Story by Lois Smith Brady of the New York Times (September 1997). Photo by Matt Rainey.
Four years ago, Denene Millner and Nicholas Kindle Chiles met in Room 9, the legendary press room at City Hall.
"Room 9 is like a pit," said Mr. Chiles, 32, a reporter for The Star-Ledger in Newark. "It's like crabs in a barrel. Everybody is extremely close together physically, and the competition is intense and incredible. Denene was the comedian among us. She made everyone laugh, because she's funny and expressive and uninhibited. She'd come into the room and start dancing."
George E. Jordan, the City Hall bureau chief for The Star Ledger, worked in Room 9 with Ms. Millner and Mr. Chiles. "The air pressure changed whene Denene walked in the room," he recalled. "Denene is -I'm looking for a word - bombastic. She's a modern-day, sharp-tongued woman, what my grandmother would call a pistol."
Ms. Millner, 28, was covering City Hall when the couple met and is now an entertainment reporter for The Daily News. She is both bombastic and softhearted in her book, "The Sistahs' Rules," to be published next month by William Morrow & Company. In it, she rewrites "The Rules," the popular dating guide that advises women to play hard-to-get with men in every way: never call a man, don't accept a Saturday night date any later than Wednesday, and never split the check in restaurants.
Ms. Millner's rules, which are written for African-Americans but might inspire women of any race, advise the opposite. In one chapter, "Go Get Him, Girl!" she encourages women to practice using the phrase "May I buy you another?"
"That 'act aloof and hope he notices you' thing is played like an eight track," she writes. "It's just not cute in the 90's."
She also advises women, "carry yourself as if you are the fiercest creature to walk this earth." And "If you want to be rich, if you want to drive a nice car and have that social status, then go get it yourself."
Ms. Millner believes there is nothing wrong with accepting a date on only a few hours' notice. "'The Rules' makes it seem as if acting coy is empowering," she said just before her wedding. "I'm sorry, but those kinds of games don't empower you. What empowers you is if you can step to the table and look him in the eye and say, 'Yes, I'm as strong as you, and you're as strong as me, and we can make this work together.'"
In her love life, Ms.Millner followed her own advice. She and Mr. Chiles were friends for a year until she asked him for a ride to a journalists' convention in Atlanta, and they fell in love on the way. "He's such an intelligent, sweet, emotional man, and that's what I always wanted in a guy," she said.
Throughout their relationship, she called him as often as he called her. They always split the dinner check. She didn't try to lose weight for him because, as she writes in her book, "a good black man will like you just the way you are."
Yet, she is not a doctrinaire feminist. "The Way to a Man's Heart Is Through a Great Plate of Greens" is Rule No. 15 in her book. "Cooking is not old fashioned," she said. "What's wrong with pleasing a man and putting sustenance into his stomach? Sometimes, being overly feminist takes all the fun out of being a girl."
On Aug. 23, she and Mr. Chiles were married at the Museum for African Art in SoHo, amid African masks, dolls carried by young women as they made the transition into adulthood and "power figures" from Zaire made of snakeskin and antelope horn.
"Denene is a sister who still believes in finding and keeping and nurturing black love," said Caryl Renoir Lucas, a Star-Ledger reporter. "This is a time when upper-class professional black women are having a hard time finding a man. Denene says: 'You can do it. You can't give up on men of color.'"