Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dating book review: The Four Man Plan: A Romantic Science

As terrible as its name sounds, the Four Man Plan was funny and surprisingly empowering, and actually the kind of book that I could see changing positively how its readers approach dating. I nonetheless feel the need to explain how I came to read this book because it is a bit ridiculous. Waiting for job replies, I am having trouble concentrating on work, so headed to my local public library to pick up some books for distraction, the latest books that I'd heard of, mostly serious nonfiction with a few entertaining books thrown in. While getting Sex in the City writer Cindy Chapuck's Between Boyfriend Book (entertaining, but fluffy), I ran across The Four Man Plan by actress and new age-type Cindy Lu, which I picked up because it seemed so ridiculous. I gathered a stack of books and sat down to figure out which ones I would leave the library with, and decided to start reading the ones which looked least likely in order to eliminate them, so the first one that I started was the Four Man Plan since it was the most ridiculous. I got so absorbed by the book that I ended up having to postpone a phone interview 15 minutes. Which went very well.

Behind silliness such as a nonsense equation, I think that Lu speaks a few kernels of truth.

- Keep an open mind about everyone, and accept every date and contact unless you already have a "full dance card"; don't exclude or eliminate anyone unless they treat you badly, make you feel bad about yourself, or are otherwise out of the question. Most people do not experience love at first sight; assume you're like most people, and that you don't know right away. The dance card idea is that women should date 4 man-equivalents at once, where each date gets weighted by the intensity of involvement: a promising contact counts for 1/4 man-equivalent, a couple of promising dates counts as 1/2, getting more romantic counts as 1, sex counts as 2 1/4. Game over if exclusive.

- Keep perspective and don't assume anything prematurely: date other people, even if one says that he loves you or sleeps with you; it's not exclusive until you both agree that it is. Don't think too seriously about anyone who lives out of town.

- Keep your wits about you (think with your head, not anything else): believe that there are enough good men out there and that women do not need to compete with each other, and don't rush into anything. Sex on the second date (or whenever) is okay, but not out of a mistaken belief that it will make men more interested or keep them from losing interest; unfortunately, the infamous double-standard --- that men don't value women who put out too early --- is often true.

- Look for someone who is honest, loving, and willing (e.g., to try new things and help you out), and be the same. Any other specific qualities probably won't work out.

Lu uses her Chinese background for comedic effect, saying that she came upon a mathematical theory that would allow her to stop sucking at love, and she even comes up with a silly equation to go along with it, but she acts like the scientific veneer is a joke that she and the reader share, rather than seriously an answer.

The New York Times's book review was, in my opinion, unfairly critical, relying on stereotypes rather than what the book actually says, summarizing it as, "Its familiar premise is that women ought to defer sex with `honest, loving and willing' suitors, because men like a challenge." Lu tells her own experience of having not been patient before, and found it refreshing when she did start to get to know the men better before having sex with them, waiting 2 months, which is hardly coquettish or unusual.

One of the case studies that she quotes was a woman who always had sex very early on because she thought that there was no way that men would like her otherwise. This woman was actually surprised when she found out that men would like her even if she didn't have sex with them on the 3rd date. The reviewer talks about the book as if it's anti-feminist, but to the contrary: some women apparently feel obligated to have sex with the men that they are seeing, especially after a certain number of dates; no one should ever have sex out of a feeling of obligation.

The theory is one that I've been applying all along, when I remember. The one time that I've gotten hurt in the past year was when I decided that I was devoted to a guy before he was devoted to me, so I was relatively vulnerable when I left town for 3 weeks and he started to seem not so interested when I came back. During my 3 weeks of travel (two different places), I was in date-like or romantic situations with 2 guys; we didn't kiss though we really wanted to, or have an explicit date. With one of them, I think there was (probably still is) real potential were he not across the ocean. At the time I felt guilty about them, but now I realize they're what kept me from being too badly hurt; if I had read the book earlier, I really could have let things develop a bit while I was away. After all, I'm guessing that's exactly what that guy did, explaining how he came to have an instant girlfriend the second he broke up with me.

Counting the number of man-equivalent-units that I'm dating, though it's nebulous:
- Facebook guy: 1 date with second planned, 1/4.
- Fifth amendment: 1.
- Engineer. It's not going to be a relationship, but we like each other: 1.
- Guy who weighs 20-30 lbs less than me (and I'm short and normal weight): several dates, 1/2.

Apparently, I have 1 1/4 slots left on my dance card, which produces a perverse incentive. Either I have to meet 5 new people (who all start off as 1/4) or start making out with at least one of the people on the list. Somehow that doesn't seem like the best way to approach dating.

1 comment:

Liesel said...

You could also allot as many squares as you wish to your job search, or to any other areas of your life that you feel are demanding particular attention. That's part of the 4MP, too.