The Rules: 20 Years Later, Do They Still Work?

Confession: I never read “The Rules” back when it was released in 1995. I was 23, working in the William Morris mailroom in New York, dreaming of writing for “Friends.” I was certainly not studying “time-tested secrets for capturing the heart of Mr. Right.”

But this book became a controversial bestseller because – in a very non-self-help way, it told women that, “Don’t chase men. Men are hunters. Make them want you; you are doing them a favor when you are withholding. They need a project. You are the project.”

That’s a direct quote from this article by the wonderful Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who does a post-mortem on “The Rules” all of these years later.

“The key was to not appear as though you needed love; that was the only way to get it. Do you understand how many women have tanked a deal in the making by appearing to want love too badly? By revealing themselves? By openly wanting sex and companionship? By wanting it at all? By having it all? A hunter has to believe his prey doesn’t want to be feasted upon, right? (Right?) So how do you pretend you don’t want something you do want? “The Rules” was the answer.”

Most critics tried to point out how silly some of the rules were – and things like, “don’t accept a date after Wednesday” do smack of way too much game-playing. That was always my critique of The Rules. It’s inauthentic. It’s all manipulation and no heart. It’s all tactical responses to emotional issues.

Ready for Lasting Love?
Ready for Lasting Love?

It’s all manipulation and no heart. It’s all tactical responses to emotional issues.

But here’s the thing: a lot of it is spot-on. And with a little bit of nuance, which the authors did not have – it’s very similar to the advice I dispense on this blog.

Says the author, “The argument the authors of “The Rules” made was that society may change, but men want to pursue; women are supposed to be pursued. The independence women had achieved had alienated the men, and worse, women didn’t even know it. They didn’t know they were supposed to be different in romance than they were in school or in their corporate environments. They may have evolved, but dating hadn’t. Men hadn’t. After all, we cannot argue with a man’s nature (though maybe we could and should?), and we certainly can’t argue with a woman’s nature (though the defining feature of ours, apparently, was its malleability). We want to be loved and cared for or something, right?”

Mostly right. There are exceptions: feminine energy men who want you to pursue them, masculine energy women who see nothing wrong with pursuing men. But, for the most part, yeah, men reveal themselves in their actions and if they’re not calling, or planning dates or following up to commit as boyfriends relatively quickly, they’re not going to.

Brodesser-Akner does close with a valuable critique – one that I try to incorporate into my own coaching. Basically: you can’t spend your life pretending to be something you’re not. That’s the flaw in The Rules – it’s an act to get a man, but if it’s not who you are, how do you keep him? That’s why I tell women that they don’t have to change to find love; they have to choose different men – men who appreciate who they really are.

If this sounds like a conundrum, you’re not alone.

Q: “Can I be myself at all times?”

A: Depends on whether being yourself is working for you.


Q: “But I thought you said I don’t have to change to find love.”

A: You don’t have to fundamentally change who you are; you may have to tweak some of your actions, reactions, and beliefs to be more successful with men.

And that’s where The Rules converges with my Love U program. I’m not interested in game-playing, refusing to return men’s calls, running late to keep him guessing or any such B.S. But from all my experience, I have yet to see much compelling evidence that pursuing a man the way women often like to be pursued is an effective strategy.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.