Co-authors Fein and Schneider (TheRulesbook.com)
I can pinpoint the year my mother lost all credibility as a dating expert. It was 1995, the year Ellen Fein and Sherri Schneider's The Rules was published; the year my sister and I came home to find two copies of the bestselling book;based on a list of seduction tenets from 1917; waiting for us on the kitchen counter.
"Nineties women have simply not been schooled in the basics the rules of finding a husband or at least being very popular with men," read the introduction.
What followed was advice like "Don't stare at men, don't talk too much, don't call him, let him take the lead" --and the inexplicable--"be easy to live with."
More outrageous than the thirty-five chapters telling women to shut their traps, was the subtext that being yourself was a turn-off.
The Rules are a template for homogeny, a step-by-step guide for purging impulses and opinions, in order to become a Stepford wife. They are so specific and robotic they even tell you how to stand (straight), walk (briskly) and breath (slowly).
If there was an alternate title, it would be something like: "You're doing it wrong! 35 ways to stop being your embarrassing self."
My mom's intention wasn't to shake the confidence she'd worked for years to instill in her daughters. She'd just heard about the chapter (from Oprah!) where they tell you to wait to have sex. But all that other bad advice in the book obscured her forgivable parenting intention.
Now, almost two decades later The Rules ladies are rearing their heads again. Last week I received a press-release for an "updated" version of the book called "Not Your Mother's Rules" (due out in January).
Since the whole point of The Rules was to date like our moms did, revising them for the 21 st century seems counter-intuitive. Especially since Fein and Schneider's previous update in 2009, "The Rules of Online Dating," was a laughable failure. That book cluelessly recommended we all act like spambot sex workers, with usernames like "blondbeauty60" and mysterious, succinct email responses to potential suitors, like "nice abs."
This forthcoming update was apparently written with the help of Fein and Schneider's web-savvy daughters. The latest adaptation then most likely involves references to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and the dangers of "Sexting." If that's the case, it's a missed opportunity for a real update on the changing way we perceive love in a new century.
What does a new generation of women raised on social networking, online dating and self-expression think of rules designed to keep women quiet? And do women still consider marriage the ultimate goal?
Today we're getting married later and less often. That's not to say commitment has dwindled, just the term we once used to measure it. One of the most common reasons both men and women today give for not getting married is their parents' divorce. Rules co-author Ellen Fein herself has been divorced and remarried in the 17 years since the book came out.
If her rules were a no-fail guide to getting married, they were also an explanation for why so many marriages failed. If we've learned anything from our mothers so-called rules it's that they don't work forever.