Love is a battlefield, so you need all the ammunition you can get. Here's the best relationship guides that money can buy.
#1 The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists (2005) by Neil Strauss
Much maligned by females and other monsters, The Game is a memoir of journalist Neil Strauss’ life at a very interesting time: his transition from nerdy dweeb to irresistible Casanova, thanks to the art of the pick-up. In the book, Strauss learns from a guy called Mystery – among a few other dandy doyens – how to make women swoon at the touch of a shoulder. He becomes revered for his skill with the fairer sex and passes on his wisdom to a strange gaggle of wannabes who let their powers spiral out of control. Though it has been misunderstood as a how-to guide, The Game is actually a fascinating study in the psychology of dating and the differences between men and women.
Key line of advice: ‘In life, people tend to wait for good things to come to them. And by waiting, they miss out. Usually, what you wish for doesn’t fall in your lap; it falls somewhere nearby, and you have to recognize it, stand up, and put in the time and work it takes to get to it.’
Who should read it: Great for guys who lack social confidence. Vital for women who want to gain an insight into the connivings of the predatory.
Reviewed by Hamish McKenzie (Time Out Hong Kong)
#2 The Concise Art of Seduction (2003) by Robert Greene
Describing itself as a ‘masterful synthesis of the legacies of civilisation’s greatest seducers – from Cleopatra to John F Kennedy’, Greene’s book outlines the seductive process in the manner of a layman’s textbook. He takes us through his 24 laws of persuasion (one for every hour of the day?), devoting one chapter each to aspects such as choosing the right victim, entering their spirit, mastering the art of insinuation, poeticising one’s presence and our favourite: using the demonic power of words to sow confusion. Inspirational quotes from classic poetry and fiction, a mnemonic symbol for each law and colourful historical examples of the laws at work reduce the tedium of the seduction sermon. Greene addresses men and women, turning something subtle and elusive into almost a mathematical formula.
Key line of advice: ‘Every seduction has two elements that you must analyse and understand: first yourself and what is seductive about you; and second, your target and actions that will penetrate their defences and create surrender.’
Who should read it: Social pariahs who have PhDs but can’t understand why the smooth-talking charmer in the corner manages to hog all the attention.
Reviewed by Rachel Lopez (Time Out Mumbai)
#3 The Rules: Time- Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right (1996) by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider
Basically, The Rules embraces all the old-fashioned manners adored by grandmothers. The crux is that if you want a man to notice you, you need to create an aura of mystery, and you need to play hard to get. To authors Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider (we’re not sure what their credentials are, either), the best way to do this is not to be too assertive. Don’t go Dutch, don’t talk to a man first, never call him and, on the first date, make sure you act ‘quiet and reserved’.
Some of their suggestions sound common sense (ie, don’t get intimate too quickly), but many more are outdated for this day and age. Still, it’s the kind of book that inspires feminist theory; is it pre-feminist, or post-feminist? We’re not sure, but we fear following these rules might reel in the wrong kind of guy – the kind who would rather hear you wax lyrical about his virtues than engage in any kind of meaningful discourse. The writers even admit that ‘highly educated girls have the hardest time with The Rules’. We think it might not be for us, then.
Key line of advice: ‘Don’t divulge too much information at once. This way, you can keep him wanting more.’
Who should read it: Women who like to tell men their deepest childhood trauma on first dates. Also, women who don’t mind dating shallow men, so long as they’re rich.
Reviewed by Daisy Carrington (Time Out Dubai)
#4 Ex and the City (2007) by Alexandra Heminsley
In the age of Gossip Girl, where getting a date is already complicated enough, being dumped is an even trickier affair. Getting over a breakup is thus a skill that needs nurturing. Self-proclaimed ‘Queen of Dumped’, Alexandra Heminsley, has been kicked to the kerb numerous times, and everywhere, including in a graveyard. In her debut book, she shares her experiences in letting go of all those men and getting right back in the dating game.
Written in a very comic and unpretentious way, her book convinces women that they’re not alone and everyone has been there. She also gives the real explanations behind why men call it quits, and why they ignore the women they have dumped at social events. It’s not a book about how to find ‘The One’, but more a good read that will help you get over the fact that your so-called ‘The One’ doesn’t want you anymore.
Key line of advice: ‘You’ll move on and you’ll find another guy. But there may be a day when you have to see your ex again, and no matter how long it may be since you left the Kingdom of Dumped, that meeting may still have the power to leave you feeling thrown or awkward. Be prepared.’
Who should read it: Best for those (men or women) who are recently single and still caught up in their previous relationship.
Reviewed by Unggul Hermanto (Time Out Jakarta)
#5 Sex Tips for Girls (1983) by Cynthia Heimel
Any book that manages respectfully to use ‘penis’ and ‘stalwart’ in the same sentence deserves a medal. Way ahead of its time, Heimel’s witty, incisive prose on sex/dating/love/life is not just entertaining, but 25 years on, very relevant. Not a book to take with you on your commute (you’ll be chortling too loudly); there’s at least one gem on each one of its 205 pages.
You will laugh loudly at her do’s and don’ts. ‘Men who like pantyhose have been known to strangle innocent old ladies for no reason’ (on lingerie); ‘Refrain from introducing teeth into the proceedings’ (on how to give good head); ‘A sexual addiction is stronger than a heroin habit. To f**k is to get a fix’ (on returning to your ex). This is common sense at its best with a good dose of comic relief thrown in to help you till you find true love – or lust, whichever comes first.
Key line of advice: ‘Here’s the worst thing of all about a needy person: she (or he) hands over all the power to her (or his) love object without so much as a whimper. It may be true that everyone loves power, but not many want it handed to them on a silver platter. Where’s the fun in that?’
Who should read it: All women. Doesn’t matter who you are or how old, the chapter on masturbatory techniques alone is worth its weight in Rabbit vibrators.
Reviewed by Charlene Fang (Time Out Singapore)
#6 The Bachelor Home Companion (1993) by PJ O’Rourke
PJ O’Rourke has several million words of trenchant journalism under his belt and more entries in the Penguin Dictionary of Humorous Quotations than any living writer, but he reached his peak with The Bachelor Home Companion in 1993. Base One (dinner and show) was surmised sagely for the spendthrift lothario: ‘Never buy your date a dozen oysters in a month that has no pay-check in it.’ Base Two (dessert and a taxi home) was similarly savvy, touching as it did on pre-fondling Dutch courage. ‘A good bachelor drinks his dessert…and sometimes the rest of his meals too.’
By the time my date and I were in the door, O’Rourke had paved the way to Base Three (a clean work surface in which to seduce). ‘Cleaning, like seduction, should be done from the top down – starting with the ceiling and gravity takes care of that.’ From there, with clean house and dirty mind intact, it was time to get home. Leaning in close, with O’Rourke on my shoulder, I’d purr: ‘I’m not tired but I feel like laying down.’ The result? The perfect date and, for this bachelor at least, the perfect result – a dirty skirmish in a curiously clean bedroom.
Key line of advice: ‘For some mysterious Darwinian reason, women feel compelled to straighten up bedrooms before and after sex,’ O’Rourke explained. ‘So try to make love in every other room of the house.’ So thanks, PJ – I owe you a drink (and so do my dates).
Who should read it: This is a lad’s guide to dating, writ large, loud and oh-so louche.
Reviewed by Angus Fontaine (Time Out Sydney)
- The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists (2005) by Neil Strauss
- The Concise Art of Seduction (2003) by Robert Greene
- The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right (1996) by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider
- Ex and the City (2007) by Alexandra Heminsley
- Sex Tips for Girls (1983) by Cynthia Heimel
- The Bachelor Home Companion (1993) by PJ O’Rourke
This story first appeared as ‘Hearts on their sleeves’ (June 2009)