There was a time when dating was simpler; courtship was a very structured and ritualized affair where everybody’s roles were clearly and carefully delineated. Guys were supposed to do X, girls would do Y, a chaperone would try to keep them from doing XXX in the parlor when nobody was looking. Everybody knew what was expected of them and pretended to be happy as long as you were willing to ignore the rampant inherent sexism, the commodification of women and sex-negative attitudes of the time.
With time, enlightenment and a considerable level of progress towards sexual equality the social structures regarding dating loosened… and yet vestigial traditions and attitudes have held on with the tenacity of especially stubborn barnacles, leaving everybody confused and frustrated. Further attempts by well meaning souls of both progressive and conservative origins to clarify the so-called “rules” have muddied the waters with a morass of conflicting rules and regulations. Are women supposed to ask the man out, or does making the first rule mean she’s a hussy? How many times a week are you supposed to see someone you’re “dating”? And are you “dating” if you haven’t had the exclusivity talk? Who pays for dinner, the one who initiates sex or the one who’s shelling out for the hotel room? If he buys the lobster thermador, does that mean he’s guaranteed a handie afterwards or should you hold out for after-dinner champagne too? Is someone who goes on dates strictly for the meals a prostitute or a clever person subverting the dominent patriarchal paradigm and saving some money to boot?
It’s enough to make a guy want to give up on the whole dating thing all together and just try to lead a lifestyle of nothing but shallow sexual encounters with women.
Do yourself a favor. Toss all the crap about dating out the window. Here’re the new rules to keep in mind to make dating simpler, more equitable and easier all around.
Who Asks Out Whom?
This one’s simple: if you like someone, ask them out. I don’t care if you’re a guy, a girl or a three-breasted, four cocked hermaphrodite from Venus with a glandular problem and daddy issues. Waiting for someone else to do all the work for you is for the weak and cowardly who are afraid to take the initiative for fear of being rejected. Rejection sucks but you’ll get over it and while you were busy hoping that Mr./Ms. Right was going to make the first move, someone who did have the confidence to make the approach has stolen your date out from under you.Nice going. Next time understand that s/he who hesitates, loses. Fortune favors the brave. Excelsior, True Believers!
Ahem. Sorry. That ran a little out of control there.
And please, can we as a species dispense with the antiquated notion that guys are supposed to be the ones to ask girls out? It’s the 21st century goddamn it, and if a guy has an issue with women being assertive then I can assure you that you probably didn’t want to date him in the first place.
What Do We Talk About? What Don’t We Talk About?
One of the most common problems people encounter on dates – especially first dates – is “what to talk about?” Over the years this has become one of the areas obscured by the accumulated cruft of conflicting and contradictory rules. Don’t talk about money, talk about religion, don’t talk about religion, don’t talk about sex lest he think you’re a slut, do talk about sex lest she think you’re a hopeless virgin, don’t talk about your exes, don’t bring up politics, past dates, sports teams or the fact that you’re on a date in the first place. What’re you left with? Ah, movies. Movies are fine. Movies and the weather.
The fact of the matter is, the only thing you want to avoid while on a date is being boring. Boredom is the sex killer, boredom is the death of the little death. If you want to avoid anything while on a date, avoid the standard first date questions that every woman has heard on every first date ever: who are you, where did you grow up, what do you do for a living, etc. These “getting to know you” questions are the lowest common denominators of dating; they’re non-threatening, easy to bring up and – in theory – can lead to conversational topics. They’re also ones that your date will have heard so many times that she’ll have a rote response to them, which doesn’t do much for inspiring engaging conversation.
So don’t worry about whether or not a topic is “appropriate” for a date as long as a) you aren’t being rude, bitter or whiney and b) you aren’t being creepy. Part of the art of conversation is demonstrating social intelligence; you want to show that you’re socially aware enough to not only understand the so-called rules of polite society but that you understand when you can bend or break those rules.
As an example: one of the most common rules about dates is “don’t bring up exes,” as though we are supposed to pretend that we are blank slates, free from previous dating experiences both good and bad. I freely ignore this; I’ve told stories on first dates involving my ex-girlfriends or dates I had been on previously… because frankly those stories were hilarious and got the response I was looking for: a genuine laugh and engagement on the subject.
The key to making this is in the presentation. Rather than my waxing nostalgic about my ex – and giving the impression that I still had residual feelings for her – it was a story about myself that my ex was a part of; the ex was for all intents and purposes the guest star of the story rather than the focus.
Talking about ex-girlfriends – in a mature, funny way – is a way of indicating pre-selection: the idea that other women have found you attractive, which in turn is an attractive trait. Having been pre-selected by women says: “I am a man whom other women have found value in, ergo you should find value in me as well.”
What don’t I do if and when I talk about ex-girlfriends? I don’t whine about them, nor do I rant and rave about what horrible bitches they were; these forms of behavior are are indicators of low social intelligence – an unattractive trait – and and a preview of what someone might be like in a relationship. A man who can remain on good terms with his exes is one who is capable of an emotionally mature relationship. A guy who has nothing but a string of horrible exes who have done him wrong is someone who is painfully unaware that he is the common denominator in all his failed relationships.
What if you have no idea what to say? What if you run out of conversational topics? Well, if your environment doesn’t give you any inspiration – and there’s always an interesting scene to observe and comment on – I recommend The Question Game.
Present it this way: you’re going to get to know each other by playing the Question Game. The rules are simple: first, you alternate asking a question back and forth – real questions not just things like “what’s your sign?” Second, you can’t ask a question that’s already been asked; if you ask how many brothers your date has, she can’t turn around and ask you how many sisters you have. And third: your date goes first.