Relationships

“The Rules” Book, Revisited 25 Years Later

The Rules

A couple weeks ago, over lunch at the office, we started talking about the classic dating book The Rules. In its heyday, it sold over two million copies in 27 languages. Curious as to how it holds up, we got our hands on an old copy and discovered much of the advice is pretty shocking…

As best as anyone can tell, The Rules were born in 1917, when the authors’ friend Melanie’s grandmother (still with me?) liked to play “hard to get.” Melanie’s grandma was a woman who had “more marriage proposals than shoes,” the book boasts, like the only thing more covetable than footwear is marriage proposals, plural. Grandma’s advice was passed down through the ages, until 1995, when it fell upon two enterprising sets of ears. They compiled it into a book, The Rules, where it would spark cultural debates and give women 35 more mandates to stress about.

Here are some of its greatest gems, with commentary:

Rule # 1: Be a Creature Unlike Any Other 
What, exactly, does this mean? Should one act like a unicorn? Like a narwhal? The book goes on to explain, “Being a creature unlike any other is really an attitude, a sense of confidence and radiance that permeates your being from head to toe. It’s the way you smile (you light up the room), pause in between sentences (you don’t babble on and on out of nervousness), listen (attentively), look (demurely, never stare), breathe (slowly), stand (straight), and walk (briskly, with your shoulders back).” Ohhh, I see. Like Miss America.

Rule # 2: Don’t Talk to a Man First (and Don’t Ask Him to Dance)
Wait. Dances? Where are these dances, and why has no one invited me?

Rule #4: Don’t Meet Him Halfway or Go Dutch on a Date 
“Men (real men) pick women up at their apartments or offices for dates.” Unless they are from the internet and you don’t want them to know where you live. “Invariably, we find that men who insist that their dates meet them halfway or (worse) on their own turf, turn out to be turds.” I agree that schlepping all over creation is not a good way to begin a relationship. I’ve also realized that the word “turd” is pretty hilarious.

Rule #5: Don’t Call Him and Rarely Return His Calls 
Because people LOVE being ignored. It makes them feel good and sets you up for a lifetime of open and honest communication.

Rule #6: Always End Phone Calls First
You know when you call a big company — the bank, an airline, your health insurance provider — and after suffering through seventeen minutes of flute-heavy hold music, somebody finally answers, only to hang up on you? Apparently, that feeling drives men wild.

Rule #9: How to Act on Dates 1, 2, and 3 
“If you’re anything like us” — I AM NOTHING LIKE YOU — “you’ve named the children before he says hello.” This is bad, the book tells us, because men can smell your unfulfilled longing. And daydreaming can lead you to blurt out “silly things” like the dreaded M-word (marriage). “All you really have to do on the first three dates is show up, relax, and pretend you’re an actress making a cameo appearance in a movie.”

Rule #10: How to Act on Dates 4 through Commitment Time
“Don’t overwhelm him with your career triumphs. Try to let him shine!” BUT YOU JUST TOLD ME I AM A CREATURE UNLIKE ANY OTHER. Do I not shine?

Rule #12: Stop Dating Him if He Doesn’t Buy You a Romantic Gift for Your Birthday or Valentine’s Day
“When a man wants to marry you, he usually gives you jewelry, not sporty or practical gifts like a toaster oven.” Truth: If my date gifted me a toaster oven, I would be forced to conclude that he didn’t know me at all, had never seen the size of my (nonexistent) apartment kitchen, and had a strange affinity for toasted foods. But! To someone, a toaster oven might be a dream gift. Let us remember that only one of the five love languages is “receiving gifts.” There are far more important things in this world than whether someone gives you jewelry.

Rule #20: Be Honest But Mysterious 
“Men love mystery!” this chapter proclaims. “Before he comes to your apartment, tuck this book away in your top drawer and make sure any self-help books are out of sight. Have interesting or popular novels or nonfiction books in full view. Hide in the closet any grungy bathrobes or things you don’t want him to see.”

Rule #22: Don’t Live with a Man (or Leave Your Things in His Apartment)
“Move in only if you’ve set a wedding date.” Otherwise, the man will see you do things like floss, and he might realize you are human.

Rule #31: Don’t Discuss The Rules With Your Therapist 
Hark! A red flag. “Some therapists will think that The Rules are dishonest and manipulative,” the book warns. “They will encourage you to be open and vulnerable in your relationships, to talk things out, not to keep your feelings of love or hurt inside.” I mean, yeah. Your therapist would encourage such things because THAT IS CALLED BEING A HEALTHY PERSON. And for what it’s worth, so would I. 

Rule #35: Be Easy to Live With 
The final rule encourages women to be pleasant… for all of time. “As hard as you worked to be hard to get, now you must work to be easygoing.” I don’t know about you, but any sentence that includes the words “must work” pretty much makes me want to do the opposite. How about this: Be yourself. And be considerate.

“Do The Rules and you’ll live happily ever after!” we are told. And maybe, if a fairy tale is your end goal, this is the roadmap for you. But if you seek a new kind of romance — full of growth and surprises and the singular glow of living in a way that is true to yourself — well then, make up your own damn rules. You could even write a book about them! It might just be a bestseller.

P.S. An (actually) awesome dating tip and on being single.

  1. Tracy says...

    I remember my friend buying this book for me (a ‘poor’ singleton at that time) so that I’ll be successful in the ‘dating for marriage’ game (she was a ‘happily’ married woman). She kept telling me how “The Rules” worked and she was the solid living proof of it. Well, let’s just say within a couple years later, her marriage ended up in divorce. Truth be told, he was not a good partner at all.

    (SIGH)
    I did ignore The Rules because I was not into ‘playing games.’ If I wanted to return a call, I would. I do understand the concept of knowing your worth though, but I didn’t need the book.

    I definitely didn’t follow ‘The Rules’ when I did meet my (now) husband. We’ve been happily married for 15 years now. Whereas, I heard the writer of this book didn’t end up happily married. So… yeah, let’s just say, I dislike this type of literature. :)

    But I gotta admit, the book was funny to read.

  2. Jule says...

    Well I have so much to say.. Long story short, I was dating a guy for years who didn’t want to commit and then I had enough and read this book. Next thing you know I met my husband and he proposed in 6 month… that was almost 14 years ago. We have two boys and we are truly happy.
    Yes some of the rules are ancient but use common sense and you can see what the message is. Know your own worth and let the man chase you. No one wants anything that comes easy.

  3. Michelle says...

    The comments are an interesting as the post! Yes, it is fun to laugh at how ridiculous and dated much of this is. Then my mood shifts as I realize that is advice from a time when men had nearly ALL of the economic control over women’s lives. Who you married was a pretty significant determinant of whether you would live comfortably. Women were not taught to have any power in the relationship; they certainly weren’t equal. They were to be desirable and chosen. Of course they were “lucky” to land a man, or if they seemed too eager, lucky they landed a marriage proposal. That’s how it worked – no wonder they wanted rules. Marriage proposals were like JOB PROPOSALs. So if you re-read and substitute how to land a great job, than all of the “be unique, don’t seem desperate, look in demand” makes a tiny bit more sense. These rules make less sense now that women make their own money, can vote and own property and all the things without a man – or even with another woman. We should continue to push society and ourselves toward more equatable and modern dating relationships. A reminder of how far we’ve come is always a good thing. When will someone write a modern rules for Men?

    • I wish there was a “like” button for comments. But since there is not, I’ll just say, that was a very interesting observation and I very much agree.

  4. Roo says...

    My MIL gave me Dr. Laura’s The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands…if the title doesn’t say enough, it’s basically a book about how men are simple creatures who won’t stray if only we have sex and cook for them. It’s like The Rules for once you’ve gotten married but x100 on the whaaaa scale.

  5. Laura says...

    This is hilarious! However, in defense of this book, I want to say that there are women for whom this book (and the more “modernized” version) is particularly useful. I am 39 and just read it this year along with a good friend of mine. We are both single and both grew up with extremely critical fathers. I will speak for myself, but I have tended to be with men who are incapable of loving me. Though, I have been aware of this for years, it is hard to do things differently when it has become so ingrained in who I am.

    My friend and I both read this book and gave a collective, “AHH…!” The rules are simply tips and tricks that confident women ALREADY use. Confident women already know their own worth and don’t pursue (as the book calls them Time Wasters). They don’t drop everything for a date. They focus on their own lives, etc. These Rules helped me, because it is helpful to not show potential dates that you are too eager. I personally don’t like it when people are too eager to date me, either! It gave me some boundaries for not drinking too much and to being the first to leave. So many really good strategies that I wish I’d known twenty years ago!

    It may seem obvious to others, but not so for some of us! For those of us who have had a harder time, we’ll try anything! There was a pretty scathing review of The Rules in The Times (I believe) and I read it and thought–wait a second, the author is happily married. How dare she judge people when she had no idea what it was like! She talked about how she could show her difficult side to her partner and I thought, YES, we all want to be able to show our true authentic selves to our partners! That’s the whole point! How do you get there? For me, I have more or less now written my own rules, because some of the Rules are pretty ridiculous, but a few I have kept. So for others out there trying anything they can, you have my full support. Readers, don’t knock it until you try it (and may you never need to!).

    • Lee says...

      Good points

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      WHAT????

    • Amy says...

      Disgraceful.

    • Maja says...

      I’m not sure what you mean by published in Stockholm, but that is not a Swedish magazine….

  6. Deana says...

    I can see that some of these rules sound crazy, BUT – what they really do is effectively weed out undesirables. If I had done the Rules back in the day, I would not have dated half the people I did, or they would have fell by the wayside before too long. Times may change, but the Rules don’t, because human nature doesn’t.

  7. Katie Larissa says...

    My husband bought me a CROCK POT for our first Valentine’s Day together. (Dating, not engaged or married!) I looked at him in a bit of shock, and then he said “you’re always saying you wished you had a way to make healthy home cooked meals before you came home from class exhausted” and I realized what a thoughtful gift it was. (Even if totally unromantic.) We got married, and that crock pot definitely set the tone for our future: I have received, (to name a few,) a Kitchenaid stand mixer, a toaster oven, and a vacuum cleaner on our various holidays together.
    And truthfully I wouldn’t have it any other way! But I still tease him about buying me a crock pot for our first V day together. Haha

  8. Kathryn says...

    I haven’t read The Rules but it reminds me of another 90’s book with a cringeworthy title but a lot of insight, Getting to “I Do” by Patricia Allen. The core concept is that a healthy relationship requires a balance of masculine and feminine energies (perhaps misnomers as either partner can bring either energy). Her framework really helped me understand why so many boyfriends had let me down in the past – while I was seeking a masculine mate, in my desperate pursuit I was bringing my own masculine energy straight from the office and into my dating life, thereby attracting men with majority feminine energy. Though unnatural at first for a fully independent, self sufficient feminist, by taking a step back and embodying my feminine energy (for instance, letting the guys call ME) I’ve been so much more fulfilled in my subsequent relationships. There’s a lot more to it, but worth a read if you’re intrigued!

    • neha says...

      I think you crystallise the idea so perfectly: “The core concept is that a healthy relationship requires a balance of masculine and feminine energies (perhaps misnomers as either partner can bring either energy).”
      I love this! This is helpful and probably needs a book written about it.

    • Nona says...

      Wow. To be clear, this is 100% false and 100% homophobic: a healthy relationship requires a balance of masculine and feminine energies

    • Kathryn says...

      Nona (and others), please accept my sincere apologies for not being more clear. A balance of masculine and feminine energies as described in the book can be achieved regardless of the sexuality of the couple; women can bring either energy, as can men. The nomenclature can be off-putting for many obvious reasons and it may be better to think of it as yin and yang energy.

  9. Marianne says...

    “Rules for women” is just a ridiculous concept.
    I grew up in the 90s with teen and women’s magazines that featured all kinds of rules for girls and women, often passed off on the front cover as “advice”. For decades I have been exposed to silly rules about everything from eyeshadow and hairstyles to dating for body shapes (which, we all know, is best likened to a piece of fruit).
    It took me a long time to realise how oppressive and ridiculous these rules are. Sadly, I don’t see that these “rules for women” have decreased. They’ve just moved into a different area of our lives: We’ve gone from “advice” about boosting our appearance and man-hunting skills to “advice” about boosting our careers, productivity and job hunting skills.
    I think we should throw the women’s rulebook out the window for good. Instead, we should just tell our own stories and listen to others. Honesty and dialogue is a better inspiration than any set of rules.
    Hugs

  10. Nicole says...

    I asked my husband out initially, slept with him on the first date because I was attracted to him and wanted to, and we’ve been very happily married for 16 years. If you’re truly into someone and they’re into you, it works itself out. I’m also a clinical psychologist, and the authors are right about #31. I would not endorse subterfuge or subjugation of one’s own thoughts and feelings to “capture” someone.

  11. Rashmi says...

    The post was hilarious! I have just ordered a copy of this book to pass around to my friends and laugh.
    The comments section though make me wanna hit my head against the wall. To all the women staunchly defending this garbage, I just wanna ask “where is the equivalent book for men?” If the book is just about how to carry yourself respectfully yada, yada, yada, there has got to be similar stuff written for the opposite sex, no? If not, it’s just plain sexist bs telling women how to pretend to be to get a man.

    • Maggie says...

      I was about to say the same thing!

    • Jenn says...

      Thank you!

    • Maggie says...

      Um, this is amazing. Numbers 9-16 just made me cry laughing!!

  12. Amber Grady says...

    Thank you for this! I needed it after spending the majority of my work Christmas party yesterday being asked if/when I’m going to get engaged. Because my brains and work ethic are apparently irrelevant to work discussions.

    • Nigerian Girl says...

      Ah, people. So sorry you went through that.

  13. Meg says...

    I need more Caroline-roasts-dated-dating books in my life. So many snickers throughout this article

  14. Erica says...

    Also on Rule #1: if all of us follow her instructions, aren’t we all the same?

    Love your commentary!

  15. Claire says...

    A long time ago I came across a book in a used book store titled “Advice to a Young Wife (From an Old Mistress)”. I picked it up and opened to the introduction and read a statement by the author about how she had met the mistress, and felt absolutely compelled to write the book. I was surprised to discover this was a work of non-fiction. I bought it, and read it, and found it fascinating. Absolutely dated in some ways, but the core philosophy was to be true to yourself, develop and maintain your own interests and goals, and to find ways to appreciate your partner. And one piece of advice about not letting life grind you down and taking it out on your spouse stuck in my head (but is not really that easy to follow, honestly).

    • Midge says...

      I loved that book in my 20’s…wonder how I’d feel reading it again in my married 40’s?

  16. Molly says...

    He’s Just Not That Into You was also a big hit that had some similarities to the Rules.

    • Jax says...

      I didn’t read “He’s Just Not That Into You”, but I thought it was at least, more freeing, in that it told women to give up on the guy ghosting them. Like, guys aren’t being assholes because you’re not following these rules, but they just don’t like you (not your fault), and you should just move on?
      At least, that’s how I remember it from the SATC episode.

  17. Suzanne says...

    Laugh all you want but it worked for me!

  18. Molly says...

    Still rarely call my husband.
    Never called men all 10 years on the NYC dating scene.
    The Rules gave me confidence. And you could take what you want from them.
    I never traveled far to meet a man. If I paid for my drink on the first date, I never went on another with that man. A boyfriend hit on my best friend, so I never saw him again. I also liked the advice to keep the first date light and uplifting, and save the heavy info for a later date, but don’t wait to long to break the necessary news.
    FWIW, I called back my husband back on his first phone call (against the Rules), because it’s just rude to not return a call with a thoughtful voice mail.

  19. Heather says...

    I read this book when it came out and found it pretty discouraging, even as a teenager, because I have always been a pretty open and honest person. The entire notion of being mysterious seemed suffocating. Also, reading The Rules held up next to my own parents’ marriage – a marriage grounded on a Rules-like courtship – I thought, nope. My parents were married (congrats!!)… and then they got divorced (womp)… at least in part because they were all manners before they got married and didn’t really know each other.
    Years later, I was reading The Department of Speculation, and she has this quote —
    “Three things no one has ever said about me:

    You make it look so easy.

    You are very mysterious.

    You need to take yourself more seriously.”

    It was so refreshing to me. Why do I have to be mysterious?? Life is so much easier with a husband who really knows me.

  20. Nigerian Girl says...

    Funny how there are practically no rule books for men in regard to finding the woman of their dreams. Men have dreams too, don’t they? Conventionally, there are two people – a woman and a man – in a heterosexual relationship; but of course it’s solely the woman’s ‘duty’ to find and keep the man. And what do we have as a result? Millions of entitled men who think they’re doing women a favour just by being with them. I am so done with this retrograde rubbish.

    • Melissa says...

      Yo. This right here!

    • Mado says...

      Love this comment and Melissa’s response lol.

    • Grace says...

      Exactly!!!

    • Naseem says...

      YES.

    • Meagan says...

      Yes! Yes! Yes!

    • Jax says...

      If you read the recent Taffy Brodesser-Akner NYT article about it (I included the link in another comment below), she astutely hits on the power imbalance between men and women. As long as there’s an imbalance, women will “chase” after men for the ring. And men will let the “right woman” “catch” him.

    • Britt says...

      This explains almost every man that I have dated. Haha.

    • Meg says...

      YES. Round of applause.

    • Rashmi says...

      Summed it up.

    • Sarah says...

      100% this! I would love to see more relationship (and childrearing books) aimed at men. Why are women expected to do all of the emotional labor and men just…exist?

    • Ally says...

      Actually men’s “pick-up artist” (PUA) advice echoes many of these points, i.e. be distant, secretive, dishonest, manipulative and always maintain the upper hand.

      It’s not friendly or constructive in any gender direction.

    • Deana says...

      Probably there’s no rule books for men because they wouldn’t read them.

  21. Jessica says...

    Just reading this makes me furious and uncomfortable. Humans are nuanced and wildly diverse. Never mind the role cultural upbringing has on what you want from a partner. The idea that one list of (insanely sexist) rules could apply to all women is so goddamn insulting.

  22. Bren says...

    So here’s the deal. I know this book gets a lot of backlash (and for obvious reasons!) but you have to admit that it’s a hilarious read, and there are SOME great points. Back in my twenties, I too purchased this book, and I made all my friends read it too! And honestly, it was helpful for me to read. I was texting boys too much, getting rejected, and coming on too strong. Now obviously I needed to stay true to myself, but I was acting too desperate and I needed a slap in the face back then. While I know there are positive stories of girls going after the man they wanted, I didn’t find that to work out well in the end. This book at the very least just gave me reason to pause before I sent a text such as “I just drove by your building!” or whatever else I decided to text that made me look desperate. For what it’s worth, my husband was the only man that EVER asked me on dates multiple days in advance (as this book requires haha!) and he ALWAYS called me first (another requirement hahaha) and he ended up being a keeper!

    • Lizzie says...

      Appreciate this. I’ve been blissfully married for 17 yrs, but in the early days, my husband broke up with me several times and didn’t truly appreciate me until we’d been apart for several years (in our mid-20’s). I guess part of the reason for the delay was he needed to mature, but I can’t help but wonder if my obvious, ready availability might have made him take me for granted in the beginning. Likewise, if he had been too available to me, maybe I’d have taken him for granted, as well.

      At any rate, I’m just grateful for us both going through our “processes”, because we really cherish each other now.

    • Perla says...

      That ” I just drove by your building ” text reminds me of how desperate I was years ago when I met this ( thankfully-not-for-me ) guy. We were in college together so I ” forced ” him to come over to my place to study with me .I made him apple crumble ( cheesy move .. I know ) and I waited for him . The whole evening he never looked at me .too busy studying … I’m glad I got to learn that you can’t force someone to love you – or even get interested in you !

  23. Rachael says...

    I completely forgot about this book, but in 2009 my housemate and friend gave it to me as a gift as she thought I ‘needed the help’.
    Needless to say The Rules were not for me. I’m happy to say both me and my friend have ended up in happy marriages but thinking back, maybe the most surprising thing is that we are still friends!

  24. Shelly B says...

    I had a coworker follow this religiously. It was so hard to listen to her try and follow all these stupid “rules”. She ruined a few relationships in the process and is still single.

  25. Toni says...

    My grandma gave me my favorite piece dating advice: always wear your favorite lipstick.

    This was not in an effort to woo your date, but rather to give yourself the confidence you need to look in the mirror on your way out the door and say to yourself I’m a catch, I’m worth it, and I look damn good in this lipstick.

    • Alyson says...

      Love this! I’m a 3rd-generation lipstick addict and it absolutely makes me feel invincible (especially when the Imposter Syndrome starts whispering nasty nothings in my ear).

    • Grace says...

      Yes, it’s all about what gives you confidence. My gram is all about the jeans that make your butt look amazing :)

  26. Kim says...

    The “be easy to live with” rule reminds me of how Brené Brown talks about feeling pressured to avoid the perception of being high maintenance. However, “being low maintenance also meant not asking for what you needed and never inconveniencing anyone” (quote from her book “Rising Strong”).

    • Jax says...

      Yep, and kind of similar to the “cool girl” now, or being the “man’s woman/girl” back in the day — not being neurotic/silly/clingy/overly emotional/hysterical like traditional women. That’s why the “cool girl” compliment is really backhanded.

  27. Elizabeth says...

    I recently read a book about Helen Andelin, the founder of the Fascinating Womanhood movement (“Helen Andelin and the Fascinating Womanhood Movement” by Julie Debra Neuffer). Andelin took her cue from a series of booklets written in the 1920s aimed at helping young single women find a mate, and turned it into an empire (I’m not exaggerating) on how women could improve their marriages. FW was published in 1965, two years after Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique.”

    While much of FW sounds utterly unbelievable, it’s never been out of print and has sold over 3 million copies. Neuffer mentions its inspiration and reference for Wife Swap, Dr. Phil, and of course, “The Rules.” Andelin’s story is unbelievable.

    I certainly couldn’t follow either Andelin’s or the The Rules authors’ advice to purposefully act demure and manipulate men, but I believe Andelin is correct in her #1 rule: you can’t change your spouse. And I agree with the The Rules that it’s in a woman’s best interest to step back and set the parameters of how she would like to be treated.

    When The Rules was first published I had recently broken up with a man who gave me a tool kit for my birthday, put his friends first and thought nothing of asking me to stay at his house to look after his dogs when he was out of town. I agree w/readers who find “The Rules” over the top in many areas but at time it was published I wished I’d followed a few of them with Mr. Toolkit.

    Eventually I met and married Mr. Right. I almost broke up w/him in the first few months because I felt he indulged in his hobbies and neglected me. But the night I was going to tell him, he arrived and expressed so much concern for a cold I was suffering through that I realized none of my previous boyfriends had ever been so considered. And so while he doesn’t buy me expensive gifts (unless I pick them out), he’s taken care of me through thick and thin. I think it takes a while to get to know someone but the payoff can set you up for a lifetime of happiness.

  28. Kim says...

    Regarding being an otherworldly creature and not doing human things like flossing or farting- didn’t COJ have a post about not farting in front of your partner? I’m glad we’ve come full circle on how ridiculous that is.

    • Caroline Donofrio says...

      Yes, we did have a “do or don’t” post about gaseous emissions — with a lot of amusing responses on either side. But as the author of that post, I must say that my stance is pro-fart!

    • Kim says...

      Glad to hear it!

  29. HSK says...

    “…and give women 35 more mandates to stress about.” LOL! Laughed through the whole piece. Thank you, Caroline, for making my day!

  30. Alyson says...

    Oh dear, now here we are 8 years into it and I’ve broken all the rules. Whatever shall my poor husband do with his honest, curious, renegade wife?

    I must admit, however, that I certainly am a creature like none other when the house is a disaster, there are no snacks and/or cream for coffee, and the dog has seemingly gone feral — fairly sure it’s not what Great Granny Mimmsy had in mind but … can’t argue with the results ?

    • Ellie says...

      You made me giggle. Keep on shining that bright grocery-less, non-dog-training star. :)

  31. Britta says...

    This book is basically letting ladies know that being too thirsty is a turn off. And it SERIOUSLY is! I know from experience (and now from my single friends – ladies and men!) that coming on too strong too fast isn’t going to end well. This book may be dated, but I think the sentiment holds true today.

    • Meg says...

      Britta, I see what you’re saying! To offer another perspective: telling women “don’t be too thirsty” can also be interpreted as telling women “shut off your own needs or hide them from prospective partners in order to make men more comfortable.” Instead, I think better advice is to spend time thinking about what own needs actually are. What is that “thirst” actually looking for? Is it connection? Intimacy? Partnership? Validation? Then, determine how you can healthfully get those needs met with your current social circle, with a potential new partners, and within yourself.

      The reason that telling ladies “not to be too thirsty” feels problematic to me is that it’s not advice that’s usually given to men, only women. It’s one more message to add to the pile that asks women to make themselves smaller, to hide their own needs and desires, in order to mold themselves to meet men’s desires.

    • Unicorn says...

      I agree! I’ve had three proposals (accepted the third!) from three fantastic guys and I certainly wasn’t trying to get married. Yes, it may be outdated but “don’t be bat-shit-crazy” (future crazy ex-girlfriends…i see you) is sound advice for any generation!

    • Rashmi says...

      @Unicorn I didn’t know the number of proposals mattered, just whether or not you were lucky to find someone you could spend your life with. Wow!

    • Britta says...

      @Meg, I guess I don’t divide being thirsty into something only women do – I know PLENTY of men who I could call thirsty as well. I agree, tho, I think EVERYONE needs to think about their needs and what matters to them. My comment really had NOTHING to do with changing how you are to please a man – but at the end of the day, leaving an air of mystery (and not just throwing yourself at someone) is about having respect for yourself. I get that how this book is worded is dated, and it COULD be interpreted as sexist, but I still think it’s sound advice.

  32. Elyse says...

    A few years ago, as a gesture of kindness, my mom gave me the updated 2013 version of this book, Not Your Mother’s Rules: The New Secrets for Dating, when I went through a slump in my social life and was feeling low (she had not read the book but had found it online). This book was just as revolting as the original “The Rules” and it made me so frustrated & mad I actually threw it out in the garbage. However, after reading the book, it made me realize that who I am is who I WANT TO BE, and that a stupid book could never tell me how to act in order to meet someone I wanted to spend time with. So in the end it only affirmed what I already knew, that I am who I am for a reason. A few months later, I met a wonderful man, simply by acting like myself.

  33. Mrs. P says...

    I remember seeing this book on Oprah back in the day! I took the advice to heart for a while and drove myself a little nuts, totally overthinking everything. Then one night I met a guy at a friend’s house, slept with him that night and we have been married 14 years (and counting) and have two wonderful children.

    My brother once told me, “there is no Mr. Right, you will meet many Mr. Rights in your life, but there is only one Mr. Right Timing.” He also said that dating is like golf, the more you try to control the ball, the less it goes in the direction you want it.

    • Ana D says...

      I want to read your brother’s book. Or be his friend. That’s some big wisdom.

    • Amber Grady says...

      Your brother sounds amazing, and this is the kind of modern love story I live for!

  34. JP says...

    There are some gems in here, underneath the shock…If someone isn’t putting in effort or compromising (ie only meeting in their neighborhood or not calling) from the beginning, they never will. Dating these days does take a bit of creative marketing too – You are just one profile out of thousands that can be viewed every day. You kind of have to make yourself appear to be a creature unlike any other! And play a little bit of game. But you can be seductive without being manipulative.

  35. JP says...

    I remember this from high school. Even then it was super outdated. But I needed to read some of this then. Its sort of like an ancient text. A lot of things are irrelevant or dumb but if you can approach it with common sense and a little discernment, there is some universal wisdom in there.

    People are attracted to people who are a little mysterious. Holding back a little at the very beginning does help in the long run. And if your boyfriend gives you a laser hair removal system for your birthday, run. (True story)

    • agnes says...

      A LASER HAIR REMOVAL SYSTEM? ah aha ah!!

    • I was dating a guy who was getting laser hair removal. He invited me over to his house to shave his back… I told him he had to buy me dinner too.

  36. AN says...

    Never been more grateful to be a homo!

    • Saki says...

      Lolz!

    • Sam says...

      Bahahahahaha…where’s the “like” button on this thing? The comments are always the best part. You do you, An!

    • Rosie says...

      YESSSSSS. Fuck this noise.

    • Sophia says...

      I was scrolling through the comments just hoping someone would start the conversation in this direction. Good Lord. Heteronormative everything is exhausting because it’s still everywhere. What gets me (like, really gets me) are all the current publications, like so many super popular parenting/pregnancy books, that STILL haven’t gotten the message about inclusive language.

    • Liz says...

      Yesssss. Lying in bed reading this next to my wife so happy to be lesbians!

    • Jane says...

      Serious question though: I’m gay, and my experience dating women/with serious girlfriends have been disastrous. The same ghosting, critiquing my appearance, hitting on other women. Am I alone?

  37. ANDREA says...

    Also, there are unwritten rules in each age. The current “rules” that seem popular emphasize not being purposeful or committed. We’re in an age where you “catch feelings” and slide into living together and having children without stated commitments. In my opinion, this isn’t better than knowing what you want and need and pursuing that.

    • Laura says...

      agree!

  38. Bea N. says...

    I think this post is a little too quick to judgement. Our age has its own set of “rules” and dating norms (and some that I would happily trade in for these). A lot of times the message to young women today is that its acceptable for a man to “ghost” you or to only be interested in physical intimacy “no strings attached.” Throughout the Rules book you see a lot of expectations from the man to put in effort and pursue the woman. And for the woman to have respect for herself, high expectations and set boundaries for the man. I don’t think its all bad. Plus a lot of this involves keeping alive the exciting feeling of the “chase”. I’ve been married 6 years, have 2 young children and me and my husband both appreciate how important it is to create moments of feeling pursued by the other.

    • Anonymous says...

      Well said! I totally agree.

    • CS says...

      Excellent point!

    • Veronica says...

      Fun fact: my husband almost always buys me appliances. I have gotten (for birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Christmas) a KitchenAid mixer, a Dyson hair dryer, a panini press, and a Breville toaster oven. Most of these were bought before we were married, and if he had not bought them then, we would not have nearly so many nice appliances. Priorities and money situations change, and while I may have been miffed when I originally noticed the pattern, I am grateful for them now.

      I think the issue with the rules mindset is that it is based in the idea that men are incapable of accepting honesty, and that women should be willing to be less than honest with themselves in order to find a partner. Not all men are afraid of commitment, and in my experience it was worth being upfront and waiting for someone who was as willing to talk about building a life together as I was.

    • SBS says...

      Yes to all of this. I credit this book for teaching me to have self respect back in my dating years. My friends who followed “the rules” ended up married. Those who rejected them as nonsense are still figuring out how to maintain relationships ….20 years later.

  39. Naomi H says...

    A month after I started dating my now-husband, he told me he was going to give me a gift that said: “We were in it for the long haul”. I was completely mystified and a little scared too. He gave me a cordless telephone for Valentine’s Day that year! Let’s just say I am so glad I did not measure the kind, loving thoughtful man I ended up marrying by some silly rules about appropriate romantic gift giving. We laugh a lot about this amazing way to set up a present now. Thank goodness we are not tied down to these rigid rules and also happy that they may have helped some people.

  40. Kaitlyn says...

    This could make a great white elephant gift! :)

  41. R says...

    LOL This reminds me of the first time I went over to my boyfriend’s apartment. Out of habit, I started perusing the books only to find out later on that he specially curates what he has on the shelves. Nothing too controversial (he’s fairly political), some with a slight tinge of humor. On the bottom shelf were his old law school books collecting dust (which IMHO are neither interesting nor popular!).

  42. Susan says...

    So, so many things to say about this. Some of The Rules are just polite. But Caroline, you nailed it on the gifts. My husband (of 20 years) gave me a humidifier for our first Christmas. My friends were appalled! I knew nothing about humidifiers, but it was a nice one and he was so excited. Turns out he was paying attention to how dry the air was in my apartment, and I loved the humidifier, used it, and married him when he asked. He has always paid attention in to me in that way, and given me what I needed before I knew it. Since then I have never been without him or a humidifier, and I have lovely skin.

    • Lizzie says...

      Aww, love this.

    • Sarah says...

      Yes to every single thing about this xx

    • Ellie says...

      This is incredibly sweet. I hope there are many many more years of such thoughtfulnesses in your life together.

  43. Chickie says...

    Please, please, please contact the authors for an interview. I’d love to know what they think of the book and their advice today. I remember when it first came out…among my friends at the time, we thought the whole thing was BS.

    • Grace says...

      Yes that would be fascinating to hear from the authors in 2020.

    • Rosie says...

      Not sure how into participating they will be after seeing Caroline mock their work hahaha

  44. Court says...

    I am obsessed with the pretending to be a movie star and you’re playing cameo idea. I will now pretend to do this in cool situations from now on.

  45. Kelley says...

    A friend of mine in high school (back in the 90s) had this book! I remember being horrified at the time, but I grew up in a small southern town and these type of guidelines were sadly pretty conventional.

    • Rosie says...

      When I was growing up in the south the most ludicrous dating rule that everyone and their mom pushed was to eat a full meal before going on a date so you wouldn’t be tempted to eat in front of a man.

  46. Meghan says...

    I have heard so many versions of these rules over the years, which all boil down to the idea that, for a woman, getting married is like a predator trapping it’s prey. When my former co-worker graduated high school, her mother gave her a curling iron with the advice to hang out at the medical school (she was going to art school). My own grandmother was very concerned that I had enough money saved when I started university. Not because she was worried about me paying for tuition, but because she wanted to make sure I could afford nice clothes and would always look “presentable”.

    As ridiculous and insulting these attitudes are in modern standards, I do think it’s important to remember that these attitudes originated when the economic options form women were extremely limited. Not that long ago, a woman’s best opportunity for financial stability was a “good” marriage. Couple that with the societal taboo against divorce, it makes sense why tricking a man into marriage didn’t seem like a terrible idea.

    Make no mistake, I’m not defending the book. I’m simply trying to understand why someone might be attracted to these types of ideas.

    • Ashley says...

      Such a thoughtful response.

    • Jax says...

      Exactly.
      It was just shocking in the 90s (haha) because many of us (college-age) women thought we had progressed beyond this.
      But of course, even now, we haven’t.
      Check that recent Peloton ad.

    • CS says...

      I had the same thought as I read the post: You have to judge things within their historical context (in this case “the rules” within the context from which they emerged). Women didn’t have many choices back then, and had so many limitations. Let’s remember they weren’t even legally considered persons, and couldn’t vote or buy land. So finding a devoted hubby was pretty important.

      Personally, I also think the overall message wasn’t that bad: respect yourself and set some boundaries for the man (as a commenter above wrote.) There are some “rules” now that aren’t so great. (Eg: Tinder pressure to have sex with no expectation or emotional attachment.)

    • rose says...

      I think the wisdom of the book is not only about economic security but about Lonliness. Throughout my life so far, local demographics have always described more women than men. The percentage of decent or teachable men is very narrow, because as we all sadly know, it is still unbelievably common for men to be entirely unthinking in the most basic daily interactions – not to mention, while determining a life partner. I think this book is less about “tricking” a man than about being mindful of how to nurture self and mutual respect and the best possible behavior.

    • Rashmi says...

      You said it! It is worrisome though that women are still following these archaic advices in their aim to get a man to marry them.

    • Sharon says...

      YES!! This book and honestly, so many older people I know that are still married, always remind me, we have it SO good as women today! I know it isn’t perfect, but the reality is they didn’t have financial freedom. Money changes everything. It gives us choices, allows us to be independent.

    • Neha says...

      Wow, Meghan, you sound like an amazing person!
      To use your wit so gracefully… my heart sighed with relief! To ridicule so easy, to change anything so hard!

  47. Joan says...

    When I was dating, the self-help books were “What Smart Women Know” and “He’s Just Not That Into You.” I wonder how these books hold up today. I’m grateful not to be dating in the age of Tinder.

    • Calla says...

      Sentences like that last one always feel like a triumphant little dig at those of us who are. I’m sure that’s not how you intended it but just wanted to point out how it sounds on the other end.

    • Bb says...

      I wish you guys would write an updated version of the rules! You would be perfect to do it!

    • Judy says...

      It can be tough, but I also met my wonderful, sweet, caring, and completely genuine husband on Tinder (and I never would have known he existed otherwise). I feel pretty lucky!

    • Kim says...

      Calla, Tom me it sounded like she just meant that it’s hard to date in the age of tinder.

    • Heather says...

      I loved What Smart Women Know. I must have gifted dozens of copies to friends. The book opens with this discussion on how you learn about love through loving, and about pain through pain, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could learn from other people’s experiences? I haven’t read it in a decade, but I still remember some of the quippy tips – most of which, I have to say, i was not able to really learn ahead of time, but had to experience. I first read this book when I was 18, and went back to read it many times over the next decade as the lessons started to materialize in real life. For example, “if he can’t be reached, he can’t be reached.” I read this quip and associated story/lesson. I thought, Yup, totally get it, won’t make that mistake. And then years later dated a guy who was unpredictable and inconsistent about responding to texts/calls/emails. He might respond 2 minutes later, or 2 weeks later. No explanation. Being with him was always fun, but the in-between did not feel good. And then that line popped in to my head, “if he can’t be reached, he can’t be reached.” Aha. It’s a common sense book about love, which is almost never sensible.

      FWIW, I just checked on Amazon and there are reviews from 2016 raving about it.

      https://www.amazon.com/What-Smart-Women-Steven-Carter/dp/0871319063

  48. What a sack of turds this book is.

    • Hahahahahah this made me giggle ;)

    • Sally says...

      You are so right! I was a very young (23!) newlywed when this book came out. I remember hearing friends talking about it and thinking it was a load of poo. There were a lot of independent women like me at that time who had grown up with mothers who were part of the “women’s lib” movement. It just seemed like such a strange and backward concept to put on this air of secrecy and mystery with a person you hoped to spend your life with as an equal. And I’m pretty sure my 20-year-old daughter would feel the same way today that I did then!

  49. Shay R says...

    Hmm, I have “The Rules” still on my bookshelf. I’ve been happily married for 8 years to a wonderful feminist man. And I’m 100% a Rules Girl! While so much of the book is antiqued and hilarious, there is so much not depicted here that has a great message for young women.

    Rule #1… after the quote sounds unrealistic, literally the next lines are: “It doesn’t matter if you’re not a beauty queen, that you never finished college, or that you don’t keep up with current events. You still think you’re enough! … You don’t date men who don’t want you. You trust in the abundance and goodness of the universe: if not him, someone better, you say. You don’t settle. You don’t chase anyone.”

    The rules is about empowering women to not put men first, or getting a man as a first priority in their lives and not waste time with men that aren’t interested in them. I don’t see anything wrong with that message!

    • Shilpi says...

      Yeah, I agree that a lot of the rules seem to be about encouraging women to have self respect and to wait for someone who is really, truly interested in them. No chasing is really good advice.

      After spending some portion of my twenties with men who, I realize now, just didn’t love me enough, I unknowingly followed these rules when dating my now-husband. I actually think it’s all about waiting for someone who cherishes you, and that is great advice for young women.

    • Cal says...

      I agree with you. When I first read the book, I was also appalled at how backwards it seemed. But after having been on the dating market for a while, I became cautious. I learned to put myself first. I learned to fully and wholeheartedly love myself and my life without a man in it. And now, I have to say the book isn’t all that backwards. The message is to protect yourself, to honor yourself, to respect yourself. The book conveys all that in the form of the rules.

      Of course, with the right man you won’t need all those rules. But when you have to date until you get there, you meet a lot of not so great people, and the Rules is a compass to retain dignity and composure. Anyone who has laid awake at night wondering whether your own perceived over-enthusiasm (or clinginess) towards a guy might have scared him off will know that the Rules are like your no-nonsense friend that you can call at 2am so they can tell you that with the next guy, you won’t get lost like that again in someone you’ve known for only 3 weeks (but you were still so sure he was The One even though by all objective accounts – which you won’t realize until a few months later – he had basically never really checked into the “relationship”).

    • Claire says...

      I agree. Don’t miss the underlying rally cry for empowerment.

    • Beth says...

      Yup, I agree with this. I read The Rules and He’s Just Not That Into You as a frustrated dater in my early to mid 20’s. I finally met my husband once I realized that I was great, my life was pretty awesome, I would actually be have a great life as a single woman, and that I didn’t want to meet ANYONE who didn’t add happiness to my life rather than detract from it by making me feel unloved, confused, anxious, etc.

      While yes some of the specific advice is a bit antiquated, I think the overarching message is that you are enough, and you need to be happy enough with your life to not NEED a man. And if you’re not happy with your life because you do feel you need a man – well then, fake it till you make it. When you have a positive attitude people are naturally attracted to you.

    • Beth says...

      Oh, and I want to add that I found a website during this time that really helped me called Hooking Up Smart. It’s not active anymore but you can read old posts. The founder, Susan Walsh, started it to help her college age daughter navigate dating life. It was immensely helpful and smart.

  50. Erin says...

    Ahh, yes, the book that should have been called “How to marry a man with a highly avoidant attachment style.”

    • Sasha says...

      Lol, Erin so true! And the tagline should be “and disregard your own attachment needs in the process!”

    • RP says...

      hahahaha EXACTLY.

    • liz says...

      I actually burst out laughing at this, Erin!!!

    • Hahaha exactly!

  51. Vanessa says...

    these seem pretty relevant today based on what i see and hear and read. maybe a couple are a few outdated like picking one up from her apartment but all i hear and read about are women bringing men back to their apartments. . and seeing how much $$ and time (and photos of oneself) women dress, i think they’re trying to be a unicorn.

    i wouldn’t be so quick to poke fun at this.

    and for the record, i find marriage necessary for those who need a contract to hold someone accountable should they be ‘effd in the end. i’ve been w my boyfriend for 7 years, support myself, have a father who is more interested in womens’ rights than most women i read on these blogs yada yada

    • Cristina Mauro says...

      Yes, half of any book resides in the reader and how they metabolize and edit things for themselves. I appreciate they way you added nuance to the discussion. There is some inevitable gamesmanship in finding a partner no matter how unfettered you are by social expectations. And, at a very basic level, gamesmanship is also a form of play….not just a form of manipulation (oh and btw I am a therapist). Sometimes we get overly earnest about things and forget that the cat and mouse thing is only as good or as bad as the intentions behind it. There is no harm in setting a charming little trap if it’s done playfully. Game on queens! (winky face). I’m not for or against the book just enjoying the discussion.

  52. hali mason says...

    wait omg the amazon reviews!! whaaaaht?!

    • Elle says...

      I’m so fascinated by the reviews!! Most of them seem to love the book?! Who are these women? Where do they live? Are they time travelers? So many questions!!

    • Trish says...

      Ok, but even more fascinatingly, the reviews/comments here! I wouldn’t imagine CoJ readers defending this. Also, the “good advice” is just common sense that you could easily get without all the sexist nonsense from a different source!

  53. Laura says...

    I wasn’t aware of this book (thank goodness!). Somehow I’ve been married for nearly 30 years to a wonderful man without following any of these rules.

  54. hali says...

    My mom gave my older sister this book when she graduated high school in the 90s. Safe to say, we all still give mom a hard time when someone stumbles upon the tiny old book tucked deep within the shelves of my parent’s house. Did she actually read the book before she gifted it? Did she know? Was she serious? Why though? My sister was 17! The timing of the gift (graduation!?), the messaging, and just the whole thing is so not like my wise and moral north star of a mother that I shiver thinking of her wrapping it and gifting it to my poor sister. It’s a treasure trove of turd advice but it is VERY amusing.

    • Emily says...

      This reminds me of my Grandfather (born in 1915), who told me as I headed off to college, “Remember the real degree you need to get, ‘the M.R.S.'” Seventeen-year-old me was shocked to hear someone say that! And the irony of it is that I actually did meet my husband in college. But I also got my Bachelors!

  55. Anna says...

    So the fact that my husband moved in with me before we married is good, right? Because he came to my place? Also wth does she mean, “interesting or popular novels or nonfiction books,” like a book can only be interesting OR popular. Though she’s being surprisingly open minded to say novels OR nonfiction. In this context I would have expected something like, “Put away all reading materials. A woman should not reveal that she is literate until after she catches the man.”

  56. Sarah Lambert says...

    Caroline, this is why I loved Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, (per your recommendation here many months ago)!!!! That final chapter was so perfect I cried. Screw The Rules!!

    • Heather says...

      YES was thinking the same

    • Josie says...

      I loved that book, I think about that last chapter often.

  57. ANDREA says...

    I like the spirit of the rules here. I see them as arguing to establish in your own mind what is acceptable and what you are looking for. Really great advice. I see a lot of people not have a baseline for how they want to be treated or what is allowable and suffer because of it.

    You may not like these rules, but you should have your own rules about how you’ll be treated.

  58. Kayla says...

    I asked my husband out first and we’ve been together 14 years!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      same here! i asked alex out and it was the best decision i ever made!

  59. JessicaD says...

    I honestly cannot believe this book came out a mere 25 years ago (just a couple of years before I met my husband). Holy “turds”!!!

  60. Lauren E. says...

    I am quaking with laughter. I’ve been married three years, and gosh, I better start working on being easygoing!

  61. Ruth says...

    ::spits out coffee from laughing:: wow. just wow.

  62. Colleen Wenos says...

    Had I not met my husband, I would’ve spent a lifetime single over following this advice. Bleech.

  63. Heather says...

    “I’ve also realized that the word “turd” is pretty hilarious.” lol!!

  64. Lisa says...

    LOLed through this post! I had that book back in the day, wow.