• Rule 5: Don't Call Him and Rarely Return His Calls

    Men have not figured it out yet, but a telecommunications revolution is sweeping America. They leave a woman a message; she does not call back. They send her roses; there is no thank-you call. They flirtatiously hand a woman a business card and say, "Give me a ring--we'll have lunch." The ploy used to work, but now the phone sits silent.

    The era that has resurrected Jane Austen and girdles seems to have spawned a new sort of woman--someone who doesn't call herself a woman at all but a Rules Girl. A Rules Girl is "a creature unlike any other." A Rules Girl knows better than to ask a man out--or even talk to a man first; she is "easy to be with" but hard to get because she is very, very busy. Three decades after Helen Gurley Brown's classic Sex and the Single Girl offered women the heady advice that men are "cheaper emotionally and a lot more fun by the dozen," all that solo flying seems to be less than thrilling. That must be why self-help books on dating have at last evolved into The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right (Warner Books; $5.99).

    This teeny little paperback, complete with a diamond ring on its cover, has become a word-of-mouth hit, selling 50,000 copies in the past month alone; 235,000 copies have been shipped to stores since its publication in early 1995. But The Rules is not just a book; it's a movement. Around the country, Rules Girls are spontaneously forming themselves into support groups. They are paying $45 a pop to attend Rules seminars and forking over $250 an hour for phone consultations with authors Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider--neither of whom is a credentialed anything. In Hollywood, where last week the book hit No. 1 on the Los Angeles Times paperback best-seller list, producer Wendy Finerman (Forrest Gump) has optioned movie rights to The Rules for $250,000.

    Laurence Kirshbaum, CEO of Warner Books, admits that at first he could not believe women in the '90s would want this book: "My reaction to it is one of great sadness," he says, "in that if this is what relations between the sexes have come down to, I think we're in trouble." Kirshbaum is weeping all the way to the bank: Rules II is already under way.

    Rule 17: Let Him Take the Lead

    Fein and Schneider, who whip out pictures of their husbands within seconds of meeting a reporter, preached the Rules to friends for years before deciding to write them down. Their thesis is a simple one, familiar to evolutionary scientists (and most women with mothers of a certain age): men are hunters who thrill to the chase. In recent years, the authors claim, women have made the game too easy. "Feminism," explains Schneider, "has not changed men."

    Fein and Schneider have clearly hit a nerve among women like Kathy, a thirtyish Hollywood movie producer, who says, "The results of the Rules are wonderful. You need a series of behaviors that are kind of consistent." That need explains why women showed up at a recent Rules seminar in New York City to ask the authors such questions as, "If I'm in a long-distance relationship, how long am I allowed to stay on the phone with the man?" The tough-love answer: 10 minutes.

    Rule 20: Be Honest but Mysterious

    A first reading of this book provokes a mix of outrage and hilarity. A chapter on Rules for married women advises that if a man stays late at work, ruining that special dinner you've cooked, the appropriate response is not anger but, "You've really been working hard lately. I'm so proud of you." Something does not parse here. "This is pretty old-fashioned stuff," says Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan, who endorses some, but not all, of the Rules. "Weren't we supposed to be free?"

    Yes, free to believe Fein and Schneider when they promise results that are nothing short of revolutionary. "When you do the Rules, you cut down on domestic violence," says Schneider, with stunning confidence. "[Men] are so crazy about you, they never ignore you or abuse you. And you don't have cheating."

    Rule 31: Don't Discuss the Rules with Your Therapist

    Unless she is Hedy Tan, 46, a psychotherapist who has volunteered to run a Rules support group in Chicago. "All I suggest is, don't question it, just do it," she says. "Some therapists will think the Rules are dishonest and manipulative," the book warns, but Tan and other Rules Girls insist that playing hard to get empowers them. "I am weeding out the losers real quick," says Kathy. Ellen Robey, 28, who works for a talk show in Nashville, Tennessee, and runs a Rules support group, says her attitude now is "I deserve the best, and you're lucky if you can even get my name." After following the Rules for a year and a half, Robey became engaged last week.

    If nothing else, Rules Girls have a spirit of adventure. "Sherrie and Ellen assure me that it works," says Randi, a California Rules Girl. "I'll try something else if it doesn't." An attitude like that is music to the ears of self-help authors everywhere.