Seven Unspoken Rules of Dating

Sean Kernan

Some dating rules are obvious: don’t stand people up. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t lie. Don’t date people if you aren’t single.

Kids know these things. It’s Kinderspeak.

But between the pillars of good and bad conduct, is a surprisingly vast grey area that is filled with confusion, frustration, and miscommunication.

Having lived and learned this operational reality, many times over, I’ve laid out a few guidelines to help make your life a bit easier as you navigate these choppy waters.

And also — it is my hope that frequent offenders will read this and change their ways. This is my small attempt to make the world a better place, even if it is in the tiniest of nudges.

The Unholy Land of Texting Etiquette

New rule — if you are seeing someone, and you like that person — respond to their texts in a reasonable time frame. Anyone who has dated in modern times knows the pains I’m referring to. Technology has brought on a frustrating wave of annoying shenanigans and smoke signals.

Example: A friend once told me that he times how long it takes the other person to respond and tries to match their delay before he replies. Sure — we want to avoid coming off as desperate when texting— but if you have strayed into the land of timing your responses, you have strayed to the Land of Too Far.

Conversely: if the person you are texting with takes 3 to 4 hours to respond to every text and doesn’t have a significantly valid reason — stop wasting your time. Huge text delays aren’t respectful. The other party probably isn’t interested.

The Other Big W of Dating: When

“They say, timing is everything. But then they say, there is never a perfect time for anything.”― Anthony Liccione

If today is Tuesday, and your last relationship ended last Sunday. Today might not be the best day to start looking for a new relationship. Too many people panic at the idea of living untethered, and claw for something new.


Breathe — give yourself time to cool off.

I was at the frustrating end of this trend. Several dates in, after we’d started liking each other, she panicked and said she’d just gotten out of a relationship and fled the scene.

Balancing what I’ve said — getting out there and dating is also a great way to move on and feel free again. Just be honest and upfront that you want to take things slow and light because of a recent breakup. There’s no rule that says every date needs to be a marriage mission.

Go date —but don’t lie about your emotional availability.

Some Comments On Cinema

I have been on 3 movie dates in the past 5 years(during the early stages of dating), and all 3 of those movie dates were the last dates we went on.

Your mileage may vary — but movie dates tend to be awkward — you don’t know each other. You’ll spend most of the movie, shoulder to shoulder, in silence. It creates an unneeded weird energy between the two of you. And it isn’t the best way to get to know one another.

One underappreciated path for dates is to do things where the focus is a hybrid between getting to know each other and doing something active: zoos, museums, walks in a park.

It lacks the pressure of a 1 on 1 dinner and also lacks the awkwardness of watching a movie with a stranger.

It’s important to “manage the vibe” — especially early on.

Quick One For The Ladies

If a man’s profile is mostly shirtless pictures and mirror selfies — he is after one thing. But alas — if you are also after one thing and like what you see — have at it.

Who Pays?

I’ve sparked a few debates in the past, saying that men should pay for the first date. I’m admittedly a bit old fashioned when it comes to dating, I like the idea of chivalry and respect. My apologies.

But — if a girl doesn’t at least offer (“I can help out with this one”) to pay within 3 to 4 dates — I see that as a red flag. It suggests something might be “off” about the person.

Common courtesy, the simple everyday things that we do, are a reflection of our deeper values and beliefs about the world around us. If those things don’t align between two people, it spells trouble at a later date. Not offering to pay within a few dates is like bringing a slightly wrinkled resume to an interview: it’s not always game over — but it isn’t a good look.

Tangent to this, one of the biggest red flags you can ever see in a date — is how they treat the little guy: the waiter, the server, the janitor, whoever. If they are rude to them — proceed with caution.

Life brings many difficult crossroads. Trust me — you want to walk these crossroads with a strong partner. Not someone who struggles to muster kindness for a waitress or lacks the sensibility to at least offer to pay for dinner after a few dates.

If they can’t do the right thing with the simple stuff, the complicated stuff will be a shared, abject nightmare.

Getting The Axe

If you have only been on a few dates with someone, and they tell you they aren’t interested — don’t pitch some huge fit. Ghosting isn’t acceptable — but neither is making unreasonable demands from someone to give a big essay or opus on what went wrong.

It wasn't a relationship. You were dating.

And you weren’t dumped by the only other person on Earth. Put a bandaid on your ego, take the L, and move on.

And if it is any consolation — there’s often a lot of factors at work — it isn’t always a value judgment against you. Life is complicated. Stay classy. No food fights.

The Misplaced Terror of Meeting Dad

Disclaimer: I’m going to speak in somewhat broad sweeps here, some of you will be exceptions — I’m aware:

If you have been dating someone for a while, there will (hopefully) come a point where you meet the family.

This is a big event that has a lot of social lore around it. Specifically, I’ve found a major misconception about this event:

That one must beware of the shotgun-happy, overprotective father.

In reality?

Sure — making good with the father has always been important. But, in my experience, scoring points and making a good impression with the mother is often far, far more important.

Mom is usually the confidant and advisor on matters of the heart. Mothers and daughters tend to speak frequently. The mother will often have detailed feedback on her impression of you.

Additionally, mothers are experienced and can read men well, so I’d advise you be on your best behavior. Having the girlfriend’s mom in your corner can be a big help when you’ve made a mistake or when you are simply navigating the choppy waters that any relationship brings.

Making a bad impression on the mother can also poison the chance of a healthy relationship. Smile, say your please and thank you’s. Perhaps, iron that shirt too.

Stay good with big mamma: she can be a fantastically valuable ally.

You can even go to her for advice on your partner. Be it presents, help with problems or conflict — the mother will be the foremost expert on the woman you love.

A Needed Hard Truth On Dating Economics

Fact: Dating is a supply and demand market.

You (hopefully) bring something to the table, and in return, so do others. Consequently, don’t go demand everything — if you have nothing to offer in return. It seems like a basic, but I see many frequent offenders in this category.

For example: if you are a broke dude, with no job, no jokes, no personality, and a beer belly, don’t start to resent women because you can’t seem to score some babe with a beach body.

Disclaimer: Hot chicks with abs tend to date hot dudes with abs; it isn’t complicated.

If that “Hot chick with abs” is your goal:

One: become a hot dude with abs.

Two: become some equitable substitute for “hot dude with abs.”

Or Better Yet Three: get real.

My intentions aren’t to reduce dating down to basic arithmetic and simple variables. My intention is to give some tough love to my dudes out there. I’ve had so many guy friends with outlandishly unrealistic expectations that undermine their efforts, that have them bypassing great girls. The problem crosses sexes though:

In light of technology’s granting of easy access to dates, everyone has become replaceable. The global digital meat market has everyone holding out for that next best thing: “I don’t want to settle.”

Well guess what— on some level — we all settle. There’s no such thing as “the one true love” or “the one”. You can be a hopeless romantic without falling for toxic Hollywood idealism.

There’s a lot of great, compatible men and women out there.

Find someone you can reasonably get along with, who are you are attracted to. Put in the work. And you might just find yourself living an amazing, happy life with someone who loves you a whole lot.

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