Relationship advice books are like chicken pox: Common, annoying, and at some point in your life, you'll get one. Newsweek and U.S. News And World Report have a round-up of several forthcoming self-help guides to male/female interactions. Newsweek summarizes What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers, the book by Amy Sutherland that was based on an endlessly emailed "Modern Love" column in the New York Times. Sutherland's thesis is that you can train your husband like you train your pets. "According to Sutherland," reports Newsweek, "the key to marital bliss is to ignore negative habits and reward positive ones, the same approach animal trainers use to get killer whales to leap from their tanks and elephants to stand on their heads."
The concept is pretty infantilizing — Sutherland's husband is wise to her behavioral modification tricks and now says, "Did you just Shamu me?" when he feels he's been hornswaggled — but there are some good tips to take away. Like don't nag. If you want to get your significant other to stop leaving the bathmat on the floor, nagging him endlessly won't help (not that I know from experience)! Ignoring it probably won't work either, but at least he won't hate you.
The other book profiled by Newsweek is far more insidious. Seducing the Boys Club: Uncensored Tactics from a Woman at the Top by Nina Disesa, the first chairwoman of the ad agency McCann Erickson, "argues that women should use their femininity to manipulate the men they work with and advance their careers." For instance, if Disesa heard an underling's proposal and she thought it sucked, instead of saying so, she would flatter him by telling him his idea was brilliant, but then subtly asking if he had any other ideas where that came from. Not only is this gross, it won't get the best work out of employees. If they think everything they do is wonderful, they won't learn from their missteps.
Finally, U.S. News discusses Scott Haltzman's new book, The Secrets of Happily Married Women. Haltzman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown, has some age-old advice that while hackneyed, is fairly sound. Listen to your husband, accept that men often have different communication styles than women do, and speak directly — don't expect your spouse to be a mind reader.
So what's the takeaway from these three tomes? Fuck if I know. I'm just trying to muddle through my mostly happy relationship the best I can — like the rest of you.