The Rules

Concerning dating and so forth: are they meant to be broken, or followed to a tee?


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

Image via Glamour

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  • KF

    Your rules are basically the same that are “the” rules, a little watered down but same principle. And regarding women asking men out every time I heard one of the women characters on Sex and the City say “you should ask him out” it confirmed all over again how absolutely make believe the series was and also that it was written by men playing barbies.

  • Hanne

    i like to be pursued, and a cool guy will do that if he likes me (or most guys at least). but what if i like a guy that does not like me especially much? or, he likes me, but he doesn’t want anything serious and has many girls wanting him and can be lazy. he would meet up and be great, but wouldn’t necessarily initiate it himself. i think it is so necessary and shows character if when YOU really want him, then YOU do what it takes to get him. if you want something in life, reach out and grab it, right? it would be boring to know that i only go after who likes me back and not try to get what i believe is best for me. “one day, the opportunities stop, you know.” they do, and then a text not sent is actually regretworthy… i am against writing and chit-chatting a lot before and in between the first dates, but one day, there will not be the opportunity to try to meet up with a certain guy. and instead of writing “hey u out?” you can write something cool, something just forward enough, and something that will make you just the right amount of vulnerable to be cool, but not desperate and needy.

    • Amelia Diamond

      “if you want something in life, reach out and grab it, right?” – absolutely

    • scarlett

      i absolute (want to) agree! go grab the man of your dreams! but because i’m forever a worrier and actually right now in the situation where i really like someone (more than any other man i’ve met), i just don’t want to spoil my chances… so, what if, by going and getting what i want, i push him away? and he would have come to me, instead, if only i were patient enough…?

      do you have an answer to that dilemma, dear hanne?

      • If that pushes him away, then he wasn’t the one. I mean, don’t call him 5 times a day or show up wherever he happens to be, but if you go out on a limb and make your interest known he could very well be receptive. But if he isn’t…well, there will be another guy. Maybe even better than this one.

      • Le

        But, if such were the case, do you really want to be with a man who shrinks away by the sight of you being assertive? You cant spoil ‘chances’, either he is interested in you or not- and neither are going to define the rest of your life let alone even the subsequent month. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that we are all too busy/cool/interesting/etc to spend our time wondering about the consequences. Just cut to it and you’ll know right away. ‘Love me or leave me’ !!!!!!!!

      • Hanne

        that sounds like the situation i am in right now… i think i would think differently about it if i was not actually. because in a way, i did always kind of feel that ok, if he does not contact me than he is not as interested, so be it. but with this one guy right now, i know that i am so sure that i want him, like i have never felt it. and Monica M and Le who commented, i think it is so much trickier than that. for me now, i don’t want him to leave me if he doesn’t love me (not that we are together at all), but quite the opposite, i feel like i really want to play my cards right and make him realize what he wants, if that is then not me, than i say leave me. i don’t think that any guy that is not immediately head over heels into me is a bad guy, that i would deserve better. it is just complicated… and scarlett, i love what you wrote, i think i was saying those exact words to a friend three weeks ago, then i did contact, we met and it was good. i think you should for sure contact him, waiting for him to come if it is not at all foreseeable, is wasting your time, and headspace… if you write him, and ask him out, and he doesn’t answer or seems uninterested or rude or so, than for sure he is not worth your effort. but i think, chances are that he would answer, right? i mean why not! i really do think that we all, i know i do or did that so much, so often just wait, and then eventually it fades away. go for it, and don’t be scared to show vulnerability. i think it is kind of cool and impressive when i hear how people went after their partner in the early stages of their relationship, and it worked out and now they are together… Ask him out!! be subtle, and direct (i never like something like “hey, if you want to meet up…” i mean, YOU are asking ME out?!), but obviously cool and self-respecting… good luck!

        • scarlett

          you guys are all amazing… just the kind of feedback i needed. i did it, i was bold and you know what? though i’m still waiting for his reply (and ofc i hope it will be a nice one) at the moment i’m just relieved… because, either way, i’ll just know what to do with my sheep’s eyes… 😉

          • Hanne

            he would be dumb not to answer, and it seems he would really miss out. good for you that you did it : )

  • Donna

    Great read! I would have to agree that the ‘rules’ are quite dated but there are times were I wouldn’t mind having some good old fashion chivalry from the gents. I’d like to think I live by my own rules, which lean towards traditional values and manners. But they do get thrown out the window with a little bubbly in the system. I mean, a girls gotta have a little fun!


  • the most important rule to remember is to always maintain an air of mystery from the pick up artist.


  • CharlotteC

    i used to have the same kind of rules in order to preserve my pride, or, how you said, dignity. turns out after a couple of vodka tonics and a few tequila shots, every principals are then forgotten (don’t even wanna start on drunken messages, a real disease!!!)
    So now i’m just like “wtf, we only live once” type of thinking. Yes, it might imply to feel like a real loser sometimes, but it avoids the very frustrating “what if?” that used to drive me craycray!!!! if you like a guy, just go for it, if he doesn’t respond the way you were hoping, it means you deserve better (yes, self motivation or self lies can help in the rejection process haha) 😀

    • Charlotte Fassler

      “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.”
      My friend who is seemingly untraditional in the realm of dating has a rule for personal sanity she likes to call going “balls to the wall” which occurs in the interim time you may be waiting for a someone to contact you. She will send a forward text to gage interest and if she gets no response then she pretends he never existed and moves on…She did her part, didn’t hear back and therefore assumes he is not that into her. It eliminates the endless scenarios of “what ifs” you could imagine while waiting for him to reach out to you! It’s definitely a rule she uses but it’s mostly just for peace of mind.

      • CharlotteC

        balls to the wall… i’m keeping that one, it’ll be a classic 😀 hahaha

    • Millie Cotton

      #YOLO right?

  • I have two simple rules. First don’t play games with people Second is think before you do it. I will help you stay away from unwanted drama 🙂


  • Fly by the seat of my harem pants! I agree with the commenter below about the air of mystery as well.

  • Leandra Medine

    My one and only rule was always, lay your cards out and tell him you don’t wax on date #1.

    • Maddy

      this could be a whole other article in itself

  • scarlett

    oh, leandra! classic! and it’s sort of the biggest discussion in my head, at the moment. are there any rules? if so, which ones? do they lead to success (i.e. finding the man of your dreams)?

    to date, i must say i find it soooo confusing… i try very hard to act according to certain rules. i really have success with it. and then, just this once, i’m a bit outside of the rules, maybe act a bit too euphoric or passionate or keen… and then suddenly don’t hear from the guy anymore. what happened? the big question is: does his not getting in touch with me anymore mean i acted against the rules and that’s sort of my punishment? or would he not have like me anyway? are the rules just a way to keep men interested longer, but the inevitable, namely that they’re not interested eventually, will happen anyway?

    so many questions. i’m sorry i don’t have answers…
    confused s

  • brunetteletters

    I hate the fact that there are rules period!! Dating should be easy and simple….all those rules and do’s and don’t are terrible!!!
    yes…I like to be pursued, but the ‘game’ and the ‘rules’ stress me out a little!
    However, guys don’t appreciate girls that are simple and don’t abide by rules. If you call them or text them, they automatically think they ‘got you.’ In today’s world, us girls can’t act like ourselves all the time because guys take them the other way.
    Great text Amelia!!

  • Maggie Clancy

    my “rules” change with my mood for the day. Sometimes I play coy and mysterious and other days I’m like, “Fuck it, might at well lay all the cards on the table.” I think Mr./Mrs. Right (or Right Now) will like you no matter how you pursue them.

  • Rebecca

    “You’ll never regret the text you didn’t send” – that’s good stuff right there, to be honest a text is ONLY a text, harmless! Nothing worth over thinking

  • Sarah Fentem


    “Fuck it, I’m getting CHEESE fries.”

    *scampers off feeling like a dick*

  • RitaB

    Such an appropriate article for a blog called Man Repeller!
    And I only follow Nene’s rule “Cross your legs to married men”

    • Amelia Diamond

      Nene is on my Top 10 Favorite Humans list.

      • Leandra Medine

        stop saying that on public forums

        • Amelia Diamond


  • sam

    the strong, empowered woman in me always wants to, and urges friends to, go and get it. but observation and experience seem to lead me to believe that the dude really needs to want it, atleast if you’re looking for a long term thing. this may be my jaded thoughts but i think if a girl is 80% in, she’ll give it her 100% but if a guy is only feeling you about 80%, he’ll give probably a solid 60%. And aren’t we deserving of more? I do agree that its irrelevant who sends the first text or who asks to grab drinks first, but if a woman is finding herself “taking charge” and driving the relationship for the most part, even if he reciprocates just fine, he’s probably just not that into you. Because if there is one thing I can be sure about re: Men, its that they persistently go get what they want.

    • cogitate10

      actually, that’s the sure rule – men become determined if they really like something.

  • Thieves Like Us

    “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.”

    Completely agree. Making your own rules and [mostly] following them confirms that, at the end of the day, you’ll recognize the person looking back at you in the mirror. And that’s awesome. Forget externalities.

  • Aubrey Green

    Men want to chase you, they always want what they can’t have, just remember that and you should be fine – I think if someone likes you and really wants to be with you, he’s going to take you regardless of what text message you sent him, when you called him, etc. I don’t think games, or ‘rules’ matter at the end of the day. Be yourself, that’s the most important thing.
    “don’t forget to fall in love with yourself first.” – Carrie Bradshaw

  • contentnet

    You have to admit, with all of the distractions modern society presents us with it can be difficult to hear the knock, knock, of opportunity.

    That is why creativity, tenacity, love, and genius must be utilized in order to gain the attention of the other. Love, that’s another matter.

    So, call me.

    But remember this: Whoever calls whom does not matter if the intention is not clear.

    If you seriously want to know more. Just pick up the phone and call my number.

  • Brie

    Truth is…none of this crap matters. If he/she likes you and you like him/her and it is supposed to happen, it will. Organically and always on time. You can’t force it or create it or trick it into happening. When it is real….the game playing isn’t necessary.

  • lemkam

    I never believed in any rules until I decided that approach wasn’t getting me any closer to the type of man I wanted to be with. So I made a few of my own and low and behold, I’ve made a life with a great man for over 5 years.

    My rules were simple:
    1) Don’t accept a date if he doesn’t ask you at least 48 hour prior
    2) Don’t refer to him as a boyfriend first, let him call you his girlfriend
    3) Don’t say I love you before he does
    4) Always say thank you and let him know you appreciate him

    It seems stupid and juvenile, but they worked.

    Men are like cats, if you come at them too fast, they will run away. If you let them come to you, they’ll sit in your lap.

    • Ahaha, oh boy, I agree with all of those but #3… I awkwardly SKYPED my man after just having sent him an email (we are mostly long distance, which is the worst), basically vomited out “HeyBenIwantedyoutoknowthatIloveyouokaygottagobye” and then hung up because I was so nervous. Apparently that’s called “cute” in his book and we’ve been fantastic and in love ever since.

      That 48-hour warning for a date rule is key though. I followed that one too and it definitely weeded out the lazies and the men that were just looking for something/someone (:S) to do that night.

  • We all choose the romantic lives we lead.

  • contentnet

    Hey. That photo is cool. A vamp and her vampire.

  • Maha

    Ladies I need some advice here. My brother’s best friend, who is considered off limits, is the guy I want. The only guy I want. We both decided just to be friends until maybe the future when it could potentially be possible to have a long term relationship.. but how do I decide if I should wait for us to be a little more mature or just to move on? I don’t want to wait forever but what if he’s the one?

    • Amelia Diamond

      Why is he off limits, because your brother said so? That can be such a sticky area. I’m an only child but know friends whose siblings are off limits to their friends or vise-versa. If it’s something that could cause a riff with a family member, I would say it’s not worth it. Give it time, see what happens.

      …Am I SO lame to believe that if he’s the one, it will work out as such? Too much Nora Ephron I suppose.

      • Maha

        That’s exactly it! My brother has made it clear his friends are off limits but I think you’re right.. hopefully time will tell. Thanks for the advice!!

  • EatMeTrendy

    I actually do not believe that any rules should be in course, but the current state of society still holds some respect for, if not to the point of merit, some gender-appropriate courting rules. If your goal is to get a man, sure some societal-conditioned rules will help. But when does it stop? Is it simply to the point of catching that long, dark and handsome’s attention, or does it trap one in a perpetual spiral which deviates so vastly from your true personality and self? (i.e. the movie, The Ugly Truth) My plan: just be yourself and whoever is meant to like you will like you. Though this does not guarantee a guy, your mind and heart will be set at rest, as you had said, and you will leave with dignity knowing that neither your personal morals nor standards were compromised. So far, it has gotten me the guys that fit me without distracting me from more important priorities. I like to call this courting for the functional, modern day female. You may be jealous of that perfect couple or that girl that always gets all the guys, but ask yourself; are those the type of guys you want? You want a person who fits you. This, of course, is not to say that you should remain passive and inactive and wait for someone to come to you. If you like someone, go after them. This has been successful as well.

  • Greta Gale

    I used to believe that it was all about playing the game – leaving him wanting more, being flirtatious but also maintaining an air of innocence etc. Until my current boyfriend! I think I broke every single rule I had when we first started dating, however, we were good friends for years prior, so that may have been why. Either way, breaking my rules has worked perfectly for me!

  • Poe

    The Spongebob imagery made me laugh SO HARD.

    In real life the fine line rests between “ambitious” and “pushy”… “opportunist” and “vulture”… “motivated” and “desperate”… we can only wish we were as innocent and naive as Spongebob with the jellyfish net!

  • Tamara

    Here’s a thought. What if you followed only one rule and it was this: act in a way that leaves you with self respect. Real, look-in-the-mirror self respect. It covers everything else.

  • ElaineR

    I guess a lot of it boils down to the type of man you want, and what you’re looking for. I would never want a man who shies away from me taking the lead in certain situations. However, my strong personality needs an equally strong partner. When i found that, and realized we are both ok with each other being that way, I realized how futile these stupid rules are.
    If being forward is what you want to do, then do it. You are bound to strike out a few times, but then you will realize that “striking out” is really just editing men out of your life that you shouldnt be pursuing. If they have a problem with your fundamental personality traits, then you have done yourself a favour.

  • Nina

    I recommend all readers to read ” The art of seduction” by Robert Greene, really opened my mind with the fascinating stories and trips into the psyches of the great seducers,and offers a wealth of usable strategies.

  • The Civilian
  • Lucy Wilson-Storey

    A lot of great views, and takes on a set of “Rules”

    I’d like to say I have figured out my own personal rules or a sophisticated dating mantra but I haven’t.

    Every time I give myself any sort of rule or tell myself I shouldn’t do
    something, its then all I can think about and immediately do the

    #2 I’m a Gemini or have split
    personality disorder, I haven’t yet figured out which is more relevant.
    This means I go back and forth between two alternate and very different
    universes. In one I’m being driven full speed by my ovaries into a cozy
    marriage with 5 kids and incessantly searching pinterest for gourmet
    meals to serve my doting family. In the other I’m navigating the globe,
    living in many cities enjoying a “balls to the walls” relationship with
    my career and willing to wait till I’m a senior for a man that’s
    incredibly eccentric, intelligent, hilarious, successful, assertive,
    caring, and not intimidated by my drive to change the world.

    my dream world an incredible man picks me out of a crowd with a great
    pursuit and insists on taking me out on a date where I don’t have to
    make any decisions and I’m constantly impressed with his choices of
    venue and witty conversation. This is my perfection because I spend most
    of my life being dominant and driven, this has caused me to seek a man
    that does the “driving”.

    In reality I have only met one man that was impressive and very assertive but also turned out to be poisonous.
    If I’m assertive and hard working in the rest of my life why can I not
    approach a man I find attractive? My inner monologue has gotten very
    repetitive, all I can hear is “if he’s interested he’ll come to you”