If Books Could Kill

The Rules

June 29, 2023
If Books Could Kill
The Rules
Show Notes Transcript

Peter: I've got so many zingers, but bouncing around in my mind. 

Michael: Do you want to do a couple? Do you want to do a trifecta of zingers? 

Peter: [laughs] My favorite absolute dumbest one was something like, "The only thing I know about rules, Michael, is that I'm always breaking them."


Michael: That's terrible, Peter. 

Peter: That's sounds so bad. 

Michael: That's so terrible. [laughs] 

Peter: I was ready to do it though. [laughs]

Michael: All right. Give us the real one. Let's go in. Okay. 

Peter: All right, go for it.

Michael: Peter.

Peter: Michael.

Michael: What do you know about a book called The Rules

Peter: Finally, a set of arbitrary social guidelines for women.

[If Books Could Kill theme]

Michael: So, the full title of this book is The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. The book came out in 1995, but it was a word of mouth hit and only started showing up on the bestseller list in 1996. It eventually sold 2 million copies, which is objectively a lot of copies, but also, compared to The Secret, which sold 30 million, or Men Are from Mars, which sold 15 million, it's relatively small. 

Peter: Why follow a bunch of rules when you can just manifest a man? 

Michael: [laughs] It's written by Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein, who are essentially just two random women. They are 36 years old and 38 years old when it is published. I was not able to find any background information specifically on these people. All I could find is that they're both just freelance journalists, and then they wrote this book, and immediately started doing seminars. You could pay them $45 for a 15 minutes' consultation, which honestly, seems cheap for this kind of self-help grifting. That was wow.

Peter: Yeah. [laughs] It almost feels like it's not a grift. They're just doing it because they really want women to get laid. 

Michael: Since this book came out, they've essentially spent the rest of their lives just doing spinoffs and extensions. 

Peter: Yeah, of course.

Michael: So, we have The Rules for Online Dating, The Rules Dating Journal, The Rules Handbook, The Rules II, The Rules for Marriage, The Complete Book of Rules, The New Rules, and Not Your Mother's Rules

Peter: Oh, God. 

Michael: It's like Air Jordans, every year a fucking new one comes out. Do you know anything about the premise of this book? 

Peter: I do not. 

Michael: Do you really not? You never heard of it when it came out? 

Peter: I have heard of this book through one channel, and that is, Listener demands that we do this book. 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] So, this is from the intro of the book. It says, "The purpose of The Rules is to make Mr. Right obsessed with having you as his by making yourself seem unattainable. In plain language, we're talking about playing hard to get. Follow the Rules, and he will not just marry you, but feel crazy about you forever. That's what we're promising. Happily ever after, a marriage truly made in heaven." 

Peter: Got it. So, a couple of things. One, it doesn't matter what gender it's directed at. Every dating guide is like, be a little bit unpleasant. 

Michael: Just be shitty. 

Peter: Like, create a weird distance between you and the person you like, and they will want to bridge that gap. And then maintain that sense of desperation in your partner for the rest of his life. 

Michael: [laughs] I was thinking as I was reading the book about a woman reading this and a man reading the game, and just neither one of them ever does anything with each other.

Peter: But the girl is ignoring him, and the guy's just shouting insults from across the room. 

Michael: [laughs] So, as opposed to many of the books, a shocking number of the books that we've covered on this podcast, this book was actually pretty controversial when it came out. 

Peter: [laughs] Yeah, because you can write a whole book about disrespecting women. But if you're talking about manipulating men, all of a sudden, [Michael laughs] we're going to need congressional hearings.

Michael: To give you a flavor of some of the debate around the book, we are going to watch a segment from Dateline

Peter: Oh, fuck yeah. 


[clip begins]

Interviewer: So, you went after it. You made the first move with guys. You asked them out. You even paid for dinner once or twice. But you're still not married. Sherrie Schneider and Ellen Fein say, "It's because you've been playing the dating game all wrong." 

Ellen: First of all, we take the thinking out of dating. 

Sherrie: Yeah. 

Interviewer: You take the thinking out of dating?

Ellen: Basically, there are just some innate things that you must do when you're dating, and that's why they're called Rules. 

Interviewer: And if you follow the Rules-- 

Ellen: You will inevitably have a man who's crazy about you. 

Peter: God, 1990s hair. 

Michael: I know. 

Interviewer: The first time he calls, don't rush to call him back right away. 

Ellen: No, actually, I think-- 

Sherrie: Don't call him back at all. 

Ellen: We really tell women not to call back. 

Peter: Yeah, that's right.

Interviewer: But when you finally do talk to him, you end the phone call first. 

Ellen: Yes, definitely. And no more than 10 minutes, 15 minutes. 

Interviewer: 10 minutes or 15 minutes. 

Ellen: He has to get to know you slowly. Men don't want to get to know you slowly. We force them to. 

Sherrie: And you can talk on the date. 

Interviewer: But end the date first. 

Sherrie: You just look at your watch, you go, "Oh, my God, I have such a big day tomorrow." Don't tell them what you're doing. 

Interviewer: Living the Rules means no more than casual kissing on the first date, holding off from sex for as long as possible. The authors suggest six weeks to eight weeks, never offering to go Dutch on a date, even if you make more money than he does, and to stop dating him altogether if you don't get a romantic gift for your birthday or Valentine's Day. And if you too are a woman who has an easier time getting into MENSA than getting men's attention, the help you need may be just a rental away. 

Interviewer: The authors of The Rules says, "Women should watch Love Story and follow it like the Bible. 

Ellen: She's not that nice. She doesn't chase him. She doesn't pursue him. He likes her.

Interviewer: You know, this rule thing may be about the M word, but it doesn't stand for marriage. What we're talking about here is manipulating man, aren't we? 

Ellen: Ah, yeah. Poor little thing. 



Interviewer: So, I'm kind of like a Rottweiler puppy, ready to be trained. 

Peter: I love them. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Ellen: When you meet the girl you like, you'll call her early. 

Sherrie: You'll never believe it's training though. You're going to enjoy it so much. 

Ellen: You can enjoy it. 

[clip ends]

Peter: Wish we could convey the faces that the interviewer is making. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: So, this is the mid-1990s, which means we're two years into it being socially acceptable for women to approach men in this way. And then all of a sudden, there's a book like, "Don't do that. You will never be happy."

Michael: Yeah. The women are all aggressive crones and it's turning men off. 

Peter: Of course, there are women who will approach strange, cute men. But I just feel that's also very rare even now. 

Michael: Well, they're doing the thing that we see a lot where there's a tiny smidge of social progress. And then they're able to cast the existing conventional wisdom of the status quo as forbidden knowledge. 

Peter: Right. 

Michael: They talk about the Rules that it basically was like a word-of-mouth secret that was transferred, whispered between women, and you couldn't even utter the words like, "Wait for a man to come up to you in the park." But no, this is not a new, bold truth for women. 

Peter: The listeners can't see this, but I also love the enormous shoulder pads [crosstalk] rocking. 

Michael: [laughs] So, you can see the selling point of this strategy throughout this clip. The early parts of the book, they make three major selling arguments for why you should do the Rules. The first is it's about self-esteem. 

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: They say, "Are we telling women to play games? Some people like to focus on the most superficial aspects of the Rules, the ones most likely to promote controversy. But the book is really about self-esteem and setting boundaries. Yes, in some ways, you're playing a game. The game is called Liking Yourself. The game is not accepting just any treatment from a man. The game is being true to your heart." 

Peter: This is also the pitch of the game and shit like that, where it's like, behind this all is just self-confidence. 

Michael: Exactly, and basic biological realities. So, the second selling point of the book is that, "Feminism is great, but it just doesn't work for dating." I'm going to send you an excerpt from this section. 

Peter: "Antifeminist? No, as far as we are concerned, there is no conflict between the Rules in feminism. Rules girls can be feminists. We are feminists. We believe in and are grateful for the advances women have made in the last century. All women have different definitions of feminism, but to us, it is about getting equal pay for equal work. It's about women being authors, astronauts, doctors, lawyers, CEOs, or whatever they want to be, getting promoted, being treated the same, and paid as much as men. But with all due respect, feminism has not changed men or the nature of romantic relationships. Like it or not, men are emotionally and romantically different from women. Men are biologically the aggressor."

Michael: Biologically. 

Peter: "They thrive on challenge, whether it's the stock market, basketball, or football, while women crave security and bonding. This has been true since civilization began." 

Michael: There's nothing we can do about it. 

Peter: I like having their examples, they're like, "The stock market, basketball, and then also football."

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: They couldn't think of a third thing that men do. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: Money, basketball, football. [laughs] 

Michael: It's biology, both sports. 

Peter: Okay. This is actually a relatively articulate explanation of what they're doing, which is like, this is about a practicality. 

Michael: What's weird is that they have this sort of conception of men biologically as, essentially, great apes, like, they just want the thrill of the hunt. But then they also are basing this in a biological understanding of women as so emotional that you can't trust yourself. The whole thing is not letting him know how much you like him. And that's also based on this biological understanding of women. It's like, you are too emotional. So, what you need to do is set a series of policies for yourself that don't let you show him how in love with him you are after the first date right, and how [Peter laughs] you're thinking about him all the time, and you want to call him, but you can't. Don't let yourself do it. 

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: The third selling point of the book, you mentioned this in the Love Languages, where these self-help books, they can't just be like, "Hey, this is one approach to this problem." They immediately go to like, "The Rules are the only way to get a man."

Peter: Right.

Michael: Every single person who doesn't use the Rules is basically in a sham marriage. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: So, this is a couple of paragraphs from that section. 

Peter: "What can you expect to get when you do the Rules? The answer is total adoration from the man of your dreams." 

Michael: Total adoration. 

Peter: "Because he spent so much time trying to get you, you have become so precious to him that he doesn't take you for granted. On the contrary, he thinks of you constantly. He's your best friend. He's hurt if you don't share your problems with him. He even likes to get involved in mundane things, such as picking out a new bed spread. He always wants to do things together. When you do the Rules, you don't have to worry about him chasing other women, even your very attractive neighbor or his bosomy secretary." 

Michael: Bosomy with the shoulder pads. 

Peter: It's 1995, at the end of the day, I suppose.

Michael: The bosomy.

Peter: "He listens when you talk to him." "Okay, sure." "When you walk around the house with very little on, he whistles as though you were a babe on the beach. He notices everything about you except anything bad. If you're 10 pounds overweight, he doesn't think you're overweight. He thinks you're cute. But if your friend is the same size, he thinks she's fat." 

Michael: Why would you throw that last pad in there? 

Peter: He's sexist, but against other women. 

Michael: He treats your friends like shit. 

Peter: Well, that's what you want in a man. A man who sees a woman who looks exactly like you and then complains about her body.

Michael: [laughs] To you. Yes. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: So, this is another theme of the book where they just tuck in straightforward red flag behavior as like, this means that he loves you. 

Peter: Right. [laughs] 

Michael: What is your experience with the dating market, Peter? Were you ever like an online guy? 

Peter: Yeah, I met my wife on Bumble. 

Michael: Oh, did you? 

Peter: I was an apps guy. Yeah. 

Michael: Oh, you were woke. You went on the one where women control the process. 

Peter: It's the opposite of the anti-rules app where women have to talk first. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: What about you? This feels completely different in gay dating. 

Michael: One of the critiques of this book, which I think is unfair, is how heteronormative it is. This is very explicitly a guide for straight women to get a husband. And part of me feels like that's actually defensible, because none of this fucking advice would work in my world. They're like, "Oh, don't talk about sex or anything deep before you go meet up." For gay men, it's like, you need to do a 30-minute negotiation on exactly the sex that you're about to have before getting a coffee. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: So, as usual with these books, the structure is all over the place. There's 35 rules, but they're not arranged in any reasonable structure. And they're super repetitive. So, I am taking apart the Rules and putting it back together to organize this in terms of the stages of dating. So, the first stage of relationship formation is basically like getting ready to date and attracting men. Rule number one is, be a creature unlike any other where they tell you how to become the kind of person who men will approach. 

Peter: Okay. 

Michael: They talk about how basically you should join a gym, you should start dressing differently, kind of standard advice for just to become more conventionally attractive. 

Peter: That creature that is unlike any other, a lady who goes to the gym and dresses a little nice. 

Michael: Yeah, a thin, hot woman. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Yes. So, I am going to give you a couple of paragraphs of very specific advice. 

Peter: Oh.

Michael: I'm sure this was basically the text on your Bumble profile was just like, [Peter laughs] "This is the woman that I want. This is how you should be." 

Peter: "Don't leave the house without wearing makeup. Put lipstick on even when you go jogging. Do everything you possibly can to put your best face forward. If you have a bad nose, get a nose chop."

Michael: A bad nose. 

Peter: "Color gray hair, grow your hair long. Men prefer long hair, something to play with and caress." 

Michael: You don't have to say true after every one of these paragraphs, Peter. I already know you agree. [Peter laughs] I know your people. 

Peter: "Men like women who are neat and clean. They also make better mothers of their children, the kind who don't lose their kids at the beach." That's true. I do, at the end of the day, want a woman who would not lose our kids at the beach.

Michael: Yeah, who will not result in the death of your children. 

Peter: "Now, a word about clothes. If you walk around in any old clothes on a theory that what counts is only what's inside, not your outside, think again. Men like women who wear fashionable, sexy clothes in bright colors. Why not please them? Why not have the largest shoulders you can possibly have?"


Peter: You have to stop editing the quotes as you go through them. 

Peter: "You should have shoulder pads so large you cannot get on a bus."

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: "Don't aspire to the unisex look. Buy feminine looking clothes to wear on the weekends as well as during the work week. Remember that you're dressing for men, not other women. So, always strive to look feminine. Wear a short skirt, but not too short if you have the legs for it."

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: "If you don't, get a leg replacement, ladies."

Michael: Get a leg job. 

Peter: Well, I wouldn't describe this as feminist. That's just me. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: The casualness of like, you have a bad nose, get a nose job. 

Michael: Fix your face. Make your face better. 

Peter: Jesus. 

Michael: We then get to rule number 2, which is, don't talk to a man first and don't ask him to dance. They're very explicit about like they mean this literally. Never talk to a man first. Do not go up to men. They say, even if you're at a nightclub, don't do the thing where you'd stand near a man hoping that he talks to you. Basically, you should act completely distant, and aloof, and unbothered at all times. Only men who aggressively come up to you, those are the men who you should entertain. 

Peter: Only pickup artists should be approaching you. 

Michael: Exactly. This is written before the game, so I will give them a little bit of credit. 

Peter: If you tried this in 2007, this ensures that a man will approach you in a nightclub like juggling and making eye contact. 

Michael: [laughs] Only respond if he has runes. Look at his runes first. What's in his fanny pack? 

Peter: When he shines a black light on, you should be spotless. 

Michael: I think one of the main tensions that they have in this book, and they never really reconcile is they're straddling the line between pretend to be aloof and be aloof. 

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: At one point, they intimate that like, if you go out to a nightclub and a man doesn't hit on you, that's actually totally fine. Have an enjoyable time with your friends. And that's reasonable advice, right? You should not live your life as if you're waiting for somebody to scoop you out of it. But then they also give this very specific advice of, how you should walk around clubs, like head up, shoulders back. Even if a man talks to you, you should be like, "Oh, I'd better mingle after two or three minutes." 

Peter: Right. It's like, the advice is simultaneously don't care and care an enormous amount. 

Michael: I'm going to send you another little excerpt. This is from the part of the book where they talk about how you should basically never initiate anything. You should never invite him to anything, you should never be the one who goes out on a limb for the guy. 

Peter: "Our dentist friend, Pam, initiated a friendship with Robert when they met in dental school several years ago by asking him out to lunch. She spoke to him first. Although they later became lovers and even lived together, he never seemed really in love with her and her insecurity about the relationship never went away. Why would it? She spoke to him first. He recently broke up with her over something trivial. The truth is, he never loved her. Had Pam followed the Rules, she would have never spoken to Robert or initiated anything in the first place. Had she followed the Rules, she might have met someone else who truly wanted her. She would not have wasted time." 

Michael: You can see how they're straddling this line between like, yeah, don't spend time with people who don't treat you well. But also, it's like, she invited him to lunch and that set the tenor for the entire rest of the year's long relationship. 

Peter: They're also framing it as if like, if she were following the Rules, she would have found another guy who cared about her. But the actual message seems to be, if she was following the Rules, she could have manipulated Robert into loving her somehow.

Michael: Exactly. [laughs] And also, this is also her fault too. 

Peter: Right. 

Michael: So, this is the thesis statement of this section of the book where they're talking about how to attract men, how to get men attracted to you. We're going to dig into this a little bit. So, they say, "It's easy to rationalize women's aggressive behavior in this day and age. Unlike years ago, when women met men at dances and coming out parties and simply waited for one to pick them out of the crowd and start a conversation, today, many women are accountants, doctors, lawyers, dentists, and in management positions. They work with men for men and men work for them. But even if you're making the same amount of money as a man you're interested in, he must bring up lunch. 

The premise of The Rules is that we never make anything happen, that we trust in the natural order of things, namely that man pursues women. If he likes you, he'll always approach you. It's hard to accept that. We know. It's also hard waiting for the right one, the one who talks to you first, calls, and basically does most of the work in the beginning of the relationship, because he must have you."

Peter: [sighs] The natural order of things. 

Michael: The natural order of things. 

Peter: This is like a really common trope where some social-- The social norm in 1995 is that it's increasingly more accepted for women to approach men, right?

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: But they still frame it as if there is a natural order. The natural order was the one that emerged from the social norms of the 1950s or whatever, for some reason. That one's natural. The modern one is somehow a bastardization of the perfect order that we had previously achieved. 

Michael: Peter, what I hear you saying is, "Mike, do you want to tediously explain to me the history of dating norms, because you read another book for this podcast?" 

Peter: Hmm.

Michael: That's what I'm hearing you saying. 

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: And the answer is yes, Peter. The answer is yes. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: So, I want to zoom in on this fascinating phrase that they use. It's easy to rationalize women's aggressive behavior in this day and age. So, for this episode, I read an extremely interesting book called From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth Century America by Beth Bailey. 

Peter: Love that title. 

Michael: The place we're going to start is with an anecdote from the book that was allegedly uproarious. This is a story that went around in the 1920s. She says, "One day," the story goes, "a young man asked a city girl if he might call on her. We know nothing else about the man or the girl, only that when he arrived, she had her hat on." This is a hilarious, knee slapping story. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: What this is getting at is the slow shift from the previous norms around dating, which were all based on this idea of gentlemen callers, that's where we get that term. All of the dating basically happened in the private sphere. So, if a girl liked you, she would invite you over to her house and then you'd hang out with her, basically in her living room. As opposed to later dating norms, it was mostly controlled by women. So, it was often the mothers that were doing this, it was the girls themselves who were deciding which boys they were going to invite over. She quotes an advice column from 1909 where a boy writes in and he's like, "I really like this girl. Can I ask her out?" And the Ann Landers type answer is like, "No, come on, you've got to wait for her to do it." [Peter laughs] If you want her to invite you over, you can sneak to one of her friends and be like, "Hey, can you ask Lucy to ask me over?" But you could never just declare interest in a girl. 

Peter: You got to get runes, and then make her want to invite you over. 

Michael: [laughs] Knock and leave runes. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: So, what then starts happening, starting in the 1880s with industrialization, women start entering the workforce. They're exposed to many more men independently of their parents. People are also moving into cities where they have much less living space and they just can't have people over. We also get the invention and the mass adoption of the automobile. There was massive decades' long moral panic about young people having access to cars, because that meant that they would have private space just with each other, right? They would have a way of getting to places away from the watchful eyes of their parents, and also a place to have sex, which is how a lot of people lost their virginity in the early 1900s. 

Peter: Yeah.

Michael: Another really big one is the invention of mass media. We get the penny press, we get large circulation magazines, many of which are magazines for women. We also get radio, and TV, and Hollywood, which start establishing the script for normal dating, like, dinner in a movie. This takes place over 60 years. It's a slow and stuttering process. You don't want to say that anything is this kind of binary shift. But over time, what this does is it, it shifts dating from a private activity that takes place in people's homes to a public activity that is happening in restaurants. It also becomes much more controlled by men. 

She says in the book, "The conventions that grew to govern dating codified women's inequality and ratified men's power. Men asked women out. Women were condemned as aggressive if they expressed interests in a man too directly. Men paid for everything, but often with the implication that women owed sexual favors in return. The dating system required men to always assume control, and women act as men's dependents." So, apparently, if a man couldn't afford to take a woman out, she would discreetly give him money before the date, like slip him a little bit of cash so he could take her out and pay on the date and maintain this theater of, "Oh, I'll get the check."

Peter: Wow. Okay.

Michael: So, to return to the hat anecdote, the reason why it is allegedly funny is that the man goes over to her house expecting they're going to stay in in the parlor and talk and she has a hat on indicating she is expecting to go out. Like, these two things were existing at the same time. 

Peter: Fellows, don't you hate it when you show up to her front porch and she's wearing a hat? 

Michael: But then, what's so interesting is, obviously, all of these norms are completely fucking fake. There's nothing biological about dinner in a movie. You could easily go on a walk for your first date. 

Peter: This is something you hear in conservative political discussions too, right?

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Peter: Where they're talking about returning to a natural order by doing X, Y, and Z, and it's like, "There is no fucking natural order."

Michael: Yeah. It's all fake. 

Peter: "All of these norms are constantly evolving and shifting." 

Michael: Exactly. The previous order was also fake. 

Peter: Actually, I disagree. The one true God given order is where you have to hang out with her parents in a parlor, [Michael laughs] texting my boys like, "I'm crushing it." They're giving me more tea. 

Michael: What's also really interesting about the creation of these totally fake norms is that people immediately start chalking them up to biology. 

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: In the book, she says, "Contrast these strictures with advice on dating etiquette from the 1940s and 1950s. An advice book for men and women warns that girls who try to usurp the right of boys to choose their own dates will ruin a good dating career. Fair or not, it's the way of life. From the Stone Age, when men chased and captured their women, comes the yen of a boy to do the pursuing. You will control your impatience, therefore, and respect the time-honored custom of boys to take the first step." 

Peter: So, this is all about honoring a literally ancient time when men captured and presumably raped women? That's the norm we're trying to adhere to implicitly here?

Michael: When life expectancy was 27. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: She points out in the book that even in the 1940s and 1950s, people would write columns being like, "This is fake. In living memory, we didn't have this. This is not how our moms dated." On some level, it's a little bit obvious that, yeah, shit that they're saying in The Rules in 1995 is like, "Yeah, horrific dating advice to women in the 1940s and 1950s." But I read another really interesting article called The more things change … The Rules and late eighteenth‐century conduct books for women by Barbara Darby, who says, "This whole thing of women these days are too aggressive.' People were literally saying this in the 1770s. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: She quotes letters from Erasmus Darwin. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: We're basically in this constant state of fretting about women these days, right? They're just too aggressive.

Peter: And envisioning an era where everyone was just like, "A little more prim and proper and upright."

Michael: Return with a V. Yes. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: So, the next section of the book is about how to act on the first date. How should you behave to ensure that you get to the second date with this gentleman? 

Peter: Okay.

Michael: I am going to send you some of their tips and tricks. It's too late for you, but it's not too late for the ladies out there. 

Peter: "Now that you look the part, you must act the part. Men like women. Don't act like a man, even if you are head of your own company. Let him open the door. Be feminine. Don't tell sarcastic jokes."

Michael: Don't be sarcastic. 

Peter: "Don't be a loud, knee-slapping, hysterically funny girl. This is okay when you're alone with your girlfriends. But when you're with a man, you be quiet and mysterious, act ladylike, cross your legs and smile. Don't talk so much. Wear black sheer stockings and hike up your skirt to entice the opposite sex. You might feel offended by these suggestions and argue that this will suppress your intelligence or vivacious personality. You may feel that you won't be able to be yourself, but men will love it."

Michael: Men love it when you're not funny. 

Peter: Yeah, you might think that I'm suppressing your personality, but what if I told you men would like it? 

Michael: Yeah, but instrumentally, it will be effective. 

Peter: There's a weird thing here where it's like, "How are you setting yourself apart as like a human being," right? 

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: If every woman is just like black stockings, not talking much, acting mysterious, what's your individual appeal? 

Michael: This is such a fascinating theme in the book too, where they start-- They return to this over and over again this idea of being a creature unlike any other. But then you're turning yourself into this very generic, pliant, ha-ha-ham great joke, Steve. They just don't really have any of your own personality. 

Peter: Steve, you are absolutely hilarious. 

Michael: Unbelievable, Steve. Sorry if I was sarcastic back then. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: We both did Elizabeth Holmes voices for them. 

Peter: Don't tell sarcastic jokes. It's just such bad advice to me personally,-

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: -because it's such a green flag for me if someone is just a little bit sarcastic like that. If she just sat there waiting for me to talk, I would absolutely loathe the whole date. 

Michael: Yeah. Well, you were also looking for someone who you like. 

Peter: Right. [laughs] 

Michael: None of this advice is about trying to find somebody you like.

Peter: Right. Or, just presenting as someone who a guy is interested in, but not a fully formed human being, more as like this ethereal creature that they want to get closer to because they don't understand it, but it seems sexy. 

Michael: Yeah. They want you to be a woman who fails the Bechdel test. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I wanted to ask you about this aspect of it too. Another piece of advice they give, which, as a gay person is super fucking baffling, but maybe there's some wisdom in this. So, they say, "Don't be too serious, controlling, or wifey. Don't mention the M word, not even to mention that your brother recently got married."

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Then, they say in various other chapters, they say, "Don't mention words like marriage, wedding, kids, or the future. Those are subjects for him to bring up. He must take the lead." They also say, "On dates or in phone conversations, don't use the words nurturing, relationships, bonding, or talking about getting your needs met. You don't want to sound like a walking relationship book. In the early stages of dating, staying light is essential." Do you have this magic word thing? I think it will be so weird. If I was at a friend's wedding last weekend and I was on a date. He's like, "What'd you do last weekend?" I was like, "[gasps] I was with friends."

Peter: I was sitting in a smoky room [Michael laughs] wearing a small black dress and not speaking with anyone. You know, this is bizarre. 

Michael: Would you even notice if somebody said that, "Oh, I went to my friend's wedding." 

Peter: No. 

Michael: Oh, she knows what weddings are. 

Peter: Do not say nurturing. It will only make them think of being nurtured. 

Michael: There's a very good essay by Taffy Brodesser-Akner in 2019 talking about how she used the Rules when she was younger. A lot of women, I think, fell for this stuff. I think this was something that was often passed down from mothers to daughters, it seems, in the 1990s. This book actually casts a very long shadow. Her insight after pretending to be this person, and obviously it not working. And then eventually she was herself and met a guy. She says, "The problem with the Rules isn't that it shouldn't need to exist, though yes. The problem is that if you are someone who needs them, you are probably incapable of following them. A lot of this advice is basically just be a different person."

Peter: Right. 

Michael: First of all, people can't really do this on any long-term basis. And secondly, what is the point of that? Even if the person loves you, they love someone who isn't you. 

Peter: I almost feel like with books like this, you mentioned how specific these Rules are. It feels like the operation of that is just to make it such that no person could actually follow them, such that any failure can just be chalked up to the failure, to adhere to the Rules. 

Michael: And also, a lot of this stuff is very qualitative, like, be funny, but not too funny. 

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: It's like, how do you even follow a rule? 

Peter: Oh, I was too funny. I made that sarcastic remark. 

Michael: So, the next section of the book is about dates two through five, like, this early dating stage where you're still not totally sure if you like each other, but you're seeing more of each other. 

Peter: We're still two years from having sex. 

Michael: [laughs] So, this is really the part of the book where it really tips from, whatever, a little bit of flexibility into full on just inconsiderate and manipulative behavior. So, rule five is, don't call him and rarely return his calls. Rule six is always end the phone call first. They recommend [Peter laughs] getting a literal timer, because it's the time before smartphones, so you set an actual kitchen timer for 10 minutes. I guess when it dings-- I don't know how he's not going to hear the ding. But when it dings, you're supposed to say something vague of, "Oh, got to go," and just get off the phone really quickly. Again, you should always leave him wanting more?

Peter: Every phone call ends with like, "My pie is ready. Got to go."

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: I wonder how much of this is, from a time when if you were dating, you would have one person you were interested in and that was it. Because you could only meet people at events and shit like that. Now if you're on Bumble, you're messaging with five people at once. If one of them is showing markedly less interest, they just fall off the map. 

Michael: I do think that an unfair criticism of this book would be to hold it to the standards of now, when the paradigm of dating has actually shifted a lot. 

Peter: Yeah.

Michael: A huge amount of the book is about answering machine etiquette, and it would be fun to dunk on that. 


Michael: But also, whatever. Of course, it's written with that in mind. That's the way that people were dating at the time. 

Peter: Yeah.

Michael: But they've updated the book. So, there's the Rules for online dating and there's not your mother's Rules, which is really silly because it's actually your grandmother's Rules. But in the modern iterations of this, they say you should always wait four hours before texting back. Obviously, you should never message a guy under any circumstances. Don't leave a star or take a note or whatever they have on these websites. 

Peter: Bumble, the app for dumb asses.

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: Ladies, get on Hinge. 

Michael: They're actually very anti-Bumble, like very explicitly. I saw a thing they did on CNN. 

Peter: I love that.

Michael: They say, you should wait 24 hours to respond to any email that you get on a dating website as well. So, it's the same kind of thing, even though we don't really call each other anymore. 

Peter: Okay. 

Michael: Rule eight is don't accept a Saturday night date. After Wednesday, they explicitly say that if you don't have plans on Friday or Saturday, you shouldn't answer the phone. And if you have roommates or whatever, then they should be like, "Oh, she's not here," but not give any more reason. So, you're explicitly lying. 

Peter: You're also immiserating yourself. 

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: [laughs] You're not even having fun on Fridays and Saturdays anymore. 

Michael: Rule 12 is always end the date first. 

Peter: [laughs] Got to go. 

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: [laughs] Imagine dating someone who's just constantly hanging up on you and just running out of dates, and you're like, "Wow, she is a beautiful and mysterious woman."

Michael: Some of this stuff is true sociopathy. They have a list of tips. One of them is, when he asks you out, silently count to five before saying yes, it will make him nervous. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: And that's good. Then this one is so fucking cold. It's when walking down the street, drop his hand first, ever so slightly. 

Peter: Oh, my God. 


Michael: It's just mean. 

Peter: There were times when I was reading The Game where you're reading the stories of these men, and they have gamified every component of their relationship with women to the point where they pretty clearly no longer enjoy it for what it actually is. 

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: That's what this feels like too. It's like, every second of your experience with the person that you're trying to form a relationship with is gamified and turned into something that's inherently unpleasant. It ends up asking the question like, what are you looking to gain out of this? Is this actually making you happy? The same thing with the game. Is this just a display of dominance over the other person and that's the enjoyment you get out of it? Because clearly, you're not getting any genuine feelings of affection out of it. 

Michael: It's also not clear to me remotely how effective it would be. So, we're going to read another one of their little examples.

Peter: Okay. "Act independent, so that he doesn't feel that you're expecting him to take care of you. That's as true on the first date as the 50th. Jill remembers that when she went bed shopping for herself with Bruce, her boyfriend of six months, she deliberately bought a single bed rather than a queen's size."

Michael: An adult in a single bed. 

Peter: "It killed her to have to do this, as she was hoping he was the one and knew if they were going to get engaged and married, she would have no use for the bed. But the fold-out couch she'd been sleeping on was broken. Rather than consulting Bruce on the bed purchase, asking him what kind of bed he liked and what size he liked as if to suggest this might be the bed they would be sharing one day, she bought the single bed as if she had no intention of getting married soon. It was important not to let Bruce know that she was buying a bed with him in mind."

Michael: So, you're in the sixth month of a relationship. 

Peter: This is self-immiseration. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: I bought a bed covered in needles and nails to let him know that he was not welcome. 

Michael: [laughs] Also, by the sixth month, isn't he sleeping over sometimes? 

Peter: Right.

Michael: Wouldn't you just want to have a bed that you can both fucking fit in? 

Peter: So, you are ruining your life for this fucking shit, like, just sleeping in a fucking race car bed like a child because the man can't possibly fit in it.

Michael: [laughs] One of the weirdest threads of research for this episode, because we look at these books and you always want to do a little bit research to be like, "Okay, is the central premise of this book true?"

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: I was like, "I guess I have to google, 'does playing hard to get work,'" even though that's ultimately an unanswerable question.

Peter: Yeah. It means so many things, right? 

Michael: Yeah. But it turns out there's an entire body of research on this. This is a question that people have investigated since the 1970s, like, what dating strategies actually work? And so, a fairly basic principle of human relationships is reciprocity. If there's a new coworker at your job and you find out that the new guy Bob and HR likes me, you're more likely to like him back. 

Peter: Sure. 

Michael: This is like a fairly well-established principle. It's not clear if it applies to dating because just the stakes of dating are much higher. You're looking for a soulmate, not just someone to have casual conversations with. So, there's been various attempts to figure out whether this reciprocal uncertainty principle applies in dating. Most of the research, honestly, is total garbage. A lot of it is just surveys. They're like, "Guys, do you like it when a woman is passive or when she's aggressive?" And so, most people, men and women, say that they like being pursued. I think, because it's risky to pursue someone else emotionally, because if you're like, "Hey, I like you," and they're like, "Ah, I don't really like you back," it hurts. 

Peter: I like it when a girl who has never made a joke is always leaving early and hanging up on me. 

Michael: So, there's also various attempts to measure this with laboratory methods. They do this thing where they show women a bunch of Facebook, fake Facebook profiles of dudes, and they're like, "This is Jeff, and he really likes you." And like, "This is Steve, and he doesn't like you." Like, "Which one do you want to go on a date with?" And that yields some fairly interesting results, but it's so fake. You don't really have to go on dates with these guys. And people know they're in a study, and it is mostly college sophomores. 

Peter: Has anyone ever done a controlled study involving the timing of text responses or something like that? 

Michael: Well, there is a meta-analysis that looked at 18 studies, like, every study that has been done on this. It's very much in line with everything that we always say on this show that basically, it works on some people and doesn't work on others. Some people want to reduce uncertainty. People who have more anxious personalities, they really don't like this play hard to get stuff. And most of them will just give up, because they're like, "Well, there's people that I know like me, and I'm not going to waste my time on someone who I can't tell. That's just irritating to me." And then there's other people who really do have this thrill of the hunt thing, and they really like the idea of winning somebody over. 

Michael: There's also, all the research indicates that's not gendered at all that basically, once you know that somebody is an option, you immediately start looking at like, "Well, what are my other options?"

Peter: Right. My wife tries to talk to me every day and it's like, "Come on, where's the excitement?"

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: "You should be ignoring me for weeks at a time." 

Michael: There's a good quote from one of the authors of this meta-analysis. She says, "My work shows that playing hard to get may only be attractive to target partners, if optimal levels of perceived uncertainty and difficulty are achieved. In other words, individuals who are too easy to get or too hard to get are perceived as less attractive than individuals who are moderately difficult to attract and moderately uncertain about their interest toward the target partner." All of these dating books that have all these strategic things of like, how long to wait after texting, whatever, all of them are making the same mistake as nudge where they're favoring structural elements over fundamentals. 

Ultimately, this mostly comes down to whether you're attracted to somebody, and whether you enjoy spending time with them. If someone is hot and you're clicking on the dates, whether they wait 15 minutes or four hours to send a text back, does that really matter? If you're not attracted to them and you don't really like hanging out with them, can they really convince you to like them by being withholding? 

As she says in her quote, they're like being too eager like, "I love you after the first date." Obviously, that's extreme. 

Peter: It's weird. 

Michael: And also, playing too hard to get. People are eventually just going to lose fucking interest, if you're not showing any reciprocation. But there's actually a very wide window within those of just like, "Yeah, it seems like they like me, but they're not coming on too strong, they're not coming on too weak."

Peter: It seems like what you're saying is that there's this research showing that there is a broad spectrum of acceptable dating behavior. But it feels like basically, always ending dates and never making jokes and hanging up on the guy. It feels like that's probably outside of that acceptable spectrum. 

Michael: Yeah. One thing I kept thinking as I was reading this was like, I try to conduct my interpersonal relationships, some set of ethics and morals. If I was seeing somebody who never reciprocated my invitations, never texted me back was constantly ending dates, ending phone calls. I'd be like, "This is a person who doesn't like me, and they're trying to spare my feelings or there's some reason they don't want to tell me that" as basic consideration to this other human being. I really need to stop making invitations. 

Peter: Right. By the logic that they're putting forward, men should be attracted to just all the various women in their lives that pay them no mind at all. 

Michael: Exactly. [laughs] This is what it's entrenching is this idea that you should wear a woman down, because these signals of you liking someone in this fucking book are also the signals of not liking someone. [laughs] 

Peter: Right. This is something that I grew up hearing as dating advice that girls can't show interest. The conclusion you draw from that is like, "You need to sort of press the issue constantly," which ends up just resulting in anything from women's physical and emotional space being invaded to sexual assault. All of these terrible things are downstream of this. 

Michael: So much of this advice seems designed to attract a guy that adheres to every toxic gender norm imaginable. 

He's picking you up in public. He's asking you to dance. He keeps pursuing you when you give him no indication that you're attracted to him. 

Peter: [laughs] Right.

Michael: This is like bait to the fucking worst men and the worst tendencies of men. 

Peter: This is my wife. She's actually never spoken to me. 

Michael: Yeah, she openly hates me at all times. 

Peter: So, this is literally part of the fucking dentist system and always sunny. Your aloofness implies that you are of immense value. 

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: Oh, she is off in the corner not talking to anyone. She must be so cool. 

Michael: Right.

Peter: You can see that working in the micro. Once you are engaged in a relationship with another person, it immediately becomes sociopathic. 

Michael: This is the next stage of relationships in the book that we're going to talk about. We have not gotten to the bad parts of the book yet, Peter. 

Peter: Oh, God. 

Michael: The next section of the book is about, once you're in a long-term relationship, you're on the runway to marriage, we get to rule 24, don't open up too fast. 

Peter: Okay. Yeah. 

Michael: Here's this. 

Peter: "Men must always remember you as mysterious on the first three dates. Their initial impression tends to go a long way. If and when things get serious, you can casually tell him about your difficult childhood and some of your fears. Even then, tell him in an easy, short, simple way. Don't be dramatic about your past. Don't go into long details. Don't be burdensome." 

Michael: Don't burden him with your memories and thoughts. 

Peter: "Let's say you are a recovering alcoholic. He takes you out for a drink on your first date and to dinner on the second. He notices you only ordered club soda both times. He's about to order a bottle of wine and wants to know if you'll join him. Don't say, 'No, I never drink. I hit a terrible bottom with drugs and alcohol two years ago, and now I'm sober in AA.' Just say, 'No thanks and smile.' After a couple of months when he's madly in love with you and you feel that he would not judge you for your drinking problem, you can tell him something like, 'I used to drink a lot in college. It really made me sick. Now I'm in AA and I don't drink anymore. I feel better.' Then smile and go on to other more pleasant conversations." 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: Oh, my God.

Michael: You can't believe it's real. 

Peter: Oh, God.

Michael: You're like, "Did Mike add that last part?"

Peter: Right. She's like, "Anyway, did you see Friends last night?" He's like, "Wait."

Michael: Exactly. 

Peter: [laughs] Also, this guy has never been like, "So, do you not drink? Come on. These aren't real human dynamics."

Michael: The idea that you wouldn't want to tell somebody, like a deep, important, serious part of yourself on the first couple of dates makes total sense to me. Fair enough. 

Peter: Yeah, sure.

Michael: But what's fascinating to me is, they say, even when a couple months has gone by, even then, tell them in a breezy way.

Peter: Right. Never show emotional vulnerability. That's a woman who doesn't get married. 

Michael: So, in the section where they're talking about getting into a real relationship, they say, "Now you can show more of yourself. You can talk about your feelings as long as you don't get too heavy or play therapist or mother. Exhibit warmth, charm, and heart. If his dog died or his football team lost, express sympathy."

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: We're back to football. 

Peter: The things that make boys sad. 

Michael: "Look into his eyes, be attentive, and a good listener, so that he knows you're a caring human being, a person who would make a supportive wife. Don't give him the third degree about past relationships. It's none of your business. Don't overwhelm him with your career triumphs. Try to let him shine. Don't plague him with your neuroses. Remember, you won't have to keep such things to yourself forever. Just for the first few months until he says he's in love with you." And then it ends with the bleakest fucking sentence I've ever heard. They say, "Eventually, you will become more of yourself."

Peter: Oh, no. Oh, my God. 

Michael: Months. You're waiting months. 

Peter: And then he's like, "I love you." She slowly turns to him in a horror movie and a creepy smile overtakes her face and she's like, "I'm an alcoholic." 

Michael: [laughs] They do have one of the weirdest fucking sections is they have one of the Rules is about never move in with him first. 

Peter: No.

Michael: That's just not even conceptually offensive to me. That's just logistically offensive. You should know his dishes habits before you decide to spend the rest of your life with somebody. But the whole basis for it is basically like, "Well, you might move in with him and then he won't like you anymore." They say, "Oh, he might not like the way you slurp your coffee or how you look in the mornings."

Peter: Yeah, that's the whole point of moving in with someone. 

Michael: Yeah, you're going to do it when you get married. You said reading Thomas Friedman, you're like, "Does he understand metaphors?" This whole book, I was like, "Do these people understand relationships? What is the point of doing this?" 

Peter: It's also starting to feel like they believe that you will cross a threshold where he is functionally trapped. And so, then you can start letting all this stuff out and it will no longer matter because he can't exit. But if your actual fear is like that your real personality and real history and real life will be viscerally unappealing to this man, then you're not going to escape that by holding it in. 

Michael: This entire section of the book of like, once you're in a relationship is mostly about manipulating him into proposing to you. 

Peter: Oh, my God. 

Michael: So, this is the section where they talk about how to get him to finally pop the question. 

Peter: "In general, the way to get a man to ask you to marry him in a reasonable amount of time is not to live with him before you're engaged or married and to continue to see him only three times a week, even though by this time you want to be inseparable."

Michael: Three times a week. 

Peter: "If that doesn't work, you might have to shake things up a little bit. Go away for a weekend with a girlfriend, cancel a Saturday night date, get very busy at work, mention that you are renewing your apartment lease and be mysterious about your activities.

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: Remember, men don't necessarily propose when you're cuddled up on the couch watching a rented video but do so when they're afraid of losing you."

Michael: Literally just straightforward manipulate his emotions. 

Peter: This is a lifelong partnership. You are also stuck with this guy who you have manipulated into marriage, theoretically, for the rest of your life. 

Michael: They specifically say you shouldn't tell him that you're pulling away because you're frustrated that he's not proposing to you.

Peter: Well, of course not. 

Michael: You'd just be like, "Just work is busy."

Peter: Right. This isn't like, "Oh, I'm not telling him I have IBS on my first date." 

Michael: [laughs] Exactly.

Peter: This is just like psychotic behavior. I will say, there is one good piece of advice in this. Be mysterious about your activities. It's like, "Oh, where are you going?" "Places with my friends."

Michael: They do actually say numerous times like, "You should never give him any details." He's like, "Oh, can you hang out this Saturday?" And you're just like, "No."

Peter: You want your behavior to be indistinguishable from someone who has a second family.

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: Every time when we're reading books like this, all I can think is like, you are not happy. No one who's doing this is happy. 

Michael: [laughs] This is exactly where we've ended up, Peter. This is the destination. I'm sending you the longest excerpt so far. This is from another weird thing about this book is they don't seem to understand what a rule is. So, rule 33 is do the Rules, and you'll live happily ever after. 

Peter: [laughs] Okay.

Michael: So, they're talking about, like, what are the benefits? Sometimes, it's hard to not call this man back or to be withholding constantly. What can you do to keep the discipline going? How do you motivate yourself? So, they then list all of the benefits of doing the Rules, everything you're going to get if you continue on this plan. So, here is the list.

Peter: "The biggest payoff first. He wants to marry you. When you are seated at a booth in a restaurant, he slides over and sits next to you. Sitting opposite you is just too far away when he's truly in love."

Michael: Not so bad so far. 

Peter: "He sends you roses after you have sex-

Michael: Every single time.

Peter: -when your rose budget is $25,000 a year."

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: "He writes love notes or poetry for you and tapes them on the refrigerator door. He finds your idiosyncrasies harmless rather than annoying. He gives you little presents, jewelry, and flowers on every possible occasion. He gets involved in every aspect of your life. You don't bore him. If you call him at work, he'll always want to talk to you, even if he's busy. He calls you from work a lot. He doesn't like to work late, because he wants to see more of you. When you have a cold or become ill, he still wants to be with you. He gets angry when you don't pay attention to him. He doesn't ignore you. He's always walking into whatever room you're in. You are never a football widow. He wants to do everything with you." Oh, God, this is bleak. "He always wants the phone number of where you are so he can get in touch with you, even though you're not telling him where you're going."

Michael: Even though he doesn't know, "I'm busy this weekend."

Peter: "He doesn't like it when you go to bachelorette parties." [laughs] 

Michael: Great signs. 

Peter: Oh, God. 

Michael: There are like 10 bullet points in here, and there's at least 14 red flags. 

Peter: Some of this stuff is perfectly fine. Some of it is a baseline expectation. When you have a cold or become ill, he still wants to be with you. It's like, you're married. [laughs]  

Michael: We're both adults. [laughs] 

Peter: No one's like this. He gets angry when you don't pay attention to. All right, this is the worst paragraph, like, the worst bullet. 

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: He gets angry when you don't pay attention to him. He doesn't ignore you. He's always walking into whatever room you're in. [laughs] This is my nightmare partner. I'm someone who needs alone time, and the idea of a partner who's just constantly barging into the room I'm in is genuinely my version of hell. 

Michael: Still fine, Peter? You still fine? You okay in there, Peter? What's happening in your cave? 

Peter: Oh, God, man, this is unhinged. 

Michael: The thing that I kept thinking in this section, I mean, this is the perfect encapsulation, but throughout the book is that the whole paradigm here is just a child's understanding of what love is. You have this man who's worshipping the ground you walk on. He's writing you poetry. He's constantly giving you gifts. But also, he gets jealous when you're away from him. He's checking in on you all the time. He's emotionally volatile. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: There's also this weird thing where in the book they keep saying stuff of like, "We all know when you go on the first date, you're naming your children together in your head, but don't show it to him."

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: There's this weird normalization of infatuation. Again, the authors are 36 and 38 when this book is published. It reads like it's like a nine-year-old who's been raised in Disney movies.

Peter: The game is this in a different way, but it's just like the complete dehumanization of the other person. 

Michael: Totally. 

Peter: Like, what's a good man? A good man is someone who is obsessed with you. 

Michael: There's also that this part, I mean, the whole book made me so sad. But especially this part made me sad. They drop in that the Rules can be useful in other parts of your life too. So, they say. "Another reason to do the Rules is so that men, women, bosses and parents treat us well. When we don't do the Rules, we inevitably get hurt. When we do the Rules, we find out who really loves us." 

Peter: Oh, no. Why did you have to make me sad, Michael? 

Michael: It makes me so sad. 

Peter: Oh, God, that is a huge bummer. 

Michael: It's this total inversion of the kind of, this is for self-esteem and confidence message that they start the book with. This isn't the prescription of someone who's confident. This is the prescription of someone who's really scared and who's so afraid of forming adult relationships with someone that everything is about holding yourself at a distance from other people and never risking anyone getting to know you and like, "Oh, I just want to keep it light. I tell you I'm a recovering alcoholic, but not in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable." 

Peter: Right. They're pursuing love in this completely detached abstract where it is missing the part of it that's fulfilling, like, the part of it that is good and reducing it to someone else is paying constant attention to me. 

Michael: Yeah, which is not love. That's infatuation. 

Peter: All right. It's almost less than an infatuation, right?

Michael: [laughs] It's like, I'm someone's pet. 

Peter: Right. Or vice versa. 

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: Yeah. There's just so little in this about how to have a healthy and fulfilling dynamic with another human being. 

Michael: The only saving grace of this part, because I'm like, "How could a 36-year-old and a 38-year-old write like this? How could you think this?" And I'm like, "Well, maybe they're just doing this cynically, [laughs] and they're telling women what they think women want to hear," but that's also maybe worse. It's definitely not better. [laughs] 

Peter: Maybe we'll talk about this later. But was there any coverage of this that was like concerned men upset about the premise.

Michael: This is not fucking true. But a lot of men say that the game was a response to the Rules. It's like, "Well, if women are going to play games, then we're going to play games back."

Peter: Objectively, not true. 

Michael: Men tricked women into sex for a lot longer than 1995.

Peter: Yeah, literally forever. 

Michael: So, it's not true. But it is a narrative that I think was very convenient for men. It's like they're all conniving. We can't trust anything they say. We can't trust the way that they look, because they're wearing makeup, et cetera. 

Peter: To be fair, these women are wearing makeup while jogging. 

Michael: [laughs] True sociopaths. Do you want to see the bad parts, Peter? 

Peter: Of course, I want to see the bad parts. That's why I'm here. 

Michael: All right. Here's as bad as it gets. This is toward the end. So, this is right after they say, what you will get if you follow the Rules. This is where they talk about what you won't get. 

Peter: "Still another incentive for doing the Rules is what you won't get. No messy divorce. He'll take care of you when you're old. He really, really loves you. A Rules marriage is forever. No outside counseling. He has no interest in couples therapy," that thing that guys always want to go to.

Michael: Exactly. [laughs] 

Peter: "When you do the Rules, he doesn't have big issues with you. He doesn't wish you were this, that, or different. His love for you is unconditional. No physical abuse. When you do the Rules, he treats you like a fragile, delicate flower. He cups your face, rubs your back when you've had a hard day, and strokes your hair as if it were silk. You don't have to worry about being battered."

Michael: This is not me taking this out of context to dunk. They mention this numerous times. 

Peter: What the fuck? 

Michael: Later, they say, "Abuse doesn't happen in a Rules relationship, because when you play hard to get and he works like hell to get you, he thinks you're the most beautiful, wonderful woman in the world, even if you're not. He treats you like a precious jewel." 

Peter: This is fucked up. 

Michael: It's super fucked up, dude. 

Peter: This is one of those things where I feel like we shouldn't have to debunk it, per se, but I will do it for the sake of it. 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: Abusive people are not abusive, because they don't love you enough or some weird shit like that. You can't craft a certain type of love that will resist abuse. The other part of this is that the last excerpt we read was like, he will get angry when you don't pay attention to him. I'm sorry, but these things don't comport. 

Michael: In the rule where they talk about how you're not supposed to have sex with him on the first date, they say, like, "Oh, he might try to invite you to his house or something, and you'll say no." And they're like, "Well, he might get angry that you're not giving him sex." They say, "But don't worry. Anger indicates interest, and you might be surprised for he will probably call you again."

Peter: Jesus. 

Michael: They say this numerous times that if he's mad about all these arbitrary fucking rules like, "Why didn't you call me? I've been calling you all week." It just means he likes you. 

Michael: Also, the prior bullet, they get to like the, "Oh, he won't physically abuse you bullet, and you forget that the prior one was also just absurd." Like, "Oh, you won't need counseling because his love for you will be unconditional." 

Michael: [laughs] No.

Peter: First of all, no, you have created the conditions of his love. The whole book is about manufacturing the conditions where he loves you. It's not unconditional. 

Michael: Oh, there's no such thing as unconditional love. It's fine. 

Peter: Right. It's a silly concept. When people say unconditional love, what they mean is like, he loves you even though you have diarrhea. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: It's not like you can be whatever type of human being you want to be. But yeah, the whole book is premised on creating a fake persona that he will fall in love with. So, you can't then say, "Oh, he loves you for you."

Michael: This is also the part of the book where you realize that this is not a dating guide. They want you to do this forever.

Peter: Right.

Michael: Rule 21, don't tell him what to do. Rule 22, let him take the lead. Rule 23, don't expect a man to change or try to change him. 

Peter: What?

Michael: Rule 44, even if you're engaged or married, you still need the Rules. Starting right now, don't call him, don't beep him, and don't stay on the phone for more than 10 minutes when he calls you. Don't initiate sex, even if he want it badly. Let him be the man, the aggressor in the bedroom. 

Peter: A lifetime of misery. 

Michael: A lifetime. 

Peter: A lifetime. I also don't understand how these align. There was a thing that's like, you won't be a football widow.

Michael: Right.

Peter: Then it's like, "Actually, you're going to do whatever he wants to do to create less friction in his life."

Michael: Yeah. It's not funny, but it's kind of funny. They have this whole thing of like, "Learn to compromise." And then they're like, "He likes scary movies and you like romantic movies. Maybe you'll learn to enjoy the scary movies after all."

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Well, that's not compromising. You're just giving him his way. 

Peter: You are trying at all times to emulate a hot mannequin.

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: He's talking to you, and you're not saying anything back, and then you will eventually get married, and he's just carrying you around to football games. 

Michael: This is another thing that just made me so fucking sad. We've talked about these other bestselling self-help books from the 1990s. They're just fucking garbage. It's like, they pretend to be a communication guide for couples. And then Men Are from Mars is just like, "This is how women should ask men to do the housework." Like, tricking him into actually being an active partner in the relationship. And this book, which is written by women and cast as this like breezy, fun dating guide, is word for word the same thing.

Peter: Yeah.

Michael: Don't try to change him. Don't nag him. Don't make it difficult. They have a whole thing of like, if he comes home and he's tired and you've cooked a nice dinner for him and he doesn't care, then don't worry about it. The reason he's at work so long is so he can take care of you. 

Peter: It also feels like maybe built into this is this belief that, okay, yes, there are these unfair gender norms and things that are asked of women that are not asked of men. But we will overcome that by adhering to it so rigidly, by doing it so perfectly that everyone will like us. 

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: There's something deeply sad about that like, I will do everything that everyone has ever asked of women all the time. 

Michael: I read a lot of reactions to this, because thank fucking God, this book was extremely controversial when it came out. A lot of very good articles have been published about just how poisonous this book is. One of the things that a lot of the actual feminist responses to this book point out is that there's really no such thing as a dating advice book, because you can't give people meaningful advice unless you know their situation. So, essentially, all of these dating advice books, what they really are is the expression of a worldview about how men and women should relate to each other in the world. That's what they're doing. They're presented as, on the surface, "Oh, you should do this. Don't call back too fast." What they're really doing is like, "This is how we think men and women should be."

So, we talked in the Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus episode about how in the early 1990s, there was this heightened visibility of sexual harassment due to Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, and a lot of women were elected to Congress. There was this extra visibility of feminist issues in the early 1990s. In the rest of the decade, there were all of these gender essentialists, basically, backlash books. The best way to understand this book is a way for women to sell this antifeminist backlash back to women. They're saying, "We're feminists. Oh, we don't have any real problem with feminism," but it doesn't work. 

Peter: Right. Or, just like feminism designed as like, "Yeah, you can have a job, but men will rule over you in every other component of your life." Of course, as a man, I would love to blame women and be like-

Michael: Well, blame women.

Peter: -"Men obviously want to embrace feminism, but it's women who are stopping."

Michael: [laughs] Well, you're one of the good ones, Peter. 

Peter: No, but I do wonder how much of that dynamic where you have women prominently critiquing feminism is because they are effective vessels for the critique for the antifeminist movement to be able to say that the critics themselves are women has value to the broader reactionary movement. 

Michael: Also, another thing that I realized researching this episode, and I've updated my views as a result of the research for this episode. For the last 10 years, I've been fretting about the rise of online dating. It seems like a paradigm that is very similar to shopping in ways that make me uncomfortable. People have this perception of infinite choice that makes them discard other people very quickly. It seems like there's just a lot of consternation and a lot of hurt, and there's just a lot more rejection associated with dating now. I've always been like, "Ooh, I don't know if this is the best thing." But another one of these perpetual crises is like, the end of courtship. 

You've been getting these takes since the 1890s when kids started going to diners with each other. You had the same thing aw. Kids don't court each other the way that they used to. I think that the shift to online dating is really worth noting. We're basically speed running this paradigm shift that happened in 60 years at the end of the 1800s. We're doing it in 10 years now. But also, I was looking at the numbers the other day of like how people meet. In 1940, 60% of people met through their family or met in elementary, middle, or high school. That was bad. It was basically quasi arranged marriages, and a huge number of people getting married very young, either because it was shotgun weddings or something, or just because that was expected of you when you had a high school steady. You would get married at fucking 19 and you end up in one of these awful loveless marriages, because women couldn't get bank accounts and there was no fault divorce. 

I am less pessimistic about this stuff than I was before I started researching this episode. 

Peter: I will say this. I was one of the guys who did great on the apps, and it's for one reason and one reason only. In my profile, I said that I had an in-unit washer dryer. [Michael laughs] If you live in New York City, that is a killer profile line. 

Michael: I think the only reason you did well is because you weren't a podcaster yet. 

Peter: That's right.

Michael: If you were like, "I'm a podcast bro in Brooklyn like no." 

Peter: I'm in Queens for do not denigrate me. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: My wife met me five years ago. She met and started dating a corporate lawyer, and now she is married to a full-time podcaster. 

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: That's the kind of thing you can't anticipate. Had she followed The Rules, it wouldn't have happened. 

Michael: I know, if only she had treated you like shit. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: It's never too late, Peter.

Peter: [laughs] 


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