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The Surprising Truth About Dating Rules Today

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The Surprising Truth About Dating Rules Today

There’s no one right way for a relationship to be so why learn about dating rules?

Unfortunately the erroneous belief, that there is one and only one way things are supposed to be, The Rules of Dating Today, is fostered by many commercial advice givers and pop psych book authors who put out their own (often uneducated) biased opinions as the last and only word on human behavior, as the rules. Let me state definitively right up front: when it comes to mingling, meeting and mating there are no rules. Every one of us is obliged to wing it, for good or for ill.

Years ago, in mythical Smalltown, USA, he and she were introduced by some respectable elder like the minister or his Great Aunt Sophie. If he was interested, he asked to come calling at her house. If she was attracted to him there wasn’t a thing she could do about it herself but covertly encourage him to take that step. Under the watchful eyes of everyone in her family, and the gossiping neighbors too, they attempted to get to know one another in the parlor or on front porch. Eventually they might go out walking in public, a generalized announcement that there were serious intentions here. However, if he stopped calling at her home, or she wasn’t at home when he did, that was it. One of them got a reputation as a trifler with the affections of others.

No physical demonstrations were exchanged between “nice” people until he “popped the question” and she agreed. Then, and only then, were they allowed to exchange one chaste kiss. Ah, but wait until The Wedding Night when all would be revealed.

If things were never really that rigid in all or even most cases, (what about all those 8 lb. “premature” babies?) convention certainly held that they were. For those who enjoy rules, at least they know what was expected of them. Follow the steps, one, two, three, that lead to the altar and then to bed.

These days, the good news for those of independent spirit is that there are no rules, not even a generally accepted idea of how it’s supposed to be. Everyone is required to arrange the relationship that suits them or proceed according to some private plan the other is not necessarily in synch with. She can initiate the social interaction. He can decline. The one who invites is usually the one who pays for the date, regardless ofgender. Women can date men their juniors in age, status and income and can go on to be breadwinner wives for their stay-at-home mates.

Topics that were never mentioned between ladies and gentleman are now required before an intimate relationship can get under way – sexual histories, safer sex practices, long termgoals, expectations of exclusivity. And all possibilities are there for the making – a relationship with or without sex, sex with or without a relationship, an open relationship, an exclusive one, leading to marriage or a way of passing time on an evening of dull TV.

There is no one right way for a romantic or sexual relationship to be. Whatever works for the participants is fine. No one else gets to vote. Whatever is decided between the two, often after weeks of subtle or overt negotiations, is “for now”, and as needs or circumstances change it all can be renegotiated. Isn’t that a comforting thought? It is for those who find uncertainty challenging. For those who like it to be more predictable…well, it just isn’t.

[Isadora Alman]

Isadora Alman, M.F.T., is a California licensed marriage and relationship therapist, a Board-certified sexologist, author and lecturer. Her syndicated sex and relationship column "Ask Isadora" ran in alternative weekly papers worldwide for 25+ years. Web surfers can find her columns on her online free interactive Sexuality Forum (link is external). She is the author of two collections of Q & A's from columns: Let's Talk Sex and Ask Isadora, as well as Sex Information, May I Help You?, a peek behind the scenes of a sex help phone line which still flourishes in San Francisco today. Doing It: Real People Having Really Good Sex is a collection of helpful hints and titillating tidbits culled from column readers and Forum web site users. Her novel Bluebirds of Impossible Paradises: A Sexual Odyssey of the 70's is out in paperback on She has also contributed chapters to several books including Herotica (Down There Press), Dick For A Day (Villard NY), The Moment Of Truth (Seal Press) and Single Woman Of A Certain Age (Inner Ocean Publishing, Inc.) Isadora has been a talk show host and frequent TV and radio talk show guest, and a lecturer and workshop leader on a variety of communications topics. She conducts her private psychotherapy practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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