours to lapse before replying to a text. As with the original rules there is some advice that is worth taking on, such as making sure any e-mail you send doesn’t contain something you wouldn’t want an ex to have. It’s always wise to remember nothing you put online can be totally deleted. In addition Not Your Mother’s Rules suggest you don’t write on your new boyfriend’s Facebook wall too often. But I only think that’s good advice because such messages seem to pop up on my Facebook homepage and they make me feel odd, annoyed and bitter. Especially if you like to employ babyish language that infantilises your partner.
The authors of The Rules promise this new book will “change the dating book market just as much as The Rules did in 1995”. The last book that made an impact on the dating book market was The Game in 2005. The phrase ‘dating book market’ is the real kicker in that sentence. But both books actually use similar tactics. Whilst The Game rather grandly opens with a Dostoevsky quote, the advice given to any Pick Up Artist or Rules Princess boils down to making people feel bad about themselves. A Pick Up Artist negs on a lady at the bar until her esteem is lowered and she is grateful for the attention, in spite of the fact she’s got one eye bigger than the other. A Rules Princess finally finds a window in her busy schedule for Andy in accounts and then spends the date silent and avoiding eye contact. Why do we continue to treat the opposite sex (as I understand it both The Rules and The Game deal only in heterosexual dating) like a video game with levels to be unlocked?
The Game’s chapter headings even have names such as “Select a Target”, “Disarm the Obstacles” and, rather alarmingly, “Isolate the Target”. It does end on the rather sobering “Manage Expectations” but that doesn’t help drive my point forward.
For the publishing industry treating the singles scene as a lucrative market probably is too easy. Even content singletons contend with concerned friends and family wondering aloud about their solo state. Advertising already deals with what’s wrong with you (you smell, you’re fat and you’re abnormally hirsute) the dating industry deals with what you’re doing wrong and they don’t even have to create a tenuous problem in the first place.
We must know these books don’t solve anything. Relationships are mysterious things, you only have to think of the phrase “they’re not spoiling another couple” to realise this. Everyone’s been baffled by friend’s partners, gathering in corners at parties whispering “but she’s so miserable!” or “but he’s so obnoxious!” Yeah they could do better, but then they would have to negotiate the single scene that’s being painted to look like The Worst Thing Ever, far better to stay in an occasionally wretched relationship with someone who doesn’t allow you to speak to all your friends, I mean come on, hands up who’s getting laid here? (Also of course they could be truly happy and the only person who’s a poor judge of character is you.)
While there are a few, coincidentally including The Rules co-author Ellen Fein, who insist they met their current partner through using The Rules we know the main element of relationships is surprise coincidence. You meet at a party, at a bar, at a spelling bee. You have a mutual friend, shots, a love of spelling. Numbers/e-mails are swapped and it goes from there. There’s no trick to it and that’s so hard to face that people would rather spend £9.99 to pretend that it is all about knack.