Liz McNeil
December 16, 1996 12:00 PM

THE VERY MOMENT THEY READ The Rules, Nate Penn and Lawrence LaRose knew they had to be broken. Or revised. Or, at the very least, lampooned. “We were offended by them, and so many women we talked to were offended—that courting had been reduced to stealth,” says LaRose, recalling their friends’ reaction to the how-to-land-a-man philosophy put forth in the best-selling romantic guide. “We wanted to create something equally, if not more comically, retrograde.”

So Penn, 30, and LaRose, 32, both unattached New Yorkers who have worked in book publishing, collaborated on The Code: Time-tested Secrets for Getting What You Want from Women—Without Marrying Them! Part instruction book, part cultural anthropology and all satire, The Code recasts dating etiquette for men (and women, the authors are quick to point out) who don’t see every movie date as a prelude to wedlock.

While it remains to be seen if the commitment-phobic Code (scheduled to hit bookstores on Dec. 17) will rival The Rules in terms of success, Penn and LaRose have been courted by publishing houses and movie producers. Not only did they wangle a low six-figure contract from Simon & Schuster for publishing rights, but they also reportedly signed a movie deal for similar bucks with TriStar Pictures. They talked about The Code with correspondent Liz McNeil.

What is the Code, exactly?

LaRose: It’s the Rosetta stone of the American male psyche—the understanding that men want the same thing women want; they just want it more frequently. Mostly it’s a humorous way to look at the weird machinations men and women go through in a relationship. It’s also a strict scientific text. We’re hoping for the Nobel.

So how does a Code man ask a woman out?

LaRose: Quickly, and in her native language. Whatever it takes. And if it doesn’t take, ask someone else.

Penn: He can sing “On Top of Old Smokey” while brandishing a real meatball. It’s one of those goofily endearing things—plus, you’ve already got dinner.

Does a Code guy return phone calls?

Penn: It’s rude not to. Code guys aren’t rude. They’re gallant.

LaRose: Besides, any independent business would be washed up without consumer satisfaction or attention.

Why do Code guys forbid their dates to leave stuff at their apartments?

Penn: Every stocking is part of a family, and it’s just a matter of time before they send home for their relatives.

LaRose: Lingerie just has a way of multiplying; suddenly your space isn’t your space anymore. It’s our space.

What’s the biggest mistake a Code guy can make?

LaRose: To utter the unholy trinity, “I Love You.” Suddenly you’re moving on to the next thing, which is Bed Bath & Beyond, at warp speed.

What should a Code guy do if a woman says she loves him?

Penn: He should let her know he’s sincerely, wildly, madly confused. This isn’t about being hard to get. It’s about being impossible to pin down.

How do Code guys break up?

Penn: When she says, “Marriage,” you go, “Beep, Beep!”—like the Road Runner.

Describe a typical Code guy.

LaRose: He has the nerves of a fighter pilot, the creativity of a cordon bleu chef, the sensitivity of a poet, the daring of a ninja and the subtlety of a horse whisperer.

And Code girls?

LaRose: Madonna is a Code girl. She does things on her own terms and doesn’t follow society’s dictates. Good comic timing, dances well. What she does is cool because she does it. Linda Fiorentino and Batgirl don’t follow the rules; they make the rules.

Do Code guys go out with women who ask them first?

Penn: Yes; then you know she’s not a Rules girl.

Would you like to meet the authors of The Rules?

Penn: Sure. On pay per view.

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