“You just want the best of everything, don’t you?” my date asked–nay, accused–as I nursed a Negroni and balked. Don’t we all? As a millennial woman, I’ve been groomed to never settle. It’s implicit in the girl-power rhetoric of our pop-culture icons and explicit on social media. Previous generations studied The Rules for landing “Mr. Right” (recall #2: Don’t talk to a man first). But a new set of books suggest we set aside the question of Mr.–or Ms.–Right and strive for a more empowered relationship with ourselves, prospective partners and love itself.
For The Game of Desire, a new self-help dating guide from Shan Boodram, the sexologist enlisted five women for a romance boot camp, designed to teach them to flirt better, identify matches and communicate with purpose. Some of her suggestions (stroke the rim of your glass to arouse your date’s desire) might raise eyebrows. And they’re delivered with a chummy vibe that can grate. But the bulk of her advice is sound: learn what you want and create the circumstances to get it.
Man Fast, a new memoir from former aid worker Natasha Scripture, is less about dating than about how much a step back from it can do. Following the Eat, Pray, Love outline, Scripture travels through India, Sicily and Tanzania while inspecting her own issues with commitment, health and spirituality. The goal: to come out of her self-prescribed “man fast” more grounded and independent. Spoiler alert: she finds fulfillment sans partnership.
Artist and comedian Shelby Lorman, meanwhile, wants us to think–and laugh–about the norms of dating and masculinity. Awards for Good Boys is a series of cartoons, doodles and written interludes poking fun at things we laud men for even in 2019. (He took out the trash? Marry him, he’s a catch!) The book is a rueful sigh, less instruction manual than recalibration of standards for male behavior.
Speaking of which: Inti Chavez Perez’s Respect is, unlike the other books here, geared toward male readers–more specifically, teenage ones. Covering everything from anatomy to consent, it fills a gap in the literature for young men navigating adolescence in an era that may seem like a minefield of potential missteps. It is to pickup-artist manuals like The Game what the above books are to The Rules: a rejection of the tired narrative of the conquest and a new way of thinking about what it means to have the best of everything–with or without a partner.
This appears in the August 19, 2019 issue of TIME.
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