Love by the Book charts a year in the life of Lauren Cunningham, a beautiful, intelligent, and unlucky-in-love twenty-eight-year-old American. Feeling old before her time, Lauren moves to London in search of the fab single life replete with sexy Englishmen. But why can’t she convince the men she’s seeing that she really isn’t after anything more serious than seriously good sex? Determined to break the curse, Lauren turns her love life into an experiment: each month she will follow a different dating guide until she discovers the science behind being a siren. Lauren will follow The Rules, she’ll play The Game, and along the way she’ll journal her (mis)adventures and maybe even find someone worth holding on to. Witty, gritty, and very true to life, Love by the Book will have you in stitches.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||632 KB|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
This project was born, like so many things, from an egg. Two, to be exact.
Adrian walked in just in time to see me crack two eggs on the side of the pan and pour them into the sizzling butter. I leaned into him when he wrapped his arms around me and peered over my shoulder at the stove.
“You making eggs?” he said, voice still gravelly with sleep.
“How did you guess?” I said, turning to give him a quick kiss. “I remembered you saying you liked them, so I thought I’d make them for you.” I gave the eggs a quick flip and slid them out of the pan onto the waiting buttered toast.
“You made these for me?” Adrian said, eyes widening.
“Yep,” I said, placing the plate on the table before grabbing my bowl of granola and yogurt off the counter. I pulled the yellow terrycloth robe around me and looked at him.
“You’re not having any?” he said, looking at his own plate with even more suspicion.
“Nope. I’m not a big egg fan.”
“I see. You made these eggs just for me.” I watched his pupils dilate out of fear. “Right.”
“Christ, they’re only eggs. Calm down. Do you want some pepper?”
I could see the wheels turning in his head. Eggs led to Sunday afternoons in antique shops, dinner parties with other couples, meetings with the parents, a marriage proposal, an elaborate wedding, three screaming children, a wife with fat ankles and, eventually, the sweet release of death. In his mind, eggs led to stuff. Scary stuff.
Within minutes of polishing off the plate, the man was up and out like a shot, pulling his shoes on and mumbling something about getting back in time to watch Football Focus with his roommate.
I had scared a man with eggs. I’d scared him so badly that he had chosen Football Focus over having sex with me. It wasn’t looking good for me or for my vagina.
It had all started so promisingly. Last summer, I had moved into my room in Old Street with a heart filled with hope: that this move from Portland to London would be a fresh start for me, that I would wipe clean the traces of a relationship with the strong-jawed, kind-eyed man I’d left behind, that the job I had nabbed as the events coordinator at the Science Museum would lead to even bigger and better things and, possibly most pressingly, that I would have lots of great sex with attractive Englishmen who were as uninterested in commitment as I was.
I’d seen the apartment advertised on Gumtree just before I’d left Maine and had immediately sent through a request. It looked amazing in the pictures—the bedroom was painted a pale yellow and the furniture was all weathered white wood—and according to Google maps, the location was perfect. The woman renting out the room, Lucy, agreed to reserve it for me until I arrived in London the following week after I sent several pleading emails and the promise of a jar of Marshmallow Fluff.
When I arrived at the address, I was a little surprised to find a towering council estate rather than the little Victorian conversion I’d expected, but I took a deep breath and pressed the buzzer, images of the bedroom still dancing in my head. I was furry-mouthed with jet lag and essentially homeless; I couldn’t afford to write the apartment off before seeing it.
Lucy met me at the door. “Hello! You must be Lauren. Come on in, babe.” I took in her wide smile, bright blue eyes and head of insane blond curls and felt immediately better about the situation. She led me into the cramped kitchen and put the kettle on.
The kitchen didn’t quite match the design standards I’d seen in the photographs. Lucy had obviously made the best of things, filling the countertop with pots of fresh herbs and a bright pink set of scales, but the oven door was hanging at a precarious angle and there was a large hole gouged into the MDF floor. It wasn’t exactly Martha Stewart Living.
Lucy flicked on the kettle. “Coffee?”
“How do you take yours?”
“Just black would be great, thanks.”
“I don’t know how you can drink it like that. I need about eight sugars and three pints of milk in mine. Especially today: I have such a hangover. Anyway, I’m glad you’re here and seem normal—the last girl who lived here was a born-again Christian and didn’t drink. Can you imagine? After the third time she tipped my bottle of rum down the sink, I said, good luck to you, love, but you’re not staying here.”
She handed me a mug and I took a sip.
“Let me show you the rest of the place.” Lucy led me on a short but thorough tour of the apartment. “This is the lounge”—an enormous brown faux-leather couch marooned in the middle of four blood-red walls—“and there’s a balcony, too”—a concrete slab slapped onto the side of the tower block with a strip of barbed wire running along the top—“here’s the bathroom”—a microbe’s paradise with one of those electric showers we Americans have nightmares about—“and this would be your room”—a bare mattress balanced atop a metal frame and a dilapidated IKEA wardrobe, the saving grace being a tiny window displaying an amazing view over London.
“Would you mind if I took a look at your room?” I asked. “Just to get an idea of the difference in size.”
“Of course! Sorry, it’s a bit of a mess at the moment.” Lucy opened the door to her bedroom and—lo and behold—the fabled yellow room was revealed. It looked like Laura Ashley had spontaneously combusted in there—everything was pastel and floral and very, very neat.
“It’s beautiful,” I said. “It gives me hope that I might be able to do something decent with my room.” I had a sudden vision of shabby-chic industrial interiors and reclaimed bookshelves made from old French wine crates, and made a mental note to sign up to Pinterest.
Lucy smoothed an imaginary crease on the pale pink duvet. “Thanks, love. Just takes a lick of paint and some elbow grease,” she said. “Come on, let’s sit in the lounge and have a chat.”
I perched on the enormous couch and Lucy drew up a chair opposite.
“So, Lo,” she said, taking a sip from her mug, “tell me how you ended up in London.”
“I’ve always wanted to live here,” I said with a shrug. That was an understatement: I’d dreamed of living in London ever since I was little. The childhood bedroom I’d shared with my sister had been covered with pictures of the London skyline, and I’d gorged myself on the Beatles and Carry On films from a young age. London was my fabled land and I’d managed to pull myself onto its shores like a shipwreck survivor.
Of course, I knew I had been at the helm of that ill-fated ship and had spent the past few months driving it straight into the rocks. I thought of the look on Dylan’s face when I packed my bags, and the look on my father’s face when he dropped me off at the airport, and pushed them both deep down to the dark recesses of my brain where I couldn’t see them. I wasn’t ready to admit to myself what I’d done, never mind a relative stranger.
I turned to Lucy with a bright smile. “Have you ever been to the States?”
Her eyes took on a misty quality. “No, never, but I’ve always wanted to go. One day!”
“Well, I’d be happy to give you some tips when the time comes.”
“Thanks, babe. Now, what’s happening on the man front? Have you got a boyfriend and, if you do, will he be staying often? Is he very loud and messy?”
I laughed. “Nope, no boyfriend and no plans to have one anytime soon. I just want to enjoy being single for a while.”
“Thank God. I’ve just broken up with someone so I’m desperate to go out and let my hair down.”
I grinned at her. “I’m completely on board with that. How’s it going so far?” I asked. “Any exciting prospects?”
Lucy shook her head sadly. “Babe, it’s been grim. I’ve started looking on Facebook to see if any of my old schoolmates are now attractive single men that I could get off with.”
“That’s not a good sign.”
Lucy shook her head gravely. “It’s not. What’s it like in America? I just imagine lots of fit men called Brad or Tyson or whatever, wandering around being muscly and lovely. I bet you’ve had loads of gorgeous, hunky boyfriends.”
The last thing I wanted to do was delve into my American dating history. “Not really,” I said with a shrug. “The whole dating thing is super structured over there; it’s all ‘playing the field’ and ‘three-date rule’ and relentless life scheduling. If you don’t have a diamond the size of a grapefruit on your finger by the time you’re twenty-nine, you’re seen as some sort of leper.”
I nodded. “It’s pretty exhausting.”
“Well, you’re here now. I’m sure we can get up to some mischief together. Two single girls in the big smoke.” She scanned over my bedraggled reddish hair, oversized army jacket, ripped skinny jeans and trashed Converses. “First, we might need to take you to Westfield shopping center . . .”
And that was that. A couple of cigarettes on the balcony solidified us as partners in crime, and I moved in the following day. From there followed countless nights of shoe-borrowing, Jack Daniel’s and Cokes (me), Bacardi and Diet Cokes (her), dancing in clubs reeking of sweat and stale cigarette smoke, 3 a.m. rants and morning-after catch-ups. It was unbelievably fun, and just what I’d hoped to get out of London.
She was right, though: the man situation wasn’t quite as rosy as I’d hoped. It’s not that they were assholes or anything. On the whole they were perfectly charming and, with me being relatively new to the country, their accents immediately bumped up their attractiveness quotient by several points. My new neighborhood, Hackney, was filled with slightly fey-looking guys wearing plaid shirts and smoking roll-ups, all theoretically ripe for the picking.
But there was a problem. As upfront as I was about not looking for anything serious, they refused to believe me. Deep down, they thought it was all an elaborate ruse on my part, a trap set to ensnare them into a life of suburban fidelity. One by one, they’d each fly off into the night after a few weeks, never to be seen again.
I was starting to think I was going about things all wrong: that by being upfront about what I was looking for (or, rather, what I wasn’t looking for), I was somehow flicking the panic switch in every man in London. It was infuriating, and such a terrible waste of sexual promise.
And then I met Adrian.
It was at a Christmas party filled with people I didn’t know. I was new to the British Christmas party tradition of getting blind drunk, flashing your underwear at everyone and making out with someone completely inappropriate, but I took to it like a duck to water and made it my mission to attend as many as possible. Which is how I ended up in the middle of Kensal Rise with a bunch of my colleague Cathryn’s former schoolmates, who had gathered for their annual Christmas reunion. I had come prepared with a pack of Marlboro Lights and wearing a top that was masquerading as a dress.
I saw his excellent pompadour from across the room and nudged Cathryn.
“Who’s he?” I said, topping up her drink.
“Who, him?” she said, putting her hand over the top of her glass and pointing incredulously to the bespectacled object of my attention.
“Yep, the Buddy Holly look-alike. Who is he?”
“With the glasses? That’s Adrian.”
“Adrian, eh? What’s his deal?”
“Ugh. I couldn’t stand him at school. So full of himself. Wanted to be a journalist, I think. Last I heard, he was working as a subeditor in Sunderland. Ha.”
“Well, he’s here now and I like his glasses. I’m going to make eyes at him.”
“Seriously? Adrian Dean?”
“Christ. Yes, Adrian Dean! I’m not asking you to make eyes at him!”
The eyes worked and soon he was bumming cigarettes off me as we smoked in the alley behind the bar, the condensation from our breath mingling with the smoke as we grinned at each other over our cigarettes. By midnight he had kissed me. By 2 a.m. we were in a cab on the way back to my place.
• • •
It was three great months of sex on tap with someone I didn’t mind spending the before-and-after periods with—exactly what I wanted. And then came that foolish morning when, in a rush of postcoital goodwill, I committed the grave error of making the man eggs.
Even Adrian, who I thought understood me, ended up convincing himself that I was trying to tie him down.
I thought that dating was meant to be easy; fun, even. Sure, I didn’t have all that much experience playing the field, but I’d managed okay in college. Clearly my current seduction methods were failing me. I needed guidance.
And then a plan began to form.
I remembered all those “Ten Ways to Make Him Yours” articles in YM and Seventeen when I was a teenager. They were always depressingly similar, encouraging you to share his interests (“If he loves cars, why not take a mechanics course?”), flirt like a madwoman (“Pass him a note in PE asking if he’s wearing boxers or briefs!”) and generally change your entire personality and appearance around what a fifteen-year-old boy wants from a girlfriend. Tip number ten was always “Just be yourself!” though how you could manage that while flicking your hair around and brandishing a wrench, I could never figure out. Really, at the end of the day, a fifteen-year-old boy wants a girl with blond hair and large breasts, neither of which I have or will ever possess (which goes a long way to explaining my teenage dating record).
Surely, all those dating guides in the bookstores were the adult equivalent of teen magazine top-ten lists? They promised to get you your man, no matter the cost, but would their advice actually work? Or would I be left looking like a lunatic? Most importantly, would following these guides result in me having frequent sex with people who were not known psychopaths?
I started to get excited about the prospect. I’d follow a different guide every month and log the results in a journal (this very one!) for scientific posterity. It would be a sociological experiment. Jesus, after a few months of scientific study, I’d practically be Margaret Mead! Maybe not quite, but at least it would be interesting. Much more interesting than scaring off men with eggs and being passed over for Football fucking Focus.
I immediately texted Lucy.
Me: Have you ever used a dating guide?
Me: Just asking.
Lucy: Why are you asking?
Me: Just tell me!
Lucy: Maybe. Yes. Am I a saddo?
Lucy: Fuck off.
Me: Which one?
Lucy: The Rules. Don’t judge. Was at low point.
Me: No judgment. Have a new life plan. Tell you when I get back. Xx
I ran to my favorite bookstore, a little gem tucked behind the tube station at South Kensington. It was owned by a sweet, kindly, white-haired man with a Scottish accent so thick you could stick a fork in it. He’d become one of my favorite people in London, always pressing wonderful books into my hands and mumbling incomprehensibly about them. The bookstore itself was amazing: all tiny nooks and crannies, with a little attic space reserved for used books. I spent most of my lunch hours curled up there, searching for hidden treasure.
I got there ten minutes after closing, but the door was still open. I could see the owner tottering around inside, arranging a table of Seamus Heaney books and singing along to the radio.
He greeted me with a warm grin and a burble that I assumed was a hello.
“What can I do for you, love?” he said. “Come back for more Austen? Or perhaps some Thackeray?” He started pulling books from the shelves into a pile for me, as usual.
“No thanks, Hamish. I’m actually looking for something a little different today. Do you have any self-help?”
“Ah, love, you don’t seem to need any help! What’s it for, DIY? You should get yourself a strapping fella to do that!”
“No, it’s not that.” Christ, this was embarrassing. “It’s . . . dating. I need dating help.”
He straightened himself up on his cane and gave me a kind smile. “I’m sure that isn’t true. You’re a lovely lass! I bet the boys are falling over themselves to take you out on the town!”
“Not quite,” I mumbled. “Anyway, it’s for research. Scientific research.” I tried to say it with more conviction than I currently felt.
“Ah, I should have known! You working at the Science Museum and all. I think I’ve got some of those books tucked away in the attic. Give us a shout if you can’t find them and I’ll go on the hunt.”
I thanked him and ran up the steps to the attic room, which was filled to the rafters with perilous towers of used books. I found the right corner, blew off the dust and sifted through the titles: Men Are from Mars, He’s Just Not That Into You, Why Men Love Bitches . . . lovely old Hamish had a great selection.
I heard him clear his throat and call up the stairs. “Sorry, love, but my seat in the Chandos is getting cold . . .”
“Be right there!” I yelled.
Found it! I pulled it from the stack and ran down the stairs, brandishing it and a ten-pound note triumphantly.
I returned to the apartment, my copy of The Rules in hand, and explained the plan to Lucy.
She was silent for a moment, clearly overwhelmed by my shrewd scientific mind.
“Babe, are you bonkers?” she said. “You’re going to use your love life as an experiment?”
“But . . . that’s mental! What happens if you end up seeing someone for more than a month?”
“I can’t really see that happening, but if it does, I’ll have to change tactics and follow the new guide! So suddenly my behavior will TOTALLY CHANGE and I’ll document how that affects them!”
“What happens if the book tells you to do something really weird? What if it says you have to let them pee on you during sex? Or do lots of Japanese bondage or something?”
“Lucy, it’s a dating guide, not fringe porn.”
She clutched my arm. “Lo, I’ve heard some of those guides tell you to”—her eyes widened—“stop having sex.”
I arranged my face into a Zen-like expression. “I’ll just have to draw on my reserves of inner strength.”
“Hmm.” I could tell she was wavering. Her eyes brightened suddenly. “What happens if you fall in love with one of your test subjects? What then?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ve had enough of that love shit to last me a lifetime. This, my friend, is for the advancement of single women everywhere!”
“In that case, I’m all for it!” she cried, and we raised our glasses to toast.
Written in 1995, after both the first and second waves of feminism had crashed on our shores and in the middle of the post-structuralist tidal pool of the third, The Rules preaches a message that could be described as old-fashioned. Victorian, even. Chapter headings include “Don’t Talk to a Man First (or Ask Him to Dance)” and “Don’t Stare at Men or Talk Too Much,” which sounds like the advice a fictional grandmother would give her young granddaughter in a made-for-TV movie about the Amish.
Most worrying is this: “Don’t Discuss The Rules with Your Therapist.” Surely it’s a red flag if a book is encouraging you to behave in a way that you should hide from your therapist?
The main concept behind the book is that you’re meant to make him chase you. Forever. Apparently, by seeming like an elusive creature unlike any other, who never looks a man in the eye, only speaks when spoken to and with no discernible thoughts or opinions, you’ll be the sexiest damn thing on legs. Stick that in your post-structuralist pipe and smoke it.
The idea seems to be that you repress your entire personality in order to become some sort of mysterious feminine ideal. “Be feminine,” the book advises. “Don’t tell sarcastic jokes. Don’t be a loud, knee-slapping, hysterically funny girl . . . be quiet and act mysterious, act ladylike, cross your legs and smile.” As I tended to feel more like smiling when opening my legs than when closing them, I was a bit worried about how suited I was for this challenge. The Rules had some comfort on that front: “You may feel that you won’t be able to be yourself, but men will love it!”
I was daunted, but at the same time I could see there was a method to the madness. Here’s the working ratio:
Seventy percent total and complete horseshit that goes against all I believe in to thirty percent total genius.
The more I read, the more I wondered if it was actually . . . well, empowering in a way. Rules girls don’t date men who don’t want them, the book proclaims, and if a man really wants you, he’ll chase after you. He’ll make the effort. I thought briefly about Adrian and Football Focus and the distinct lack of effort that had come from him in recent months. Hmm.
I tried to distill the essence of it to Lucy after work that night.
“So, you’re not meant to call him, ask him out, talk very much, return calls or look at him?”
“That sounds grim.” Lucy took a drag on her cigarette, looking pensive. “How are you meant to flirt?”
“That’s the thing! You’re not. Or at least you’re not supposed to flirt in the way we flirt. You’re meant to be all shy and bashful.” I heard a keening sound below and leaned over the balcony. “Are those guys fighting their dogs down there?”
Lucy looked over my shoulder. “I think it’s a drug deal, actually.”
“Anyway, according to this, we’re meant to be intangible. Like some kind of wood nymph. Men are never supposed to be completely comfortable or sure that they’ve won us over; they’re meant to constantly work to win our affection.”
“Well, I suppose that would make a change. I can’t remember the last time a man worked for anything.”
Later that night, we went out to see Lucy’s latest possibility doing his best Ed Sheeran impersonation in the dank basement of a Soho bar. Max was a slightly aloof sports-car-driving martial arts aficionado who, we were now witnessing, had a penchant for singing songs about butterfly kisses.
He was also extremely good at playing hot and cold, and would go through the whole wine-and-dine rigmarole with Lucy one night and then disappear for three weeks, only to resurface by calling her on a random Tuesday at 11 p.m. and asking her to come around to his flat. This had been going on for weeks now.
Lucy and I both thought he was kind of an asshole but unfortunately, as is so often the case, he was an asshole who was good in bed and also capable of wielding that all-powerful form of female kryptonite: the acoustic guitar. Personally, I would have rather licked the bottom of my flip-flop after a backpacking trip around India than sit on the edge of a bed while a man sang a song to me, but Lucy was a different animal. She loved it. She actually sang along with him. I shuddered at the thought.
As Max rounded out his set and stepped off the stage to a smattering of applause, he glanced over at Lucy, flashed a killer smile and gave her a wave. I felt my heart flutter a bit on her behalf: he was pretty hot.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” I hissed. “When he comes over here, you keep it to five minutes maximum and then tell him you have other plans.”
“Are you mad? I would like him to take me home tonight. I would like to have sex.”
“I know, but The Rules says—”
“I’m not the one following the bloody Rules! You are!”
“I know, I know! But you shouldn’t be waiting around for him—he should be chasing you!”
“Are you forgetting that I would like to have sex?”
“YOU ARE A CREATURE UNLIKE ANY OTHER!”
“Be quiet! He’s coming over!”
Max appeared at our table, holding a pint and looking pretty pleased with himself.
“Hello! And how are you lovely ladies? Did you enjoy the set?”
Lucy and I murmured approval noises.
He turned to Lucy. “Baby, I’ve got to go over and see my mates and my brother for a while. Are you sticking around?”
I threw a sharp glance Lucy’s way. She scowled back, rolled her eyes and then said, “No, we’ve got to get going actually. We’ve got other plans.”
“Yep, other plans!” I cried. “Big plans.” It sounded more menacing than I’d intended, but I wanted to be supportive.
Max furrowed his brow. “Oh. That’s a shame but . . . well, let’s get together soon. It was great to see you.”
I could sense Lucy crumbling beneath the weight of his brow so I jumped up and got our coats.
“We’ll be late!” I trilled.
After a quick kiss on each of Max’s cheeks, we stumbled out of the bar and onto a bus on our way back to Old Street for a nightcap. Lucy’s phone chirped within minutes. It was Max.
You looked gorgeous tonight. Sorry you had to go . . . Dinner next week? Xx
I felt a strange mix of triumph and horror. So this crap actually worked? It was time for me to try it out for myself.
As soon as I took on the project, I knew that I was seriously lacking in one thing: test subjects. And while I love going out and trying to pick up dudes as much as the next girl, experience indicated that technique alone wouldn’t provide enough source material.
Cathryn and I had formed a pretty tight friendship over the time we had been working side-by-side, despite being in many ways the physical embodiment of the transatlantic divide. She was sleek and posh and stealthfully wealthy. She lived in a gorgeous terraced house in Notting Hill with her equally gorgeous fiancé, Michael, and she had glossy chestnut hair that she could sweep up into a perfect, perky ponytail without using a hairbrush. Enough to make me hate her, and usually in these scenarios we would embark on some bitter rivalry—probably over our dashingly-handsome-but-ultimately-callous boss. But Cathryn was also wickedly funny and very generous, and our boss was sweet and happily married and had an ever-thickening middle, so instead we became friends. I now hoped her generosity would extend to her extensive network of attractive male friends.
I walked into work the next day and dropped my bag on the floor next to my desk.
“I need your help.”
I explained the situation to her; I wouldn’t want her to unwittingly put one of her friends up as a test subject (though she obviously couldn’t let them in on what was happening). Cathryn’s perfect brow furrowed slightly and she looked at me with concern in her eyes.
“I’m not sure about this. Have you considered the ethics of the project?”
“What ethics? It’s harmless! Women follow these rules ALL the time—that’s why these books sell! The only difference is that I’m pursuing it from a scientific point of view. Come on, you like science—you should appreciate what I’m doing in the name of research!” I tried to look lofty and academic. “I’m actually being noble, if you think about it. Sacrificing myself in the pursuit of knowledge.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re a modern-day Marie Curie.”
“You know what they say: some of us are born for greatness . . .”
“Are you quite sure you’re up for this? Your psyche aside, we’ve got so much on at the moment. The summer late openings are starting in less than two weeks and you’ve got to iron out the guest list.”
“Oh, please. I’m American—you know how efficient we are. We love working! Not as much as the Germans or the Chinese, but pretty close.”
“Well, then, what about your psyche?”
“I appreciate your concern, but I’ll be fine. It’s meant to be fun! And informative, of course.”
I saw her vacillate and knew I had her. “It does sound interesting. I’ve been with Michael for so long I’ve forgotten all about various dating etiquettes, so I’d quite like to see what happens.”
“Excellent. So, who’ve you got for me?”
Cathryn proceeded to tell me all about one of Michael’s coworkers who was apparently good-looking, well-mannered and, importantly, single. Like Michael, he did something in finance that I didn’t understand but suspected was destroying our economy while making him a shit-ton of money. I’d never gone out with a banker before but time was of the essence, so I put aside my concerns about capitalism and agreed.
Let’s call him Top Hat, as it reminds me of Monopoly. I filled his details into my notebook.
Name: Top Hat
Occupation: Investment Banker
Method: The Rules
“This is fantastic. Thanks! Can you try to set something up for this Friday? I need to get cracking.”
“I’ll talk to Michael tonight.”
And just like that, I had my first test subject.
I hadn’t spoken to my sister in over two weeks, which was unheard of for us, so when Meghan’s number flashed up on my cell phone during my lunch break, I dropped my sandwich and picked up the phone.
“I have come up with a new life plan,” I said breathlessly. We’d never been much for saying hello.
“Oh Lord. You haven’t found God or anything, have you?”
“No, nothing that serious.” I filled her in on my plans for the dating project, ignoring her frequent snorts of disbelief. I knew convincing Meg would be tough, but I wasn’t quite prepared for her ire.
“I thought you called yourself a feminist,” she scoffed.
“I do! And actually, if you think about it, this is an act of feminist rebellion.”
“In what way is following a bunch of bullshit, probably misogynist dating guides a feminist act?”
I had to think quickly. While I do consider myself a feminist, I had to admit that I didn’t put much thought into the mechanics of it. “By . . . um . . . infiltrating the enemy! Getting behind enemy lines! By using my archetypal feminine wiles to penetrate the male psyche for the betterment of women everywhere!”
Meghan laughed. “Kid, it’s okay. Just admit you’re doing it to forget Dylan.”
I felt indignant. “Dylan has nothing to do with it! Dylan is the past, Meg. This project is my future!”
I heard her sigh on the other end of the line. “Whatever you say. Just look after yourself. The last thing I want is for you to go changing yourself for a bunch of pale English guys.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m in complete control of the situation.”
“I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse . . .”
I walked back to my desk and picked up my sandwich and my dog-eared copy of The Rules, brushing aside Meghan’s words of caution.
Date night arrived surprisingly quickly. I’d been boning up on The Rules all week but I was still nervous about a couple of points. Rules girls aren’t allowed to pay for anything on dates, as apparently being financially independent might undermine their creature-unlike-any-otherness. I am a big believer in splitting the bill, so I knew that letting him pay for everything was going to make me uncomfortable.
I was also supposed to end the date quickly, after just two drinks. I have a penchant for nights out that last way longer than advisable, so I suspected this would be tricky, too.
I wasn’t allowed to suggest anything about the date, so I left him to choose the place. I was secretly grateful for that particular rule as I hate choosing dating venues and activities; all the venues I know are old-man pubs, dive bars and my bedroom, and the only activities I think are suitable for dating are drinking, smoking and having sex. I’m not even sure about dinner.
He chose a swanky-looking prohibition-style bar in Soho. The Rules encourages you to, and I quote, “wear sheer black stockings and hike up your skirt to entice the opposite sex.” As it was a Friday-night date and I hadn’t wanted to turn up to the office looking like I was moonlighting in a Mayfair brothel, I ran home after work, chucked on the nearest and smallest dress I could find, had a cigarette on the balcony and then ran out to meet Top Hat.
The bar was hidden away from the road and pleasingly secret-looking, with a discreet little doorway demarcated only by a lantern outside. Those places usually make me intensely nervous because I worry that I won’t find the door and will wander around like Moses in the desert or, worse, I will find the door but be turned away for not being cool and interesting enough.
Thankfully, Top Hat had allayed both fears ahead of the date by giving me explicit directions via email and by assuring me that my name was at the door. Two points for him.
Despite all of these assurances, I was still a wreck when I walked up to the maître d’ and explained I was meeting a blind date; he looked at me knowingly and guided me down the stairs.
“Thank Christ,” I thought. “This man knows who Top Hat is! He must have told the maître d’ when he came in. That’s kind of sexy . . .”
He proceeded to lead me over to the bar, where a classic tall, dark and handsome was seated with what looked like an old-fashioned.
“BINGO!” I thought.
The maître d’ left me there with a wink.
“Top Hat?” I said. (Of course, I didn’t really call him Top Hat, but for the sake of my test subject’s anonymity, I’ll refer to him as such.)
“No,” the tall, dark and handsome said.
“Oh,” I said. “Sorry. I’m meeting someone and the maître d’ led me over here.”
He took a long look at my very short dress. “My wife will be here any minute and she won’t be very pleased if she sees me talking to someone like you.” He took a business card out of his pocket. “I work away from home a few nights a week, though, so have your boss get in touch with me about the details.”
“I think we’ve got our wires crossed. My boss works at the Science Museum.”
He looked vaguely annoyed. “Sorry, I’m not familiar with the lingo.”
“Hey, buddy, I’ll have you know—”
“Lauren?” called a voice behind me.
I turned around. At a small, tucked-away table sat a slim redheaded guy waving at me cautiously.
What a relief. I gave the man at the bar a dark look, tugged down the hem of my dress and weaved my way over to Top Hat.
We awkwardly kissed on the cheek and I carefully maneuvered myself into the chair next to him. He was cute. Not tall, dark and handsome cute, but boyish and kind-looking. I made a mental note to bring Cathryn a bar of chocolate on Monday.
“Grand!” he said. “Here we are! What would you like to drink?”
We ordered martinis and he told me a bit about himself. He’d moved over from Ireland six years ago for work and was now living in Hammersmith with his brother and cousin.
“. . . and that’s how I ended up over here! Sorry, I’ve been yarking on for donkeys’ years.” He took a sip of his drink and nodded toward me. “And how did you end up on this glorious isle? Did you come for the weather or the customer service? It’s usually one of the two.”
I let a loud laugh escape before catching myself and arranging my features in a way I hoped would look demure. “I came over for work.”
“That’s right, you work with Cathryn at the Science Museum! Lovely Cathryn. She’s a cracking girl. What are you lasses working on at the moment? Anything of great import?”
Actually, we were about to launch a series of after-hours, adults-only events that Cathryn and I had been working on relentlessly for the past six months. But that would have been giving away too much, so instead I shrugged and said, “Not really,” and took another sip of my martini.
“Right, just ticking along then?”
I smiled and looked down at the table. I felt like I was doing a Helen Keller impersonation.
Top Hat looked momentarily deflated, then threw himself back into the conversation with renewed gusto.
“I’m working on a big to-do with Michael at the moment. We’re off to Tokyo next week—did Cathryn mention that?”
I shook my head.
“Well, we’re off on Tuesday for a fortnight and I plan on eating as much Wagyu beef as I can fit down my gullet. It ought to be a laugh. Have you been to Tokyo?”
“Yes, once.” In fact, I’d spent six months teaching English there after I graduated from college. I loved it.
“It’s a fantastic place, isn’t it? It’s mad! Just totally mad! But in the most brilliant way. When did you go?”
“A few years ago.”
“And what was your favorite bit?”
“Eating blowfish!” I wanted to say. “The one that kills one in every hundred people who eat it! I ate it and stayed up all night waiting to see if I was going to die. But I didn’t and it was awesome!” Instead, I just shrugged again. “I couldn’t really say.”
“Did you see anything completely crackers? I’m desperate to see one of those robot bartenders they have in some of the flash places. Did you see one of them?”
“Yes! And I saw one of those vending machines that sell girls’ used underwear!” I wanted to scream. “It was so amazing and so weird and so gross and I took a billion photos of it so I could show everyone!” Instead I said, “No, just the usual.”
Top Hat smiled wanly and stared into his drink. I was losing him, I could feel it, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Unsurprisingly, the conversation dried up after that. I couldn’t do anything to fill the long silences, as the book forbade me from introducing any new topics of conversation. So we sat there and sipped our drinks, Top Hat occasionally offering up a few questions and me murmuring monosyllabic responses. It was excruciating.
Thankfully, the end of the night came fairly quickly, as I had to leave after the second drink. After my last sip, I glanced at my watch and said what I’d been dreading having to say: “Well, this was really great, but I’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
Top Hat looked both confused—it was only 9:35 on a Friday night—and relieved. “Oh, right then,” he said. “I’ll just get the bill.”
The bill arrived and I had to sit on my hands to stop myself from reaching for my bag. I felt the least I could do was pay my fair share for this disaster, but instead I had ruined some poor guy’s night and now he was going to have to pay for it.
Thankfully, Top Hat pulled out his credit card without so much as batting an eyelid. He probably just wanted to get out of there as fast as humanly possible.
We left the bar (with me pausing surreptitiously by the door so he was forced to open it for me) and Top Hat gallantly walked me to the nearest tube station.
“Thank you for a lovely evening!” I trilled.
“It was great craic. Sorry you’ve got to scarper.”
“Well, like I said, big day tomorrow!” I cried. “Goodnight!”
I made a mad dash into the station and then snuck out the other exit to have a calming cigarette.
“Christ, that was hard,” I muttered to myself as I took another drag. I pulled my coat around me, suddenly conscious of the fact I was standing on a street corner in Soho dressed in sheer black stockings and a tiny black dress. I ground out my cigarette beneath my heel: I’d already been mistaken for a prostitute once tonight and I didn’t want to stick around for another invitation.
I turned to walk into the tube, perking up at the realization that I’d be home in time to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm on Channel 4. At least Rules-style dating wouldn’t interfere with my TV-watching schedule.
I turned around to see Top Hat leaning out of the window of a cab.
“Oh, hello again!” I said, struggling to regain my air of elegant demureness.
“Do you want a lift? I’m going to listen to the deedley-deets with some mates in Shoreditch. I could drop you on the way?”
Deedley-deets? I couldn’t help myself: I had to ask a question. “What’s a deedley-deet?”
“Irish music! You know, it’s all deedley-deets and that. Come along if you like!”
“Oh, right—you’ve got that big day and all. Well, can I at least give you a ride home?”
I pondered this for a moment, thinking about what The Rules would do. I suspected they would frown upon it, but the April chill was currently blowing through my sheer stockings and a couple of older guys were leering at me from the doorway of a porn shop, so I nodded and jumped in the back.
“Thank you. That’s very kind.”
“No problem at all.” Top Hat looked at me for a moment and then said, “Do you mind if I ask if you’re feeling yourself tonight?”
Argh. It was too grim. He thought I was terrible. I forced myself to smile politely. “Yes, I’m feeling fine, thank you.”
“It’s just that you seem very . . . quiet. I hope I’ve not said anything to offend you? I can be a mouthy bugger so just give us a slap if I have!”
“Of course not!” I said. “You’ve been a perfect gentleman.” I crossed my ankles and gazed at his left earlobe, determined not to make eye contact. He was being really nice, and he was so boyishly handsome in that slightly fey Irish way I loved so much . . . I was sure I would lunge if I looked at him straight on.
We fell into an uncomfortable silence. I stared out the window, watching the streets whiz past me and willing the cab to beam me directly into my living room.
“This is me!” I said as the taxi pulled up to the curb off Old Street roundabout. “Thank you again for a lovely evening!” I leaped out of the taxi and ran (well, wobbled—I am the worst at wearing heels) into the entrance of my building. I didn’t look back.
As I turned the key to the front door of the apartment, an icy chill ran down my spine. “Oh God,” I thought, “I didn’t even offer him money for the cab!” Of course, I wasn’t supposed to, according to The Rules, but I still felt a rush of shame. “He must think I’m the biggest bitch on the planet.”
I poured myself a large glass of wine and took it out onto the balcony. The apartment was empty; presumably Lucy was off having fun somewhere, drinking and making out with boys and staying out past 10 p.m., unencumbered by the confines of Rules life. How I envied her.
If I’d been left to my own devices tonight, two martinis would have led to a couple of bourbons, and the night would have ended with us grappling in a drunken make-out session in a dark corner of a dive bar on Hanbury Street.
That’s what I loved about being single: going on little adventures with a relative stranger to whom you’re suddenly desperately attracted; bizarre, off-track conversations about your favorite breed of dog, or who would win in a fight between New Kids on the Block and One Direction, or whether or not Michael McIntyre makes the world a worse place; mad hunts for booze and cigarettes; the feeling that the night is slipping away from you and trying to grasp on to it and haul the cover of dark over you for as long as possible. I loved the giddy feeling of waking up in bed the next morning, fuzzy and headachy but mainly really, really happy, still high on the sense of possibility from the night before.
Instead, I was home at an absurdly reasonable hour, having forced a perfectly nice man to spend a brief evening in my extremely boring company and not offering a penny of my own money as compensation. I felt deflated and kind of gross.
This was going to be harder than I’d thought.
A week had gone by without any word from Top Hat. It had taken all of my willpower not to send him a text thanking him for the drinks and apologizing for not offering any money for the cab, but if I had done that, I’d be going against several rules in the book.
Michael had left for Tokyo with Top Hat and Cathryn hadn’t heard any feedback about the date. I cringed to think what Top Hat would say about me; he was probably berating Michael for sending him on a date with such a frigid bitch. It was pretty humiliating, but I guessed I was going to have to prepare myself for that kind of thing now that I’d handed my love life to the experts.
Lucy and I had gone for our Saturday-morning run and our weekly shopping trip to Superdrug afterward, wandering around the aisles like a couple of zombies who were really interested in nail polish. I was standing at the checkout, paying for an electric blue liquid eyeliner I was very excited about, when I felt my phone buzz.
I pulled it out of my bag and looked at the screen. I had a missed call. Six, to be exact. All from Adrian.
It had been a while since I’d heard from him. Six weeks, maybe longer. I’d given up and assumed he had retreated to the Island of Lost Men, where he was playing Championship Manager with all the other guys who had suddenly evaporated from women’s lives.
But apparently he was off the island. And now, as I stood in the middle of the shop and stared down at the little blinking cursor on my phone, I was faced with a conundrum: to Rules or not to Rules?
“Adrian called,” I said, grabbing Lucy’s arm as we walked out of the store. “Like, six times. What should I do?”
“Ooh! Ring him back! He’s probably calling to say he’s realized he’s madly in love with you.”
What People are Saying About This
“HUGELY enjoyable! Great fun, a gripping read, and very touching.”
— New York Times bestselling author Marian Keyes
“Love by the Book feels like a no-holds barred girls’ night. I found myself laughing out loud at every turn. Melissa Pimentel is a great new voice. She’ll go far!”
—Cara Lockwood, USA Today bestselling author of I Do (But I Don’t)
"Melissa Pimentel's voice is wickedly funny and entirely appealing. Reading Love by the Book is like taking a tour of London on the arm of an audaciosu adn hilarious new friend—in other words a whole lot of fun!"
—Meg Donohue, USA Today bestselling author of All the Summer Girls
"Wincingly honest and hilariously perceptive, Love by the Book is a fresh, funny, clever take on dating, relating, and finding love."
—Anna Maxted, bestselling author of Getting Over It and Running in Heels
"A fun romantic comedy (or tragedy, depending on the day). If you love "The Mindy Project", imagine Mindy in London surrounded by British hotties, fabulous friends, and way too much bad dating advice. A wonderful debut by Melissa Pimental. Can't wait to dive into her next novel."
—Kim Gruenenfelder, author of A Total Waste of Makeup
“I loved this book! So smart and sassy but with a great big heart, too. It sends up the whole game of modern romance by applying Harvard Business School techniques, Victorian dating rules and Flapper ideology to the Tinder age. You'll go through this book as quickly as Lauren "swipes left" on her iPhone. Love by the Book will delight anyone who has ever tried looking for love.”
—Naomi Wood, author of Mrs. Hemingway
"Who hasn't wondered whether if they just hit on the precise formula, they'd find the right man? In Love by the Book, Pimentel's protagonist, Lauren, explores this idea full-tilt by adopting an advice-book-of-the-month approach to the problem. I often found myself laughing out loud and quickly turning the pages to find out what that month's dictum would have Lauren doing. A fun, fast-paced read."
—Catherine McKenzie, bestselling author of Hidden and Arranged
"Love by the Book hits its humor beats in all the right places, and I love when someone comes up with an idea that prompts me to say 'I wish I had thought of that'. Pimentel's 'experiment' proves that the best book on love is the one you write yourself along the way."
—Elisa Lorello, bestselling author of Faking It and She Has Your Eyes
“Pimentel’s riotous tale will appeal to any woman who has ever suffered through the woes of dating. Readers will feel Lauren’s frustration and find themselves relating to her mishaps and laughing at her more ridiculous predicaments. Witty and smart, Love by the Book puts a fresh twist on the age-old dating story and will especially appeal to millennials.”
“For fans of Sex and the City, Pimentel offers a fictionalized account of a real-life experiment in dating.”
— Kirkus Review
"Honest, funny and cringingly relatable."
"Funny and honest, this is a refreshing look into the modern dating scene."
Reading Group Guide
1. Did any of the dating guides Lauren consulted seem appealing to you, and if so, why?
2. What do you think of the idea of a dating guide, in general? Is it possible to give universal advice when it comes to affairs of the heart, and if so, why?
3. What did you make of the other relationships in the book—Tristan and Lucy, Meghan and her wife, Lauren’s parents, Cathryn and her fiancé?
4. Would you say there was some common thread of success between these partnerships? A common thread of conflict?
5. How did each new approach change the type of person Lauren attracted? Do you ever find yourself changing your behavior to encourage or repel different types of people?
6. Lauren’s dating life consists of a pretty healthy combination of extreme joy and profound loneliness. Is there a benefit to the loneliness, and if so, how does it affect the moments of joy?
7. What is Lauren’s attitude toward casual sex, and how does she evaluate it through the lens of each guide? Do you think our culture’s approach to this has changed recently, and if so, what is responsible for that change?
8. What is the relationship between love and sex in a romantic partnership? Can you have one without the other?
9. Given Lauren’s love of literature, did you find that any of her romantic partners had similarities to well-known fictional characters? If so, which ones?
10. If you had to choose one of Lauren’s partners for dinner, a movie, and drinks, who would it be and why?
11. Do you think Lauren’s story would be different if it was set in New York City? San Francisco? Cleveland? Or is a book about dating messy and terrible and wonderful no matter where it’s set?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Love by the Book" is about Lauren, a twenty-eight-year old woman living in London that turns her love life in to a "science experiment" with the aid of dating guide books. Pimentel is an AMAZING writer, and there wasn't a single page I was bored with. Lauren was a likable character, and she seemed very down to earth. In the end, Lauren seemed to have learned a lot about her dating experience, and what she needed to better herself. I felt many emotions throughout the book such as sadness, anger, excitement, etc., but all in all, I felt as if I was spending a girl's night with Lauren and her flatmate, Lucy. I already feel a bit sad to part ways with these fun characters. "Love by the Book" is the perfect summer/beach read, and I would high recommend it to others looking for a fun read!
3.5 stars LOVE BY THE BOOK is the humorous exploits of Lauren Cunningham, American ex-pat, living her fantasy, or attempting to, in London. Lauren isn’t looking for nor does she want a relationship. She wants to be foot loose & fancy free to explore all the English male bounty she crossed an ocean for. LOVE BY THE BOOK is a comical dating romp through the early years of the new millennium with the dubious assistance of dating guides and rule books of the past and fairly recent. Employed by the Science Museum it’s only natural Lauren would take a scientific approach to her dating woes. Each chapter is dedicated to a dating/relationship book and month. The end of each chapter lists the test subject, results, and Lauren’s final thoughts as she summarizes the experience. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to use a guide to navigate those treacherous dating waters? Why not try reading LOVE BY THE BOOK and vicariously giving them a go via Lauren first? After all, her adventures are loosely based on the author’s real life experiences that she noted for posterity in her now (sadly) defunct blog. For readers delectation Lauren has chosen: The Rules The Technique of the Love Affair: By a Gentlewoman (1928) Dorothy Parker quipped that if she’d read this earlier she might have been “successful rather than just successive.” As a huge Dorothy Parker fan this has certainly piqued my interest & I’ll be looking for The Technique of the Love Affair to read for grins & giggles. Not Tonight, Mr. Right (aka Close Your Legs, Open Your Heart~ Lauren’s title) The Rules of the Game The Art of Dating Belle de Jour’s Guide to Men Manners for Women & Find a Husband After 35 Will Lauren find what she’s searching for? Are dating guides effective? What life lessons does she learn along the way? Is there a HEA for Lauren and her friends? You’ll have to discover that for yourself. LOVE BY THE BOOK is playful and entertaining. Whether you’re still searching for that elusive whatever floats your boat or you’re snuggly and content; Lauren’s experiments in “off the beaten path” London are a lively escape and quite the vicarious thrill regardless of your status. Reviewed for Miss Ivy’s Book Nook, Manic Readers, & Novels Alive TV
I'm only halfway through but am really enjoying it! So far it's clever and entertaining without trying too hard. Interesting, too, how many different conflicting "love guides" they are. I'm appreciative of the author's willingness to try them all out so we don't have to ;)