Men Who Can't Love By Steven Carter and Julia Sokol Evans, 235 pp., $15.95
How to Marry the Man of Your Choice By Margaret Kent Warner, 187 pp., $14.95
Our appetite for pop psychology on how to woo and win the elusive male seems unrelenting and unassuaged. Currently, two books have been best-sellers, dispensing confusing and conflicting advice. "Men Who Can't Love," which informs us that some men are unable to commit to a permanent relationship and that there is little we can do about it, and "How to Marry the Man of Your Choice," which burbles away in simplistic fashion that any red-blooded female should be able to manipulate, lasso and ultimately lead Mr. Right to the bridal chamber.
Who's a girl to believe?
I put my money on "Men Who Can't Love." For the smart female who makes foolish choices and perhaps loves too much and who finds herself coping with an emotionally erratic lover, Steven Carter and Julia Sokol have written a worthwhile and informative book. In it they explain the phenomenon of "commitmentphobia," men caught between a need for love and their overwhelming fear of monogamy and a permanent significant other.
As every woman in the singles jungle knows, there are many men who have a problem with the word forever. It may be the man who disappears after a first date, the ardent Don Juan who never calls after a particularly romantic evening, a fiance who stands you up at the altar, the man who announces he will never marry or remarry, the devoted husband who leaves clues of infidelity or turns into an argumentative lout.
For all of the above, the concept of intimacy and togetherness is literally so terrifying that panic sets in and they are forced to flee. (These guys are psychologically disturbed and should be forced to wear a danger sign!)
Based on the lack of permanence in his own relationships, coupled with research for an earlier book on phobias, Carter has discovered a direct correlation between commitmentphobia and claustrophobia -- the fear of entrapment. Any phobic response can vary, thus men who fear happily ever after fit into various amorous patterns. They run the gamut from those that are terrified of all commitments to some who can handle the short-term variety to others who are able to make a commitment of sorts, while suffering sweaty palms and constant pangs of anxiety.
The love of a good woman definitely does not conquer all. In fact, it does just the opposite; it turns these would-be Romeos into Artful Dodgers.
How to tell if you're involved with a commitmentphobic?
After coming on strong, he suddenly starts backing away. He makes clear certain parts of his life, family, friends, weekends or vacations are forbidden zones. He doesn't seem to hear what you are saying and pays less and less attention to your needs. He stops returning calls or doesn't call when he said he would. He is congenitally unfaithful and starts provoking a fight. The guy is running scared, ladies, and we are not to blame. You have fished in troubled waters, and now it is time to cut the bait.
You can turn yourself into a pretzel, tap dance in your nightgown, dye your hair, change your shape, profession and friends, cater to his every whim -- all to no avail. The relationship is heading for the rocks, and any move you make will only trip his internal alarm system and drive him further away. What's a girl to do?
Play it slow and cool, guard your independence, keep your options open, date other men, believe what he does -- not what he says, and above all don't obsess and take the rap for his inability to bond. Get some satisfaction that once he disappears (for a week, a month, a year), he will probably be miserable and try to insinuate himself back into your life. Before you are driven to distraction and unless he is willing to see a shrink, at that point you should cut your losses, tell him he's a creep and pick up your marbles and play elsewhere.
Conversely, "How to Marry the Man of Your Choice" conveys the message that with the right technique any male can be snookered into matrimony. So sure is author Margaret Kent of the outcome of her advice that she gives the readers of her book a two-year deadline plus a money-back guarantee.
Her often ridiculous route to the altar is based on "hot and calculating strategy" plus the idea that men are not the evasive Casanovas we have all endured but sniveling 14-year-olds worried about rejection. Would you believe?
Friendliness and approachability are crucial to success, says Kent, and the best places to whisper your first sultry hellos are laundromats, where you can lend a prospective date the bleach and fabric softener; book stores, where you can both peruse "The Joy of Sex"; political outings, where supposedly interesting men hang out. (Little does Kent know.) Or doctors' waiting rooms. (Forget this ploy if you are visiting your gynecologist.)
Kent does not insist that you abandon your career to meet your future mate; she merely suggests that you change your place of employment or job function. Nurses, airline stewardesses and waitresses -- who convey concern and caring -- are the most successful at dating and marrying; but failing to be in one of these occupations, you might opt for the Internal Revenue Service: you'll get the attention of every man you meet; security guard: you can stop any attractive man; or boat and service repair: you might be signed on to crew for the likes of Adnan Kashoggi.
Once you have singled out your target, you must not waste time having fun. The purpose of dating is to interview the man for marriage material. Have "big ears," and let him talk his way into love. (Journalists, psychiatrists and lawyers have a leg up in this department.) Your role is to be empathetic, not sympathetic, and the most effective technique is the one of transference. Ask him to describe his inhibitions, anxiety, guilt, hostility, anger, pleasure, competence, self-esteem, lust, sorrow, love, jealousy and dependency. Get him to reveal his past and present love affairs, down to the last gory detail. This may take a hundred-hour monologue, but never mind; if you are not already deaf, outraged or nauseous, your mission will have been accomplished. His heart and soul are yours!
Then it is time to clinch the deal by enhancing your relationship. Upgrade your vocabulary; praise him continually. Don't talk dirty. Wait until he employs the first expletive. Above all, be a bitch. Nice girls don't succeed; bitching will keep him coming back for more.
Had enough? Just wait. It gets worse.
Don't go to bed with a man until he has been interviewed, approved and has already invested his emotions in you. Then make sure the timing is right. Sex too soon, or too late, will doom your matrimonial prospects. After the first night tell him, "Honey, you were terrific," no matter what, and then be prepared to revive him from the encounter with coffee, sweets and appetizing snacks.
Want the latest tips on bedroom manners? Do not ridicule his size, or compare him unfavorably to other men. Do not store money or trinkets in your underwear. Don't expect him to sleep on crumpled or wet sheets. Fix up the bed.
If all this information reminds you of a dog-training manual, you've gotten the message. Kent readily admits that men are not born to husbandry but must be taught to acquire this particular unbreakable habit. Using Pavlov's dog as an example, she advises repetition, association, praise and command.
The final blow is the dastardly act. On the brink of marriage, thinking wistfully of the millions of dazzling women he will have to forgo, your intended may be inclined slash the tires of your car. Or move to Europe. Or show up at the wedding with a date, not you. Even Kent's own husband indulged in a brief moment of rebellion. He refused to wear a tie for their nuptials. Totally unfazed, Kent marched him firmly toward the altar, dismissing these unfortunate episodes as merely the last gestures of resistance. "Don't react negatively," she pens. "You're on the right track."
Can these men love? How would Steven Carter deal with these symbolic acts?
I plan to return my book to the publisher ahead of time, promptly reinvest in "Heartburn," and head to the stove to try out a few seductive recipes.Sandra McElwaine is a Washington journalist who writes for Cosmopolitan and Regardie's.