Being Yourself Breaks All the Dating Rules: Do It Anyway

Crystal Jackson

It seems to me that there was a point in time when dating was a little less complicated.

Please don’t misunderstand: I have no desire to go back in time to the days when dating was all about courtship because those days also came with it a heavy dose of misogyny and significantly fewer rights and opportunities for women, people of color, and LGTBQ+ individuals. A few of the courtship traditions might seem nice, but not when we look at the big picture.

I’m old enough to remember dating before email, texting, and social media. It seemed like the process was straightforward: get someone’s number, actually call it, ask someone out (or be asked out), and go out on a date. One date could lead to more.

It’s not that trends like ghosting didn’t exist, but it was certainly not as much in our faces as it is now when we can certainly see that person is still alive and well and updating their social media all the while ignoring our messages.

I married young, and when I came out of that marriage, the world had changed. I had to learn a whole new language to talk about dating. There were all the dating apps- Match, eHarmony, Christian Mingle, Tinder, Zoosk, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, LoveLabapp, Meet Mindful, and so many more! Once I figured out that online dating was the primary way that single people met other single people, I learned them all.

Then there was the dating terminology that I didn’t particularly enjoy acquiring. It brought a whole new meaning to the phrase junk mail. It seemed that the world had definitely changed.

And what if what you really wanted was a relationship? And maybe a little bit of courtship? Well, then you learned to get over that fast or start being a lot more selective.

There are relationship rules, however, that are as old as time itself. I should say now that I don’t have a lot of respect for rules, particularly the kind steeped in tradition for no good reason than it’s always been done that way. So here are a few relationship rules- and how we should break them!

Rule: Play hard to get. Don’t be too interested. Wait to respond to messages and phone calls. Don’t be too available.

How to Break It: Be honest. If we’re interested, we can say it. If we’re not interested, we should definitely say that, too. If we get a message and want to respond, do it. If we get asked out on a date and actually don’t have plans, it’s totally okay to accept.

We don’t have to pretend to be anything other than who we are, and playing hard to get is just a terrible way to start a relationship. If both parties were real upfront, we’d have less disastrous relationships.

Rule: Men ask out the women. This one doesn’t need much of an explanation.

How to Break It: Anyone can ask anyone else out. Interested? Say so. Make a date.

Rule: If the man pays, intimacy is expected. There's a quid pro quo expectation here. Also: sex is expected by the 3rd date.

How to Break It: Get intimate whenever you feel like it. First date, 15th date, or not at all. Why is this a rule? Who declared it? This is all about individual comfort, and who pays or how much is spent should never be a deciding factor when it comes to intimacy.

In fact, who pays is entirely up to the couple in question. Many women will pay for themselves on dates strictly to avoid this expectation. But no matter who pays, they aren't entitled to reimbursement for it in the form of a physical relationship..

Rule: Don’t take no for an answer. Persistence is often touted as a desirable attribute. Pursuing is a part of the chase, right?

How to Break It: If we haven’t learned anything else from the "Me Too" movement, let it be this: no always means no. It doesn’t ever mean yes. Consent is an enthusiastic yes. Consent isn’t a no that we turn into a maybe and then a yes because we’re persistent. Yes is the only consent. No always means no.

Once more, for the men in the back. No always means no. When someone declines a date or any other overture, just stop. Accept it. (Just a quick “extra” tip: don’t send unsolicited messages or pictures. Consent is needed for that, too, otherwise, we’re just harassing people.)

Rule: Only show the best side of ourselves. Putting your best foot forward is how the game is played. Hide your flaws. Spin the truth.

How to Break It: Be authentic. We shouldn’t pretend to like something we don’t. We shouldn’t pretend that we’re not interested in something we love because we don’t think the other person is into it.

I love vintage movies, and I had a few men over the last couple of years tell me that it was stupid simply because they didn’t like it. Big red flag there! I love what I love, and I shouldn’t have to curb my enthusiasm for anyone else. Nor do I expect others to do that with me.

I’d rather know upfront what I’m getting into with a relationship. Who are you really? What are your flaws? (By the way, not being aware of any is a red flag.) We’ll save each other time by being real from the start.

Relationships are hard enough without all the artifice. Too many people are running games, and they’re doing it with people who aren’t interested in participating. In fact, sometimes we don’t know that we’re being played until it’s Game Over.

By then, it’s sometimes too late to keep our distance or prevent ourselves from getting emotionally involved.

We’re making dating so much harder than it has to be. The rules should actually be quite simple:

When dating online, post a recent, non-deceptive profile picture. Skip the filters. No pictures from 10 years or 100 pounds ago. Just be honest. This one was always easy for me. I never wanted to show up to meet someone and see the naked disappointment on a face because I wasn’t honest about how I look.

Be upfront about what we’re looking for from the encounter. Seriously, we can just say that all we want is casual sex. If we’re looking for a relationship, that’s okay to admit, too. If we want to date casually and non-exclusively, fine. Just be honest.

Don’t misrepresent ourselves. Be authentic. We can let people know what we’re about and what we’re not. Then they can make a judgment for themselves if we’re a good fit for them or not.

Be upfront about deal breakers. For me, smokers, liars, and conservative voters need not apply. That’s not me judging others; that’s me knowing what I do and do not want in a partner. Clarifying deal breakers upfront can save everyone a lot of time.

If feelings or circumstances change and we want to be done with a relationship, we should just say it. We should never, ever ghost another human being and disappear without an explanation. Also, benching is wrong; we don’t need to keep someone around as our consolation prize when we’re not really that interested.

There’s no need to make it any more complicated with game playing. I’m a big fan of breaking all those rules. If I’m enthusiastic about a date, I see no reason to pretend like I’m not for the sake of playing it cool. And if I get a text message, I do often respond immediately if I have time.

Let’s save us all a lot of time and a whole lot more heartache by just being real. Be authentic, break the rules that don’t make sense, and make dating fun again.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails:

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