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In college, Emma, a twenty-something communications manager from Seattle, fell in love with a commitment-phobic older guy. She adored him, cancelled plans to be with him and did everything on his terms. (Oh, how familiar that scenario sounds…)
When that guy broke her heart (as those types always do), her mom sent her a care package: running shoes, a Sephora gift card and “He’s Just Not That Into You,” a dating advice book based on the eponymous slogan that rose to fame on the hit HBO show, “Sex and the City,” and later turned into a megastar Hollywood film. Emma took the mantra to heart and when that guy came crawling back, she kicked him to the curb.
Shortly after, she met her husband. “He really is that into me,” she says. “And I can tell.”
Dating advice books might promise your very own Cinderella (or Emma) story, but they don’t always deliver. Using three popular dating advice books, we dish out the dirt on what works and what really, really doesn’t.
THE FOUR MAN PLAN
The mantra: “Play the field.”
The advice: “The Four Man Plan,” written by actress Cindy Lu and endorsed by Amanda Bynes, is all about playing the field. According to the website, “the point of the plan is to give yourself the best chance of meeting Mr. Right,” a goal it accomplishes by encouraging you to date four men at a time. It uses graphs to map your dating Plan and brands itself as “a relationship science” (because, you know, it uses math). It’s about taking a proactive approach to dating—tackling the “problem” with a plan, as a true Type A love-seeker is wont to do.
The reality check: At first, dating around may up your game. “I do believe that the more game you have, the more people you’re going to attract,” says Rachel Sussman, LCSW, marriage and family therapist. “If you seem desperate in any way, that can come across.” In fact, speed-dating studies have shown that seeming desperate or unselective can turn off a potential partner. “Dating a few people casually may make you more likely to convey the idea that you’re not desperate,” says Paul Eastwick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University.
But beyond the first date, the Plan’s effectiveness depends on your relationship goals. “If you’re looking for short-term dating options, then the Four Man Plan might be quite effective,” says Tim Loving, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at University of Texas at Austin and co-founder of ScienceOfRelationships.com. But if you’re looking for long-term love, stay away. “The more alternatives you perceive, the less committed you feel, so maintaining more relationships means you’re more likely to pass up Mr. Right.” In fact, a 2010 study found that having more options actually lowers your chances of choosing Prince Charming. Larger dating pools caused information overload, leading study participants to choose less compatible mates based on more superficial traits.
Experts question whether you can really assess your options when you’re juggling too many balls (har har). “Being in a romantic relationship with many people will work against intimate self-disclosure since there’s an element of competition,” says Eastwick. In other words, you need to create a safe space—where he knows he’s your one and only—if you want him to reveal all the fuzzy stuff (like his hopes, fears and dreams) that can tell you if he’s “the one.”
The love lesson: Keep your options open in the beginning when you’re just getting to know someone, but after a few dates, take a chance on the guy you like best.
HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU
The mantra: “Ditch him if he’s not into you.”
The advice: “He’s Just Not That Into You,” written by comedian Greg Behrendt and “Sex and the City” story editor Liz Tuccillo, pitches itself as the “no excuses truth to understanding guys.” The message is simple: If you have to ask if he’s into you, he isn’t. When he really wants to be with you, he’ll go out of his way to be a part of your life. Don’t spend nights agonizing by the phone or make excuses for all of his crap, just wait for a guy who’s into you and leave the ones that aren’t by the wayside.
The reality check: This simple phrase—he’s just not that into you—can be a lifeline if you’re the but-he-was-so-nice-that-one-time type. “Women often get caught up in the dance of thinking, ‘He liked me in the beginning, so what happened to that nice guy?’” says Sussman. “That thinking can lead you to hang in there too long, which really chips away at your self-esteem and self-respect.”
But reading the signs correctly, especially in the beginning, can be a battle against your brain. “When we really like somebody, we often imbue meaning into all sorts of little signs,” says Eastwick. “Did they wait an hour to call me back? Two days? That’s part of the infatuation process.” When that process spirals out of control, step back. “Probably more often than not, you’re reading the signs to be more optimistic than they really are so you may pursue someone longer than is warranted,” says Eastwick. In those cases, say the mantra and hit the road.
Of course, there is a catch. “Some people just take a little while to come around,” says Eastwick. Plus, others may lack the social skills or the hutzpah to communicate their feelings effectively. “Dating is a tough game,” says Loving. “Someone who is into you might not want to screw it up by coming on too strong. Keeping his distance might mean he’s not that into you or it might mean the exact opposite. How do you want to roll the dice there?”
Just don’t ignore that inner voice screaming at you when a guy goes AWOL. “If you see a distinct change in pattern, that could be a red flag,” says Sussman. “You have to watch the signs.” If your guy makes you want to down a pint of Haagen-Dazs, then turn this wisdom on its head. “A lot of what [Behrendt] writes about could apply equally to women as much as men,” says Loving. Before you give anyone 99 percent of your mind-space, take a moment to ask yourself whether you’re just not that into him.
The love lesson: Dump any guy who doesn’t think your fabulous self is all that, but before you slam the door, make sure you have an accurate read on him.
WHY MEN LOVE BITCHES
The mantra: “Play hard to get.”
The advice: “Why Men Love Bitches,” written by magazine writer Sherry Argov, promises to take you “from doormat to dreamgirl.” The dreamgirl, here, is a bitch, which is to say that she leads her own life and doesn’t make herself too available when suitors come a-knockin’. She is slow to reveal everything about herself, values her independence and certainly doesn’t let on if she’s really digging a guy. In short, she plays hard to get.
The reality check: At the beginning, a little coy flirtation can sow the seeds for romance. “As soon as something becomes less novel, it becomes less interesting. That’s how our brains work,” says Loving. “We like learning new things about people a little bit at a time. A little mystery is alluring.” In fact, a 2011 study showed that we are more attracted to potential partners when we’re not quite sure if they’re into us—a compelling argument for playing hard to get.
Just don’t wear him out with the chase. “At some point, if we don’t get rewarded, the chase stops being interesting,” says Loving. There’s no magic formula for when to open up (Loving says he’d be a millionaire if he knew where that sweet spot was), so you have to feel it out for yourself. “Early on, there is a dance between cultivating hope and uncertainty. But sometime in the early weeks and months, you need to demonstrate responsiveness,” says Eastwick. “If your partner loses hope, he’ll disengage.” In other words, if he doesn’t think you dig him, he’ll move on.
If in this cat and mouse game, you come off as too independent, Argov has a solution: Be a “dumb fox." By that she means, play down your own ability (to, say, kill a bug or hang a picture) in order to make your man feel manly—but ugh, that makes us want to vom. If you want to play dumb, then sure, you’ll attract a super sexy Neanderthal. But is that really who you want to be or be with? “Smart, intelligent, powerful women need to feel comfortable with who they are,” says Sussman. “A man who is truly confident inside will not feel competitive or insecure with a strong woman.”
Still, you need to make your man feel needed and valued (as he should do for you, too). To do that without sacrificing your self-respect, the solution is simple (and smart): “Just listen to him,” says Loving. “Something as simple as that is quite effective.”
The love lesson: Don’t play all your cards in the first hand, but when you want to develop intimacy, you’ll need to let the walls down.
The trick with any dating advice book is to find what works for you and leave the rest.
Emma—our “he’s just not that into you” success story—took pop dating advice to heart. “You really can tell when someone isn’t that into you,” she says. But she knows how to sift the wheat from the chaff. She’s quick to point out that figuring out if he’s into you has nothing to do with how many times he’s brought you flowers or showered you with gifts. “I’ve received one bouquet of roses and one necklace over the four years my husband and I have been together. It’s not all about the flowers.” When you’re open to meeting someone and mindful of your gut feelings, you will find your match.
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