Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Guidelines

Pity the poor woman who tries unsuccessfully to seduce a nice Catholic boy she knows. Actually, pity the both of them. The woman has been told since she first flicked on a television that men are easy, and the NCB had a vague understanding that nice girls don't make such suggestions. He says "No," and no matter how politely he says it, the poor woman feels terribly, terribly humiliated. She covers her humiliation with anger, sarcasm and rejection and the NCB feels absolutely horrible.

Or so NCBs tell me.

It's almost a cliche that men can just trundle about making advances and being shot down and then brushing themselves off to try someone else. As a neighbour of mine cheerfully told me, "It's a numbers game." But I know there are men who act utterly outraged when they hear "No" and respond with anger and sarcasm. Such men are scary.

But I suspect their pyrotechnics are rather different and much more blameworthy than the feelings of humiliation suffered by a woman who has hit on a man and been turned down. The angry man has a sense of entitlement, the unhappy woman has a sense of personal failure.

How nice if everyone would base their thoughts, actions and beliefs on charity and reality instead of believing what pop culture tells us. Despite Friends and Cosmopolitan magazine, not all men are easy. Despite porn, nobody deserves sex on demand.

But determining reality can be difficult. So difficult. Large numbers of people wander about with no real clue as to who they are and how people respond to them, so it is no wonder that we don't really know who they are and how they tick either. The best we can do is observe them, consult older, more knowledgeable people, and test what they say against our own carefully examined experience.

And this is why, with some reservations, I think The Rules so helpful. (Scroll down the Wiki article for the actual Rules.) The rules of The Rules are not based in any politically correct ideology, so they make many people seethe. Many men--in fact every man I have discussed them with--loathe them, apparently because they fear their power to mess with their minds.

Boiled down to one rule, The Rules are "Don't chase men or you will regret it." And although the book claims to be time-tested secrets for winning the heart of Mr Right, I would say that these are more usually time-tested secrets for avoiding Mr Wrong. And far from being disrespectful of men, I would say that the Rules are very respectful of men, for they try to approach men as they really are--at very least in the USA and Canada--and not how pop culture tells us they should be.

"They're about not creating hurt for yourselves," says a Rules-loving friend of mine. She believes it was suppressing her desire to call up her boyfriend all the time that led to their swift engagement. His ex-girlfriend had been crazily needy, and he found my friend's ability to be friendly, beautiful and slightly reserved all at the same time very attractive.

And being turned down certainly hurts, especially if you do not get the message and keep on trying with the same wrong guy. Do this enough and you will get the idea that there is something seriously wrong and unattractive about you. However, this might not be it at all. It is very likely have something to do with the guys in question: their wants, their needs, where they are right now.

And I think this is particularly true in religious circles, where sex and marriage are still mentioned in the same breath. Quite a lot of men are in no position to get married--either because they are in school, or because they make barely enough to live on, or because they are at (or stuck at) the "fancy-free bachelor" stage--and if they change their mind on that, it is because they have fallen for some girl of their own choosing.

And, really, thank heaven, because then at least a woman knows where she stands, and does not land herself in some concubinage-type relationship which will never go anywhere else because, although the man is grateful for the sex, company and cooking, he is just not that into her. (Incidentally, I also recommend, again with reservations, He's Just Not That Into You.)

Once upon a time women were protected from making fools of ourselves by very strict codes of conduct. These codes of conduct are often looked upon today as nasty ways of policing women's sexuality. But I think they also had a lot to do with male psychology in a world where women needed marriage even more than we do now. Take upper class Georgian society, as readers know it from the novels of Georgette Heyer. British men frequented prostitutes of all sorts, but they still enjoyed the company of polite, educated women, and they still got married. (Georgette never mentions, however, the hideous diseases Georgian men passed to their innocent wives. I'm not presenting the Georgian period as any kind of Golden Age.)

One of the rules of conduct for women, besides never being allowed to ask a man to dance, was never to dance with a man more than twice at the same gathering. A man might ask, but a woman must say no. If she said yes, all the spectators would assume she was after the man in a most unseemly way. So she would say "No" and the man would have to wait until the next dance to dance with her. Of course, he might choose not to ask her the next time, for whatever reason of his own, and she might be disappointed, but at least she would not feel humiliated.

In our day, the people around us, if we belong to close-knit circles, are just as interested in how we comport ourselves, although they might be nicer about it than your average Georgian society matron. We have our own internal rules and our own unspoken social contracts. So--when tempted to pursue a young man who has shown only a mild, friendly interest in you--it is wise to ponder both The Rules and those local rules. If in doubt, consult a trustworthy woman.


Sarah said...

I read this post this morning and had been kind of thinking about The Rules and which of them were reasonable, and which were not, and why they make me cringe so. It took thinking about it all day before I made the connection between them and the experience I had last time I asked a guy out.

Well, he's German, and I remember what you said, Seraphic, about German men being different from American men and boy were you right, and I mean that in the most positive of ways. While I've noticed that German men are a bit shy and reluctant to take the lead in dating and relationships, when they feel they must speak their mind, they do it very, very directly and honestly and without word manipulation that will keep you hanging on to the idea. He said, "I think things should stay as they are right now. And I only say 'right now' because I want you to know it's not like I look at you and think 'Never, ever.' But it wouldn't be fair to you to make excuses like, 'I'm just not ready for a relationship.' I am ready for a relationship, if the right person came along, it's just that I don't think you are."
And so, yeah OUCH, at first. But I don't think I've ever had a guy break up or reject me so honestly and with so little B.S. to string me along or keep me in his back pocket in case of emergencies. He made the point very clear that He's Just Not That Into Me while also making sure I knew it wasn't something fundamentally wrong with me.
And then things did, indeed, go back to exactly how they were, and we're still good friends, and I while I'm disappointed, I haven't even whined about it to a girlfriend! (It did help-- and this is where some kind of variation of The Rules or The Rules Lite might come in handy-- that I never really flirted with him very much, so it's not like there was a shift in our interactions or any one-sided sexual tension to work out.)

But anyway, the point I am trying to get at is that it's not just up to us women to be "easy to live with," but it's up to men to be honest and upfront once they know how a girl feels about them. I think my problem with The Rules is that it puts an unfair amount of the burden on women to make sure life is sunny and drama free, when I think much of the time the problem is that men see that a girl likes them and even if he's not into her, he'll give her just enough to think "Maybe" so she'll stick around and keep inflating his ego.

Sarah said...

Eek, sorry for the lack of paragraphs. I don't know what happened in the formatting, but that must be difficult to read.

Seraphic said...

No problem! What a fascinating story! I'm sorry for the ouch factor, but what an experience.

Mustard Seed said...

I think it shows maturity (and, if done properly, a certain degree of sensitivity) when a guy can convey his thoughts clearly and tactfully about relationships. Seraphic's advice here echoes another good bit of advice I got, which was to "maintain a friendly reserve" when getting to know a guy. Friendly enough to let him know you're nice and have an interesting life, but reserved enough that he knows that you have plenty of other things/priorities on which to focus your time and attention.

I just looked at the Rules via the Wikipedia article, and I was surprised by some of them... rarely returning someone's calls, in particular. Isn't that just plain rude, unless you honestly don't want to talk to them at all? Anyway, I'm sure the book explains it, but I found that odd.

Anna said...

Generally I like The Rules, but sometimes they can be quite manipulative. For example, there's one chapter that recommends not calling a man back right away... or ever... just let him call and call. Men are justly annoyed by this kind of Princess crap.

The Rules are the counterpart to The Game. They contain truths about the nature of men and women, but because the goal in either book is either to ensnare a man through marriage or get a woman to bed, the helpful tips can get lost in the manipulation.

Seraphic said...

I do not like the never-call-back rule myself. I think it is very rude and shortsighted. A lot of nice men will not call back a second time without a return phone call because they do not want to be mistaken for stalker types.

I think it is enough just not to call men and to have faith that if they really want to talk to you they will pick up the phone call you.

Jam said...

The not-calling-back rule sounds like a relic from the days before voicemail, doesn't it? I think people probably used to call back a lot more whereas now, trained by emails and texts, we expect to only have to reach out once to get a response. I really suspect the value and meaning of a phone call has changed since that "rule" was written; personally I can't remember the last time someone other than my bank just called me out of the blue, so I certainly wouldn't ignore it any more than I would ignore a bouquet of flowers.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I agree with some of the critiques of The Rules but I also think in general they're good principles. It's waaay too easy to get into fantasy land and then want things to happen and then try to force them to happen (not that everyone does this, of course). I know I have the ability to get too invested early; the Rules I think are a good way to balance this.

I have a dear friend who's a nice Christian boy, and I was rather impressed that he had the guts to ask girls out like he did (hadn't dated much when we met around 23-24 years old). I know it didn't feel great, but he had a healthy attitude. And we made another friend, a nice Christian girl, and she was a bit nervous about dating, too, and didn't want to spoil a friendship, so she said no several times. Well, he was persistent, and she did really like him, so they started dating and I'm thrilled to be going to their wedding this summer. He had just a perfect balance of respect and persistence, and they really are a good match. I don't think the Rules played in specifically, but the principles behind them played out and I'm so happy for them. :-)

Re: a book that may be useful:

"How to avoid Mr. Wrong" is a great way to characterize The Rules. I'd also recommend a counterpart - maybe a "how to avoid looking like Miss Wrong"- Have Him at Hello. The author asked men why they didn't ask women out on second dates and discovered which things could create a poor impression (not an accurate one necessarily, but of course we all excuse friends' quirks while not liking the same in strangers, etc.). It might be worth a look because it tells how to avoid being "typed" negatively.


Just Another Catholic Girl said...

*moans* I did the meet halfway thing recently. Practice practice practice! One of the Rules of being a Rules girl right?

I don't like the phone call game of not calling back. I agree that it needs to be updated a bit for our technology. Maybe adding a rule of "Don't text him first or Don't text back immediately." You don't want him knowing that you've been hanging around your phone all day waiting for that little chime to let you know he texted you! ;-) I also had a priest tell me one time, not to answer your phone or text message from a guy after 10pm, because it gets the guy in the habit of knowing you are available at all hours. That was a harder rule to follow than I ever thought...

I do like the fact that it basically screams at you, "Don't be his MOTHER!!" Hahaha So true!

TGWWS said...

Ah, yes. I once broke the do-not-call-him-first rule on advice from a friend who thought I needed to be "more encouraging". NOT my wisest decision ever ... We might not have dated if I hadn't been so "encouraging"--and then again, it wouldn't have been so hard when he broke up with me if I hadn't invested so much effort in "encouragement"!