Self-Help... Or Self-Harm?

Headed to the nonfiction section of the bookstore to look for some dating advice? Before you go, we’ve got a few titles you might want to check off your recommended reading list…

By Matt Schneiderman

he shelves in the self-help section of the bookstore are overcrowded with guides to love, dating and relationships, most written by self-professed experts with varying degrees of legitimacy. And yet, every few years, a book — the book — stands apart from the mass paperbacks and holds the fickle attention of love-seeking singles across America. But how do these
Limit phone conversations with a suitor to 10 minutes to encourage the notion that you have a busy life.
media sensations fare in the long run? Here are the former love-life bibles that singles cherished in their heyday — and what’s become of them and their authors in the meantime.

The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider (1995)
The gist: A woman who plays hard to get will snag a quality husband.
Typical advice: Limit phone conversations with a suitor to 10 minutes to encourage the notion that you have a busy life.
The sensation: Author appearances on The Today Show; publication in 26 languages; four follow-up books; themed calendars, notebooks, and ankle bracelets; a rap song; coined the term “Rules Girl” (RG).
Backlash: Critics labeled the book’s advice as anti-feminist and even said it was dangerous — mainly because it encouraged women to give men mixed messages and potentially enable stalkers. Fein divorced her husband of 16 years shortly after releasing their third follow-up title, The Rules for Marriage, in 2001.
Legacy: Fein and Schneider continue to appear in the media, declaring that celebrity brides such as Beyoncé Knowles and Kate Middleton are successful “RGs.” For Rules devotees, the pair offers in-person seminars, online and phone consultations, makeovers, and even courses providing dating-coach certification and instruction for writing a best-selling book.

The Code: Time-tested Secrets for Getting What You Want from Women — Without Marrying Them! by Nate Penn and Lawrence LaRose (1996)
The gist: The male “response” to The Rules — only this time, it’s played for laughs.
Typical advice: Date married women — they won’t expect presents.
The sensation: People magazine printed a predictably frivolous interview with the authors.
The backlash: Itself a product of The Rules backlash, this lampoon did nothing for advancing the dialogue between single men and women.
The legacy: New and used copies of the paperback are available from authorized partner sellers. LaRose later wrote about his DIY home improvement experiences in 2005’s Gutted: Down to the Studs in My House, My Marriage, and My Entire Life.

The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick-up Artists by Neil Strauss (2005)
The gist: A man can bed any woman he wants by using rehearsed seduction techniques that have been developed within the pick-up artist (PUA) community.
Typical advice: Deploy “the neg” — a backhanded compliment meant to encourage a woman to seek the PUA’s approval (as opposed to the other way around).
The sensation: Though the New York Times best-seller was originally written as an exposé of the so-called “underground PUA community,” Strauss’s presentation and attention to the strategies and tricks they used clearly marked the book as a how-to guide instead. Male readers started subsequently infiltrating bars, accompanied by wingmen and half-rehearsed “routines” with which to regale unsuspecting single women. A more straightforward guide by Strauss (Rules of the Game) and the VH1 television series The Pick-Up Artist followed in 2007, further entrenching his PUA techniques into the male psyche.
Backlash: The book’s contents were decried as misogynistic by the press; critics pointed out the superficiality of both the methods and the men who practice them in equal measure.
Legacy: The popularity of The Game made women aware of some of the more accessible (though outlandish) tactics employed by its devotees. One example of this is called “peacocking” — i.e., dressing outrageously (like wearing a huge fur hat) for the sake of attracting attention, which is now widely ridiculed and parodied in pop-culture media. All the same, the PUA community thrives online and in society; Strauss himself founded a company to provide coaching for his fellow daters. Meanwhile, Strauss continues to write, most recently releasing Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness in 2011.

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (2006)
The gist: Use positive thinking to get what you want!
Typical advice: Clear out space in your closet to make room for your future soul mate’s belongings.
The sensation: Conflating several decades — if not centuries — of popular self-help-y advice that encourages optimism and thinking positively with rudimentary scientific
Clear out space in your closet to make room for your future soul mate’s belongings.
principles into a unified theory (“The Law of Attraction”) in order to create wealth, health, and happiness, The Secret captivated trends-maker Oprah Winfrey, catapulting the book and related DVD into the hands of millions. For a lovelorn single, The Secret advised visualizing and listing his/her ideal partner’s characteristics (e.g., “He’s taller than me”), the expectation being that the universe would align itself accordingly to produce said mate.
The backlash: Several things enabled The Secret’s fall from grace. First, there was a falling out between Byrne and Esther Hicks (who had served as a primary source/spiritual adviser to Byrne) over a financial dispute. Byrne’s “like attracts like” theory, when applied to victims of natural disasters (like the 2006 tsunami), suggested that catastrophes are the fault of those who suffer from them; similarly, the belief that overweight people are to blame for their condition for not thinking “thin thoughts” seemed callous and reproachful to critics. Even Oprah herself later recanted her initial enthusiasm, decrying the book’s focus on “getting stuff.”
The legacy: The book has sold over 21 million copies and has been translated into 44 languages; Byrne recently released The Magic, a 28-day guide to living the principles of The Secret and her second book, The Secret: The Power.

Make Every Man Want You: How To Be So Irresistible You’ll Barely Keep from Dating Yourself! by Marie Forleo (2008)
The gist: Women are amazing, and so are you!
Typical advice: Embrace being single!
The sensation: Forleo, a professional life coach, launched Make Every Man Want You as an alternative to the “manipulative” tactics espoused in tomes like The Rules and The Secret while doing a blitz of peppy media appearances. Short on substance but flourishing with style, the handbook and Forleo personally earned rave endorsements from celebs like Kelly Ripa, Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, and 4-Hour pitchman Tim Ferriss.
The backlash: Online reviewers sum up the book as 172 pages of “be in the moment;” a self-styled “Jill-of-all-trades,” Forleo seems to have published Make Every Man Want You for no other reason than to add “author” and “relationship expert” to her extensive list of professional titles, which currently include: speaker, fitness personality, dancer/choreographer, and lifestyle coach.
The legacy: Despite offering rather meager actionable advice, Make Every Man Want You remains in Amazon’s top 20 within the dating category. Meanwhile, MarieTV — part of her online mission to enable entrepreneurial women to be “Rich, Happy & Hot™” (yep, it’s trademarked) — was recently named as an Official Honoree for a Webby award in the “Best Web Personality/Host” category.

New York City-based freelance writer Matt Schneiderman has written for Stuff and Sync.
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