New Jersey Tribune: (Mating) Call of the Wild

Scour the titles in the relationship section of any Borders or Barnes & Noble and you’ll come away with one conclusion about dating in the 21st century: It’s a jungle out there.

Fortunately, Highland Park-native Lauren Frances has got women’s backs.

Frances, Ph. Double D (yes, you read correctly), has penned a field guide, “Dating, Mating, and Manhandling: The Ornithological Guide to Men” (Harmony Books, $21), to help women properly identify men based on their behavior . . . and plumage.

Ladies, get your binoculars ready.

Man Fact: A man who isn’t trying to impress you isn’t very impressed with you.

Manhandling Maneuver: You already know all about you. Keep your problems to yourself and get to know him.

Romantic Rule: Everyone has problems. You need someone who has problems you can live with.

True Story: I once said, “Nice tie” to a gorgeous man on the red carpet of a film premiere. He whipped it off and proudly handed it to me, to the amazement of his little entourage. (I used it to tie him to my bedpost one rainy evening . . . but I’ll tell you that story later.)

The playful, slightly naughty tone of “Dating, Mating, and Manhandling” (which Frances describes as a combination of “Sex and the City” and chick lit) is her way of addressing an issue that women take very seriously in a more lighthearted, fun way.

“Most of these (self-help/relationship) books are so depressing and so badly written,” she says, adding that it was important to her to make “women feel like they’re part of something that’s larger than themselves . . . it’s not their own private hell and battle that they’re on; there are others out there.”

That’s not to say, though, that people — women especially — should not take their love lives seriously. But it’s important to realize, Frances says, that feeling alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“If you didn’t feel lonely, and you weren’t disappointed that you weren’t fulfilled, there would be no motivation to get you off the couch and go out there and do the hard work that it takes to actually meet somebody,” she explains.

When it comes to singletons (to borrow a phrase from “Bridget Jones’s Diary”), one of the biggest problems is their unrealistic, romanticized expectations about love and relationships.

“People often think that some romantic superpower is going to come and organize their love life,” she explains. Women particularly “feel like if they do anything about it, it’s tacky. It’s a sign of desperation that they shouldn’t have to put effort or energy into this area of their lives because if it was right, it would just happen.”

Frances blames this antiquated attitude squarely on the shoulders of the Brothers Grimm.

“I like to call it “flirting like you’re a Sleeping Beauty in a coma,’ ” she says. “That is a very ingrained feeling for most women, in that the guy is just supposed to happen upon them and just take care of everything.”

Above all else, Frances stresses the importance of women not committing themselves to one person until he proves himself worthy of the time and attention. In other words, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, and make sure the man you’re interested in has similar relationship goals.

As for attracting the opposite sex, Frances swears that the stomach isn’t the only way to a man’s heart.

“The best way to meet anyone is to pay them a compliment,” Frances advises. “I’m going to teach women how to break the ice by using the magical phrase, “Nice tie.’ ”

Just how did Frances acquire all this knowledge about the male species? Practice, practice, practice — along with a bit of trial and error. Growing up a teenager in Central New Jersey certainly helped.

“I have to say, the Highland Park crop of young males was excellent — and you can quote me,” Frances says with a laugh. “They get a gold star. My manhandling techniques definitely started in Highland Park.”

The author has been a love coach to the masses for nearly 15 years. During that time, she has shared her witty advice with a gaggle of women, including actresses Amy Brenneman of “Judging Amy” and Kate Walsh of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

While she has gleaned pearls of wisdom from her mother, Highland Park resident Barbara Glitzer — “Why don’t you marry an accountant?” — it is her own relationships, including a six-year commitment to Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons,” that have provided Frances with a lot of her fodder.

“I’ve been in very interesting relationships with interesting people,” she explains. “(As a result), I’ve been able to give people very good advice about dating and relationships. (Such as) dating men who’ve been divorced, how to deal with stepchildren.”

While not all of those relationships ended happily, Frances says they were all important learning experiences.

“It hasn’t all been exactly what I’ve wanted, but it’s all been research” that she hopes will be useful in providing advice to someone else.

Looking back, Frances says she learned a lot about “manhandling” men from the heroine of one of her favorite books/movies, “Gone With the Wind.”

Scarlett O’Hara’s “flirting technique . . . flirting with more than one man at a time, and not being exclusive too quickly” definitely influenced a young, impressionable Frances.

And while it’s been many years since this Los Angeles resident has lived in New Jersey, Frances gives the Garden State credit for helping her keep things in perspective.

“I love being a Jersey girl,” she says. “It makes me a normal person.”

Dr. Ruth and “Lovelines” had better look out for this Jersey girl, because Frances is thinking big about her future. No, not big in those terms. She’s developing her own national radio show, and a television show is in her not-so-distant plans, too.

That’s on top of her recently launched her Web site,, and an online, interactive e-zine that’s in the works. More books are also on the horizon.

With all of those projects planned, it’s hard to imagine Frances having any time left to devote to her own love life. Not to worry, though — she’s presently dating someone.

“I don’t want to talk too much about it because . . . I don’t want him to fly the coop,” she says slyly. “(But) I’m in a very hot love affair right now.”

No matter what her dating status, Frances is always there to dispense advice to the lovelorn.

“I’m kind of turning into the Martha Stewart of dating and romance,” Frances says. “I’m like the man whisperer.”

By AVA GACSER-STAFF WRITER Review in the New Jersey Tribune 09/03/06