Revisiting The Rules: is the dating bible still relevant today?

Don’t talk to a man first. Never accept a date for a Saturday night if he asks after Wednesday. Don’t call him, and rarely return his calls.

Sound familiar? It’s all advice from the bestselling dating bible The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr Right. The book was a dating guide with the premise that women who play hard to get, get their man, while women who showed too much interest did not In a nutshell, boy pursues girl and women play it extremely cool. The book was co-authored by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider and offered a set of dating rules which, although sparking plenty of controversy, have endured until this day. 

There have been plenty of updates to The Rules, given a lot has changed since it was released in 1995. A new book offered insight on how to handle social media, texting, and online dating when it comes to dating with The Rules in mind. There are also insights into the co-authors’ daughters’ experience with dating to further update the advice with a modern makeover. There are even phone consultations and in-person courses on offer with the pair if you are looking for more tailored advice.

The original book advocated playing very hard to get, by being a bit distant and difficult. Women who play by the rules – aka Rules girls – always end phone calls first and only engage in casual kissing on the first and second dates. Oh, and the book sees grooming as extremely important by advising women to “be a creature unlike any other”. The central message is if a man likes you, he will approach you. So never approach a man, state The Rules, don’t suggest a date, instead let him come to you.

What do people make of The Rules?

As you would expect, there are plenty of opinions about The Rules, which is partly the reason it’s become such a cultural phenomenon. You may initially find the premise of The Rules surprising given how dating has seemingly evolved since the book was released, but it’s had a big influence within the dating world.

As Refinery29 points out, the book feeds into a nostalgia around romance and relies on a very traditional sense of what love and courtship are. Author Samhita Mukhopadhyay, interviewed in the piece, said the advice can sometimes work given that men are fed antiquated notions of what dating should look like, so see a woman acting forward as a signal she is in fact desperate because it’s breaking the mould of how they view traditional dating.

The authors say the rules are not about manipulation – they are there to prevent women from making avoidable dating mistakes and getting hurt because of them. Offering another perspective, Rules Coach Vanessa Taylor says it boils down to creating healthy boundaries and establishing your own power in the relationship from the start. 

Others argue that given there has been more than two decades since The Rules were launched, dating norms have not actually changed that much. An article on Vox cited studies which looked at the heterosexual dating rituals of young men and women. These found that although the respondents identified as progressive and even feminist, they stuck to traditional scripts when dating when their goal was marriage and children. The women believed men naturally want to be the pursuers – as The Rules points out – and worry that if they pursue the object of their affection, it makes them come across as desperate. As a result they didn’t ask men out, or pay for dates. While interestingly, most of the men surveyed claimed they didn’t like these sort of gender rules in dating. They wanted women to ask them out or to pick up the bill when they met up for a date. However, the female subjects of the study said their experiments in being forward didn’t work as they did not get the outcome they wanted.

Is it dating itself which dictates behaviour?

Despite its critics, many devotees have been won over by the boundaries and confidence that having a set of dating rules bring. Sherrie Schneider pointed out to The Independent: “The Rules are about boundaries and self-esteem. That is not repressive: that is called self-control and smart, effective behaviour.” In other words, it’s coping strategies for the confusing and sometimes intimidating world of dating. And as the Vox piece points out, the courtship expectations of The Rules are still here to be navigated, whether you like it or not.

Others are sympathetic to the goals of The Rules, seeing it as a response to the innate issue with dating that there is always a power imbalance. In the New York Times writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner argued that The Rules recognised there was no changing the system, so the only thing to do was to work smarter within it.

It’s fascinating that the book – and its subsequent sequels – continue to have such an influence. Whether you agree with its premise or not, it does show how common it is for dating to follow a tried-and-tested formula which is dictated in a large part by societal expectations. We’d love to hear your views on The Rules – are you a convert? Have you tried any of its advice and would you put your relationship success down to these efforts? Share your views and experiences via Facebook and Instagram!

If you are looking for support and advice on your dating journey, why not consider working with a matchmaker? We work closely with you to truly understand who you are looking for and we use our extensive experience and exclusive private network to find you people you’ll really share a connection with. Give us a call today to find out how we can help you find true love!