For the most part, I feel like the only “dating rules” we should ever mind are the following: Don’t talk with your mouth full, and don’t impose arbitrary, impersonal social guidelines onto your relationship with another person. It’s always worth the effort to figure out what feels right and constitutes respectful, honest behavior between each two people – and while some things stay more or less consistent, dating unfolds very differently for everyone.
Also, being a game player (which, let’s be honest, that’s what most rules amount to) is not attractive. It will always be more appealing to be the kind of person who thoughtfully and creatively lets your behavior be dictated by the reality of each individual situation, and who pays enough attention to another person to act according to what they want and need, than it is to be a diligent little rule-follower.
So as a start to tearing down all of the useless preconceptions we have about the “right” way to date, here are the first 5 rules you should forget immediately:
The guy always paying
I mean, I’m a practical person – if you’re dying to pay for me, I’m going to let you. But you’re going to be disappointed if you’re under the impression that what you’re buying is a sense of control, or obligation on my part (to what? Have sex with you? The whole “guy paying for dates” thing is uncomfortably close to prostitution in its mental origins, and with all respect to my sex worker pals, that’s not my line of work.) Bottom line: Money, whether you like it or not, equals power. During the first few dates, I say split things, or take turns paying. If it becomes clear that you’re going to continue seeing each other, don’t be afraid to have an open discussion about what makes you both comfortable going forward. Establishing a policy of who pays for what and when is something that should be reflective of each individual couple, not some bullshit, outdated idea about men being the breadwinners.
Having sex on the 3rd date
I’m not historically a fan of book burning, but I’m down if anyone else wants to torch every last copy of the How To Not Look Like A Slut: By The Numbers handbook. Anyone who still adheres to the idea that they should wait until the 3rd date to have sex is ridiculous, and likely too busy examining their and their date’s behavior to really be engaged in the moment enough to have good sex anyway. Have sex when you want. If it’s the first date and it feels right, go for it wholeheartedly. If it takes you weeks (or months) to be ready to do it, then don’t let anyone make you feel weird about that. Sex is a thing that has to be felt up out on a case-by-case basis. There are no rules when determining what feels right for you.
Pretending not to care
The idea of being intentionally aloof when we like someone is entirely based in fear – fear that, if we let the other person know how we really feel, they’ll have too much power over us, or that being candid about our feelings will take away the mystery, or the thrill of the chase, and make them lose interest. The thing is, those are only legitimate fears if you’re dating a total dick. You should be striving to only develop feelings for people who are considerate, decent, and trustworthy enough to be nothing but protective of your feelings, to meet your openness with openness in return.
Caring about someone necessitates being considerably brave – if you choose to be authentic instead of putting up a fearful front of nonchalance to protect yourself, you run the risk that the other person might prove themselves to be an asshole. They might turn out to be in it only for the drama and anxiety of the chase, and have no real desire for something more. They might simply not feel the same. But at least by being honest, you know what’s what before you waste anymore time. And if it turns out that they do feel the same, and are someone worth loving, then you didn’t have to waste anymore time playing pretend before getting to the really good stuff.
Waiting a few days to call
This is an extension of the last dumb rule. Maybe it was one thing when the only way people could get in touch with each other was via actual, landline telephone, but I’m sorry – we now have the ability to call, text, iMessage, Facebook message, GChat, SnapChat, DM, and whatever other shit the cool kids are doing these days. Make contact. There’s nothing cute about someone who will ghost out for a week after a seemingly great date. The whole “I’m going to make him/her think I don’t care so they like me more” thing is very done now. Sincerity is the new fake.
Avoiding “serious” topics for…a long time.
I’m not saying you should walk into a first date, extend your hand, and in the same breath, introduce yourself with your name and the timeline in which you would like to have your first child. Like, take a minute to feel out whether or not you actually have a connection with this person, thus making your future plans potentially relevant to them. But once you crossed that line of Mutual Recognition of Real Romantic Potential, waste little time in telling them if you have set goals or dealbreakers. It’s the fair thing to do. And it’s hard too. Often, people shy away from being outspoken about the things they want in life, especially after they start to develop feelings for someone; it’s all too tempting to wait for the other person to start revealing their life plans and play the “oh yeah, me too” role because you feel all sparkly inside and so badly want the two of you to share a vision of the future as much as you share initial chemistry. It’s understandable but ultimately only sets you up for failure.
So if, for example, you know you want to move to another city for grad school next year, mention it. If you know you never want kids, say so. Again, timing is important when it comes to having these conversations, but anyone worth a damn will super respect the self-awareness and self-respect it takes to say, “Hey, I like you and you like me. I know we’re at the beginning, and don’t take this as an implication that I’m trying to rush things or get prematurely serious, but there seems to be something good between us so I just want you to know my bottom line. If you’re cool with it, then awesome. If not, it’s better we know now.” Anyone who gets freaked about that talk isn’t worth dating anyway.