Why The Rules Must Be Broken

This morning – as usual – I was up ridiculously early. Toddlers aren’t known for their  love of lie-ins and the fact that it now gets light at about 5 o’clock doesn’t exactly help.

So there I was, noodling about on the internet in a fairly brain dead state, when I spotted this:

A jokey little article on The Guardian website that simultaneously sent a chill down my spine and made my blood boil (if that’s possible). The loathsome, toxic piece of propaganda that is The Rules – a dating handbook that aims to turn back the clock to the 1950s

– has been rewritten for the digital generation. In the 90s version you weren’t allowed to call men – they had to call you. Which can be kind of frustrating.

Now, women aren’t even allowed to send a man an email or even press like on a man’s bloody Facebook page for risk of being seen as some kind of sexual predator . If you are ‘aggressive’ you are only worthy of being dumped, should any kind of relationship ensue.


Here is the utterly ghastly Rules website:

I find it quite hard to look at this without vomiting and if ever I were to encounter its creators Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider I would be torn between punching them and laughing in their faces. I think laughter is probably a better option as I don’t really fancy a spell in one of her majesty’s hotels.

My inner Greenham Common woman

despises everything they do because it turns back the clock of any gains made by feminism and reduces modern women to simpering saps who want nothing more than a husband to bully them. My more pragmatic self also despises them because I know that real relationships – like everything else – do not follow set rules, are messy, contradictory and have as many ups and downs as a roller coaster. I also hate the idea that the only way you can get someone to like you is to play stupid games, to lie, cheat and basically deceive them. Isn’t the point of a relationship that you can be yourself, be playful, vulnerable, difficult, angry, happy, sad, silly and crazy and still be accepted?

But then one of my absolute touchstones in life is authenticity. I like authentic people who aren’t all of a piece, who are complicated and like all sorts of odd things. Who are idiosyncratic and have their own values – even if I don’t agree with all those values.

I remember working with the psychologist Oliver James some years ago and he saw lack of authenticity as one of the biggest problems of our era.

His book Affluenza – written in 2006 at the height of the boom – may seem a little dated in a global recession but the message it delivers is spot on.

Here’s a piece Oliver wrote for The Observer

Note Oliver’s emphasis on the importance of authenticity; this also reminds me of the idea of self-actualisation, seen as the ultimate goal of existence in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

I learnt about Maslow doing the PGCE; he’s relevant to education because unless you have your needs met on quite a basic level, you’re not going to be learning much, however good the teacher. A student who is hungry, tired, insecure and unloved is hardly going to come top of the class.

Maybe someone should tell Michael Gove….

Anyway, I think Maslow can also used to critique the mindset behind The Rules. A relationship that is constructed on fear – of saying the wrong thing, of making the wrong move, of being too this, not enough that, hardly meets the need of safety and security, let alone breeds love and belongingness, self esteem or self actualisation.

Yes, you might get your ‘big day’

(there’s another rant in there somewhere on our fetish for weddings), but then what happens? What happens when you have kids? Or lose your looks? Or someone gets ill? Or made redundant? If everything is a performance, what’s happens when things don’t follow the script?

I think there’s a song about it:

If The Rules is a piece of toxic crap aimed at the ladies, then The Game is a piece of arguably even more toxic crap aimed at the guys.

The Game: Undercover in the Secret Society of Pickup Artists [Book]

Written by LA based journalist Neil Strauss, The Game instructs men on the art of becoming ‘pick up artists’ – in other words offers tips that will transform a dork into a lothario. It was based on a whole web community where geeky guys hang out together sharing tips on how to score with the opposite sex. The number one technique outlined in the book is the ‘neg’; according to Strauss, if you want a woman to want you, make her feel bad. Criticize her clothes, her hair or her friends and she’ll soon be putty in your hands.


The star of the book is the slightly sinister sounding ‘Mystery’, the PUA par excellence of the nasty little world that Strauss chronicles. The book made Mystery so famous that, surprise, surprise, telly came a knocking and he had his own reality show on VH1

Here are Strauss and Mystery at work, addressing an audience of hopefuls:

More than just a little bit creepy.

I want to come up with a clever conclusion about The Rules and The Game and weave them into some pertinent and pithy argument about late capitalism or some such clap trap. But I think it’s much simpler. Both books prey on a basic human need for a partner. For togetherness and appreciation. They make money out of fear – fear that we’ve said the wrong thing or are wearing the wrong shoes. It is this kind of fear that stops people from asking a colleague for a coffee or even just getting to know the next door neighbours. It is this kind of fear that makes us small, frightened and easy to control.

If you find a copy of The Rules or The Game, hurl it in a dustbin without delay.

This entry was published on May 30, 2012 at 9:35 pm. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Why The Rules Must Be Broken

  1. Pingback: What’s wrong with The Rules « Rewriting The Rules

  2. Brilliant post! This is just what I’m writing about over on 🙂

  3. Nice post. I like this a lot – I think you’re spot on the button with authenticity. Having been in a relationship where there were consequences if I said or did the wrong thing, I can heartily agree with you. 🙂

  4. I read The Game so that I could better know the moves the Strauss followers put on us. he suggests doing magic tricks and discussing astrology to get a woman’s interest. Wow. Just wow. What a cretin.

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