Confession: I've read way too many dating books over the course of my adult life, seemingly compelled by some masochistic need to find out what people think makes for an attractive partner.
Even worse, a few summers ago, when I discovered Booksfree, I was able to quietly indulge my obsession with comparing and contrasting books like never before. As such, I've read books aimed at men and books aimed at women, and while most books aimed at men seek to boost male self-esteem, books aim at women tend to tear it down. I began to wonder - is there a life hack for dating? Is there one common equation that would stand up across all dating books which would led to true love? While I did find a formula, it wasn't about dating - it was how to sell dating books using gender stereotypes: generally speaking, most of them convey three things:
You Don't Have a Man Because You're Fat and Ugly
The terms fat and ugly seem to be used as synonyms in these books, reinforcing the idea that big cannot be beautiful. With the exception of He's Just Not That Into You (which should have been subtitled: We're Going to Repeat This Until You're Hypnotized), most of these books begin by informing us that we aren't good enough as we are. But don't worry! They have a cure.
Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider of the All the Rules are the first up to bat. They let you know from the jump that before you find a man, you need to work on you. While the idea of self-improvement sounds good in theory, it becomes clear that they really mean they want us to get a makeover. Asking questions like "Men like women who wear fashionable, sexy clothes in bright colors. Why not please them?" presents the theme for many a guide - men like shiny and pretty. So if we can't catch a man, it's because we aren't fashionable/sexy/cute enough. Other ways to make sure you look your best? They recommend wearing lipstick while jogging.
Patti Stanger of Bravo's Millionaire Matchmaker gets in on the action in her book Becoming Your Own Matchmaker: Eight Steps to Attracting Your Perfect Mate. She takes the cease and desist fatness edict farther, running with:
"Jenna is a perfect example of a woman mired in bitterness. She's about twenty pounds overweight and refuses to change her eating habits. "Most men are pigs, because they only focus on the physical. I'm looking for an enlightened guy who will love me for me and doesn't care about what kind of shape I'm in. Until I find him, the rest can go to hell," she says. Guess what? She's never going to find him. He doesn't exist. And even if he did, he would be thrown off by her me-against-the-world attitude."
"With men, it's all about the packaging – one look is all it takes for them to decide if you're a keeper or if you should be tossed back. This might be crude, but they're measuring your "fuckability factor." […] No matter how beautiful you are on the inside, if the outside doesn't reflect it, you're going to spend the rest of your days alone." (p. 51)
Men are shallow fuckers. Deal with it ladies! The right answer here is NOT to find a guy that loves you for who you are, but to raise your "fuckability factor" to attract the ones who will dump you if you gain five pounds. Nice!
However, unlike the women of the Rules, Stanger suggests there is hope for us poor fatties (which, in dating guide parlance means anyone with any visible fat whatsoever):
"I'd suggest moving to another city where the numbers are still in your favor, and where they're more forgiving of physical imperfection.. A woman who is fifteen pounds overweight can throw on the sweats, put on some blush, and she'll be considered ravishing in Chicago. She'll have a date every night in Minneapolis or Seattle, but she'll sit home alone for months in LA."
Fat girls, flee to other locales, where the men are less picky. I'm surprised they didn't bring up Alaska as a sure thing. She also spends a few moments on the virtures of shapewear, implying that if you can't make it, fake it. Ladies, this is a war, and Spanx is our camo. Use it until those lipglossed jogging sessions pay off.
You Don't Have a Man Because You Want a Career
Many books also admonish us for daring to go to work - we have the nerve to be confident and accomplished, and men are not going for that, not one little bit. Did we really think men would like a woman who can pay for her own things? Pssh...ournaïveté is showing . Rachel Greenwald, author of Why He Didn't Call You Back: 1,000 Guys Reveal What They Really Thought About You After Your Date sums up the issue in one line:
"I call these Boss Ladies part of 'The Cinderella Generation': they broke the glass ceiling but broke their glass slipper along with it."
Damn. That will teach us to wear glass shoes instead of splurging on the Jimmy Choos, like any good chick-lit novel will instruct. Greenwald continues:
"As women have risen up the corporate ladder, they have adopted many traditionally male characteristics to succeed [...]One man told me that most women he meets today would rather he 'admire their accomplishments rather than their butts.' Welcome to Dating 101. If you'd take the professional respect over lust, you might have just lost that second date."
The men she highlights have such ridiculous preferences it almost appears to be comedy:
"Owen, a thirty-two-year-old management consultant from Charlotte, NC, recalled asking a woman for her number and she handed him a business card. He assumed it meant she wasn't interested in anything personal, so he later tossed the card in his desk drawer and didn't ask her out. Though he did say one day he might call to use her services (she's a Realtor). He said it seemed "more feminine" when a woman wrote her number on a napkin or a piece of scrap paper in "girly handwriting" and even cuter when she reached for his cell phone and typed it in. That's when he knew the connection was personal, not professional."
A business card isn't good enough anymore – we need to take it back to middle school and hit 'em with our best cursive.
Greenwald concludes the chapter with this gem:
"Andy, a thirty-six-year-old stockbroker from Dallas, TX, told me about one woman he dated: "She was a career woman, but I'm looking for a woman who just happens to have a career."
Interestingly enough, all the books I read aimed at men never asked them to choose between a woman and a thriving career. It was assumed they would have both.
You Don't Have a Man Because You Look/Act Like a Man
Another truism peddled by these books is that the men you want are looking for a certain type of woman, someone that you become after learning to suppress your other instincts. Greenwald divides her book into (stereo)types of women that men can't stand, and number one on the list is "The Boss Lady:"
"The term "boss" here reflects men's attitudes that certain women seem argumentative, competitive, controlling, not feminine, too independent, not nurturing, or some combination of the above. In other words, some women give off a masculine vibe."
The too independent part is a bit galling, but makes sense. According to most of these guys, women who appear to together and too competent (not bitchy, though most of these guides deal with that topic as well) activate some kind of ball-shrinking reaction in the average man. With this being the case, the way to mitigate men's insecurity is to act as stereotypically feminine as possible. Greenwald notes:
"Perhaps, not surprisingly, most men are still old-fashioned in feeling a positive initial response to feminine clothing. I'm not suggesting that women wear a hoop skirt and carry a parasol, but the reality is that we're dealing with quick, instinctual reactions – think cavemen!"
There's no provision for women who don't want to date a caveman. Trust me, I checked. However, there is advice on how to win this caveman:
"Pull a June Cleaver" - "Play the part with flair: wear a cute apron, select a girly cocktail to serve (think Cosmopolitan versus whiskey on the rocks), maybe bake a pie. If you don't know how to do any of this (like me), enlist a friend to help you (your date doesn't have to see your accomplice in this caper)."
So what happens when he realizes you don't/can't/won't cook and you haven't used that apron since the second date? Isn't that what people complain about in relationships, that their partner behaves differently from when they met?
The Rules is a bit more direct with what we need to do to make a man happy:
"When you're with a man you like, be quiet and mysterious, act ladylike, cross your legs and smile. Don't talk so much."
Shh....women are to be seen and not heard.
Patti Stanger provides this jewel of advice for us future little women:
She who touches money gives off masculine energy, so you can't physically touch cash before his eyes or whip out the plastic to pay the check.
Avoiding anything with a whiff of masculinity appears to be part of the game, and nothing marks us as masculine more than hair. Hair seemed to be of particular interest, because it is apparently a FACT (in caps) that women are not cute with short hair. To hear them tell it, no man in the history of humankind has ever found a woman with short hair attractive.
The Rules tuts:
"Don't aspire to the unisex look. Buy feminine looking clothes to wear on the weekends as well as the work week. Remember, you're dressing for men, not other women, so always strive to look feminine." [...] "Men prefer long hair […] The point is we're girls! We don't want to look like boys."
Because, ewww! Boys are icky and boys like girls. Patti Stanger is also abnormally concerned with our tresses:
"If you think you're going to get away with short hair, you're not. Men like long, flowing locks. They just do. […] Short pixie cuts are either considered mannish or over the hill."
Everyone needs a weave, stat! Someone get Tyra Banks on the phone!
No one seems to mention a contingency plan if you don't have long flowing hair. They seem to assume your hair grows a certain way – and that way does not apparently does not include a 'fro or short curls or anything that is not long flowing hair. I'm surprised no one quoted any caveman science to back up the long hair imperative.
So, as we've explained ladies, if you don't have a guy, it's one of the three reasons we listed above. Now, if a man doesn't have a woman? It's probably because he hasn't gamed her properly.
Next time - Dating Guides Are Hell: It's All About the Menz!