It’s really hard to play a game if you don’t know the rules. It’s even harder if everyone is making up their own rules as they go, and no one is playing by the same rules.
I love playing sports, and one of the things that makes a sport a sport is an agreed upon set of rules. It’s how I know if I’m playing soccer (where there are penalties for anyone but the goalie using their hands), or if I’m playing basketball (where a kicked ball results in a turnover). There are such things as out-of-bounds, fouls, and goals. In sports, rules actually make the game more fun to play. Without rules, everything quickly dissolves into chaos and the likelihood of someone being injured is high.
When it comes to the dating game, no one seems to know the rules anymore. And it’s hard to play a game when there are no agreed upon rules.
- Who should ask whom out?
- Who should pay?
- If we hang out one-on-one, is that a date?
- Should men open doors for women?
- Is it appropriate for a woman to make the first move?
- Can dating be just for fun?
- Should I only date someone I can see myself marrying?
- How long should we wait to kiss?
- How long should we wait to have sex?
- How long do I wait to call or text?
Poll a random sampling of 20’s and 30’s, and you would get vastly different answers. And this, I think, is one of the greatest difficulties of dating today. How are we supposed to navigate dating if no one is playing by the same rules?
It’s a confusing time to be single. I have my own set up assumptions and guidelines I bring to dating, and I personally know how I would answer all of the above questions. But I can’t assume that someone I’m interested in would answer them the same way.
I’ve dated men who insist on opening doors for me and paying (which I appreciate, by the way). But I’ve also dated a guy who didn’t open doors for me because a girl from his past refused to let him open a door, accused him of chauvinism, and needed to prove that she was more than capable of opening her own door.
I know women who would ask a guy out if she’s interested in him, and I know men who would be completely turned off by that scenario. (By the way, if a woman asks a man out, is she obligated to pay? Should the asker also be the payer, since the date was her idea? See, it’s so confusing!)
In the midst of all the chaos that comes from the absence of agreed upon rules, I’d like to suggest one dating rule that I hope we can all agree on.
Leave people better than you found them.
When I was a kid, my parents drilled into me that if I ever borrowed something, I should return it in as good or better condition than I borrowed it. What if that’s how we thought about dating?
What I want to keep in front of us is the simple reminder that all humans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. But somehow, when we date, we can lose sight of this simple fact. Instead of seeing one another as humans, we can slip into thinking of the person we are dating as the sum total of all of our dating expectations and they become an object instead of a human. Rather than thinking about how our actions affect another human, our selfishness comes out and we only think about things from the perspective of what we want out of the situation.
How is the way you date forming your character? How are the patterns and habits you reinforce now in dating shaping you to be a better spouse one day in the future? If your goal in dating is to find the person you want to marry, then the way you date is creating patterns for how you will treat your eventual spouse. Even if you’re dating just for fun, I doubt you intentionally want to date with the purpose of hurting another human being. And yet, when it comes to dating, there is so much pain and so much baggage.
We’ve all either hurt or been hurt in dating relationships. Some of that is a necessary risk that comes with all matters of the heart. A break up is a break up, and no matter how you slice it there will be some pain. However, there are ways to date and even break up with someone that still communicates their dignity and worth as a human being. The worst pain I’ve experienced in break ups didn’t come from the break up itself, but how the break up was handled.
When we love someone, we should be willing to put their interests and well-being above our own. Love is meant to be sacrificial. This is the kind of love it will take to have a healthy marriage one day, and selflessness is also the kind of character trait that takes time to build. Thankfully, dating provides us the opportunity to practice learning to treat others the way we would want to be treated, and to practice selflessness.
We know we’re supposed to treat people the way we would want to be treated, but somehow when it comes to dating we seem to throw this rule out the window. If we just stick to this basic principle, I think we’d see a lot less emotional damage being done. I suspect, too, that if we treat people with dignity and affirm their worth as a human being throughout every stage—from initial meetings, to texts and phone calls, to first dates and first kisses, to committed relationships, and to breaking things off — that we would make a lot of progress towards leaving people better than we found them.
Let me leave you with 5 practical ways you can leave people better than you found them:
1. Avoid the silent treatment
If someone has called you, texted you, sent you a carrier pigeon, or used one of the 100 other ways we have these days of communicating with one another, honor them with a timely reply. Even if you’re over them, even if you don’t want another date, they still are a human and no human deserves to be ignored.
2. Follow through on your promises
Did you say you would call? Then you should call. Did you ask for a second date? Then take them on a second date. Don’t get in the habit of telling people what they want to hear with no intention of following through.
3. Stop hooking up
Bodies are not commodities. We are more than simply physical beings, and we need to stop using one another for physical pleasure outside of an appropriately committed relationship. When you engage in any sort of physical intimacy with someone, you’re training your body that this action is okay to do with someone whom you associate your current feelings with. If you make out with everyone on the first date, then you’ve taught your body that making out is casual. If you want it to mean something when you kiss someone you really do like, then stop making out with all the people that you don’t really care that much about.
4. Use clear language
If you want to go on a date with someone, use clear language that indicates this is what you want. “I’d like to take you out”, “Can I buy you dinner?”, or “Would you like to go on a date with me?” are examples of clear language. “Hang out”, “Meet up”, or “Grab a drink sometime” are less clear. If someone asks me to hang out, I assume it’s not a date and act accordingly. So if you actually want to go on a date with someone, use language that makes your intentions clear.
5. Practice appreciation without expectation
One of the things that messes us up the most in dating is our expectations. We all bring in a truckload of expectations of what we’re looking for, what we’ve been waiting for, what we want, and how we want to be treated. When we place all this on the person we’re just going on a date with, it brings a ton of pressure and paves the road to objectify the person across table based on how they do at meeting your expectations. And, let’s be real, you probably have some unrealistic expectations. So instead of seeing how someone does at meeting all of your expectations, just be grateful and appreciative of what they do bring to the table. I never assume or expect that a guy will pay on a first date, and I usually offer to split the check. However, I really appreciate if he does offer to pay. Expect less, and appreciate more.