[Paleopsych] NYTBR: Dating: What's Love Got to Do With It?
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Mon Apr 4 17:16:59 UTC 2005
Sunday Book Review > Chronicle: Dating: What's Love Got to Do With It?
By DANIEL SWIFT
THE HOOKUP HANDBOOK
A Single Girl's Guide to Living It Up.
By Andrea Lavinthal and Jessica Rozler.
Simon Spotlight Entertainment, paper, $14.95.
BE HONEST -- YOU'RE NOT THAT INTO HIM EITHER
Raise Your Standards and Reach for the Love You Deserve.
By Ian Kerner.
HOW TO LIVE WITH A MAN . . . AND LOVE IT!
By Jennifer Worick.
CLOSING THE DEAL
Two Married Guys Take You From Single Miss to Wedded Bliss.
By Richard Kirshenbaum and Daniel Rosenberg.
William Morrow, $19.95.
Love as a Mental Illness.
By Frank Tallis.
Thunder's Mouth, paper, $15.95.
We live in a culture of counsel and comfort, and the great source of
all our confusions is love. The literary canon teaches us that our
true loves are reserved for things we know are bad for us, for Vronsky
or for Heathcliff. But neither one is Mr. Right, and neither will do
today, since we love, more than ever now, with purpose: relationships
are a means to an end, and when there are breakdowns along the way we
have manuals to put us right again. From one-night stands to holy
matrimony, the many zones of love have been charted in brightly
colored how-to guides. While the rules of engagement vary, most are
addressed to women, all see human relationships as a zero-sum battle,
and all insist that happiness is no more than a few well-directed
The first thing to know about casual sex is that it is no longer
particularly casual. The Hookup Handbook instructs that ''ambiguity is
key to hooking up,'' but then proceeds by dizzying litanies of
typography and vocabulary. There are seven rival definitions of what
exactly a hookup is, and then 14 varieties: it involves
not-necessarily sex behind probably closed doors, and it comes in more
flavors than Baskin-Robbins. After you've memorized the difference
between ''booty disparity'' and ''Schick-blocked,'' renovated your
apartment into a ''Hookup-Friendly Bachelorette Pad'' and worried over
the many quizzes, you're through boot camp and on your way to war.
At the risk of sounding like Ken Starr, I'd like to know what
precisely the hookup involves, but Andrea Lavinthal, a beauty editor,
and Jessica Rozler, who works in book publishing (both are in New York
City), skirt all events between drunken rendezvous and next morning's
walk of shame. Behind the flurry of pep talk and gossip that makes up
a relationship manual is a certain coyness.
Be Honest -- You're Just Not That Into Him Either is a reply to last
fall's hit ''He's Just Not That Into You,'' and while its philosophy
of love is given away by its title, its overall lesson hinges on a
warning against sex. ''Think,'' Ian Kerner counsels, ''what the costs
are of sleeping with guys you might not be that into'': ''Sex is more
than just an accessory in your wardrobe'' and ''having it casually
devalues a core component of the courtship process.''
While Kerner, a sex expert who has a weekly column on eDiets.com,
appears to advocate higher standards, he could also be seen as
encouraging women to lower them strategically. He holds as sacred the
pursuit of a compatible mate, and as part of the quest, you may have
to accept occasional solitude and be realistic: ''Make sure you're
casting a wide enough net.'' Men, put simply, aren't that great. For
Kerner, men are sex-obsessed rats, ''the main purveyors of porn and
prostitutes,'' and their sexual psychologies are radically different
from women's; ''for them,'' he writes, ''the orgasm and the sex are
virtually one and the same.''
At the paradoxical heart of these manuals -- which instruct how to
foster a relationship between the sexes -- is an insistence that men
and women are different species. Women may be needy, emotional and
insecure, but men are childlike little animals best kept on a leash at
all times. According to How to Live With a Man . . . and Love It!, men
like pot roast, lasagna and sports; women like reading and baking; and
in order to foster a workable domestic truce, they must understand,
but never try to breach, this divide. ''Have shiny, touchable hair,''
Jennifer Worick recommends: ''Tuck a fresh flower behind an ear.'' Men
can be manipulated with such carrots and sticks. ''Keep a laundry
hamper in the corner so you're not distracted during lovemaking by an
unsightly heap of dirty clothes on the floor,'' Worick, the author of
''The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook'' and ''The Action
Heroine's Handbook,'' advises: ''Make it easy for your man to keep
things tidy.'' Beyond the simple assumption that men are dirty lies a
fear of a sexual intimacy so fragile that dirty laundry would disrupt
Intimacy isn't in the air these manuals breathe, for intimacy opens a
window onto risk. Bolstered by checklists and swaddled in strategies,
these manuals trade passion for programs and love for war. The patron
saint of modern love is not Cupid but Sun Tzu. Closing the Deal is the
only one of these guidebooks to quote ''The Art of War,'' but Sun Tzu
presides over their spirit like an omniscient deity. ''Closing the
Deal'' is built on the same lists and questionnaires that dominate the
other manuals, but here the purpose is more nakedly apparent, and its
vocabulary is unforgivingly bare. ''Marketing is war,'' declare
Richard Kirshenbaum, co-chairman of the advertising agency Kirshenbaum
Bond & Partners, and Daniel Rosenberg, a film-studio executive and
producer. Women must market themselves: by learning their ''Target
Audience,'' several ''Marriage Motivators'' -- like showing off
expensive property -- and their ''Dating Inflection Point.'' If all
else fails, pretend to leave him to force him to give you that ring.
This love story is as cold and sharp as its spiritual mentor, the
Power Point presentation.
The authors of most of these manuals repeatedly proclaim their happy
marriages, which makes sense: you wouldn't trust a dentist whose teeth
were bad. But love is not dentistry. Much of the advice offered is
common sense -- trust is a central element in a relationship, as is a
willingness to compromise -- but our need to see it written down makes
it alien. The forms of happiness offered by these books are precisely
that: formal, whether the structure they sketch is a single sexual
encounter, domestic cohabitation or marriage. What is missing is the
emotional drive that we all hope to find in our relationships. The
variety of passion denies rigid categorization, and must therefore be
For love is, Frank Tallis writes in his short psychiatric study, ''a
necessary madness.'' As Tallis, a psychologist, describes it in Love
Sick, we are ''afflicted rather than affected by love.'' Poets have
been describing love as a kind of mental illness for thousands of
years: Tallis lightly surveys the literary record and finds in it
telling correspondences with psychological and biological descriptions
of this extreme emotional attachment. Our genes are wired to follow
slavishly the dictates of natural selection, but our societies and our
bodies would become exhausted if we followed them into ceaseless
childbearing and raising. ''However, the very fact that we can
self-reflect, and rebel, has perhaps necessitated the evolution of a
safety mechanism,'' Tallis writes in his elegantly restrained prose.
''We call this safety mechanism 'love.' ''
The great fear that dating and relationship manuals seek to soothe
with their reassuring strategies is the fear of abandonment and of
humiliation: of being stood up at a bar or at the altar. This is a
fear it is wrongheaded to assuage. As Tallis acknowledges, ''to be
romantically involved is an admission that carries a host of
implications: passion, folly, obsession, anguish, recklessness,
intrigue and adventure.'' Love -- the passion whose name dating
manuals dare not speak -- enters at the same door as fear,
Daniel Swift writes for The Nation and The Times Literary Supplement.
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