Sunday, February 21, 2010

Do We Really Need "The Rules?"

Every time I read a column by Jag Carrao, aka Malibu Rules Girl, I am struck by how sound and sensible it is. Maybe I am becoming sentimental with age, but I find it refreshing to read a coach who is consistently offering good advice about dating... and who is not trying to recruit young women into a cult or indoctrinate them in an ideology. Link here. Carrao bases her coaching on The Rules.

Ever since Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider published The Rules some fifteen years ago, they have been targeted by what Alex Witchel called: "talk show firing squads of feminists." Link here. To say the least, Fein and Schneider struck a nerve.

For reasons that deserve some serious thought, the notion that women could retake control of their dating lives by acting more like ladies, or better, by treating their femininity as an asset, was an offense against everything that feminism held sacred.

Many women read "The Rules" and followed its precepts. Others ignored them. By and large, the therapy culture did not like the rules. It persuaded many women that following rules was like playing a game, and they if they started playing games they would be compromising their hearts.

Both feminists and therapists have franchises to protect, and protect them they did.

On the one side Fein and Schneider were attacked for being reactionaries and for being tools of the patriarchy. On the other, they were denounced for not being experts, and for not having formal training in psychology.

This latter is more than passing strange. The truth is, if you spend so much time dating that you become an expert in the field, then the chances are very good that you have never had a durable relationship. And if you try to study dating in a psychology program you are not going to learn very much about the realities of the new rituals.

I prefer to think of "The Rules" as a form of folk wisdom. Fein and Schneider succeed where experts have failed. In this way they remind me of 12 step programs. What expertise, what degrees did Bill Wilson have when he sat down with Bob Smith to create the 12 steps?

When Wilson and Smith founded Alcoholics Anonymous the great minds of the therapy profession had little or nothing to offer to addicts. Moreover, they were threatened by a treatment program that was being given away for free.

Does the same apply to relationship advice? I would conclude from the popularity of The Rules, that therapists had not been doing a very good job offering dating and relationship advice.

Better yet, just as 12 step programs offer a way for addicts to replace bad habits by good ones, so do "The Rules" offer a series of concrete behaviors that can, with practice, become good habits replacing bad ones. As I wrote yesterday, you cannot overcome bad habits with an epiphany; you need to work on building your character. Link here. And building character always involves learning to follow rules.

Even today, when you read the comments Carrao's column elicited (after the column linked above) you see that the old therapeutically-correct version of dating and mating still holds sway in many a mind.

Thanks to the therapy culture and feminism too many people can no longer wrap their minds around the fact that men and women are not the same thing. If you enter into a relationship with a member of the opposite sex you must recognize that that person will not always be thinking, feeling, and acting in the same way that you do. You do not need to know a lot of Darwin to accept this, but you do have to know some.

However much they protest to being men and women of science, therapists have concocted a therapeutically-correct version of relationships that ignores a lot of basic Darwinian facts. In their view a relationship is formed when two fully-actualized and thoroughly neutered human persons achieve a meeting of the mind, body, and soul.

Why anyone would claim this to be science is beyond me.

The therapeutically-correct relationship can be formed when people are true to their hearts, when they are open and honest to love, and when they have undergone enough therapy to become fully actualized human potential.

Of course, this is hokum. Or, if you like, snake oil. As Carrao is at pains to point out women who open up too much or too quickly often get hurt. Her rules-based advice is designed to allow women to take their time, to let a relationship develop, and not to rush into relationships as though they were desperate for any kind of soul mating.

When therapists say that you need not play by the rules so long as you open your heart to love, it sounds too good to be true. It is.

And think about this: what happens when a teenaged girl receives this message about complete openness and honesty and concludes that to have a boyfriend she must starting texting him pictures of the more intimate areas of her anatomy?

Or when the same girl has learned from talk shows that it is bad to feel ashamed of her body, and decides to demonstrate that she is sufficiently adult to overcome shame and starts sexting?

Or what happens when she gets slightly older and decides to reveal all of her feelings and secrets on her blog or Facebook page?

Doesn't this talk about openness and honesty, this attack on modesty and decorum, encourage, directly or indirectly, behaviors that are going to prevent young women from developing good relationships?

Certainly, a girl who engages in sexting is not playing games or being manipulative. Clearly, she is not a Rules Girl. But why does the culture insist that a young woman who retains control over her intimacy, who does not give it away willy-nilly, is playing games, compromising her heart, and being manipulative?

Before demeaning the notion of playing games, keep in mind that the alternative is protracted psychodrama, accompanied by soul-scorching anguish. What else would a woman feel after she has given everything she has to someone she did not really know?

As Carrao explains in her recent column, people need to step back, to take a deep breath, and keep something in reserve, before plunging into the deep end of a relationship. She advises a measured exchange of information and feelings, where one person does not open up completely while the other keeps his or her counsel. It may feel like an effort to hold something back, but if your partner is not on the same page, you are out on a limb sawing it off.

Therapeutically-correct relationships are a mirage. They are trotted out to play off the insecurities of women. They do not lead to good relationships where equals attract and settle down with equals in situations where there are no rules. (Between us, a situation where there are no rules and no prescribed behaviors is called anarchy. It is not happy valley.)

In truth, the reality of the current dating scene has no real resemblance to what therapy has prescribed. In denouncing "The Rules" feminists and therapists have not opened the door to better and more meaningful relationships; they have made the world safe for hook-ups.

The most important recent invention in the dating game is the hook-up... nothing more or less.

Open, honest, free spirited, in touch with their sexuality at levels their mothers never imagined, many of today's young women have become expert in the art of the kind of anonymous random sexual encounters that are called hook-ups.

But is it really new? Does hooking-up really represent an advance in human social interaction? I have already written about this, and I have already said that I do not believe that the new dating rituals are very original or are very good for women. Link here.

Is hooking up a new social institution, up there with marriage, courtly love, and Victorian courtship? Hardly. When you have a woman in a sorority who is hooking up with a man who has already hooked up with five of her sorority sisters-- that she knows of-- it is not really a new thing. I agree that she is not a rules girl; she is behaving like a harem girl.

Before you set off on the path to liberation, and before you accept that you are advancing the good of women, think about how well it has turned young women into harem girls.

When women live together as sisters, and when a different one is proud of being chosen for one night to have sex with the kind of imitation alpha male who is now called a pick-up artist, you are seeing something that closely resembles a harem.

After the hook-up the harem girl goes back to her sorority, to the company of other women. Or she may go back to her consciousness-raising group. The important point is that she is not expecting to have a relationship with the man; she may not even desire one. Her circle of sisters provides the emotional ballast that she needs. Especially if the women spend their time complaining about the emotional immaturity and inconstancy of men.

The sad part is that when women do not follow the rules, men are not going to treat them very well. Too much exposure, too fast, usually leads men to shut down. They see exposure as a demand and suspect that it masks desperation. When your date jumps into the deep end, you might feel that you want to rescue her, but more likely, you will feel put upon, and want to get out of there as quickly as possible.

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