The dating scene may look way different than it did for prior generations—and for the most part that’s a good thing. You no longer need a good dowry to get a date, the status of your virginity is not a bartering tool, and (most) families don’t require a chaperone for two adults to grab dinner and a movie.
On the flip side, when we became less dependent on the town matchmaker or our parents for arranging marriages, dating became a more complicated venture. Now the burden is on us to find the perfect mate—and that pressure can be overwhelming.
The (old school) rules of dating
With all that pressure to find our soul mate, it isn’t surprising that people turned to dating guides and rulebooks to help navigate the process of courtship. The movie He’s Just Not That Into You, based on a book by the same name, explored the mishaps of couples misreading signals and fumbling through the rules of the dating game. The movie got one thing right—we use “the rules” to try to explain people’s behavior and justify the things we can’t understand.
What are these rules about? A behavior guide for young ladies in 1831 included:
- Never be afraid of blushing. (Um, what?)
- Read no novels, but let your study be History, Geography, Biography, and other instructive books. (Who doesn’t love discussing a steamy geography book?)
- Trust no female acquaintance. (This would definitely violate the Girl Code.)
- Dating advice didn’t progress much in the following 100 years—the rules for women from one 1938 dating guide advised:
- Flatter your date by talking about the things he wants to talk about. (Well, that’s a little one-sided.)
- Don’t talk while dancing. (And that sounds kinda awkward.)
- Yikes, no thanks. As strange as people’s behavior may be, some of these rules are even more bizarre.
New rules, still bad advice
Unfortunately, dating advice from more recent years doesn’t get much better. The ‘90s brought an ambush of bad dating advice books, including Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus and Men Are Like Fish: What Every Woman Needs To Know About Catching A Man. (Seriously, the titles are bad enough.) One especially notorious book, The Rules, encouraged playing hard to get with gems like:
- Don’t call him and rarely return his calls. (That’s just rude.)
- Don’t accept a Saturday night date after Wednesday. (Scheduling could get so complicated.)
Besides being impractical and kinda sexist—spoiler alert—these rules don’t work, even for some of the people who came up with them. Starting a relationship by playing games isn’t a good strategy for finding a genuine connection. How can someone fall in love with the real you if you’re hiding behind all those rules?
Dating tips for the real world
Trickery and deception may or may not be able to get you a date—but manipulative approaches definitely won’t get you a meaningful connection with another person. Being able to be yourself in a relationship and know that the other person genuinely likes the real you is refreshing and empowering. So let your (real) hair down, and throw out the rulebook.
In all my training to become a sexpert, the best dating advice has always focused on communication and honesty (with your partner and yourself). Collected from my sex educator trainings, suggestions from sexuality and relationship experts, and personal experience, here are my top 5 tips for rocking the dating scene.
- Do you!
- Be clear about what you want
- Confidence is oh-so-sexy
- Find your mutual [email protected] yes
- Don’t forget your sexual health