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FFB: Some thought on Dating advice (or, how to get married by ignoring the Rules)

A couple in the dark

This month’s Feminist Fashion Bloggers theme is ‘dating and relationships’. I got stuck on the dating thing, because dating is an odd concept to me (and maybe to Europeans in general?). The way people in films and TV shows go up to random strangers and go ‘I like the look of you. Lets go for a coffee and see if I like your brain too. And then maybe we can get it on.’ And the way people date more than one person at the same time. It just seems awfy businesslike, the way dates are basically like job interviews where your reward is another date and your ultimate reward is a permanent position. I’m not saying it’s a bad system, it’s certainly a lot more rational than getting wasted, snogging the person next to you and deciding if you like them afterwards. But it’s still odd to me.

Anyway, so thinking about dating got my thinking about The Rules. Yes, I know that was 16 years ago, but since I obviously don’t follow the dating self-help book market, that was the last such book that made it into my brain. So I checked them out and dear God, it’s scary business. If this was how it really worked, the I would be doomed to eternal spinsterhood.

But thankfully we all know that’s not the case, and so in the spirit of my upcoming wedding, here is a lighthearted guide to snagging a husband by ignoring the Rules based on how Dave an I got together. And just to put what follows into context, I met Dave in an atrociously awful club. I was 18 and off my face and so was he. It’s not a story that makes ideal wedding speech material. But here it is anyway.

The rules say: Don’t Talk to a Man First (and Don’t Ask Him to Dance)
I must admit I don’t really remember who talked to whom first, it’s all a bit of a blur. I mainly just remember dancing with him, and then talking to him properly at the end of the night. So I may not have talked to him first. But I needed to include this rule, because it’s just so completely mad! If you wait for people to approach you, you’re getting such a tiny proportion of people you could potentially meet! And basically either the ones that are really confident and/or desperate. What about the shy guys?

The rules say: Don’t Accept a Saturday Night Date after Wednesday.
Yeah. We met on a Wednesday, he called on the Thursday and we went out on the Friday. Or rather, we didn’t go out, but we’ll get to that.

The rules say: No More than Casual Kissing on the First Date and Don’t Rush into Sex, Wait at Least Three Dates
Or you could invite him round to pick you up before the date, invite him in, sit him on the bed and then jump on him after half an hour. Worked for me. We didn’t actually leave the flat on our first so called date.

The rules say: Stop Dating Him if He Doesn’t Buy You a Romantic Gift for Your Birthday or Valentine’s Day
This was a funny one. Our first non-date was exactly one month before Valentines day, and I was really unsure whether we were going to do something or not. So I basically told him that we should, because I’m bossy like that, and we did. We also did in year two, but haven’t since, on mutual agreement. Because our anniversary is so close, we usually go out for that, on a night when the world is not full of couples and overpriced restaurant menus.

The rules say: Don’t See Him More than Once or Twice a Week
We went straight into complete coupledom, seeing each other 3 or 4 times a week. There wasn’t really a casual, getting to know each other phase. Why deprive yourself of a good thing?

The rules say: Don’t Live with a Man (or Leave Your Things in His Apartment)
We moved in together after two years and it then took another 10 years to get married. Failure! I suppose if you think the ultimate aim is marriage then the thinking is ‘if you’re already living together, then why would you get married’ and I don’t disagree with that. But then I think of marriage and serious cohabitation as pretty much the same thing. Not to be unromantic or anything, but the reason we are getting married now is because we want to have kids, and all the legal stuff that comes with marriage does make that a lot easier. Plus it’s a big party for all our friends and family! It’s not a proof of love, because if I needed proof I’d be worried. I do get the sense that getting married is more of a done thing in the US, so maybe that explains. Lots of bloggers seem to have got married at what I consider to be a very young age – getting married at 22 is very unusual here. I’ll stop going on, because I could write a whole post just about marriage, but basically I don’t see how making marriage into the ultimate aim helps any relationship.

The rules say: Even if You’re Engaged or Married, You Still Need The Rules
Oh yeah of course. Never return your husband’s calls, and go your separate ways 4 nights a week, that will make things work really smoothly!


Obviously this is just a bit of fun, I am not actually suggesting that what I did was a route to success and everyone should do what I do. If I was looking for a partner now, I would go about it very differently, and I would maybe even loosely follow some of these rules. But being 18 chucking myself at Dave in an OTT way was completely fine, and not being a hugely romantic person, it doesn’t bother me one bit that I kissed him before I knew his name or anything about him. A relationship’s beginning does not define it. It doesn’t make any difference to our long term relationship how things started, I care about how things are, and how they’re going to be**.

And that’s kind of my point: relationships are all different. People are all different. The only advice I can give (not that anyone is asking) is to work out what you want, what behaviours you think are the right ones, and then act accordingly.

But since this is a FFB post, I want to finish on a serious point re dating advice: Basically, I think things like The Rules and similar dating advice methods are actually more than silly guff, they’re positively harmful. The message of the book and the ‘playing hard to get’ approach in general is couched in vaguely empowering terms: You’re ace, so you must not waste your time on men that are not worthy. But in saying this, it actually reinforces the idea that marriage and commitment is something women crave, and men have within their gift to give, but won’t do naturally. The methods might have changed, but it is still all about the woman expending huge amounts of energy trying to ‘get her man’. Frank adult conversations about what the two people actually want aren’t really an option, it’s all subterfuge.

Under the Rules, the man is supposed to treat the woman like a princess (or at least bombard her with emails – the advice is to only reply to every fourth one, which will make conversation pretty difficult to sustain I imagine). The underlying assumption is that the man has all the money and power and can afford to dispense it in carefully delineated chunks. And it should stay that way too, because one of the rules is to always let the man take the lead. Presumably that is what the obsession with marriage is about too, the woman being ‘taken care of’. No financially independent women or equal relationships here. Personally, I don’t actually want to be treated like a princess, I want to be treated like a person. A person whose opinions and dreams equally as important as those of her partner.

And even if you ignore all the power stuff, the whole idea behind the book still reinforces gender divisions. There are completely different rules for men and women, and regardless of what the rules themselves are, that is a bad idea. As I said in my very first post on feminism, for me feminism is all about overcoming the gender binary. I’m actually not categorically opposed to having some guidelines for navigating the murky waters of meeting new people (though like I said I think everyone needs to work out their own, based on what they’re after) but OF COURSE they need to apply to both genders equally. Because saying that if a man doesn’t call immediately, he’s not interested (that’s an actual Rule), but if a woman doesn’t return calls it’s a sign she’s keen is really just bonkers, isn’t it?

The rest of this month’s FFB posts can be found via here.

What do you think?

* In case any new readers are reading this, I’m getting married in just over a week.
** Which is eternal happiness and bliss, hopefully!

Read the rest of this month’s posts here.

Photo via here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anna 24 August 2011, 8:31 am

    I liked this post!! So much fun! Yes I do believe that women should make the first move too! I've done that a couple of times 😛 And you're right, I cannot understand that dating thing at all (I'm European obviously 😛 ) Every person is different indeed…everyone has his/her own "rules", but I'm all for going with the flow!

  • Layla Ashton 24 August 2011, 9:42 am

    I've never seen the Rules, but they seem very archaic and sexist (to both sexes, not just women). In that way it is harmful to behave in such a way. They also seem geared to marriage as a goal, and some people (including me) don't want to get married, or aren't bothered either way. 
    I also don't understand dating, it seems odd to me. In relationships I've normally got to know someone as a friend a little and then got into a relationship with them, there's never been any dating. It's seems a weirdly formal way of doing things, quite awkward. But then I'm British so maybe it's an American thing?

  • northwest is best 24 August 2011, 9:43 am

    Nice post! The way you and Dave got together is quite similar to how I got together with my other half. We've been together for six years now with no plans to get married, but I know what you mean about the legal side of marriage making things easier.

  • Sadie 24 August 2011, 10:45 am

    I completely agree with you about dating advice – I think it's fundamentally disempowering and harks back to an age when women had no economic power. I wouldn't want to be in a relationship where I didn't feel like an equal.

    Anyway, if I had played by The Rules I would never have got together with my partner of 15 years and husband of 9 – after meeting in a pub as friends-of-friends I asked him out, then phoned him twice before we arranged out first date!

  • Rhianne 24 August 2011, 10:46 am

    oh my, your wedding is soon, I probably won't be here to say good luck and have a great day, so I'll do it now 🙂 Have an amazing wedding day love, I can't wait to hear about it!!

    I broke most of those rules with Thomas, haha, I talked to him first (drunkenly), I instigated a very serious and long kiss on our first date (in public too) and we both suck at buying valentines and anniversary presents, in fact we both forgot about it completely last year, oops.

    Saying that, we've been together 9 years now and althought we're not getting married any time soon (also agree with you on the marriage aim but that is a whole other post) we must be doing something right 🙂

  • Eve Maria 24 August 2011, 12:07 pm

    great post, and I agree with you with pretty much everything. 'Dating' is a foreign concept to me too. Most people I know just hang out as friends, with other friends, until someone asks someone out. If they say no, well, you've just gained a new friend!

    I think what you highlighted about being treated like a person is so important. I think this is one of the concepts that held back a lot of traditionalists with being open to gay marriage/civil partnership. It wasn't so much the fact that people are gay, but that they didn't fit into those predefined categories.

    Congrats on your upcoming wedding and hope it is a great day! 🙂

  • Alice 24 August 2011, 12:32 pm

    A couple of months ago I was in a doctors surgery reading More or something along those lines and they had an article on the 'new dating rules' and I can remember thinking how utterly ridiculous it all was. The idea that there is somehow a right way to meet your other half is crazy, you are totally right about it not mattering how you met as long as you are happy now. Then again, there has been a small part of me this summer that has been more aware of these types of articles, after being happily single for a year I've been thinking about how nice it would be to 'have someone' I just hope I never get to the point where I am using these as my basis for starting a relationship. 

    Sorry for the ridiculously long (and slightly rambling) comment, I'm still recovering from last night… Wonderful article, and it was lovely to learn how you and Dave got together, you guys deserve a wonderful life together xo

  • Nicola Kirk 24 August 2011, 12:34 pm

    I really liked this post – I think you are absolutely right about the
    so-called rules. Although we had known each other casually for a long while
    before, the way I got together with my own partner is similar to your and Dave's
    story and we've now been together for 12 years, living together for 7. Marriage
    isn't really on the cards at the moment but who knows what the future brings!


    I think it's interesting the way the movies, books and other media seem
    almost to have the power to make people feel bad for not having a super-romantic
    story (of the eyes meeting across the crowded room variety or having been set up
    on a dinner date with someone or whatever) to recount about the way they met.
    When people ask how we got together sometimes I feel a bit silly or embarrassed
    telling our story when really there isn't any reason to be. Booze-reduced levels
    of inhibition must be behind a lot of relationships I'd have thought!


    Keep up the thought-provoking posts!

  • Danielle 24 August 2011, 1:10 pm

    This was so interesting! I've always been wary of books and advice like The Rules. Everyone is different and people have to figure out what works for them best. I guess if someone keeps going about dating in exactly the same way and getting the same disappointing result, they might want to try something different than their natural "rules". The Gentleman Caller and I had a similar start as you and Dave and it seems like things are perking along beautifully!

  • Rad 24 August 2011, 2:05 pm

    So true, all of this!  I actually like quieter men (I'm a quite outgoing person, and whenever I've paired off with similar personality types we don't get along well) so of course I've approached men who look appealing to me.  The one type the man was very romantic and chased after me, he turned out to be super intense and the relationship was very unhealthy.  I often think the "alpha" type that the dating manuals think we should date probably don't make the most flexible, communicative, and equal partners, but then again maybe the women who read the "Rules" types books are looking for something more traditional?  
    When I met my fella (although we'd been in close but indirect social contact before) I very romantically said to him, "I don't know you.  Have you been around here (the University) for long?" Very smooth, I know.  When we got together, we jumped into complete coupledom, too.  

  • Helen 24 August 2011, 2:32 pm

    I wonder what the author of The Rules would think to my approach? I'm marrying my lodger next year!

  • Olivia 24 August 2011, 2:50 pm

    I've never read these Rules until now, and I can't believe that something as sexist and obsolete would be published even within the last 20 years. Rules like this are a complete waste of time, and I think if we were to look at any successful relationship, most of these rules would have been ignored.

  • Millie 24 August 2011, 3:29 pm

    I'm sure you'll be shocked and amazed that I have absolutely no patience with this sort of dating "advice" nonsense.  It's regressive, reinforces an unhealthy power dynamic in relationships, and is fundamentally incompatible with how people actually live their lives.  I am so with you on a relationship's beginning does not define its entirety — if that were true, A. and I'd've never gotten off the ground.

  • Diana 24 August 2011, 3:30 pm

    I agree- everyone is different when it comes to dating. I personally love the traditional, fairy tale ending of dating but that doesn't make me less of a feminist. Also, didn't the woman who wrote "The Rules" get divorced? 😛 
    I think when it comes to love, putting "rules" on something so unexpected, is like putting a leash on a firework. 

  • Veshoevius 24 August 2011, 8:15 pm

    Great post and I really enjoyed reading the comparison of how your relationship started versus "THE RULES" – who writes that crap? More importantly who buys it?  Is it a book? Please burn it on my behalf.  Loved your analysis and couldn't agree more.

  • THE-LOUDMOUTH 25 August 2011, 5:27 am

    Have you read "He's Just Not That Into You"?  It's disgusting, discouraging, and sexist.

    I love that you talked back to these rules.  They're completely stupid.  We should all set our own personal rules, and even then, it's okay to break them once in awhile.

  • andibgoode 25 August 2011, 5:37 am

    This is fun. I don't understand dating. Men never talk to me, ever. I have social anxiety and I'm not at a point where I can approach men (or, well, anyone actually – I often avoid interactions with people I know) so I've never been in a relationship, been on a real date…nothing. But I still think the idea of men having to make the first move is ridiculous! And, as you said, each individual is different so one thing may work for one person, something else for another. It all turns connecting with other human beings into a game and part of me finds that a bit…tacky, really. So far as I know, we don't make up rules for friendships (which can be just as, if not more for some people, important as romance) so why with romance? It is all very archaic (thinking of 'courtship' etc) and I say phooey. 😉
    -Andi x

  • Sonja 25 August 2011, 7:38 am

    Thanks for posting this! Sometimes I think I'm the
    only one that can't stand the way American movies or series describe the whole
    dating process and especially this marrying thing – why do otherwise sensible and
    independent women suddenly become such helpless and childish creatures?

    I didn’t really date as a teenager, so I couldn’t
    compare a lot, but things first stroke me as odd when on Friends both tough career woman Monica and Phoebe, who had never
    done a coventional thing in her life, dreamed of being the bride in white. Hm?

    But I really freaked out when more recently on an
    American reality show I heard the sentence: “Well, she’s actually a bit grumpy
    because they’ve already been together for a year and he still hasn’t popped the
    question.” Oh, come on? After ONE year? And HE has to “pop the question”? What
    about talking things over like responsible adults?

    I really don’t get it. I would like to hear what
    American bloggers and internet users have to say about this. Is there really
    such a big gap between the continents, or do the media just not depict things
    as they are?

    Personally I’ve been with my boyfriend for 13
    years now, and we don’t really have plans to get married. (I’m German and he is
    Spanish, by the way.) And my friends used to be in similar situations, although
    lately I’ve got a lot of emails saying: “Hey, just a quick message to let you
    know that yesterday my man and I have stopped by the register office and got
    married.” It’s mainly because of the kids, although often those kids have
    actually been present during the “ceremony”.

    Apart from that I would like to mention that I’m a
    first-time commenter, but I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and
    really enjoyed your colourful outfits and your no-nonsense approach to
    important themes.

    Good luck and lots of fun at your wedding!


  • MrsBossa 26 August 2011, 11:38 am

    Oh my god,The Rules make me want to vomit! I always think of Charlotte from SATC when I read things like this: that we have two great loves, that you should blag your coupled-up friends for the numbers of men you might like…it's all very scary, and yes, ultimately disempowering (even though, as you say, it's pretends to be the opposite of that). The truth is, it is easier to meet people when you're 18, and it's easier to chuck yourself into things – that's what's so blissful about it. But surely in your 30s+ one should be beyond this guff!!! 
    Love this post, Franca – mine ain't quite as chipper!!! xx

  • Alexandra Thérèse 26 August 2011, 5:46 pm

    Found myself smiling at many points throughout this post due to the fantastic sarcastic remarks. The Rules are a load of absolute rubbish. It's the people who follow them who either fret because they've never found anyone to be with or the ones who divorce within four years of marriage because they obviously married the wrong person. But it is worrying that so many people still think they should abide by these rules – especially the ones about calling the man back and not being the first to approach. Although I think that weddings are lovely I don't think that they are 'proof' of loving your other half though I do understand that from your viewpoint it'll just make legal matters easier and be enjoyable to celebrate with your friends and family. Have your read Caitlin Moran's book about feminism 'How to be a woman?' it is brilliant. I wish I had a way to type out the entire chapter about marriage on it here. It's one of those books that I just wish everyone in the world would read so that then we'd all be on the same page (pardon the pun). 

  • Stef 28 August 2011, 11:46 pm

    This stuff is one of the reasons I cannot touch fashion rags. The horrendous advice that is constantly being given out about "playing hard to get" and pretending at things you are not in order to "snag" a man is just so infuriating.

    I met my husband when he opened the door of the shared house he'd just moved into. "I am furniture" I told him as I barged past him. We were best friends for two years after that. By the time we worked out we wanted to be more than friends we were both hesitant for fear things might not work out. One day I dropped my glasses out the first floor window of the shared house we were by then both living in and as soon as being half blind (I'd already broken my spare pair by knocking myself out with a hoover) is kind of a bummer he took me out to play some pool and by the end of the evening we were a couple. I moved into his room the same night and in the eight years since we've spent about a grand total of two weeks apart. If that.

    Rules. Pffft.

  • Francesca Olivo 29 August 2011, 7:42 pm

    Love this post, it's hilarious! I agree with everything that you said, and being a European too I totally get the confusion with the american dating thing. These rules are so funny, seriously, do people actually take stuff like that seriously? I'm praying that's not the case…
    I do see people still living by the "wait for him to make the first move" rule though, and find it quite annoying and disturbing. But oh well, I guess that, like someone wrote before, everyone has their own rules…but still, visions of thousands of lost opprtunities form in my mind just thinking about it…
    Great post as usual,

  • Queen B. 31 August 2011, 6:32 pm

    This is a great post. Rules were meant to be broken!

    Queen B.

  • lorena 1 September 2011, 8:16 pm

    Very thought provoking 🙂
    I have to say there are no real rules. 
    Call me old style but I usually liked to "know" someone before going out. 
    Meaning I'd find a reference – for example a guy I met at a bar who asked me out. 
    I asked around who he was before I said yes, mostly because i did not want to go out with someone- even to just have coffee – in total darkness.
    However I think that if you really like someone it should be said and defined early on – i ruined good friendships by turning them into non working relationships and ended up without a boyfriend and then without a friend.