‘Undateable’: Moral philosophy masquereding as a humor book
Normally I’m a snob when it comes to novelty books. No matter how smart the concept, they’re most often strained, manic, painfully unfunny. So imagine my surprise when I found myself gulping down Undateable, by Ellen Rakieten and Anne Coyle, in one sitting.
That’s because Undateable (subtitled “311 Things Guys Do that Guarantee They Won’t Be Dating or Having Sex”) has a rare consistent hilarity that grows out of common sense, keen social observation, ferocious tough mindedness, and, believe it or not, a generosity of spirit. Rakieten and Coyle, in the end, are women who really, really like men.
“The good news here is that many of these things are fixable,” they write in a section on “What Not to Wear.” “The bad news is that once a woman sees you in any of these getups, you have been compromised.”
Like what? Jorts, jean shorts: “Justin Timberlake can’t even pull this off. And he’s really rich.” Soul patch: The little brush of facial hair under the lower lip, which the authors call the “Flavor Saver.” Different shapes, sizes and colors. “All are nasty.” Or: “Overly Cologned:” “You’ve already assaulted three of our five senses and we don’t even know if you rent or own.”
Other fashion no-gos: Black jeans, Dad jeans, sky-blue jeans, sports jerseys (“They make you look like a big, lumbering seven-year-old”), Cosby sweaters, porkpie hats, “guylights,” Hawaiian shirts, cellphone holsters, Crocs, body piercings, transition glasses, sideways baseball hat (“a national epidemic”).
“The fact that you stood in front of the mirror, making your puckered-lipped ‘I’m so cool’ face, propping your ‘lid’ at the perfect angle to get this exact look, is so loserish it scares us. You don’t look like a stud. You look like a complete tool.”
I always knew women were smarter than men in some important ways, but the depth of intelligent perception displayed in this book would be terrifying if it weren’t so funny, and if I (a single man of a certain age and uncertain dateability) did not find myself in gleeful agreement with so much of it.
Underneath the humor and even the generosity of this book lurks a subtle but firm sense of morality, which could be summed up as: Take responsibility. Rakieten and Coyle want men to grow up, show up, wise up, shape up, step up. At the beginning, the authors define the word “guy” as used in the subtitle: “We mean someone over the age of twenty-one (Any younger and you’re still considered a boy.)
“By the time you’re twenty-one, you ae working (hopefully) and beginning to make your way in the world. That’s the time to start pulling it together in terms of how you’re presenting yourself.”
The only bit of social bite in this entire book I cannot endorse is “What Not to Do: Own a Cat.” I understand why the authors say this, but some of the most archetypally manly men I’ve ever known (I’m talking bikers, bail bondsmen, fishing guides, cops, auto mechanics) have been helplessly devoted to their cats.
For the record, Ellen Rakieten and Anne Coyle are imminently datable themselves — attractive, powerful, high-achieving professional women. Rakieten was a key producer with The Oprah Winfrey Show for 23 yers, while Coyle is a senior copywriter-turned-interior design magnate.
Not surprisingly they have a witty and interactive Facebook page where you can take quizzes and stuff like that.
Meantime, I’d like to ask the women in the audience: What makes a man undateable for you? And men: Anyone like to defend your gender?