By Jill Eversole.
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! It’s cliché, but true: be yourself. If you’re trying to change yourself or your behavior to fit rules someone else came up with, you’re less likely to attract the kind of people you really want to be with. In the wise words of sexpert Laci Green, “Ultimately, your-self is what’s going to come out. So if you’re trying to fool them from the beginning, it’s not going to work in the end.”
Be clear about what you want. If you agree to just a hookup but secretly you’re already planning the wedding, you’re probably going to end up disappointed. The best sex in the world won’t necessarily create deeper feelings or lead to a serious relationship. There is nothing wrong with a casual fling, or with wanting something more—but be respectful to the other person and yourself by being clear about what you’re looking for or open to from the start.
Confidence is oh-so-sexy. No outfit, workout routine, or crash diet can make you as appealing to a date as rocking some serious self-confidence. If you ever met someone who made you fall head-over-heels for their charm, chances are confidence was the secret to their mojo. When you recognize how fabulous you are, other people will see it too. And if for whatever reason they don’t, part of being truly confident is recognizing that you don’t need them in your life. (Pssst: if you’re a little shy, we have some tips for breaking the ice.)
Find your mutual f#@k yes. Being clear about what you want—and what you don’t—is super important between the sheets, too. Looking for that mutual f#@k yes (sometimes called enthusiastic consent) in bed could totally improve your sex life. However, you probably don’t want to wait until you’re having sex to talk about STI and pregnancy prevention—it can be sooo much easier to start those conversations before things heat up.
Don’t forget your sexual health. That date might go better than you expected. Just in case, be prepared ahead of time with a birth control method that works for you. And even though sex can be awesome, STIs are not—so bring some condoms, and check out these STI prevention hacks.
With these suggestions (note: not rules) in mind, my wish for you is some very successful future dates. Do you have more real life dating tips or advice that worked for you? Feel free to share in the comment section below!
Jill Eversole is a digital media intern with Bedsider. She has a Master’s in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on sexuality education and pregnancy prevention. Jill previously worked as a health educator and has completed extensive training on relationships, sexuality, and sexual health.