I Diligently Followed 'The Rules' To See If It Would Get Me A Husband

Photo: courtesy of the author / amazon
dating rules

I was a 22-year-old American feminist and teacher when I first heard about the 1995 controversial bestseller The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, co-authors and friends for over 35 years. The book featured 35 strict dictates for dating, such as "Rule #2: Don't Talk To A Man First," "Rule #5: Don't Call Him And Rarely Return His Calls," and one of my favorites, "Rule #15: Don't Meet Him Halfway Or Go Dutch On A Date"

It wasn't published without backlash: Many women believed the book was blatantly anti-progressive and anti-feminist. At the time, I agreed.

“Break all those ridiculous rules. Those are the rules that work!” I said at the time, scoffing. After all, I moved in almost immediately with my college boyfriend, and we said, "I love you" to each other only after four dates. NOT following the rules had worked well for me for six years of successful serial monogamy.

However, at 32, many years after I broke up with my adoring fiancé to live abroad in Switzerland in a world of families and cozy cottages, I was willing to try anything to find a husband.

Back to The Rules, I went.

During my hikes in the Alps, I listened to loops of the once-derided audio book on my headphones and found I liked what I heard. I liked the boundaries and confidence that a set of dating rules gave me. I tried some of the rules on my half-English, half-Italian diplomat boyfriend: I only gave him an hour on our first date, then two hours on our second, then a dinner. 

Shockingly, the strategy of limiting our time together initially to avoid burnout (as well as me always leaving first) worked! Well, almost worked. I caved with an all-day bicycling trip, picnic and dinner on the third date and then a weekend sleepover on the fourth.

That's when The Rules stopped working. He dumped me after five dates.

Now, at 37, I’ve made an empowered decision to get married and have children. Luckily for me, Ellen and Sherrie released a new Rules book with 31 new rules in 2013 — because a lot has changed since 1995 — called Not Your Mother's Rules. They've added social media, texting and online dating to the mix, as well as dating POVs from their 20-year-old and 26-year-old daughters who were raised on The Rules and used them to avoid cheap hookups in college and get real boyfriends.

After listening to the audiobook, I went a step further and attended Ellen and Sherrie’s dating seminar on "Not Your Mother's Rules" in New York City. As the authors spoke, I nodded my head as they discussed "hook-up culture" and dating in modern America. They said the more we try to date like men, the less we protect our hearts. 

"The Rules are a spiritual program," Schenider said at the seminar. "Once you get more disciplined, it will spill into all of your life."  Well, these ladies are disciplined: Sherrie doesn't drink, eat carbs or sugar and works out religiously. 

Newly empowered, I tried their dating rules again:

Rule #6: Wait at least four hours to answer a guy's first text and a minimum of 30 minutes after that.

Rules #18: Don't wink to guys first, ignore winks and other rules for online dating.

Rules #26: Don't accept booty calls or meaningless hookups.

And the most important rule of all: Rule #3: Don't talk to or text a guy first.

I realized these rules were meant to put the ball in my court and give me the upper hand, a hand that in the past, men had over me. All of the RGs (Rules Girls) had coaches and urged me to get one too. So I went straight to the gurus: I made a one-on-one appointment with the authors themselves.

"Shellen," (Sherrie + Ellen) as they're known, charge $150 for 15-minute consultations or $1,200 for four hours. During my consultation, which took place over the phone, I spoke to Sherrie Schneider. Within minutes, Sherrie had my Instagram pulled up, and she wasn't short on cruel commentary:

Your profile picture is unattractive.”

“OK. It’s from when I professionally modeled,” I told her.

“Well, just because you had an agent it's not what men like. This picture is also unattractive, this picture is OK... but wait, is that even you? You look crazy."

She sounded absolutely disgusted. 

"I look crazy?" I asked.

"Yes, you look crazy, like a comic."

"I am a comic... well I was. Now I'm a comedic writer and a storyteller," I told her.

"Well, comics don't get married." She went on, "Men like normal women. Are you happily overweight?" 

After getting off the phone and crying, I immediately dished to the girls in my private Rules Facebook group. 

As a trained teacher and coach with a Master’s degree in Education, I was taught shaming someone simply does not work; only positive reinforcement produces results. It turns out that a lot of teachers are attracted to The Rules because, well...we like rules. Or perhaps my atheist hippie parents made me crave boundaries and structure.

But when I heard Schenider say, "Lose weight, wear black, black, black, tight, tight, tight" it made me even more critical of myself. 

When I asked Sherrie about beauty regimes, she replied, "Yes, definitely get a nose job!"

Ellen later e-mailed me, and I quickly saw she was the good cop in the mentorship equation: "Love the modeling pics! Awesome! #Alyssadoestherules!”

Now, this was the type of positive reinforcement I could learn from. When I posted a photo in the RG Forum pointing out my dress was too loose for CUAO (Creature Unlike Any Other, how "Rules Girls" are supposed to present) and I still had weight to lose, they all commented on how great I looked and one said, "Never speak badly about yourself."

Now, that advice was revolutionary to me — and I daresay, most women.

Sherrie later said she’s not anyone’s guru; she's just trying to help women who have asked her for it. But she stopped replying to my emails after I told her I'd cried after our last counseling session. Ellen eventually emailed me back, claiming Sherrie was suddenly swamped and that she was so upset she made me cry she decided to assign Ellen to me. But when I confronted Sherrie just before that, she denied ever offending a client and claimed my childhood history was what was making me upset, not her words or delivery.

I spoke to Ellen who reassured me Sherrie was coming from a great place. Maybe, but was her approach effective? No. And frankly, shaming other women is dangerous. When I told my therapist about what happened, she said it seemed like Sherrie was playing "mind games" with me and thought the Rules coaches were manipulative. She's not the first person to say that. A trusted mentor called Sherrie's words abusive. 

While the Rules have proven to be effective for other members of these secret Rules groups, I've seen three women get engaged (their goals) and many more rave about the results in their metamorphosis from doormat to CUAO with the full reigns.

Here are some quotes from my fellow RGs:

"Before the Rules, I had unsatisfactory relationships with poor boundaries. I used to do everything for the man: cook, clean his house, buy dinners, plan the dates. I even paid one guy to bail his son out of jail! I never felt appreciated, and these relationships all had very unhappy endings. Since I started using the strategies in The Rules, my dating life has improved tenfold. I was constantly fielding date offers from quality men who paid for everything and lavished attention on me. Now, I have a steady guy who adores me and wants to marry me." Connie, 55, a masseuse

"The Rules has been revolutionary in restoring my self-esteem, femininity and self-love, as well as change my outcomes with men. It has helped me regain control over romantic life. The Rules helps me focus on men who really like me and ensures I don't waste time on those who don't. No more heartbreak or feeling out of control. The Rules also helped me learn to love myself and put myself first. I recommend it to all women of all ages. It saves so much time and pain." —Candance, 26, a lawyer

But as one London-based rules coach, India Kang, said: We are allowed to use common sense in the Rules. If you don't like 2-inch hoop earrings, gold watches or shopping at Bloomingdale's (fashion tips Sherrie offered to do for me after her "critique," which I declined) then wear the kind of earrings you like and dress in a way that makes YOU comfortable.

In other words, the Rules only work if they're integrated into your life as a whole. After I had hung up with Sherrie the first time, I thought, these are the rules on how to be a basic b*tch, and, it's true: guys prefer basic b*tches. We're supposed to be "Creatures Unlike Any Other" on the outside, but I had to seriously scrub my true artist personality. Even my muse Drew Barrymore wasn't good enough for Sherrie; she said Drew also looked crazy. 

There are a lot of things I love about the Rules: not chasing men, having them come to us first, not being 'on call' for men, having men prove themselves to me and not the other way around, letting men fit themselves into my schedule and not the other way around, the list goes on and on.

But you can still love yourself as is while also making improvements — that's how true growth happens. This is what made me find a kinder, softer Rules coach. 

I rebel constantly; I even rebel against myself. It’s easy to be contrarian; it's harder to change. So, Sherrie is right: it's easier to be thin and conventionally pretty; that's just the sad reality. It's easier to be "normal."

But for those who aren't, there are partners for us, too. We just have to find our way sometimes with the friends, coaches, mentors, and men who love us for our quirky selves first.

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