NEW YORK CITY --
I have seen the heart of darkness, folks, and it's filled with
well-dressed women, packing themselves like Chanel-soaked sardines into a
Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. They suffer the crowds
and the scrutiny of television cameras from "Dateline NBC" and
"20/20" for an audience with their gurus Ellen Fein and Sherrie
Schneider, the authors of "The Rules," a best-selling guide to
"Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right."
The basic premise of this bizarre combination of Pavlovian psychology and
Danielle Steel romance is this: Men are driven by a biological necessity to
chase women, to respond to the challenge of the hunt. "In a relationship,"
Fein and Schneider write, "the man must take charge. We are not making this
up -- biologically, he's the aggressor."
A Rules girl makes this easy for the man by never initiating anything.
She doesn't make the first move, she doesn't pay on dates, she ends all phone
calls after ten minutes. This behavior "trains" the man to call for dates early
in the week and to dote on their companion. After several months, the Rules
leave him "conditioned" to feel that the only way to have access to her is
to marry her, which is, after all, the big goal.
The crowd, the largest ever for a book signing at this branch, is filled
with women who looked like television news anchors--just so in
appearance and demeanor. Of course, this is part of the Rules. "Don't leave
the house without wearing makeup," Fein and Schneider write. "Put lipstick on
even when you go jogging!" But after a moment of sizing up the crowd, one
begins to sense a desperation about these women. They look accomplished; I
imagine that many are successful professionals. But they aren't married,
and they obviously view that as a failure. Thankfully for them, Fein and
Schneider's book guarantees success. "What we are promising you," they
write, "is 'happily ever after.'"
Launching into a brief presentation, Fein and Schneider drill the crowd on
how to go about their manhunt. When they start to take questions, a woman
asks if she is failing when she doesn't do the Rules, like when she calls a
man back promptly. "We're not being judgmental," Fein says. "We're just
saying that chasing men and calling them doesn't work."
Most of the crowd nods enthusiastically. I start to feel increasingly
uncomfortable as I notice many of the women in the room looking at me. Some
look askance at me, clearly intruding on their club. But others make eye
contact, hold it a moment, and then smile. It's disconcerting to have women
flirt with you at a signing of a book which claims to teach them how to
land a husband. I wonder how the authors would feel about this, as looking
at a man is strictly against the Rules (Rule #3: Don't Stare at Men or Talk
"It's usually the New York City-type -- smart, tough, successful -- that breaks
the Rules," Fein continues. Here is a roomful of that type of woman,
looking for step-by-step instruction in an area of life where there are no
Rules, no hard and fast formula for happiness. Love isn't accounting or
computer programming, no matter how much we would all like it to be. Fein
and Schneider have merely managed to convince a lot of women that there is
a set of behaviors that always works. Who wouldn't find that seductive? I
just find it sad that Fein and Schneider play on their hopes and insecurity
to the tune of $250 an hour for phone consultation.
As the authors start to sign books, many disgusted women leave. "It's 1996
and I'm a girl?" says one woman of the authors' habit of using the
juvenile noun. But the true believers are still inside, getting their books
inscribed and asking Fein and Schneider for answers to questions such as,
"If he doesn't call me after a date, can I call him?" The answer is, of
A man challenges Fein, calling the Rules cynical and manipulative. He is
asked if he's married, and, after he says no, he's dismissed by a woman
from the crowd who says, "Men want to blame the Rules for their own
The crowd mills around. A baby is introduced to the authors as a product of
the Rules. Perfume stings my eyes. Then, a reporter asks Schneider why
their book has been so successful.
"The Rules work," she says. "It's the truth, like the laws of physics or
It's a neat trick to sell 400,000 copies of a book revealing the
revolutionary dating philosophy of Playing Hard to Get. But if the Rules
are like gravity, it seems to me that Fein and Schneider have been hit on
the head with a few too many apples.