If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out Part 1 and Part 2 first.
Chapter 4 looks at ‘becoming,’ and that doesn’t mean that this transforms into one of the many self-help books that Americans seem to love to read, talk about and then move on to the next book. It’s about becoming the you that you are meant to be, because that is a necessary element to a successful relationship. Why? “Truth is, your relationships will never be any healthier than you. Here’s why. And this is important. Relationships are never stronger than the weakest link…The stronger, more mature, more secure person in a relationship is always forced to make up for, defer to, or fill in the gaps created by the weaker person.” (57) I know, I know, this sounds uber harsh. But it’s also accurate. Think about the relationship problems you hear couples talk about. Is the issue really their relationship?
Let’s back this up a little. I think we all recognize that our lives are often richer, fuller, more joyful lives because of the relationships we have. And it doesn’t stop at the emotional, social and spiritual support that these relationships provide. It gets physical. God also gave us sex. Sex that feels really great. “If God created and gave us the capacity for satisfying relationships, it’s reasonable to assume God knows a thing or two about how to prepare for and operate one.” (59) This makes sense, right? Who knows how to operate something better than the designer, the creator, the originator of that thing? God actually teaches us this in the New Testament, and it lines up with what Andy Stanley writes about with regards to focusing on ‘you becoming’ versus ‘you finding.’ “…if you approach the New Testament asking, ‘How do I find the right person?’ the text is silent. But once you muster the courage to ask, ‘How do I become the right person?’ the text comes alive.” (61)
Ask yourself what happens to the ‘right person myth,’ after marriage. Does it dissipate? Or does it linger? Do people with that attitude, upon facing challenges and difficulties, end up questioning if they are with the ‘right person’ because things aren’t all good? It’s stunning how often we see people insistent on changing the person they are with. “‘If I could get my spouse to act right, everything would be all right.‘ Odd thing, these are the very couples who married assuming that they had met the right person to begin with. Turns out, the right person doesn’t always act right.” (62) This is another reason to focus on ‘becoming.’ If you are a person who just searches for the right person, your focus will always be on making them right, and not on yourself. Conversely, if you marry someone who believes in the right person myth, then any issues that arise would rest on the idea that you are not, in fact, the right person.
Depending on the circles you run in, there’s a lot of talk about love as a verb. This means that rather than love being driven by feeling or chemistry, love is demonstrative action. This is found all over the New Testament, but not so often in our romantic comedies, which tell us that action is driven by the feeling of love. As an example from the New Testament, consider Matthew 5:44, where we are asked to love our enemies. Certainly if they are an enemy, you’re unlikely to find emotion to be a driver to act loving. Rather, we are being asked to demonstrate love for those who come against us! What this tells us is that relationships are built on choice rather than chemistry. “Great relationships are built on good decisions, not strong emotions. Again, falling in love is easy; it requires a pulse. Staying in love requires more. Specifically, embracing love as a verb.” (63) Remember, again, that this is not what society tells us. It says that you get what you give, it demands people to ‘get what they deserve,’ as long as you do your part I’ll probably do mine (unless something better comes along).
Where does this land us? Many of us (ahem) have experienced it firsthand: “The results are fragile relational contracts built on conditional agreements that leave both parties focused on the behavior of their partner…they are relationships built on ‘mutual distrust.’” (64) The end result of this is that each person expects the other person to carry the weight of the relationship and the expectations in it; failure to do so is a failure to meet the contractual requirements and confirmation that the other person is not, indeed, the right person. Disappointment, blame, and moving onto someone else become a continuous cycle for all parties. But then there’s this alternate path available to us:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 “The Greek term translated new in our English Bibles connotes strange or remarkable.” (65) Something about what we’re being called to in love is remarkable from what love was before! We’re supposed to love like Christ did: sacrificially. What does this look like? Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Yeah, I know. Submitting. This can be a hot topic but I want you to hang with me here, okay? Let’s really understand what’s being said.
Paul is writing about what Andy Stanley calls mutual submission. “…Paul wasn’t calling for an unequivocal unilateral abandonment of personal independence. This is a one another thing…mutual submission doesn’t work unless it’s mutual. It only works when both parties work it.” (67) This is not the way the vast majority of people operate, and that’s why Paul points us back to our reverence for Christ. Why? Because we are meant to be inspired by Jesus’ example and use it as a model for our own relationships. Ephesians 5:22-5:25 says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The emphasis is added to highlight the mutual submission that is inherent in this verse. This is the kind of relationship we are called to, but it might all just sound a little too good, right?
“The alternative is to invite fear into future relationships… While your reservation is perfectly understandable, it’s entirely unnecessary and counterproductive. You were created for more than guarded relationships and ‘I will as long as you will’ love. Truth is, you hope that’s true, even if you’ve never seen it or experienced it.” (68) I John 4;18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Don’t we want that? Aren’t we called to that?
At one point Andy Stanley was fundamentally asked if he believed that having a two-headed home (instead of the man being the head of the household) was like a two-headed monster; if he believed the man should basically be the head of the household. He replied:
“Before I answer your question, imagine you’re married to a man who genuinely believes you are the most fascinating person on the planet. He’s crazy about you. You have no doubt that your happiness is his top priority. He listens when you talk. He honors you in public. To use the old-fashioned term, he ‘cherishes’ you. He’s not afraid to make a decision. He values your opinions. He leads, but he listens. He’s responsible. He’s not argumentative. You have no doubt that he would give his life for you if the need arose. You never worry about him being unfaithful. In fact, to quote an old Flamingos’ song, he only has eyes for you… Would either of you have trouble following a man like that?” (70)
And if you read that, you’re answer was probably no, I wouldn’t. In fact, you probably said, “Where do I find that guy?” Why? Because that sounds like a really amazing guy, a man that is easy to follow because you are confident that they have your best interests at heart. You don’t have to fear it or fight it. “Stand-alone submission is dangerous. But mutual submission? That’s different. A relationship characterized by mutual submission is the best of all possible relationships. It is a relationship worth preparing for. It is a relationship worth waiting for.” (71)
I also thought, as I read Andy’s description, am I a person that ALWAYS listens when other people talk? Do I honor those I love in public and cherish them? Am I responsible and not argumentative? Faithful? I think that the answer to most of these are yes, but there are certainly ways I could grow in order to make these characteristics stronger and more frequently demonstrated. I believe that taking those steps will help me prepare for whatever it is I’m waiting for.
It happened on a Thursday night. A guy I’d been seeing had come over and we’d just finished watching a movie.
Aside from his repeated requests (and my repeated denials) that we “find somewhere to lie down,” the evening had gone smoothly. Then we started making out and he fell asleep: just leaned his head back and closed his eyes, mid-kiss. We decided then that it was time for him to go home, and I was left to wonder — did he keep asking to lie down because he needed a nap?
I had been feeling a little bored with my love life lately, but watching my date fall asleep was my wake-up call: Something had to change.
That’s when I discovered The Rules in a friend’s coffee table. (“My mom gave it to me — she’s ESL,” offered my friend, by way of explanation.)
The Rules is a notorious dating advice book published 20 years ago, in 1995. It lists 35 rules that women who want “marriage, in the shortest time possible” are supposed to follow. The prose is both basic and whimsical, like advice from a well-meaning but slightly unhinged 90-year-old great aunt, offering one of those “pep talks” that actually make you feel worse, rather than better. (“Well you’re no Angelina Jolie, dear, but with the right wardrobe, a more feminine haircut, about 10 fewer pounds, and some minor plastic surgery, there’s no reason you couldn’t convince a man to ask you out.”) There is a kind of old-world charm to it, really.
There are many good reasons to ignore The Rules, including the fact that getting married as quickly as possible falls well below “figure out why my thumb nail is bumpy” on my list of priorities. But there is one compelling reason to give them a try: morbid curiosity. I couldn’t resist.
For the past three months, I have been following The Rules, and nobody has fallen asleep yet.
Rule #1: Be a “Creature Unlike Any Other”
I first tried The Rules at a local pub, where I was attending an event with friends. It wasn’t quite a “singles dance” (the book is pretty keen on those), but it was as close to one as I will get, being under 50 years old.
I have been to pubs before, but this night was different, because I was attempting to be “a creature unlike any other,” which involves brushing the hair out of one’s face, “in a slow, sweeping motion,” smiling all the time while avoiding eye contact, and “walking briskly” around the room without ever stopping.
Sensually sweeping the hair out of my eyes, I entered the pub and began to walk briskly. At once, I realized how challenging it is to be in constant motion without actually looking at anyone. I nearly collided with several men while smiling vacantly at the wall behind them. Surprisingly, nobody rushed to the coat check girl to ask for a pen to grab my number, as promised.
I sat down at a table, where I plastered a smile on my face and stared ahead like an Oscar nominee on award night, waiting for a guy to succumb to my mysterious allure. Unfortunately, without looking directly at anyone, it was hard to tell if a man was actually talking to me, or to someone nearby.
I am not sure if I spoke with a man that evening or not.
“But First, the Product — You!”
As I continued my research, I realized I’d missed an important first step: becoming a product. The chapter titled, “But First, the Product — You!” provides helpful hints that mostly seem to involve not eating sundaes, not dressing like a man, and having long hair, in addition to (obviously) an alternating regular schedule of manicures, pedicures, and facials, as well as plastic surgery “if necessary.”
Of course, it also involves getting skinnier. The authors quaintly exhort women to “Join a gym, buy an exercise video, or go jogging in a nearby park.” Luckily, a friend was able to get me a free week-long pass to a local gym.
At the gym, a fit, attractive man named Pablo gave me a half hour-long tour and then ushered me into his office, where he expressed concern about my bad knee (we were old friends now), and insisted I have a personal training session with a woman named Mary, who informed me that I have weak inner thighs.
This is not a condition that is covered in The Rules, but I could hear the authors’ voices in my head: “Inner thighs should be strong and mysterious!” So I integrated clam shells and squats into my workout schedule. (Because being a “Rules Girl” means having a workout schedule.)
Rule #9: How to Act on Dates 1, 2, and 3
I had internalized the rules, and I was clam-shelling the crap out of my inner thighs. It was time to test The Rules on a date.
My potential doting husband and I had been trying to plan the date for nearly a month, because I was following rule number five (“Don’t call him and rarely return his calls”) and rule number seven (“Don’t accept a Saturday night date after Wednesday”). Once, we had planned so far in advance that we both forgot we even had a date.
For all the freakishly precise instructions about how to get a date, The Rules are practically mum on what to do during the date itself. The authors beg us not to mention the “M Word” on the first date, or to go about naming our future children just yet, but beyond that, we’re told to “relax” and “don’t try too hard.” That’s it, apart from smiling, which should be the only expression your face is now capable of producing.
I therefore had one goal for the date: Let him carry the conversation without being “controlling or wifey.” I have always thought of first dates as a team effort, with everyone doing their best to make sure the conversation doesn’t run aground on some awkward, silent sandbar. Was my desire to contribute to interesting conversation to blame for not having a husband who wants nothing more than to spend his time antiquing together?
I met my date in front of my apartment, because I don’t have a lobby (lobbies are mentioned frequently and wistfully in The Rules). We exchanged a greeting and I waited for him to begin the conversation. He didn’t. I was on a date with Quiet Guy — someone The Rules brushes off as a quasi-mythical figure. The thinking seems to go, if he likes you, he will develop an entirely different personality.
We walked to the restaurant, which worked out well because I at least had something to do while I tried really really hard not to initiate any sort of conversation. This feat was much harder as we stared silently at each other over dinner between short bouts of small talk.
Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. “You know, all this staring reminds me of an article I read recently where a couple asks each other 36 questions, then stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes, and they fall in love,” I blurted, which was almost as bad as using the “M word.” “Oh, so if we keep staring at each other we’ll fall. . . .” he trailed off. More silence followed, but with less eye contact.
We finished dinner and he walked me to my door, where we stood quietly for a few moments before he remarked, “Well, I’m going to head out.” And left.
What Does It All Mean?
I decided to follow The Rules because I thought it would be funny, and I was curious about how people would respond to me. I didn’t expect it to affect me, personally.
The book seems to advocate, in its own twisted way, for women to develop greater self-respect. For all the ridiculous advice, the message seems to be, “Don’t throw yourself at guys who aren’t interested and who treat you badly.”
The problem is, the more I try to follow The Rules, the less self-respect I have. The more I have focused on how I act around men; how I speak, and look, and every gesture I make, the more self-conscious and anxiety-prone I have become. Dating has stopped being a mutual decision-making process about whether we want to get to know each other better. It’s become about me trying to be attractive to him, and either succeeding or failing.
Self-worth is a steep price to pay for “love.”
After our date, Quiet Guy texted me, saying he’d really enjoyed it and would like to do it again. I said, “Sure.” But next time, I’ll be doing the talking.