{Bookworm Review} Q & A with Mari Ruti on “The Case for Falling in Love”

In a world where today’s relationship industry is generally annoying and oozing with commercialized fads, amongst other sets of nonsense,The Case for Falling in Love by Mari Ruti, PhD  is refreshing, insightful and not overly simplified.

Image by Sasha H. Muradali. All Rights Reserved 2009.

Yes, it’s self-help, but of the tolerable and conventional kind.

After all, Ruti was educated at Brown, Harvard and the University of Paris, where after finishing her doctorate at Harvard, she spent four years as the assistant director of the university’s program for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality.

But don’t let her academic background deter you, her easy to read book, makes you feel like she’s talk to you and not at you.

According to Ruti, some destructive thoughts are that:

  • …men and women are hopelessly different.
  • …in order to attract a man, women must hide their strength, feelings and desires.
  • …the only way to catch and keep a man is to manipulate him into new ways of thinking.

She says that these ideas have not only been proven wrong by reality (and history), they’ve proven to be destructive to women’s emotional makeup and psyche.

In The Case for Falling in Love, Ruti urges women to ignore the noise, and redefine how they look for love; what they look for in love, and why they are looking.

Written in a funny, thought-provoking, and sharply intelligent style, Ruti’s The Case for Falling in Love engages and informs while dispelling today’s top misconceptions, such as:

  • In order to make romance work, women need to learn to interpret the “male psyche” and develop a toolbox of luring techniques
  • Women must resort to some variant of “Hard to Get” to win a man
  • To succeed, women must “massage the male ego”
  • Failures at Love are failures in Life

Purchase your copy here.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW:

I had time to take a chat with Ruti and here’s what she had to say:

Image via HBO

  • What inspired you to write the The Case for Falling Love?

My main goal in writing the The Case for Falling in Love was to offer an alternative to what is currently available on the self-help shelf. I find much of the relationship advice aimed at women both overly simplistic and demoralizing.

Many relationship guides imply that women aren’t good enough as they are – that the only way to succeed in romance is to learn the right set of “rules” for catching a man. Women are asked to approach their love lives with the strategic acumen of a five-star general, and when things don’t work out, supposedly it’s because they didn’t play “the game” correctly.

And what’s even worse is that they are trained to think of men as an alien species that can only be whipped into submission through manipulation.

They are bombarded by terribly outdated gender stereotypes that cannot possibly capture the complexities of modern romance.

I wanted to cut through these stereotypes so as to speak to those women (and men) who no longer recognize themselves in the traditional relationship models that drive our self-help industry.

Why should romance be based on the idea that men and women are engaged in some sort of a battle of the sexes where the better manipulator – the one who manages to keep his or her cool – “wins”?

Isn’t love the one experience in life where we should allow ourselves to lose control, become a little disoriented, and open ourselves to new experiences, including what might be surprising (not in the least bit expected or stereotypical) about our partner?

And why should women reconcile themselves to the caveman version of masculinity (or the 1950s version of femininity) that the self-help industry is trying to sell them?

Undoubtedly, there are still many cheating, commitment phobic, and emotionally unavailable men in the world, but surely this is not the only model of masculinity available to us these days.

I would prefer women to invest their energies in finding egalitarian and emotionally competent men rather than in trying to “outwit” the macho guys that so many self-help gurus (inexplicably) seem to find so appealing.

Image via Google Images

  • What do you see as the major obstacle most women have when approaching men and relationships?

Because we have all grown up in a culture that chooses to emphasize differences between men and women (Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, etc.) more than what unites us as human beings, many women approach men and relationships with the expectation that men are “designed” to cheat on them, treat them badly, disrespect their feelings, and flee from them at the first sign of trouble.

This puts the bar very low for men so that all they have to do to appear like God’s gift to women is to avoid being total jerks.

Quite a few of the men I talked to both before writing The Case for Falling in Love and afterwards have called attention to this, saying that it’s really very convenient for men that women are conditioned to have such low expectations of men.

When a guy slips – say, cheats on you – all he has to do is to refer to the so-called “male psyche” that our self-help authors are so fond of; all he has to do is to say that it’s in his “nature” to cheat.

One of the aims of The Case for Falling in Love is to demolish this dynamic and to help women raise the bar for the men they date.

My advice is to forget about Mars vs. Venus and to demand from men what you demand from yourself.

Image via Disney

  • What makes the Case for Falling in Love different than other relationship-guide/self-help books?

Besides the key idea that love is NOT a game – that the more we try to manipulate our romantic lives, the less of love’s wonder we are able to experience – the biggest difference is that I stress that stereotypical thinking about men and women can only damage our love lives.

We live in a society that is doing its best to move away from stereotypes when it comes to other issues, such as race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, social class, etc.

This is for a good reason: we know that stereotypes limit our thinking and can be extremely hurtful.

Why, then, are so many self-help authors actively encouraging stereotypical reasoning when it comes to men and women?

What can we possibly gain from reducing men and women to one-dimensional caricatures that don’t reflect the nuances of lived experience?

The more we think in terms of rigid gender binaries (men X, women Y), the less we are able to appreciate the uniqueness of the person in front of us.

Stereotypes blind us to the exceptionality of our partner, making it impossible to build a rewarding relationship.

I believe that it’s only when we start thinking of our partners as human beings with complex personal histories and even more complex existential struggles that we can begin to love authentically.

Image via BBC

  • Sometimes for a lot of women, they grow up with ideals — their fantasy man. The problem is, he is outdated from a time of carriages and castles (i.e. Prince Charming and Mr. Darcy).

    • How should women update their expectations and still stay true to themselves?
    • Is there a way to balance realistic expectations in relationships and love with their girlhood-fantastical ones?
    • Is there a balance and can those exist?

Idealization is a complex issue that I take up more fully in my more recent (and more academic) book, The Summons of Love.

I argue that it would be unrealistic to expect ourselves to be able to fall in love without idealizing our partner. After all, there is a reason for why our partner is different from our friends, colleagues, neighbors, or acquaintances.

We see in him some spark of extraordinariness that we don’t find in our other relationships.

I think this is a good thing, for there is so much pragmatism and levelheadedness in our daily lives that we often need the energizing jolt of love to feel fully alive.

As a matter of fact, when relationships fail, it’s frequently because we have lost the capacity to idealize; we have lost track of the spark of sublimity that drew us to our partner in the first place, so that he seems too ordinary and commonplace.

However, I also emphasize that there is a difference between ideals that have nothing to do with our partner (Prince Charming/Mr. Darcy fantasies usually fall into this category) and ideals that arise from some characteristic that our lover actually possesses and that is worth idealizing.

I argue that while the former type of idealization violates our lover’s integrity as a person (in the sense that it places upon him expectations that he can never live up to), the latter type allows him to feel wonderful about himself (in the sense that we recognize some aspect of him that in fact merits our reverence, such as kindness, generosity, or emotional intelligence).

In short, I think that there is nothing wrong with ideals per se.

It’s just important to align our ideals with the person we love rather than look for them in cultural lore or larger-than-life literary romances that have nothing to do with who he actually is.

Image via WeHeartIt

  • There is a new romantic-comedy out in cinemas right now called, Friends with Benefits, starring Justin Timerlake and Mila Kunis. I haven’t seen it, but from the trailer, it seems to touch on exactly that — outdated expectations women have of men.

    • Do you think that entertainment helps, hinders or both for this?

I also haven’t seen Friends with Benefits yet, but The Case for Falling in Love is very pro-entertainment in the sense that I think that a lot of movies and television shows – particularly those aimed at younger audiences – actually offer very enlightened gender models.

Clearly, many screen-writers, producers, and directors have figured out something that our self-help culture hasn’t, namely that some of the most appealing men and women in our society are those who break rather than reinforce gender stereotypes.

So in shows such as Gossip Girl, Smallville, or One Tree Hill – all of which I discuss in some detail in the book – you get a lot of emotionally competent and sensitive men as well as a lot of ambitious, smart, sassy, and sexually assertive women.

Viewers identify with such characters because that is how they experience their own gendered lives (or at the very least would like to experience them).

On the other hand, it’s apparent that many movies and television shows contribute to the unrealistic story-book expectations that women sometimes have of men.

Obviously, what we get on the screen are highly idealized, impossibly gorgeous men who make it harder for us to get excited about the flawed flesh-and-blood guys in the real world. But even this may not be all bad.

It would be naive to expect the media to stop presenting idealized types, and at least now it’s both men and women who are being idolized (whereas earlier women bore the brunt of this).

And, as I have started to suggest, these days the male ideal often includes admirable attributes, such as emotional competence and respect for women.

Even a character such as Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass, who is the show’s self-proclaimed womanizer, doesn’t disrespect women.

The diabolic plots between him and Blair Waldorf don’t change the fact that he respects her as his equal; they are well-matched precisely because they are intellectual equals (while also sharing a lot of emotional vulnerability).

While it’s certainly possible to find movies and television shows the denigrate women at the expense of men, these are becoming more and more rare, and this is because the entertainment industry understands that gender equality sells these days.

I’m quite happy with this development, even as I try to maintain a degree of critical distance from it all.

Image via WeHeartIt

  • On the same note of balance, at the end of The Case for Falling in Love, you have 12-anti rules for women (“Stop trying so hard,” “Stop being cautious” etc).

    • Are there really only 12 of them? Which one is the most important?

The 12 anti-rules in the end of the book are not meant to be taken seriously.

Because so much of The Case for Falling in Love is a critique of the “rule-oriented” nature of our self-help industry, I decided to end the book with a spoof of how the industry operates.

The anti-rules are absolutely tongue-in-cheek. While there may be a kernel of “advice” in them, their purpose is to entertain rather than to prescribe behavior.

That some readers see them as yet another attempt to give advice is perhaps due to the fact that I wasn’t fully successful in signaling that I was joking.

But in part it may be because readers are so trained to expect a set of rules that even my ironic anti-rules get translated into rules.That’s my one regret about the book.

I didn’t expect anyone to take the anti-rules seriously, but some readers obviously are doing so, with the result that they’re reading the book as a self-help book when it really isn’t meant to be that.

Image via DeviantART

  • What is your opinion on online dating sites?

    • In The Case for Falling in Love, you mention that these sites, such as e-Harmony, Match.com, Ok Cupid etc., can make love a commodity.
    • Can you explain a little bit more about that, please?

Like most things about culture, this is complicated, so I would never want to slam dating sites in some categorical manner.

And I happen to know people who have found wonderful partners through such sites.

But I do also think that they encourage a consumer mentality that can easily make us approach romance in the same way as we approach buying a car (compare different models, weigh the pros and cons of each, etc.).

There is a certain practicality to the whole process that is in many ways antithetical to the spirit of love, which is about the utterly idiosyncratic cadence of our desire.

One could even say that it’s yet another attempt to tame love, to turn it into a more controlled and disciplined experience than it is (or is meant to be).

And it feeds the idea that everyone should be coupled up – that if all else fails, you can resort to this quasi-rational “method” that will generate the right match.

Again, I don’t want to condemn it or those who enjoy it.

Whatever works for you, works!

But I’m not sure if it’s still compatible with love as I understand it.

  • Since writing The Case for Falling in Love, is there one other piece of advice or knowledge that you wish women knew or understood more about?

Since the book came out, the most common comment I’ve been getting from male readers is that they are happy that someone is finally telling women that they don’t need to play games to attract men.

I have found a lot of confirmation for the idea that men dislike the manipulative games women are taught to play.

And I’ve also found a lot of confirmation for the idea that many modern men are looking for many of the same things women are: an emotionally and sexually meaningful relationship with someone they can trust and consider as their equal.

Most men I have talked to are not crazy enough to walk away from a women they like just because she breaks one of the “rules” (say, returns a phone call within a day). If a man truly likes you, he’s not going to be scared off because you choose to be yourself.

And if he is, well, then perhaps he wasn’t the right guy for you.

~*~

A major THANK YOU to Mari Ruti for taking the time to speak with me.

Pink Blog readers, I hope you enjoyed this! 🙂

For those interested, you can purchase a copy from Amazon.com, here.

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Sasha H. Muradali runs the Little Pink Blog (formerly Little Pink Book PR). She holds a B.S. Public Relations from the University of Florida with a minor in Dance (’07) and an M.A. International Administration with a concentration in Communication from the University of Miami (’08). She loves Twitter (@SashaHalima), Harry Potter and the colour pink. Get a copy of the Little Pink Blog delivered to your Kindle and find us on Facebook.

Little Pink Blog & Little Pink Book PR are federally registered trademarks of Little Pink Book PR, LLC. © 2009-2011 Little Pink Blog & Little Pink Book PR. All

Comments

  1. Diana Marceil says

    This is fantastic! I currently live in SC. All of my best girlfriends are fellow New Yorkers and it is totally and utterly sickening the mentality that at least 90% of the women of this state share. I have actually met one girl who told me by the time she receives her bachelors degree she will be close to 100 thousand dollars in debt but that she had zero intentions in pursuing any career at all and the sole purpose of attending college was to find a rich husband. Women down here have low self-respect, no value for education, and live in this ancient stereotypical ‘southern’ way of life which encourages reproducing at 20 and totally off-base inaccurate social status. I cannot wait to be back in NY! Great article. xxxx

  2. Disqus wiped me out this morning, this comment was from me. 🙂 x