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Contrary to the impression I strive to create, I am often completely unaware of the latest hot new trend. So last year, when a male friend called me a “Rules girl,” I had no idea what he was talking about. He hipped me to The Rules, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, and from that point on he took it upon himself to inform me every time I broke the Rules. If he asked me to hang out on the spur of the moment and I said yes, he would tell me about Rule No. 7, Don’t Accept a Saturday Night Date After Wednesday. If I called him and we talked more than 15 minutes, Rules No. 5 and No. 6, Don’t Call Him and Rarely Return His Calls, and Always End Phone Conversations First. I told him I wasn’t trying to marry him. “Yes, I know,” he replied. “But it’s still good to practice” (Rule No. 25).
I did consider buying The Rules, but one of my family’s favorite adages is that if you wait a little bit something better will come alongat a bargain. Something better has come along: The Sistahs’ Rules, by Denene Millner. A common sense book for real-life women. Nineties women. The Rules is Donna Reed. The Sistahs’ Rules is Elaine from Seinfeld, with melanin. Best of all, it comes with a money-back guarantee.
While the Rules suggest you “shake your buns” at the gym, the Sistahs’ Rule No. 1 is Celebrate the Power of the Booty. You won’t find advice on how to coquettishly brush hair from your face (“with your hand from the top of your head in a slow sweeping motion”). You will, however, find plenty of admonitions to get a life (No. 2), hook yourself up so you don’t look all “ragglely” (No. 3), and develop a genuine appreciation for basketball and other sports (No. 16).
Like the original Rules, the Sistahs’ Rules include 35 precepts, plus a few extra, such as advice for high-school and college girls. Unlike the Rules, Millner’s are divided into three main sections: meeting him, getting him, and keeping him.
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In the first section, she advises women not to be so hung up on looks and material status, to focus instead on what’s inside. She also lists some tell-tale signs a man is a no-go: pager number instead of a phone number, still rocking a Jheri curl, and a tan line on the left ring finger, to name a few. But if he passes the test, ask him out on a dateexactly the opposite of what the Rules direct.
The second section’s solid, practical rules on how to get a good man offer less fodder for debate. No sex on the first date is a standard that appears in both books. (And why are people still breaking this rule, anyway?) One of my favorite rules appears at the end of this section, No. 26, Give Him the Option of Commitment. Millner makes a good case that ultimatums, not commitment, drive men away. She advises offering him either commitment, or, option No. 2, he can date other women with the understanding that you are free to date other men. He’ll pick No. 2, but that sharing part will get to him soon, and you may find yourself getting a commitment quicker than you imagined.
The “keeping him” section deals with female foibles. Millner tells you how to Be His Lover, Not His Mother (No. 32) and cautions, Never Ask A Question You Don’t Want the Answer To (No. 30). In a contemporary twist, she advises shacking up before tying the knot. Interestingly, she gives two examples: One couple is already engaged before shacking up, the other only considering marriage. Guess which one lasts. You can chalk one up for the Rules this time, which advises moving in together only after you’ve set the date.
Millner’s book is not free of its deceits. In Sistahs’ Rule No. 15, The Way to a Man’s Heart Is Through a Great Plate of Greens, she tells a story about a woman who would get a girlfriend to cook and then, Cyrano-style, serve dinner to her paramour as if she had prepared it. The difference is that Millner’s rules emphasize self-acceptance and having fun. None of this not dancing at the club unless he asks you first.
Millner’s bottom line: Be sensible and safe, and value yourself. If you have problems with good judgmentand even the best of us have momentary lapses of reasonby all means, follow somebody’s rules. I’m not sure which rules will get you a husband first, but both sets will help you avoid a lot of unnecessary heartbreak. In Sistahs’ Rule No. 5, Millner tells the story of her own parents’ courtship. Her mama broke several of the Rules: She sought his attention first, and at the end of their first date, instead of cutting it off stayed in the car talking until the sun rose. And they’re still happily married.
As for me, I’m a Mama’s Rules girl, kind of in between the Rules and the Sistahs’ Rules. My mother’s a country girl from Alabama who made a pretty good life for herself. A difficult divorce and single parenthood made her cautious in the romance arena, but when she first saw my stepfather, she remembers a voice inside her saying, “That’s your husband.” They dated and were eventually engaged. But the man who would become my second dad had some issues he needed to resolve. After painful deliberation, homegirl gave him back his diamond ring and told him he needed to get himself together if he was going to be with her. He did, and they’ve been married now for 16 years. In sickness and in health, richer and poorer, for real. I could tell you some stories, but don’t let me get to preaching.CP