Susan McLean, ‘Rules for Love’

Don’t wear make-up, ever. Don’t act girly.
Don’t collect shoes or shop until you drop.
If your hair is straight, don’t make it curly.
Don’t play dumb or play his games. Don’t stop
reading or saying what you think. Don’t flatter.
Don’t claim that you love football if you don’t.
Don’t sidestep. Don’t pretend it doesn’t matter
if he puts down your friends or if he won’t
do his fair share of housework. Do your best
to give your talents scope and free his own.
Grill steaks; eat chocolate. This is not a test.
If he won’t love you, you’ll do fine alone.
Sex is a bonus. Give as good as you get,
but make it clear you don’t intend to marry.
Love what you have, and what you don’t, forget.

These worked for me. (Your own results may vary.)


Susan McLean writes: “This poem got its start in answer to a contest at the magazine The Spectator in the UK for a poem about “rules for love.” The words rules and love don’t normally go together, because love is something that often seems to break all the rules. Yet most people have their own mental set of requirements for love, which they will not easily set aside, as well as an internalized list of dos and don’ts that they think are the way to achieve love. I found it entertaining to try to pin down some of mine, knowing that each person will have a different list. How often women run into articles in women’s magazines that purport to tell them exactly how to find lasting love! This poem tries to be funny by saying the sorts of things that would never appear in those articles. It was not among the winners at The Spectator, but it was a lot of fun to write. Trying to pin down one’s own rules for love produces an indirect self-portrait. The poem first appeared in my second book, The Whetstone Misses the Knife.”

Susan McLean has two books of poetry, The Best Disguise and The Whetstone Misses the Knife, and one book of translations of Martial, Selected Epigrams. Her poems have appeared in Light, Lighten Up Online, Measure, Able Muse, and elsewhere. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

Photo: “love rules” by hmmlargeart is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


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