When I was 13 I found a book on a shelf at my grandparents’ house. It was called The Rules. After I learned what kind of “rules” it outlined, I read the whole thing cover to cover. I knew it went against my mother’s pro-feminist championing of oneness, especially because the opening tagline read, “Time tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mister Right,” but I couldn’t help it. I was fascinated. (“At least I don’t do drugs!” would there forward be my defense when “caught” reading.)
The overall concept is horrifyingly dated: the man is responsible for the courting, and the female is responsible for provoking his interest. If the woman follows The Rules, all will go as planned, and she will have met her life’s goal with a ring that she will wear on a finger meant to signal camaraderie to display the victory.
These Rules are about playing coy to the point of aloofness. One of the early chapters waxes on the importance of not talking to a man first — “Let him come to you.” Another reads like advice doled out by The Onion: “Don’t stare at men or talk too much.” Rule #17 is “Let him take the lead,” and rule #5 reads “Don’t call him and rarely return his calls.” A few sections explain how to act on a date, others explore kissing and sex post-date.
Even at 13, these mandates made me gag. That such archaic guidelines were the only “right” way to secure a man was insulting. Don’t talk to a man first? What planet was this? And why did the end goal always have to be an engagement? It was hard to deny, however, that a playbook tailored to help a sprouting romantic navigate the murky waters of adolescent love was appealing. Rules, any rules, established order in a world that otherwise seemed complicated and endlessly vast.
When I first started dating I broke nearly every “rule.” I did not act coy, or unavailable, or mysterious or evasive. I was Sergeant Amelia, standing at attention. If it was a Tuesday and someone I liked asked me to hang out that night, I’d immediately respond yes — why not earlier? I would send texts without abandon on my giant Nokia phone and treated my Instant Messenger profile like a proposal billboard. Reading “I LOVE YOU JASON” between the lines of whatever Death Cab For Cutie lyrics were written in my away message wasn’t exactly the stuff of CSI detective work, (namely because I used different fonts).
Then, as I got older, I found merit in rules. Certainly not The Rules — but improvising some of them helped me to develop my own that transcended the boundaries of dalliances. Everything boils down to pursuit. Chasing anyone, male or female, for business or pleasure, the way Spongebob might run free with a jellyfish net typically ends in fruitless frustration — the law of supply and demand proves that.
In the matter of chivalry, I’m still pro. It may be an old school concept, but its root, courtesy, is not. Who’s to say I must forfeit my societal equity to fight in favor of courtship? George Saunders wrote to a graduating class last May that his only regrets pertain to a lack of kindness. I’m going to take creative license here, widen the breadth of that which constitutes he or she who acts chivalrous and suppose those acts encompass just that.
“You’ll never regret the text you didn’t send,” is my favorite thing to tell friends who want to run a pending draft on their phone by me before sending (which usually occurs late on a Saturday and reads something to the effext of, “Hjey u out ?”).
Often times, they send it anyway.
Of course, back inside the confines of relationships, my “rules” don’t guarantee companionship. Why should they? The whole thing is a kind of crap shoot; there are people who will like you regardless of who asked out whom, what you did after he or she walked you home, and what text you sent the next day. Believe me, I’ve still gone rogue in a Regina George-ian moment of “Fuck it, I’m getting french fries,” and “initiated contact.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I care, sometimes I don’t.
Then there are suitors, who despite flawless execution of your personal rubric still won’t call the next week — which is fine. Avocados, remember? The Planet, remember? Following your own a set of personal rules will, however, guarantee dignity, and if you’re going to take home anything, it should be peace of mind.
What about you, though? Do you abide by a set of rules, or do you fly by the seat of your harem pants? Do such rules perpetuate “the game,” or do they help? And finally, who the ham invented dating anyway?
Edited by Leandra Medine