Mari Ruti spent two weeks immersed in 20 relationship self-help books. Then she devoted the next 10 weeks to writing one of her own — begging women to toss the dime-store advice and start listening to their guts when it comes to love.
“The Case for Falling in Love,” which was released in February, grew out of discussions that arose while Ruti was teaching a course on gender, sexuality and identity at Harvard University. The romantic frustrations her students reported seemed to stem from the way popular culture encourages men and women to approach each other — as alien beings encrypted with a secret code that needs to be cracked.
Ruti rails against books and magazines that promote this “Mars and Venus” approach to dating, as well as the theories of evolutionary biology — such as the idea that men are hunters who love the thrill of the chase — they use to support their arguments.
She is most critical of books that advise women to tailor their behavior to a particular script, such as trying to cultivate an aura of mystery, helplessness or disinterest. In the end, she argues, these guises will fall away, and “if you need to play games to retain your boyfriend’s interest, it’s unlikely he’s the right guy for you.”
And while Ruti acknowledges that women often seek out such advice when they’re frustrated by their current approach, she believes that most relationship books do more harm than good by making women doubt themselves and encouraging the idea that they need to change themselves to attract a guy. “I wanted to offer an alternative,” says Ruti, now a professor at the University of Toronto. Her advice? Just be yourself.
Ruti argues that much of the trouble for both genders comes from a desire to control the outcome of romantic interactions. Our attempts to try to “manage” love, she writes, “make us so cautious — so emotionally wooden and guarded — that they undercut our capacity to feel and express love . . . the more we try to domesticate love, the more anemic our experience of it becomes.”