Dating Rules for the 21st Century

Does anybody actually date any more? It seems that dating rules may be an outmoded concept, but perhaps they shouldn’t be. Even if the way people meet in the electronic era may be quite different from 50 years ago, people still do meet, hang out and eventually pair up.

In 2012 a national survey published by a CDC affiliate concluded that though “people are marrying for the first time at older ages, and many adults co-habit with a partner”. In 2006–2010, the probability of first marriage by age 25 was still 44% for women ( a decrease of 25% from 1995) and by age 35 the probability of first marriage was 78% , by age 40 there was no significant change.

It would seem obvious that people are still finding love, and most of them still date, hang out or hook-up first.

Since it would seem that more people live together before marriage, and eventually marry (not necessarily the person they lived with, according to the data), does this mean that people are more sophisticated in their dating habits, or just more choosy? The third option is that people are just taking longer to grow up and take on adult responsibilities.

Updating the guidelines for how to meet a partner – and let’s face it, that’s what we are doing, however long it may last – probably has more to do with how we meet that when.

A picture of a romantic couple on a date in Gdansk

In the recent past, probably still in your parents’ generation, most people met through work, friends or family. Someone actually knew the person you met. (Of course there have always been casual hook-ups in bars or at parties, but these encounters were less likely to produce an actual date!). In the electronic age people have a much wider menu of options, in addition to the traditional ones, all of these options still need some navigating, and a road map (or GPS) is always useful.

Many cautionary tales have been written already on being careful how we meet through electronic media, and I won’t re-state them here. In fact, these rules fall into some logical groups:

  • Always find out who you are really speaking to;
  • Meet first in a public place;
  • Be yourself, but be sparing with personal information.

These guidelines actually make logical sense no matter how you meet!

Now that we’ve met, how do we present ourselves? What are the guidelines for behaviour in the modern era? Dating rules for previous generations had people putting on their very best selves, and presenting a persona that probably did not exist at all. I would suggest that this is actually a recipe for failure. As the song lyric goes “be yourself”, not every date turns into a romance, but could be the possibility of a new friendship.

Trying to find out how compatible you are, without sounding like you are interviewing for a mate, can be tricky. Using a tactic from the business world may help here. Active listening, as opposed to just hearing, means paying attention to what the person is saying, and giving gentle prompts, to keep them talking. I am a natural blabbermouth, so I know how hard this can be for some of us. Sure the other party wants to know about you, but dole it out in small doses, they don’t need to know everything on the first date.

It has been said that charismatic personalities have a knack of making the other person feel fascinating, as though they are the only person in the room. They do this largely through making eye contact (not staring, that just creepy!) and paying attention, i.e. Active Listening!

This also means that you learn a lot more about the other person, and they will probably find you fascinating too. Hopefully they will also listen when its your turn, but if they don’t that will give you some valuable insights into their personality as well.

Our parents had rules about how far to “go” on dates. Though this may seem old-fashioned it had it’s merits. Getting to know someone before falling into bed with them has been shown to lead to a better relationship. Introducing sex into the equation too soon may lead to the intimacy taking over. Its not about prudery, but caution. If the sex is mind-blowing, then that’s probably all you will do! ( Many couples have found that when good sex wanes there isn’t anything else.) If the encounter is less than stellar it will probably lead to a quick end to any kind of relationship, and you may lose the opportunity to make a new friend.

Making a new friend may sound like a boring goal for dating, but it has been shown that having friends, of both genders, leads to a happier and more fulfilling life. Keeping the initial dates light and friendly takes the “shopping for a mate” aspect out of the way, and may actually lead to a better experience.

Continuing with that theme, what do you do on a first date? Experts suggest that you meet for coffee, or at best lunch. This places fewer expectations on both parties, and limits the amount of time you spend together. Most people find that you know almost immediately if there is a reason to meet again. Trust your instincts, this is the theory on which Speed-Dating is based. In the business world it is said that you make a decision about a candidate in the first six seconds! That may be extreme, not everyone is a star right out of the gate.

So who pays? Accoring to old-fashioned etiquette, s/he who made the invitation should pay. Of course if you are just meeting for coffee or lunch it probably isn’t a big question. After the first date I would suggest you do what you would do with a friend of the same gender, split the check, or offer to pay – and “you can get it next time”.

As far as continuing the relationship, how about deciding if there is going to be a next time, at the time? I may be naive, but honesty really is the best policy. If you just didn’t hit it off, don’t agree to meet again, and guys, please, drop the “I’ll call you” line if you don’t mean it! A simple , “it was a pleasure to meet you, see you around” should get the message across.


From My First Date to My Last and Everything in Between: What I learned in 15 years of dating

From 13 to 28-years-old, I’ve had 15 years of dating. So, here’s what it has taught me.

My first date ever happened when I was 13 years old. It was a double date to see She’s All That and I remember I was so nervous. Fifteen years later, I had what I hope will be my last first date ever.

Here is my journey of dating, and the lessons I learned and don’t forget that we’re here at LOVE TV to help you to sort through the dating world. Join today

She’s All That, 1999

dating life

As soon as I saw the preview for She’s All That, I knew I had to see it. I identified with Rachael Leigh Cook’s nerdy Laney Boggs and the awesome ‘90s soundtrack (hello “Kiss Me”) had me sold.

I called my best friend at the time and we soon orchestrated a double date with two guys we were into. She had turned 14 in December and I was still 13 for another six months.

I remember being so nervous calling the boys to organize the outing and freaking out teenage girl style when they said yes. We were too anxious to order food but we did have slushies and in typical eighth grader fashion, we didn’t even hold hands. We laughed through the movie and I felt myself blushing when I’d accidentally brush my guy’s hand.

When the movie was over, I remember feeling such a relief that it was done. I was happy that my first date was over and I managed to make it a double date at that. It’s fun to think about the shared experience the four of us had that winter in 1999. Firsts are always hard, but when they turn out as fun as this date did, it made me excited for my romantic future.

Prom, 2003

Dating life

Four years later, when prom time came around, I was no longer wishing for romantic dates just like the movies. I went to an all-girls high school which I absolutely adored, but one thing about it bugged me.

I’m not sure if this has changed, but 15 years ago they required us to have a date. I didn’t know very many guys and all I wanted to do was go to prom with my friends. I love laughing at my picture of myself and the date I ended up going with—a friend of a friend I think. He wore a top hat and sported a cane and he was a good six inches shorter than me.

I barely hung out with him during the dance. Instead, I spent the night with my friends, dancing and having fun.

It was nice to know that I could have a good time without having a “date” per se.

Founder’s Day Ball, 2004 and a Late-Night Diner Dinner, 2007

First Dance

Sometimes dates have outcomes you’d expect.

When I started college, I met a great guy who was also from Pittsburgh. Being the naive 18-year-old that I was, I instantly felt a connection that I hoped would become romantic.

I remember calling my sisters the night before the boy and I decided to go to our college’s Founder’s Day Ball. They were giddy with excitement, wondering what the night would bring. Soon enough, I realized we were much, much better as friends and we never actually dated beyond taking each other to things like school dances.

In the meantime, I found a wonderful friend in the process who has shared so many amazing memories with me.

Three years later, I briefly (I’m talking a month and a half) actually dated another man I had become close to during my college years. I remember one night we went out to a late-night dinner at a local diner we loved. I was very forward and flirtatious and remember trying to play footsie under the table and saying things I couldn’t believe were coming out of my mouth.

It was nice to know I had the confidence to be so sure of myself when it comes to matters of the heart. Our dates were fun, innocent and spontaneous—a nighttime trip to Dairy Queen or our local movie theater. However, speaking of matters of the heart, when we broke up it was the first time I felt truly heartbroken. While dating the boy didn’t exactly have the outcome I expected, I ended up becoming great friends with him as well.

Just those few dates with those boys resulted in a friend group that rivaled the Three Musketeers, This is Us’ Big Three, basically any friendship group of three you can think of. Those two boys turned out to be two of my very best, dearest friends. It’s funny to think about the surprising ways life can take you and turn out to be way better than you ever thought.

The most romantic date ever, 2011

chicago couple

While the relationship didn’t turn out with any positives except a story in a local magazine, the one I had in 2011 brought me the most romantic date I’ve ever had. As a self-described hopeless romantic, I thought going to visit my boyfriend while he was away in Chicago was straight out of a movie.

The weekend I was there, he took me to the Navy Pier and as we rode to the top of the Ferris wheel where we shared a passionate kiss. I will always appreciate the date and refer to it as “that one time I felt like I was living in a romantic comedy.”

My first and only blind date, 2012

passionate romantic couple

2012 was a tough year, as it was the year I got laid off due to budget cuts from the newspaper I was working at. While it was tough, it was also a great year because it was the year I met my current boyfriend.

The woman who worked at my apartment building’s front desk was friends with my boyfriend’s coworker, who happened to live in my building. They both agreed we would be good for each other and slipped a Starbucks gift card under my door.

My boyfriend and I met at the Starbucks at the end of my block and ended up chatting for hours. Six years later and we are still together and I’ve got a good feeling that that evening at Starbucks was my last first date.

Dating can be challenging, but so many important life lessons are learned.

Whether it’s getting over the fear of my first date, wishing I didn’t need a date at all, gaining confidence, appreciating romance or finding my forever date, I’ve learned so much with the men I’ve dated. As scary as it is to put yourself out there, it’s totally and completely worth it.

Interested in getting out of a not-so-great date? Check out this piece.