My five simple rules for dating
I’m nearly 51 years old. It has been around eight years since I’ve been in a relationship. I have only really ventured back into the world of dating in the last 12 months because it took me that long to feel ready again after aforementioned previous relationship. I have learned more in the last 12 months about dating—if you could call it that—than I have in all my 40ish years of dealing with boys and men. And I don’t like what I’ve learned.
I’ve learned that things out there are ugly. Really ugly. Maybe it’s the demographic* I’m dealing with, or maybe it’s my location**, but there are a lot of game players playing some crazy, fucked up games—as well as good old-fashioned, garden-variety players. Both varieties can be hard to spot—particularly if you are approaching dating with honesty, integrity and an open heart—and they will play you if you aren’t paying attention. I know. I’ve been played like a fiddle over the last 12 months. What these men do is confusing at best, hurtful at worst, and I was confused and hurt because I didn’t know what was going on. Now I do. And I’m sharing it with you. You know what they say, right? Be a good example, or a horrible warning!
On my dating journey, I made some assumptions. Actually, I made lot of assumptions. I assumed that once people (men) had made it into their 40s, they knew what they wanted. They had worked on their emotional intelligence, and they were on the market with honest intentions and an open heart. And I assumed they had integrity, mainly because I did. I also assumed that being older translated into fewer game players and less head fuckery. My assumptions have not matched the reality. Most of the men I’ve met in the last 12-18 months have recently come out of long-term marriages. They have been too busy sowing their wild oats to be emotionally available, let alone worked on their emotional intelligence. After years of being ignored (or whatever) in their marriages, these men have discovered they have currency because, well, the choice of available men in this particular demographic is not that great. Suddenly they are in demand. Massive, continued ego stroke, anyone? (Of course, I know in my heart of hearts that there are decent, loving, emotionally available men out there. Unfortunately, I haven’t met any. Yet.) However—and as this post proves— I’m as much to blame for the head fuckery as the men who’ve crossed my path.
Just so you know, this post is only relevant if you want to have a relationship with that potential special someone, irrespective of whether you are male or female, straight, gay or bi. Ignore this post if you are happy hooking up, or playing the field, or just doing the friends with benefits thing. I don’t judge you for that. You do what you need to do. But if you are wanting to have a relationship with that potential special someone, you need to think about the choices you make and how they affect a) how you see yourself and b) how that potential special someone will see you. I learned these lessons the hard way. And hopefully, my mistakes will help you protect your heart.
And this post is not about helping you meet people. For the record, I’m not a fan of online dating, although some people swear by it, and I personally know of couples who have long term relationships because of online dating. This post is also not about your relationship should you choose to progress past the dating phase. I can’t help you with your choice of partner. I can implore you, though, to think carefully about who you’ve chosen to go on this journey with. No one person is perfect, and we are each flawed in our own way; but some flaws and imperfections bring out the worst in couples, not the best.
Let’s get started, shall we?
1. Your libido is a terrible judge of character
Yes, you have needs. Yes, it’s been a long time since you’ve had sex. But your libido does not make good choices. Furthermore, your libido will try and justify the bad choice its made to you. Let me explain. Your libido is not interested in someone’s values, or character or integrity. It doesn’t care if someone is rude, or arrogant, or flaky. Or a sociopath. Or attached. Your libido is only interested in what’s in someone’s pants. Your libido is only interested in instant gratification, short-term gain stuff. If it turns out that your libido latches onto someone who is half decent, it’s pure luck, not good management.
And once you have slept with someone, you will justify to yourself that he or she is a good person, or the sex was good, or the situation you ended up in was not that bad, or you were too drunk to remember what went on, irrespective of whether this is true or not. Cognitive dissonance is in action here. Cognitive dissonance means that you will justify your own behaviour to yourself because human beings get very uncomfortable when their actions and thoughts don’t match. You may feel shame about your hook-up, so it’s much easier emotionally to talk it up, and be in denial about the reality of the whole thing.
2. You can never upgrade to a relationship from a booty call
Ok. Say you get your itch scratched, and – miracle of miracles! – the person you wake up next to isn’t an axe murderer. They seem really quite nice. You both agree that the shenanigans of the night before were also really quite nice, so you swap details and agree to catch up at some other time in the not too distant future. And then they text, or email or Facebook you. And you text, or email or Facebook back.
Ok. So now they seem interested. This has changed the game plan. The original plan was to get in and out, no pun intended. Suddenly, you are making arrangements to see each other again. This has just become more than just a hook-up right? Wrong. This situation has now become a maybe (see Rule 3). Maybe they are actually interested in you. Maybe you could progress this to a relationship. Maybe they are The One. Maybe you will grow old together.
What you need to realise is that once you have had casual sex with someone, nine times out of ten they only ever see you as hook-up material. And once someone sees you as hook-up material, that’s where you stay. You are not Pretty Woman. You do not create a picture of yourself as an item of value when you give yourself away so readily, to (basically) the lowest bidder. You can never—well, hardly ever—upgrade to relationship material from a casual sex encounter. Yes, it happens for some people, but it will not happen for you, because, quite frankly, the odds are not in your favour.
3. A “maybe” is more compelling than a straight out “yes” or “no”
In the relationship stakes, love is a bit like gambling. The human brain is wired to keep betting on a maybe because it activates your reward centres. It’s this maybe—not actually the person—that gets you hooked. A straight out yes or no is not a game, but the maybe is. And it’s a most compelling game. Picture this: maybe you have started texting someone (see Rule 4) and they don’t text you back straight away. In fact, they may not get back to you for hours, or days. It drives you crazy right? And when they do text back, you get a “chemical hit” of reinforcement, which is simultaneously a mixture of reward and relief. And if they mix it up i.e. texting you straight away, then not, you become addicted to the “reward” (and relief) of contact. Multiply this reinforcement by a factor of ten if you are (ir)regularly sleeping with this person.
By creating an irregular schedule of reinforcement, the “maybe” has basically made you an addict. And it becomes very hard to walk away because you have been incentivised to stay by how your brain works. Your brain perceives walking away from a potentially dysfunctional situation to be a greater loss than staying (see Bonus Rule). I have said it before and I’ll say it again: stupid sexy brain. You can beat your wiring by being aware of what’s going on, but no wonder dating is all kinds of fucked up!
4. No good ever comes from texting (or similar)
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of online dating, and I’m no fan of conducting the important, foundational dialogue of a relationship via text/email/Facebook PMing/Twitter DMing either. I think it’s lazy. I think it’s uncontact dressed as contact. I think it’s avoiding a proper, grown-up conversation in favour of the convenience of pseudo-intimacy whose sole purpose is really keeping people at arm’s length. Tell me, how do you get to know anyone who texts you a “Hey! What’s up?”. Actually, it tells you a lot about someone if they do send this sort of “communication”. Just don’t mistake it for interest (see Rule 5).
And you have no idea how many “Hey! What’s up?” texts this person may or may not be sending. To other people. On a variety of social media platforms. And then there are the people who e-maintain others. Maybe it’s someone you met out and have caught up with a couple of times. You swap numbers and they text you a “Hey! What’s up?” often enough to keep you interested (remember the compelling maybe?). They have no intention of ever—repeat ever—having a relationship with you, but they put enough electronic effort in to make you think perhaps there’s a chance. A proper, grown-up conversation would uncover this person’s motives pretty quickly.
Do yourself a favour and require your suitors to have proper, grown-up conversations with you, particularly in the early days. Texting (or similar) should only be used to advise of a) confirmation of plans b) changes to plans c) running late to attend plans. Trust me when I say that this particular rule sorts out the wheat from the chaff.
5. If someone is interested in you, they will let you know
You can not make anybody interested in you. They either are or they aren’t. If they are interested and/or available, they will let you know in no uncertain terms. If they are not, no amount of being nice, stalking, pursuing, chasing, texting, emailing, nagging, berating, pleading, gift-giving, or magically appearing at their favourite pub/bar/restaurant will change this fact. Also, you can not and should not date like a marketer i.e. creating “top of mind awareness” with the object of your desire. This will not work. You are not a product, even though you may package yourself like one.
If they are not interested and you stalk, pursue, chase, text, email, nag, berate or plead with them to be interested, they will just find you annoying and it will reconfirm—probably even more so—their original position of disinterest. And they will not respect you for your efforts. And yes, I know that Australia doesn’t really have a dating culture, but if you find yourself trying to “make” someone interested in you, then I would strongly suggest you cut your losses (which is difficult but not impossible to do—see Bonus Rule) and find someone who is interested and/or available.
And please, please, PLEASE—on pain of death—don’t confuse a friendly, outgoing personality with interest.
6. Because of sunk cost fallacy, you are unlikely to cut your losses when you should
Sunk cost fallacy is what makes human beings stupid. And yes, that includes me. You think you can make rational decisions based on the future value of objects, values and experiences, but what actually happens is that your decisions are based on the accumulation of emotional investments over a period of time. In a nutshell, the more you emotionally invest in something, the harder it is to walk away.
Think about that last relationship you had. Now hands up if you think you should have gotten out much, much earlier than you did? Yep. Me too. Because you have invested in it (time, money, emotions, shared experiences etc.), it’s very, very, VERY hard to walk away. Ditto even if you are just dating. It is difficult to end a bad “potential relationship” for the same reason. You’ve slept with them, texted them, pursued them —all actions that contravene my rules, mind you! In other word—you’ve invested! See what’s happened? You’ve sunk your costs (invested emotionally) into a bad “potential relationship” and it’s no wonder you have trouble walking away – even though you know you should!
Recently, and in an effort to counter all this stuff, I made a pact with myself. Feel free to use it and adapt it for your purposes:
Regardless and irrespective of the circumstances, including amount of alcohol consumed and good times being had and promises of what could be and how nice a kisser someone is and whatever exotic location I am in, I will not sleep with anyone I haven’t dated properly for at least two months, even if I know them or think I know them.
* The men I meet are in their 40s and 50s. The negative behaviours they manifest are not new. They are behaviors that have been learned because there is some sort of psychological reward.
** I love where I live, but every single female of every age that I speak to says it’s difficult meeting decent men in this city.