Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Rules - Made to be Broken

Relationship Advice Books are flying off the shelves. How the Media has had a bizarre impact on modern romance.

Romance is a confusing, difficult thing for many of us. We can often feel lost, especially in the wake of a break-up. We can be left desperate for answers and explanations – why didn't it work? Why can't I find someone? Is there such thing as "the one"?

In the last few years we've seen numerous books aimed at both men and women claiming to hold these answers, selling millions of copies around the globe. Are they really beneficial, or just exploiting our vulnerabilities?

Ever since the book He's Just Not That Into You was featured on the Oprah Winfrey show, it's been topping best-seller lists worldwide. Inspired by an episode of Sex and the City and written by Liz Tuccillo and the show's former writer Greg Behrendt, this book challenges many of the myths that women create about men and dating by explaining things simply and realistically – and from a guy's perspective.

It's called a Break-up because it's Broken, also by Behrendt, attempts to help men and women come to grips with the rejection and confusion of a break-up, and to accept that it wasn't working. Writing this time from the perspective of someone who has been dumped and survived, Behrendt tackles difficult issues like the crazy out-of-character behaviour and obsessive thinking that many "dumpees" experience.

If I'm So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single? by Susan Page provides 10 strategies which are supposedly critical to success in love. The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider is an infamous Bible. Its followers call themselves the "Rules Girls" and are convinced of the philosophy's power. Some would say that the book is outdated, with its return to pre-feminist mind games. However, it is also considered by many to be useful and motivational. And the authors' only credentials? They're married.

Most of The Rules involve playing hard to get, and letting the man come to you – which is of course manipulative, but can give girls with low confidence a feeling of empowerment and of being in control – something that thousands would happily pay for. And they do.

The Rules reached number one on every major bestseller list, and sold over 1.4 million copies in America alone. It received tremendous media attention which quickly catapulted it to world-fame, having been featured on various TV shows and in Time, Newsweek and many others publications.

Wendy Finerman (Forrest Gump) and Paramount Pictures have optioned film rights to The Rules. Ben Affleck is currently in talks to star opposite Jennifer Aniston and Scarlett Johansson in He's Just Not That Into You the movie, which will have a number of interweaving stories about modern relationships. Both films will, of course, be box-office smashes. People lap this stuff up.

Sex and the City, Friends and other hugely popular shows like them have had more of an impact on the modern perception of romance than anyone could have imagined. Women's attitudes towards their own sexuality have dramatically changed too.

Prudishness and discreteness are looked on as stuffy and old-fashioned, and buying a Rampant Rabbit is almost like a right of passage. Outrageous new concepts like "fuckbuddies", "going on a break", "one-night stands" and "flings" have made their way into our vocabulary, and our love lives.

It's remarkable how quickly we adopted this bizarre belief system. Relationships are strictly categorised as "serious" or "casual", "exclusive" or "open". Commitment – something once sought as the final goal of any relationship – is avoided at all costs and the word alone strikes fear in the hearts of men and women alike. In today's world, being "tied down" is portrayed as the ultimate enemy to freedom, and a successful career.

These authors are making a lot of money, and little wonder so many people are turning to their books to make sense of it all – modern relationships are positively insane. There are so many specifications, rules and restrictions, and a whole new terminology to come to grips with; taking things to "the next level", being "just friends", clingy-ness, "coming on too strong", playing it "cool", leaving a minimum of three days before you call… It's certainly become a lot more complicated than the old Boy Meets Girl story.

Books, TV, magazines and even modern music are telling us how to be in control and how to gain the upper hand in relationships. Am I the only one who feels the fun has gone out of it all? Is it supposed to feel like a power struggle?

In today's world we are getting married a lot later in life, so the reality is that the relationships we have in our youth, and well into our twenties, are not likely to last – so why not have fun with them? Why obsess over the why why whys of failed relationships?

Relationships can, and should, be eye-opening opportunities to get into someone else's head, to get interested in new things and new types of people. Share with them what you're interested in, and give their stuff a go. Learn from them. Broaden your interests and your mind. And when life decides it's not working anymore, take what you've learned and move on.

The advice and explanations these books provide can be comforting – after a break-up we need all the help we can get – but all this over-analysis, over-thinking, and over-liberalisation of sexuality is warping our outlook on things. If you obsess over every little detail, how can you get any enjoyment out of your time with that person? Is he going to call? Is she looking for something serious? Is this moving too fast? It's about time we realised just how ridiculous things have gotten and how we're making everything a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

These books claim they can show you how to control the course of love, or how to control someone's attraction to you. No book can give you that power. Those urges come from our most basic animal instincts. You are bound to want people who are wrong for you, you will always feel terrible after a break up, and you will often find yourself getting swept up in it all, getting carried away, or acting crazy. And that's ok!

If Romeo and Juliet had followed the rules and obsessed about doing everything "right", theirs would have been a fairly boring story. Although, the end may not have been so tragic.

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