Popular Dating Rules
When it comes to courting and dating, popular longstanding advice suggests that until the fish is on the hook, it is beneficial to adhere to certain dating rules.
These dating rules seem to offer a recipe for finding commitment and true romantic partnership, but what they invariably deliver is lopsided loving. In my experience treating couples and individuals, many hope that if they “play the game” correctly, their prince or princess will be the prize. But because playing a game necessarily translates into masking your authentic self, these rules cannot deliver the kind of genuine partnership on which true love is built. Instead, following bogus rules when it comes to dating invariably leads to one of two ill-fated consequences: Playing the game culminates in a kind of bait-and-switch in which one member of the new couple tends to feel duped; or one person continues to operate behind a façade so that he or she never becomes fully known by a partner and ends up locked in a one-sided relationship.
Six Dating Rules to Reconsider
- “Don’t give the milk away for free.” It is common to hear that a person should wait some preordained amount of time (three dates for instance) before beginning a sexual relationship with a new partner. The problem with this approach, as I describe in my book Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy: Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships, is that emotional intimacy is not necessarily achieved in three dates. No arbitrary amount of time correlates with what truly helps to build enjoyable sexual experiences for men and women. In order for sex to be enjoyable and safe, most people need to feel a modicum of trust and emotional intimacy. For some, this happens in a short period of time; for others, it takes much longer to develop. Judge each date or new partner as a unique individual. Instead of sticking to a rigid rule with that person, reflect, pause, and notice how you feel while in his or her presence: Is he interested in knowing you on more than one level? Does she ask questions about you and listen to your responses? Can you talk openly about what it would be like to have a sexual relationship, or does this cause tremendous anxiety and awkwardness? See where things go instead of operating under a three-date deadline.
- “Play hard to get.” Don’t be the first to call, say I love you, or express any sense of emotional neediness, we’re often told. And wait at least three days after an interaction to initiate contact, etc. This is about self-protection and not exposing yourself to possible rejection. The problem is that partnership and love are built on a foundation of being capable of emotional vulnerability. If you want to call or text after a nice date or meeting with someone new, but you continually stop yourself because it’s “too soon,” you’re not opening a path for spontaneous intimacy. Boundaries are important, particularly when meeting people of the first time, but if you suppress every urge to reveal your feelings to dates or partners, you’ll never learn their capacity for emotional intimacy. If they do meet your genuine expression with rejection, work hard to not take it personally. This can be hard, particularly for some of us, but recognize the primary, inherent value in being yourself. That trumps any gamesmanship and allows you to know where you stand in your relationships.
- “Don’t mention your ex!” On the one hand, yes, you do not want your ex-boyfriend or ex-husband to be the main topic of conversation when meeting someone new. On the other hand, if you are coming out of a marriage or a long-term relationship, it is almost impossible to not mention this and to also be your true self. It is okay to say what is really going on in your life—just make sure to own your experience of the demise of the relationship, as opposed to endlessly criticizing or name-calling your ex.
- “Be easy, light and giggly.” This one in particular is a pressure experienced more so by women than men. In our culture, girls and women are often conditioned to be a bit ditzy, as they learn that this attracts male flirtation. And boys and men still see models in popular media of the ditzy blond as a sex object. All of this tends to dumb down both sexes. In order for him to want to spend more time with her, she feels she has to act in an easy, breezy manner. Again, if this isn’t your true mood at the moment—or if your genuine personality is much more serious than that—then he will not be getting to know the true you. If you have to dumb down your personality for companionship, how will you find a true companion for the real you? This adage also discounts how much men do value real women who can be fully and deeply engaged in their lives. In reality, men report that over the long term they want their partners to have their own opinions, lives and serious thoughts.
- “Be mysterious.” Some men present a non-committal, aloof front to keep women’s “emotional intimacy” needs at bay. Some women may find the mysterious male intoxicating, and hope to win him over so he will come to feel so enamored of her that he reveals his true self. Sadly, this result rarely occurs as the man (for his own reasons) is uncomfortable being fully open to and known by his romantic interests. All the mystery is superficiality that breeds despair, and the relationship stays stuck in first gear.
- “Don’t let your crazy out.” Many I talk to are terrified of a new love interest discovering they have “issues.” They vow not to mention anything about their dysfunctional family, psychiatric medications, or mood issues to their new dates. The reality is that if you are unstable emotionally—suffering with an acute depression, serious mood swings, or debilitating anxiety/panic attacks—now may not be a good time for you to date. You will know you’re ready when you feel you can be open about what you are experiencing in a thoughtful manner—“I struggle with depression, but I have found therapy helpful,” or, “I have had to deal with anxiety and now I am at a much better place.” In the end, you are going to want a partner who understands emotional issues and who is not going to mark you off his list because you are getting help or struggling with a life event.
Have boundaries while being real. It is important to have boundaries and to not reveal more or do more than you are completely comfortable with. With that in mind, opening up and getting to know someone does take a certain amount of patience. Assess each new partner as an individual, and stay keenly connected with how you experience yourself while in his or her presence. You need someone with whom you can reveal your authentic self, not just a piece of you—and you are the only one who can bring that full you to the table.