`Mars, Venus' Author Finds His Messages Hitting Home

Men talk about themselves too much - and women are too willing to listen.

That's just one of the differences between men and women that make successful relationships a challenge, says John Gray, author of the popular "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" series. .

One of the great no-nos on any date is for a guy to talk incessantly about himself, his career or his glory days on the varsity football squad. Women hate that but feel they must listen, Gray says.

It's not exactly an original insight, and Gray admitted his books don't always contain innovative advice. But men and women need help more than ever, he says, and the success of his Mars and Venus books (five titles so far; millions of sales) seems to prove he's right.

"It's like my book title has become more famous than my name," Gray says. "People know what to expect and what kind of message they're going to get, which is very traditional, very positive, but updated."

Yet Gray has only scant status in the eyes of some critics. His Ph.D. in psychology and human sexuality is from Columbia Pacific University in San Rafael, Calif. - a correspondence school.

And a scathing profile in Time magazine last year noted with incredulity that Gray purports to believe in extraterrestrial life. It said he traveled for nine years with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who in the late 1960s was guru to the Beatles and other media stars.

Later, fellow celebrity counselor and wife Barbara De Angelis left him for another man. The crisis led Gray to his vision of men and women as really, really different creatures, though this view usually is credited to Deborah Tanner, a George Washington University neurolinguist.

Nevertheless, if the messenger doesn't get much respect in professional therapy circles, the message apparently is all right.

"I think his major contribution is he moved people to think it was acceptable to view men and women as different," says Diane Brashear, a clinical associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology and psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine. "When there's a major difference in a relationship, it turns out to be normative, not sick."

Gray's corporate offices are in Phoenix - complete with an 800 number to hawk his myriad products. He trains and licenses other counselors for a handsome fee at his Mars/Venus Institute in Mill Valley, Calif.

Gray's Mars and Venus books have sold about 10 million copies at an average price of $27 a pop, plus 2 million audio cassettes and 300,000 videos.

The author also heads up a one-on-one telephone counseling service (he recruits new clients, and counselors, with a full-page ad in the back of his latest book), and he receives up to $35,000 for each talk he gives at corporate events.

Is this really the way to deliver mental health services, critics wonder (or is it grouse?).

Sure, says Gray, if the demand is there, which it obviously is. And it doesn't matter to him that most other professional therapists see all his teachings as being derivative, even old. He doesn't claim to be original - just right.

"I think dating in the '90s is more difficult than it's ever been for a variety of reasons, one being that our expectations are so much higher," Gray says. "Women are looking for a man with good communication skills, they're looking for romance, they're looking for love.

"The other reason is if you go to the movies, they're having sex so fast they're not showing the consequences. There's so much pressure on women to be sexual so fast, so they have to be picky."

In the past, Gray says, women primarily looked for a good provider, possibly a man who would make a good father. Romance was neither necessary nor sufficient for a long-lasting relationship.

But the women's movement has undermined that notion. Women no longer have to be submissive just to be supported economically. What they want out of a relationship now is romance and good sex, he says.

His latest book, "Mars and Venus On a Date" (HarperCollins; $25), is 370 pages, and his authorized seminars are eight hours, so a couple of excerpts will have to suffice.

One is the "three second" rule. A man should not initiate verbal contact (i.e., chit-chat over the water cooler) unless a woman has first made eye contact for at least three seconds to show she is interested.

And: Great sex covers for a multitude of deficiencies. By that Gray means couples should not necessarily wait until everything is right in their relationship before launching (or resuming) an active sex life.

"If they have a great sex life, they're going to be more agreeable and accommodating," Gray says. "That's why I say romantic needs are of primary importance."

Gray says at least two or three additional Mars and Venus books are in the offing, including "Mars and Venus: Single Again" and, possibly, "Mars and Venus in the Delivery Room."

But this great string of books, tapes, seminars and personal appearances will end one day, Gray admits.

"The Mars/Venus run has been seven years," he notes. "Maybe I'll feel like Seinfeld and quit after nine years."