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(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)
(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)

The latest self-help books focus on saving women from dead-end relationships Add to ...

He doesn't tip waiters, didn't introduce you to his mother and has an apartment full of dead plants.

Run, says a new brand of self-help books devoted to warning women off certain types of men.

Where those screeching-pink paperbacks used to promise Mr. Right in 30 days, the recent crop is less Cosmo rag than cautionary tale, with authors questioning why some women so doggedly pursue relationships with commitment-phobes, sociopaths, cheaters and deadbeats.

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"Very often emotion trumps judgment, an ingredient that has women especially choosing the wrong man," says Father Pat Connor, the somewhat unlikely author of one of the books, Whom Not to Marry: Time-Tested Advice From a Higher Authority, published last month.

The 81-year-old New Jersey priest has counselled fiancés for 50 years and taken many confessions. Although he offers few hard-and-fast rules, he can rattle off the red flags: a man who can't hold down a job ("There's no hope"); doesn't have any friends ("It may mean he's incapable of intimacy"); has trouble enunciating the words "I love you," apologizing or offering thanks; appears tied to his "mother's apron strings," or hangs back, hoping you'll run his life.

A guy who doesn't introduce you to his friends or family is also likely a dud.

"It may show that he doesn't respect you. He doesn't think you're worth introducing."

The book includes the well-worn advice of a twice-divorced woman who responded to a New York Times profile of the priest: Never marry a man who's more affectionate in public than in private, is rude to waiters, treats his dogs poorly or neglects his plants to death.

"I didn't take too many of those seriously, but when they're all added up together, they may indicate that this guy is not marriageable material," says Father Connor, who recommends an extended engagement period.

Don't race to the altar is also the take-home message of How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy: Is He "the One" or Should You Run?, published last week.

"There are so many books like 'How to Catch a Guy in Five Days' but those don't really help women figure out how to have healthy relationships," says Jennifer Gauvain, a couples therapist who co-authored the book with Anne Milford, a writer who called off her first wedding in 1992, five months before the big day.

The book features interviews with other women who backed out, as well as those who didn't follow their gut instincts, married and lived to regret it. They all note similar red flags: avoidance, meanness, intimacy issues, irrefutable socioeconomic differences and overreaching dependence.

The women who plod along in dead-end relationships often do so because they're insecure, afraid of being alone or think a relationship will solve their problems - including being the last unmarried friend in their social circle, the St. Louis, MI-based authors write. Playing saviour and fixer, these women try to shape their boyfriends into "the one."

"As a woman, you don't really need to take that on. It's not your job to change someone's personality or who they are," Ms. Gauvain says.

"We're really building a case to tell them that they're better off alone than with the wrong guy," Ms. Milford chimes in.

The authors argue that cautionary manuals for women are proliferating because men have more opportunities to act like schmucks these days - think hook-up culture, the pick-up artist community, "low-maintenance" girlfriends and the grocery-list mentality of online dating.

"I don't necessarily think there are more bad apples out there. There may be more temptation than there used to be. The terrain is changing," Ms. Gauvain says.

In part, the "warning culture" is emerging from an increasingly digital dating scene, argues Tasha Cunningham, a Toronto-born, Miami Herald business reporter who created the website DontDateHimGirl.com.

The free site lets women warn each other about their worst exes: It's a lengthy roster of philanderers, deadbeat dads, "mamma's boys" and guys who embellish their dating profiles. Launched in 2006, the site has 1.6 million members.

"Women are looking for answers and direction," says Ms. Cunningham, author of So The Bastard Broke your Heart, Now What? published last month.

"A lot of these books have been about how to convince a woman to change her behaviour to get a guy to like her. Now it's a warning: Be smarter so this doesn't happen to you."

Sites like DontDateHimGirl.com and books such as Andrea Syrtash's He's Just Not Your Type (And That's a Good Thing), published last month, are the antithesis of Lori Gottlieb's much debated Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, which urges women to lower their expectations to avoid waking up 40 and single like she did.

"This is more of a sisterhood. Women are banding together," Ms. Cunningham says.

For girls on the cusp of dating, there is Frog or Prince? The Smart Girl's Guide to Boyfriends, published last year by Kaycee Jane, a Vancouver author who wrote the book for her daughter after she saw her "holding the hand of a frog."

"Unhealthy relationship patterns are established in youth relationships," says Ms. Jane, who hopes to "frog-proof" daughters by lecturing their mothers through B.C. high schools.

"We have to help a girl set her bar - establish what behaviour she'll expect. ... Feminism is about choice, and it's in our best interest to understand what we want and need in a relationship."

But why are there no equivalent books or websites for men? Simple: Men aren't into it.

"Men are not quick to engage in a conversation on this problem," Father Connor offers.

"I don't think a man's going to pick up a hot pink book," says Ms. Milford, noting that she and Ms. Gauvain have been accused of male-bashing.

Still, much of the advice is co-ed she says, swearing: "We love men."

Follow on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

 

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