One of my first jobs out of college was at a non-profit working under a pair of neo-conservative types who often spoke of how impending healthcare legislation would spell the unraveling of capitalism and remarking suspiciously on my attraction to bearded men. As a fresh-faced commie harlot, I always assumed I had nothing in common with them. Until one day I was relaying the story of a date that asked to split the check on a meal that he insisted on when I wanted to get drinks instead.
The COO, a lady, was livid on my behalf. She said I was to go out with him again under no circumstances, that such discourtesy was unforgivable. The CEO, a man, quipped, “Hey, you’re the ones that wanted equal rights!” The COO, who often deferred to him, looked directly in his eyes and with the most certainty I had ever heard her speak with, said, “Yes. And the day that I have them, I will buy you a drink. But until I do, that’s unacceptable.” My 23-year old heart skipped a beat, my faith in all womanhood was restored, and I never saw the young man again.
I learned recently that this made me, at least partially, a “Rules girl.” The Rules, for the uninitiated, is a dating guide about the horrendous, self-erasing lengths women will go to hide their interior lives in the quest to land a husband. It reads like satire, but it is dead serious. Published in 1995, it became an immediate sensation for its candid and counterintuitive advice to trick men into believing that you’re “a creature like no other,” through a combination of negligent behavior, pretending you’re not that funny, and never ever revealing that you have significant problems or opinions.
Since I have always suspected that I am the love child of the chupacabra and Cheburashka, I was rather drawn to this “creature like no other” idea from Rule 1. Armed with the persona of a goat-blood-sucking monster and the Soviet Union’s adorable answer to Mickey Mouse, there was no way that this foolproof book of manipulations could steer me wrong in at least getting a handful of free dinners. Though I was opposed to the evolutionary psych element that assumed men want to hunt for women, I thought there might be some truth that playing a harder-to-get would generate some interest. Oh, how wrong I was.
So I had Rule 1 down, and Rules 2 and 3 are about not talking to a man first and not staring at men. The first I don’t do because I’m actually shy in person and the second one I don’t do because I have some measure of social grace. But Rule 4 insists that you don’t meet in the middle and don’t split the check. I thought it was ridiculous to not meet halfway but was warned I would die alone if I didn’t follow the rules to a tee. But not only did no one suggest my neighborhood, three out of four suggested their own!
One of them didn’t know where my neighborhood of Kensington was and I described it as, “About an hour and ten minutes from you on the subway.” He replied, “We can do something in Bushwick?” His neighborhood. 70 minutes from mine. Look, commute times are a fact of dating in New York but spending 140 minutes in transit on a first date is something no one should have to do. Halfway that shit.
I told my main piece about this outrage post-coitus and he defended the guy, saying “Well, he can show you a good time in his own neighborhood!” Convincing me that they are both part of a brotherhood defending discourteous dating practices. I went for oysters with another dude that got two 12 dollars drinks and I got a Diet Fake Coke That Was Made In Brooklyn To Be Authentic But Tasted Like Gutter Water and when we were done, he suggested, “Down the middle?” I obliged because I’d sooner die than debate about the check, but was kind of horrified.
Rules 5 and 6 are about phone calls that I had to convert to text messages because everyone knows that personal phone calls were outlawed in 2011. In any case, you can’t respond to them too quickly and you must always end the conversation first. When I let three hours go by without responding to one guy, he apologized profusely for an innocuous joke in the previous message that he thought had maybe gone too far. It hadn’t. Another guy I didn’t respond to after 12 hours said he understood that things could get complicated but to keep my number if I changed my mind about going out. I admit that though I felt bad for making them second-guess themselves, it was nice to confirm that guys also get that, “WHY AREN’T THEY RESPONDING!?!?!?” mania.
Rule 7 is about not accepting dates without at least four days notice. There’s even a cautionary tale about “Ted and Beth” who made spontaneous plans AND THEN DIED. Just kidding, they just didn’t end up getting married. I tried to make it very clear that I was super busy with important professional and personal activities (sewing a tuxedo for my cat’s wedding, in reality) so guys would suggest dates several days in advance. No dice. When I said, “Can’t that night!” they’d wait two days then ask again for a date two nights later, ad infinitum.
Since the remainder of the rules are about how to act on dates and while romantically involved, and I had ice-queened everyone out of talking to me or had to reject them for not making plans with 96 hours notice, I couldn’t even try them out beyond first dates where I had been coy but smiley! I tried a handful on the aforementioned piece, like pretending not to have feelings and he just thought I was mad at him and being distant. If I was Carrie Bradshaw, I wouldn’t be able to help but wonder if I had failed The Rules or if The Rules had failed me.
Part of me felt vindicated because The Rules make casual suggestions about getting nose jobs and not trusting therapists and waiting over a month to sleep with a person that I just can’t hang with. I went into it to see what it would be like, not to actually as a last-ditch effort to trick a man into putting a ring on it. But the other part of me was really disappointed to see that once I stopped doing a lot of the legwork of dating, that men would get either super self-conscious or give up entirely. I don’t know if it is the type of guy that I attract or if a large swath of the population has developed a combination of meekness and discourtesy in the face of increasingly strong women. I had never noticed before that I had been doing much of the heavy lifting of dating and that when I tried to let men take the reigns, they took it as rejection or disinterest. I am returning my copy of the book to its rightful owner within the week.
Fortunately, I am in possession of another manual called Sex A Baller Out of His Mind and Money! As you can presumably tell from the title, it more accurately reflects my current interests.