Take cover for the battle of the dating guides. Liesl Schillinger meets two Manhattanites whose `Code' for men is cracking `The Rules'
As far back as October, they were two young New York editors like any others; presentable, intelligent, mild-mannered, single and well-used to having arch women with archer eyebrows flounce past them at cocktail parties. But now, one month later, camera crews trail them from dawn to dusk, doggedly gathering biographical footage for posterity; chat show execs from Japan, Germany and Argentina pursue them without pause; and every magazine, newspaper, television and radio station - and unattached woman - in New York wants a piece of them by Christmas. They are Nate Penn and Lawrence LaRose (29 and 33), and they are the ostensibly gentlemanly authors of the season's most anticipated and dreaded book, a cad's how- to called The Code: Time-Tested Secrets for Getting What You Want from Women - Without Marrying Them!

You wouldn't think they had so much menace stored up in them. Penn, dark- haired and boyish, digs into his salad with an unmistakable air of triumph. LaRose grins across his soup plate (the three of us are having brunch - one in an endless succession of meals that Penn and LaRose will no longer need to pay for). Genteel, fluent in several languages, possessed of shoulder- length honey-colored hair, LaRose is a bona fide Code Man - and is only just awakening to the fact that, from now on, he and Penn will not only be published authors, they will be every Cat-Woman's idea of caviar. "This," says LaRose in a sandy undertone, "has knocked us completely ass-over-teacups."

With The Code, Penn and LaRose seek to undo the damage that has been done to the American male ego since this summer, when a marriage-minded female strategy manual called The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr Right, went supernova, arming American women with an arsenal of tactics to perplex the ring-buying sex. The Code, which will be zipped to bookstores in December, was written in 10 days this November. "We were up all night every night, but even at five in the morning we were still tittering in front of our computers," Penn reveals. "It's the most fun we'd ever been paid to have."

The book is no less than a declaration of a full-scale war of the sexes, proof that American men are resolved to break The Rules and restore women to their position of equal disadvantage in the dating game. Indeed, Penn and LaRose maintain that women ought to want to break The Rules as well. "That book portrays women as conniving and manipulative," LaRose sighs. "We were stupefied that it sold so well." They were not so stupefied, however, that they could not think up an obstreperous response to The Rules and write it down, on the double. "Our book may bring about a truce," Penn declares, then reconsiders. "Or maybe it will cause an escalation of tensions... but it's better for everybody," he concludes. It is, in any case, better for Penn and LaRose, who in the past three weeks have secured not only a book contract, but a movie deal, more than a million dollars and, presumably, podium space at speaking engagements for the rest of their lives.

The Rules and The Code are essentially primers of gender etiquette. When The Rules blasted on to the talk show circuit this summer, women everywhere snatched up the book as if their sex lives depended on it. Women who had wondered why they could get everything in the world they wanted except American men, at last knew why: they needed to change their M0. The mountain was going to have to stop pursuing Mohammed, and let Mohammed come to her instead, just like in the bad old days. Birds did it, bees did it, but women in the States didn't - unless they had a ring, or reasonable assurance of one, in view. American men were finally just where American women wanted them; desperate, panting, outside the door begging to be let in, arms laden with flowers.

Backlash was inevitable, and Christopher Buckley, the waggish son of Conservative heartthrob William E Buckley Jr, let fly the first arrow. In the New Yorker magazine, he published a bruising attack on The Rules, reminding men of the counter-rules, such as Rule 1: "The most important thing in any relationship is getting to `Yes!Yes! Oh God, Yes!' " and Rule 5: "A Counter-rules man doesn't throw money away" - don't send flowers. He invented RDDS, or Rules (Girls) Date Deficit Syndrome, which "afflicts women who rigorously follow The Rules and as a result never get asked out on dates, get married, or have children".

The Articles of The Code have a broader goal. This is, Penn explains, "to accentuate your inability to commit". For instance, Article VIII explains that, in order to keep a girlfriend malleable and fearful of desertion, Code Men should remember that: "The Only Message Is A Mixed Message." They write, "When she teasingly inquires about the women who came before her, have short, terrifying anecdotes at the ready: `Serena never went to the gym, she was naturally toned', or `Madeline made the greatest risotto; she'd just pop it on the burner, jump in the shower and it was done'." Other Articles warn against letting a woman leave her personal effects in a man's HQ ("Anything she leaves behind is something she's coming back for. You can be sure that her one sock under the bed is going to send home for the rest of its family") or instruct Code Men in the virtue of silence: "Don't Talk - Let Her Project... Let a woman talk uninterrupted for spell, and she will invest you with the compassion and wisdom of Bishop Tutu and the sensuous abandon of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. But if you speak, the jig's up." The one time a Code Man must speak is when a girlfriend tells him "I love you", at which time the Code Man must respond quickly to avoid growth of intimacy. Several responses are possible; Penn and LaRose recommend in particular, "Do you?", which they call the "Cartesian Double-Bluff", or "God damn, those Red Sox", which they call the "My-Mind is Elsewhere Approach".

You might think that the picture is now grim for American womanhood, or that the dating game has fallen back to impasse: the women have their book, the men have theirs. But there is one Rule that no Code can fix or undo. That is that, in most men, testosterone has dissolved the bridge that joins the right lobe of the brain with the left. This makes things like inferences (aka female intuition) difficult for men, but quite easy for women, who don't seethe with testosterone in quite the same way as men. Unfortunately, there are some men, men like Penn, LaRose and Buckley, whose ideas beat the odds. Luckily, the mental wizards are not in the majority. The vast sea of unwitting Code Guys remains ripe for subjecting to The Rules.


Be a `beast'

She's only after one thing, and it ain't between your legs

First, shop sensibly at the meat market

Suggest meeting for drinks (the non-date date)

Don't talk - let her project

Make her feel like the only woman in the world (date 1-3)

From date 4 - you're always in a meeting

The only message is a mixed message

The only rules are your rules

"You'll never love me as much as you love that dog" -

canine meditations

Location, location, location: the no-sex-in-bed rule

Permit no tampons in the medicine cabinet: protect your borders

Women are natural-born spies: incriminate yourself free

Accentuate your inability to commit

Never trade anything for sex, unless it's oral sex

Date a married woman

Never admit there is a Code

plus: Do I Look Fat? Ten discouraging answers to the most

frequently-asked question

Be `a creature unlike any other'

Don't talk to a man first (and never ask him to dance)

Don't stare or talk too much

Don't go dutch on a date

Don't call him and rarely return his calls

Always end phone calls first

Don't accept a Saturday night date after Wednesday

On dates 1-3, relax, be cool, let him make the running

From date 4, be warm, but don't open up to him until

he's said he loves you

Always end the date first

No more than casual kissing on the first date

Don't rush into sex

Don't tell him what to do

Accentuate the positive

Wear clothes to attract men, not to copy them

If you have children, slowly involve him in your family

Even if you're married you still need the Rules

Don't date a married man

Don't break the Rules

Do the Rules and you'll live happily ever after