Lyndon McGill wanted to know how people fell in love. So he decided, he confides in The Mating Game (1992), "to take a field trip to a farm and observe the animals." He was soon witnessing the copulation of a cow and a bull. "Coupling continued for a few minutes," he reports, "and then, without warning, the cow suddenly pulled away and ran to the opposite side of the corral ... I recalled how our family dog had behaved similarly." McGill's conclusion? To keep a man's interest, a woman must rise abruptly after sex and leave the room, the city, or even the country. It rekindles the man's desire. As McGill explains with a flourish, it's "just like taking a bone away from a dog." Such is the state of contemporary dating research in America.
If The Mating Game is a particularly unfortunate example of the proliferating genre of dating-advice books, it is not very different in substance from its companions. Its advice to women is that of the New York Times best seller The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right (1995), by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider: Make him miss you! Be mean to him so he'll be nice to you! It is the wisdom of John Gray's stunningly successful Mars and Venus series: Man is the pursuer. Make him pursue you. Although perfunctory contempt for such books is taken for granted among America's intelligentsia, guilty fascination with them is equally evident. Dating books are like traffic accidents: everybody says they're awful, and everybody sneaks a look at them.