Of all the genres in contemporary literature, “Self-Help” makes me bristle the most. In every bookstore, it’s always one of the busiest sections, too. Mostly women, of varying ages, nationalities, height, weight and degree of Oprah erudition, pile up and pour over books about changing your job, getting rid of your loser boyfriend or—my favorite—finding “your soul mate.”
There’s such determined scholarly treatises as How to Make a Man Fall In Love With You and How to Attract Anyone, Anytime, Anyplace—The Smart Guide To Flirting. Or the more sporty-aggressive Love Tactics—How to Win The One You Want and Calling In “The One”—7 Weeks To Attract The Love Of Your Life.
In one of the most popular of these books, He’s Just Not That Into You—The No-Excuses Truth To Understanding Guys, authors Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo explain that “if he’s not asking you out, if he’s not calling, he only wants to see you when he’s drunk,” or “he’s a selfish jerk, a bully or a really big freak,” then you’re a dumdum and need to work it out through exercises like writing down “how long it took you to start thinking that you might want to marry the guy you’re dating.” Why are girls so crazy?
And to reiterate this point is the sweeping Helene Eksterowicz and Gwen Gioia epic, Nobody’s Perfect—What To Do When You’ve Fallen For A Jerk But You Want To Make It Work. Tapping into our tragic propensity for ill-suited lovers, the book provides “tips and strategies for overcoming his less attractive side, and turning any jerk into the man of your dreams.”
Part One illustrates the “Jerks Who Can Be Saved,” citing examples like The Mama’s Boy, Mr. Fashion Emergency and The Cheapskate. Other “Jerks” who can be saved in Part Two, despite the fact that they “possess a physical abnormality that you can overlook,” include Mr. Vertically Challenged, Mr. Penis Predicament and Mr. Definitely Not Gay But Slightly Effeminate.
On the other hand, How To Make Someone Love You—in 90 Minutes or Less—Forever (by Nicholas Boothman) wants you to “hurry love.” Based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), the book says, “It’s time to stop leaving love to chance.” Dr. Alexander Avila even goes so far as to say it’s “A remarkable new entry in the science of soul mate psychology.” Even more nausea-inducing, is the opening poem by Luciano de Crescenzo: “We are, each of us… angels with only one wing; and we can only fly… by embracing one another.”
The book’s focus—like so many of the other titles—is to help you “find the person who will complete you,” asking the advice of everyone in the love game, from gigolos to couples happily married for 50 years. It also insists that, “with the right person, specific body language, and mutual self-disclosure, you can bring about strong feelings of love and intimacy.”
But advice on making love happen is not a new idea. Back in the first century A.D., the Roman poet Ovid made a small career out of writing mock-didactic poetry on how to find, catch and hold on to lovers. In The Art of Love, Ovid instructs his Cupid-bound pupils that “a frivolous mind is won by small attentions,” giving tips on how to flirt at the chariot races.
He also suggests “banquets” as an opportune arena for seduction, as “Wine rouses the heart, wine makes all men/Lovers, wine undiluted dilutes worry.” But then, a warning; he is quick to point out that “On these occasions don’t trust the lamps—they can lie:/Darkness and drink blur the judging eye” and “Night/Turns any woman into a goddess.”
He’s a man after my own heart, that Ovid.
I realize these intentions—gaining the confidence to play the game of love—are not bad, in and of themselves. But even the titles indicate serious contempt for their readers, like How Not to Stay Single After 40 and If I’m SO Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single?—all based on the “latest scientific insights” and “strategies that will change your love life forever!”
Is desire or passion too literary a concept anymore? Maybe that’s what I disdain about all these self-help dating books. They make it so clinical, too technical. They seem to say that if you just apply a formula, you will get the desired result. But what about “chemistry” or the mysteries of “that certain spark?” What about the vagaries of timing?
I still believe there are inexplicable occurrences and things you can’t control, a limitless combination of unforeseen possibilities and deterrents, obstacles and serendipitous overtures that make “love” when you do find it, such a miracle.
Samantha Campos has discovered the cure for male androgenetic alopecia and it’s called shut the hell up. MTW