The Real Rules of Dating

04 Sep

Humans like certainty, and, when it comes to dating, we want to know exactly how to get that perfect relationship. Enter the rules for dating.

Dating rules became popularised with publications such as The Game and The Rules of the Game for the gentlemen, and Mars and Venus on a Date, All the Rules, Treat Them Mean, Keep Them Keen and the like for the ladies. If we haven’t ever employed the rules ourselves, we’ll certainly know of people who have.

The rules include, amongst others, ‘play hard to get’, the ‘three-day’ and ‘three-month’ rules. The three-day rule is purposefully not texting someone until a certain amount of time has passed, be it an hour, a night or – as the name suggests – three days. This is to give the appearance of not being needy or overly eager. The three-month rule is simply not sleeping with someone for a given period of time – again, say, three months – because – so the logic goes – that constitutes showing your partner that you are serious about them. Sleeping together ‘too early’, the theory goes, will ruin your chances of being taken seriously.

But these rules are really only in place to help manage anxiety. They are not necessarily effective for successful dating. Yes, they might temper some of those worries in the short-term, but are they really going to be effective at fostering a solid, serious, long-term relationship? I don’t think so. If that is the case, then why do they exist? And why do some dating and relationship experts swear by them?

I think the answer lies in the fact that these rules function as proxies for respectful behaviour. Many people struggle to relax on the dating scene. Expectations are high; emotions are running wild; sometimes it feels like you’re losing your mind, and all the while you’re trying to interpret and understand what your partner is thinking. We want answers now! We want to know whether our date fancies us and whether we’re going to ride off into the sunset. We can’t bear not knowing! And so, however unconsciously, dating elicits worry, anxiety and occasionally even outright panic.

What often happens, then, is that our behaviour changes: we no longer become grounded or ‘sensible’. In order to try and maintain sanity, we employ various rules. We try to manage our anxieties in order to acquire answers to these deeply-held questions sooner rather than later.

I once had a female client who felt that her date was not interested in her and refused to call her him; her rule was, Men have to initiate calls – simply because they were men, and according to her, calling was ‘their job’ in dating. She decided that him not calling her was a clear sign that he didn’t fancy her, (yet she was confused, because he answered her texts). In this way, we see how an arbitrary rule creates an answer –and one that may be wrong, but it reduces her anxiety because now she ‘knows’ he’s not into her. The poor guy may not like calling or worse still, he may worry that she doesn’t like being called. And so potentially two people who may have been great together don’t get to find out.

Dating experts and pickup artists try to make sense of these dating anxieties and then steer their clients toward healthier internal rules. The three-month rule, for example, is in place solely to delay impulses to please; impress; or somehow bag a relationship. Here, I believe, the rule is an attempt to create some headspace, an interim period by which you can stave off anxieties about the relationship. The problem is that these rules give the appearance of providing guarantees; if you behave in this particular way, the relationship will definitely come together – and you’ll trot off blissfully into the sunset. Similarly, pretending you don’t notice a person – aka ‘playing-hard-to-get’ rules – may succeed initially in getting peoples attention – but there’s no guarantee that they’ll lead to a lasting relationship.

So, what should we be doing?

  • We need to stop acting as if our worries and anxieties are facts. When your love interest hasn’t texted you all day, you may believe that either they no longer fancy you; you have done something wrong; or they are seeing someone else. It’s entirely feasible, though, that they have simply had a busy day, or something similarly benign.
  • We need to be brave enough to be natural, true to ourselves, but to simultaneously demonstrate respect for the other person’s space and for the level of intimacy the two of you have. For example, you probably wouldn’t tell a stranger your deepest (and perhaps even darkest) thoughts, even if you’ve already had several dates – you need to balance being yourself with coming across as available and yet maintain a dignity around your private life.
  • Adopt a ‘be-kind-and-show-interest’ attitude on your dates. Many pickup artists and players may well wrinkle their nose at this one but, if we operate under the assumption that we all ultimately desire a sustainable, happy long-term relationship, the healthier ‘rule’ to adopt is to behave in a way that is conducive to creating the kind of relationship you want to form. Furthermore, if you are being played or taken for granted, you would be in a stronger position to simply walk away with your head held high, self-respect intact.

A lot of my coaching is centred on getting singletons into that headspace of being genuinely comfortable in themselves, so that they can then gain confidence on the dating scene and steer themselves towards healthier, happier, longer-lasting relationships.

If you want to know more, please get in touch for a complementary 10-minute telephone consultation.

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by Madeleine Mason Roantree

Psychologist

Madeleine has over 15 years of experience in psychology, where she is trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Applied Positive Psychology. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Counselling Psychology, and is member of the British Psychological Society, the International Positive Psychology Association & Dating Industry Professionals Network.More by this author

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