Few things about dating are as misunderstood as the very own meaning of the word. “Wait, are we dating?” Is one of the most frequently asked questions in the singleton’s vocabulary right after: “where is this going?”. Shortly after my 30 dates experience, I asked all my friends to give me their personal definitions of dating, along with a description of its stages. I received 47 responses with all sorts of confusing answers. I loved how many of the definitions were a direct reflection of their most recent dating experiences. For example, this response from my friend Mel:
“Stage 1: Dating Hell – Stage 2: Dating – Stage 3: You’ve been sucked in – Stage 4: Heartbreak… Repeat.”
The “repeat” part is what makes life worth living right? 😉
So as the analytical person that I am, I collected all 47 of my friend’s responses and combined them to create the following rules and stages, which are conveniently linked to the way we introduce our potential mates. This is all perfectly sound research.
The Stages and Rules of Dating:
1. The “this is my friend”, stage – Some people call it “talking”, as in texting, calling, or meeting up places. Normally there’s no physical interaction at this stage. And there’s ample opportunity to end up in the friend zone forever.
2. The “this is (insert his/her name)”, stage – You don’t give the person a title when introducing them because there is no title, you’re just starting to date. You’re going out on dates, just the two of you. You make plans, you meet outside in public. The physical interaction might increase in this stage. Sometimes it goes all the way… ahem.
3. The “this is MY date”, stage – You like each other enough to see each other frequently, which means you are now dating and can take the person with you to weddings and work events where the introduction needs to be clear: “I’m dating this person, so don’t even think about it buddy”. You make plans that eat up any free time you might have to date other people, therefore it becomes the dating exclusively stage. You’re spending time completely alone, and communicate daily. “So isn’t this basically a relationship then?” I asked my survey responders, to which someone adeptly replied: “I think we actually spend more time in this dating stage because communication seems to be the hardest thing in relationships. We haven’t quite answered the questions like ‘does he like me?’ ‘Is she seeing other people?'” There’s still some uncertainty, and even though you might be exclusive, at this stage it’s normal for some people to hold on to their rosters, just in case. As one of my friends said: “it’s all ego based.”
4. The “look ma’ I have a boy/girlfriend and I’m not gonna be alone forever”, stage – All rosters are shut down and the introductions come with a clear title. As my friend Huck would put it: “it is facebook official”.
And here’s why none of the above really matters…
Lately, I’ve been comparing dating to golf, because like dating, golf is one of the least successful things reasonable humans practice perpetually. Both are amazingly rewarding, and incredibly frustrating. But regardless of the outcome, we continue on in our quest to be better. Does this sound reasonable to you? In most scenarios, a reasonable person would avoid touching a hot stove after their first burn. A reasonable person would wear a helmet after their first bicycle accident. But few reasonable people do reasonable things when it comes to dating, probably because dating defies reason…
We’ve all uttered these words at some point: “I’m sick of dating!” But why? Is it because we don’t want to meet another person who could disappoint us? Or because we’d rather spend the rest of our lives on our couch eating ice cream and watching sex & the city on repeat? Probably not the latter, although admittedly I did spend half a summer in college wondering if Carrie and Big would ever make it, somehow comparing their love triangle to my most recent devastation of a relationship. Oh wait… was that not a relationship? You see my point? This is where we go wrong. We all have different rules about what it means to date and be in a “relationship”. When we’re dating, are we only supposed to be with one person? But then if we’re only dating one person, does that mean we’re in a relationship? It’s so confusing!
Dating used to be simple, when my parents met forty years ago, they couldn’t do much except write letters and talk on the phone. “Simple”, as in the options were limited. Their dating life consisted of my dad ringing the doorbell, and my mom coming downstairs, so they could stand under the threshold of her front door chatting. This was their dating life because my grandfather wouldn’t let my dad inside the house. No kissing, no hand holding, nada. She was barely allowed to talk to one guy, how would she ever be able to date around? My dad on the other hand, being a man, had the opportunity to stand under multiple thresholds, and nobody ever gave the inequality of that scenario a second thought.
When did dating become so complicated? I think part of the problem is that we have too many options. It’s hard enough to know what you want when you’re still trying to know who you are. Add online dating and social media to the mix and the odds of meeting the wrong person quadruple. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. As you know, I’m a total advocate for dating outside of your normal habitat. But if you’re dating and you’re not sure what it is you’re looking for, chances are you’re either going to confuse yourself or send the wrong signals to the people you’re dating. And this is how hearts and egos get hurt.
“People don’t want to be vulnerable, and they make things more complicated when they have their guard up,” my sister told me one afternoon, “all the guessing and tip toeing is how dating becomes a game. And what a stupid game to play, where no one really wins.” She made a good point. Then I tried to explain to her why my guard is up, “But you don’t understand!” I said, “it’s necessary to… um… protect yourself, because ummmm… ” I couldn’t come up with any good reason for why I was unwilling to let my guard down. “It’s because having control makes you feel safe,” a friend told me later, “but you don’t realize that you’re strong enough to handle letting go.” This really made me reflect on my entire adult life. I can come up with several examples where the more I tried to control a situation, the less it went my way. Much like when I try to control my golf swing after the club makes contact with the ball… it’s useless. It’s like holding sand with a clenched fist, there’s no point, it just slips out through your fingers anyway.
“Fuck the rules!” I’ve heard several people tell me recently. And they’re pretty much right. In dating, much like in golf, the only thing you can truly control is what you put in, but you have no control over the outcome. If there are rules about dating, then I’ve officially broken every. Single. One. I’ve done it backwards, too slow, too fast, too big, too small, too right and too wrong. And what does it mean to do it “the right way” anyway? I have friends who’ve married the person they had a one-night-stand with. Some who have dated for five years, lived together and broken up. Friends who have married someone they knew for a month. And friends who are still waiting to meet the “right” person, because they’re too jaded and afraid to jump in.
In the end, I think we all have to remember that there’s no formula to dating successfully. Success is all relative to what each person is looking to accomplish in their life. I think the best advice I can share is to be your honest self at all times. Tell people what you’re looking for. Maybe it’s love, maybe it’s marriage, maybe it’s a friend or just a fling. Whatever it is you’re looking for, let go of the rules, be honest and do what feels right… and Repeat. 😉