When commitment feels rare and everyone’s lonely, Change of Heart is a Valentine's Week investigation of what makes relationships so hard—and how they can be better.
Any woman who has devoted hours to swiping through Tinder pictures of shirtless men posing with fish and fielded hundreds of cheesy pickup lines can confirm that heterosexual dating is soul-sucking work. However, I cannot relate; I have a 100 percent success rate when it comes to turning first dates into long-term, committed relationships. This is because I have only been in one in my 26 years on earth.
I was a late bloomer partially out of resistance. I avoided dating apps and proceeded to live my life making no particular effort to meet men, eventually befriending one and going on a date that turned into my current loving, supportive relationship of three and a half years. The only advice I followed was the kind that is offensively unhelpful until it actually works: Just be yourself! This philosophy is the antithesis of Steve Harvey’s 2009 bestseller Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, a book that suggests yourself is your greatest obstacle to finding a connection.
“I want every woman who truly wants a solid relationship but just can’t figure out how to get one... to forget everything she’s ever been taught about men,” Harvey begins. “Erase the myths, the heresy, everything your mother told you, everything your girlfriends told you, all the advice you’ve read in magazines and seen on television—and find out here, who men really are.”
I like Steve Harvey; two of my favorite things are game shows and live TV mishaps. He brings an incredible deadpan performance to every episode of Family Feud, and his mishandling of the 2015 Miss Universe Pageant winner announcement, while possibly traumatizing for the contestants involved, was iconic. This is all to say that he is about as qualified as I, Miss One Date, am to be doling out dating and relationship advice.
In the year 2020, I thought his book would be collecting dust at my local library, but, at the time of this writing, it was checked out and had 15 holds. I worry about those 15 people, because, after reading it, I can conclude Act Like A Lady is not a book you come to when you’re in a good place. It is a last act of desperation, like the cold medicine you buy when you’ve been sick for days and simple hydration and rest are not working, so in a zombie-like haze, you go to the pharmacy and pick up the first thing you see with a sales pitch like “Maximum cold & flu blaster! Sleep for 48 hours GUARANTEED!”
“If there’s anything I’ve discovered during my journey here on God’s earth, it’s this," Harvey writes. "(a) too many women are clueless about men, (b) men get away with a whole lot of stuff in relationships because women have never understood how men think, and (c) I’ve got some valuable information to change all of that.” He promises that the book will be a “wide-open look into the minds of men” and suggests it will function for women much like the playbook the New England Patriots created in 2007 by secretly videotaping their opponents’ practices and reading rival coaches’ lips to figure out their plays. “With the advantage, the Patriots were able to win games,” Harvey explains, in case his female audience was unaware. He neglects to mention the Patriots were fined over a half-million dollars for their tactics and despised by the public for years to come.
The book offers a dizzying amount of contradictory advice. Expecting a man to be “fun and romantic, sensitive and gentle, and, above all, supportive” and simultaneously “willing to change diapers and wash dishes” is too demanding. To ask for basic human decency is “unrealistic.” But later, Harvey warns that if you don’t have standards for your man, he will leave you. Men are attracted to independent women, but not too independent because they don’t want to feel useless. If a relationship fails, it is almost always the fault of the woman, either because she expected too much of a man or could not foresee that a man would be a disappointment from the start. Apropos of nothing, a chapter called “Is It Time to Put a Ring on It?” starts with the sentence, “It’s been a full two years since you first spotted him at the gas station.”
He suggests that in men’s eyes, women fall squarely into two, and only two, the categories: “Sports Fish” and “Keeper.” In this case, Sports Fish (as in, yes, a fish you catch for fun, then release back into the sea) is the kind of woman you don’t want to be, and can be indicated by a range of traits including, but not limited to, drinking Long Island iced teas too eagerly, handing out her email address, dressing conservatively, dressing provocatively, letting a man sleep with her within the first 90 days of meeting. Meanwhile, a Keeper is more the kind of woman a man wants to introduce to his mother and is “dressed appropriately” yet “still sexy,” takes a man’s phone number but does not give out her own, and “wields her power like a samurai sword,” whatever that may mean.
I get the sense that Steve Harvey hates women, but, the thing is, he might actually hate men even more. “Men are very simple creatures,” he repeats throughout the book as a tagline. According to him, men are incapable of chitchat, only talk to you because they want to have sex with you, wouldn’t wash or shave if it weren’t for women, and would only eat lunch meat and watch ESPN if they could. He offers the basest, most barbaric definition of manhood that would rival any seasoned misandrist's.
The book isn’t so much an exclusive look inside men’s heads as it is an unintentional exploration of how capitalism rears its ugly head in straight relationships. According to Harvey, “Dating is a lot like business,” and men are driven by “Who They Are” (their job title), “What They Do” (the functions of said job title), and “How Much They Make” (how much they make). He believes that, until these circumstances are in order, a man can’t be what a woman wants him to be.
Harvey gets candid about how before he made it as a comedian, he got laid off as an inspector from the Ford assembly line and found himself unemployed without a college degree or any self-confidence. He couldn’t focus on women. Just as he bumps up against what has the potential to be an insightful evaluation of the market's pressures on men, he points the finger at women: “Many of you figure that if a man truly loves you, the two of you should be able to pursue your dreams together... This is honorable, but really, it’s not the way men work. His eye will be on the prize and that prize may not necessarily be you... It’s impossible for us to focus on the two—we’re just not that gifted, sorry.”
Another almost-but-not-quite moment happens when he details “The Three Things Every Man Needs” (support, loyalty, and “the cookie,” aka sex). Harvey wrongly suggests that if a woman denies a man sex for over a month because she's tired or just not up for it, her partner has cause to seek it elsewhere. But then he gets surprisingly empathetic: “You might have been up all night for a week with a sick child, gotten up early to get the other onto the school bus before you hit the road for that rush-hour commute to work, gone to battle with your co-workers and boss for eight hours with nothing but a 15-minute break to swallow an inadequate, unsatisfying lunch, and then hit the rush hour traffic back home to start your second job-the feeding and care of your kids,” he writes. “There’s dinner to be cooked, and homework to be checked, and laundry to be done, and the list goes on. By the time your man checks in with you, the last thing on your mind is giving a positive response to what a friend of mine called ‘the shoulder tap.’”
Oddly, reading this, I couldn’t help but think of marxist feminist scholar Silvia Federici and her 1975 essay "Wages Against Housework," which suggested reproductive labor is the foundation of industry and worthy of a wage.
“In the same way God created Eve to give pleasure to Adam,” Federici writes, “so did capital create the housewife to service the male worker physically, emotionally, and sexually… It is not an accident, then, if most men start thinking of getting married as soon as they get their first job. This is not only because now they can afford it, but also because having somebody at home who takes care of you is the only condition of not going crazy after a day spent on an assembly line or at a desk.”
Like Federici, Steve Harvey is uncannily able to describe the exact pathology that puts a strain on modern straight relationships, but, very much not like her, he squarely places the blame on women, still, in the year 2009 (and, for the readers still waiting on their library copies, the year 2020). It’s like reading a doctor elaborately diagnose a contagious disease, only to then turn around and tell the patient that they’re just imagining their symptoms.
In case you think I’m really on one, I'd like to point out that Harvey tells us that his inspiration for his 90-day no-sex-after-meeting-a-man rule came from a healthcare coverage policy at the Ford Motor plant, the very one where he got laid off from the assembly line. “If Ford won’t give a man benefits until he’s been on the job and proven himself, why, ladies, are you passing out benefits to men before they’ve even proven themselves worthy?” Uh, because health insurance and sex between two consenting adults are very different things, Steve?
I felt exhausted when I finished the book, like I had just worked a day on the assembly line, but instead of inspecting auto parts, I was inspecting the infinite regressive thoughts cranking out of Steve Harvey’s brain. Relationships are always going to be work, but Harvey paints a world where all that work has to fall onto women. Though it was only released 12 years ago, Act Like A Lady has already aged badly. It never really held up in the first place. You don’t need to be a self-professed expert to know that relationships are about listening to one another instead of playing weird mind games. There is no magical number of days to withhold sex or certain way of dressing to make a man fall in love with you. The systemic causes of inequality that can make a man unemployed or underpaid do not suddenly deem him unable to give or receive love (and we know this mindset increasingly leads to violence, lest I have to recap the plot of Joker  to you). Also, shouldn’t relationships be fun? Isn’t a key piece to a long, happy relationship that you laugh together and do things you both enjoy? All of these rules are so transactional and boring!!!
Maybe my concerns could be addressed in a companion book called Act Like A Gentleman, Think Like a Woman, but that book doesn’t exist. Steve Harvey would probably say men wouldn’t even know how to read it.
Follow Gabrielle Noone on Twitter.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.