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Questioning the Rules of Dating

I wrote this a long time ago, but never posted it. I just dug it out and figured I’d put it out there since I haven’t written anything new in a while (the crew is back in town and I’ve been going out a lot lately). Here it is, a meditation on the ‘art and science’ of successful dating as inspired by #1 Single episodes.

What happens to women (normally sometime in their 30s) that makes them regress to high school chicanery when it comes to dating? They follow all these ‘rules’ that they’ve either read in the floppityjillion dating books they buy or gleaned from their (normally single) friends as if successful dating was as systematic as baking a cheesecake. Spending money to compensate for confidence, hiring professionals to ‘master’ something as simple as making themselves happy and ending up even more stressed then before - this is what frustrated women seem to do.

At least that’s the way Lisa Loeb comes off in #1 Single, her (second?) reality show which chronicles her (scarily frantic) search for love. The show is not far-fetched. There’s the money grubbing and selfish friend who - as Elbow says - ‘throws advice like grenades at the table’. I want to know if these friends who’ve got it all figured out actually date, because they seem permanently single. And I don’t buy that ‘empowered to be alone’ malarky either.

With this fog of advice something as simple as dating, which should be an exercise in relying on your own instincts and reactions to that one person, becomes more complicated then a doctoral thesis.

We all date for ourselves and ourselves alone. We (should) know us better then anyone, with the circle widening with exes, friends, specialists, and books as to what advice to trust. No one else has been in the relationships we’ve been in but us. That’s why the key is to cultivate an ear for each of our own inner voices, the one telling us something may work or not.

If we listen to the ‘always’ and ‘never’ rules of dating - always go on two dates, never let the girl pay first - we’re institutionalizing a process that should be spontaneous and fun.

What’s the worst thing that happens? Two people go out and don’t hit it off? So what. It doesn’t make either of them a worse person, merely because a connection with this other person failed to be made. It is, most likely, a result of any number of things. Before you and that person met up tonight, last night, last week, each of you was living your own lives, full of your own issues with work, friends, family, money and life. The very moment you met was unique from any other moment you could’ve met. Maybe one of you is having a bad day, maybe you just found out some really great news thats making you feel more confident, maybe the restaurant you decide to eat is cooking something that smells like your exe’s favorite dish. There are a million things that contribute up to that exact first meeting, first date, first everything. Change any individual detail and you change the outcome of the whole relationship - the butterfly effect.

Amidst all this chaos it’s truly amazing when two people can actually hit it off. What makes a good relationship? Most say chemistry, but what is that? I would say it’s having qualities that complement each other. Maybe it’s doing something your last partner never did, or reminding you of an old HS relationship you have grown fond of with age. Again, all random and none of it controllable, no matter how many self help books you read.

Those connections and chemistry does not a relationship make. Relationships are born out of the collection of shared experience you have with another person. It becomes a relationship only when you’ve invested enough time and emotion that you can look back and have fond memories, ones you wish to repeat. Over time, with more shared experience, many of those random choatic bits fall into line with one another and you start to feel that ‘two people, one being’ sensation. Then you’ve got a relationship. Its ultimate success is then much more reliant on the people involved.

However up to that point (which, btw, usually takes months to acheive), you really can’t blame yourself or the other person if it goes wrong. The person you never call after three dates might have been the person you date for three years, if you hadn’t said that one thing that reminded them of their ex, or they hadn’t been driving the same car your drug dealer boyfriend drove in college.

As we get older we get more and more desparate to find ‘the perfect relationship’ and start looking for it in the first date. We go out with someone and watch them smile at a baby at the next table and think what they’d look like smiling at your own baby. This isn’t wrong, but it sure adds pressure. The kind of pressure that can lead to one of the random moments that throw everything awry.

Stay calm, stay cool. If this person doesn’t work out, there’s a million more that are just as anxious and secretly (or not so secretly) desperate as you to find a relationship.

Whatever you do, don’t change who you are to make someone like you. if it works, they’ll be falling for the wrong person and eventually you’ll hold it against them, or yourself. this includes taking advice from friends, books and specialists too literally. only you know you, only you’ve had your experiences, so you should listen to yourself as the final say on what to do and what it all means.

Justin Dickinson



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