Sex + Love

The Dating Game

The only rule is that you have to be yourself.

Remember when Ron had to wear Voldemort’s horcrux around his neck and he became insanely jealous and suspicious of Harry and Hermione’s friendship? I started feeling that sort of resentment about my friends. With a self-esteem that delicate, thoughts like I’m actually thinner than Friend A and I totally kick Friend B’s ass in class so why am I single? creep up so easily. I adored my girls and had always shared in their happiness, so this small knot of jealousy was really annoying. I never thought about making the first move because none of them were making the first move in their relationships, and I wanted exactly what they had.

So the whole heterosexual courtship chess game not only needlessly mucks up romantic relationships; it also pits us against other girls, making them so many obstacles in the way of our happiness. We are conditioned to act competitively by trying to seem prettier, sexier, smarter than all other girls everywhere, all for the reward of a guy’s affection. It sucks, and it’s the perfect breeding ground for insecurity. I went from being satisfied with myself to constantly looking for the imperfections that were surely keeping me single instead of accepting that some boys just weren’t interested and that wasn’t my problem at all. No amount of resentment made guys less attracted to my friends or more attracted to me, so it was really pointless—all it did was make me feel terrible about people I really loved.

All the dating rules I’d been following fell apart when I was 19 and in my first year at university, and I realized that my boyfriend had gotten to know a performance instead of the real me. He thought I was a coy, endlessly patient girl who looked amazing all day, every day, when the truth was that I like to wear comfortable clothes, hide my uncombed hair under a turban, and swear a lot when people annoy me. At some point, people just need to be real with each other, and that point, in my opinion, should be as soon as you meet. Being yourself is important! I was setting myself up for failure by showing this boy a different person while we got to know each other, then suddenly expecting him to like who I really am when I could suppress it no longer.

How do you know if you’re being yourself? It seems so simple, but it’s actually pretty hard to figure out. I go by this litmus test: If the thought of doing something gets me excited and I smile on the inside, then I’m on the right track. Here are some other ways I’ve learned to avoid the criminally terrible advice we usually get about dating:

They say: Don’t call him (it’s always a “him” in these rulebooks) first.
But really: If you want to call him, CALL HIM. Or call HER. Waiting to gather up the nerve will just distract you, and you’ll feel better if you get it out of the way and know what your phone interaction is like. The worst thing that can happen is that you have nothing to talk about, and even that isn’t so terrible because they might be just as nervous as you. It’s never the end of the world to call first.

They say Guys always pay for the dates.
But really: It’s a good and friendly thing to do to offer to split the bill or just pay for the whole thing sometimes. I don’t expect my friends to pay for everything when we go out, so the same thing should be applied to dates. You should also just always have your own money so that you don’t have to rely on anyone for this sort of thing, but that’s another article. Splitting the bill shows empathy, and a willingness to share.

They say: If you like him, pretend you like the same things he likes.
But really: WHAT? Do what you like, always. If you happen to have similar interests that’s great, but a potential sweetie should be dating you because you are you, not a version of themselves that they like. I became a soccer fanatic overnight for one boyfriend, and learned the English Premier League like the back of my hand. Now that the relationship is over, soccer is just a reminder of the nonsense I put myself through and how my feigned fandom didn’t even keep him from breaking up with me. You can be supportive without morphing into somebody else.

If you’re dating for the first time or still getting a hang of it, advice can certainly be helpful, but it’s more important to do what makes sense to YOU, not some magazine’s idea of who you are. If you wanna call first and suggest seeing a movie, why not? Your crush might be just as nervous as you are, and relieved that someone finally said something. I’ve tried to make the first move whenever possible (texting, suggesting a date, or kissing first) because not only do I suck at being coy and suppressing my desires, I also just enjoy being dynamic and knowing that I am trusting my heart at all times. Sometimes I get rejected, but I would feel worst about never trying. Every time I tell my best friend about my latest adventure she says, “Babe, let him court you so you can gauge how he feels,” but I know that if he we are meant to be he won’t fault me for calling him first.

I’ve only had a few relationships, and even though I’m distressed when they end I’m always happy that I didn’t sacrifice myself in order to be with that person. Getting to really know someone is the most enjoyable and exciting part of a relationship, and where all of the important sharing takes place. Love is only a losing game when you try to cheat and sneak your way through the parts that make it worthwhile. ♦


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  • FlowerandtheVine September 13th, 2013 3:52 PM

    This is all such great advice (or non-advice?). Following your instincts will get you through a lot in life. Great article!

  • onandon September 13th, 2013 4:16 PM

    word. i’m in my first relationship and we did not play by the rules at all. he stayed over the first night we met, straight away we knew we liked each other and neither of us played any games. he text me first but i asked him to go on a date first. we never wait to reply to texts, we’re both very honest and have never been afraid to say we like each other or miss each other. every time i’ve played games with a guy, or they have with me, it’s ended in nothing. there is no point!! only issue i have with is dating a friend’s ex. you have to be sure otherwise you could lose a friend over nothing.

  • Lorelei September 13th, 2013 5:12 PM

    I swear, Rookie has perfect timing. Just the other day I was telling my friend about a date I went on and she was shocked that I was the one who drove, he didn’t open my door, and we each paid for ourselves. She then proceeded to give me a lecture on what she thinks the rules are.

  • ninesbadwolf September 13th, 2013 5:27 PM

    I love this article. Whenever my friends are saying to my other friends, “No, wait 3 days to text him” or “Don’t text back right away!” I just get exhausted by it and can’t help but roll my eyes and think “What’s the point? If he likes me and I like him, then why don’t we just do what we want?”

  • sfortunati September 13th, 2013 6:28 PM

    wow, i relate to this completely. all the relationship and dating games drive me crazy. and as much as i hated it, i harbored jealousy for my friends for being noticed by boys. I would never try to compete with other girls or get with a friend’s ex because i was so afraid of causing drama. but i’ve sort of realized that the right thing comes along on it’s own time, when you are honest with yourself and forget how it’s ‘supposed’ to happen

  • Sophie ❤ September 13th, 2013 6:33 PM

    Love these rules and tips! It’s kinda cool, kinda freaky that your relationships were both connected to that former friend on one way or another.

  • die_mad September 14th, 2013 12:20 AM

    All of my friends always insist on waiting “certain” amounts of time before even responding to a text from a guy, or they feel like they have to solve every problem with a guy over text RIGHT THEN. Like, respond right away if you want to, or don’t respond if you want to. I always figured everything about dating was much more chill, but as it turns out people can be really uptight!

  • GlitterKitty September 14th, 2013 12:26 AM

    Ahhh this is so perfect right now because
    #1 there’s this guy I really like but I’m not sure if I want to have a relationship with him
    #2 Harry potter reference
    # 3 really good advice that actually makes sense!

    And the part about you getting into soccer because your boyfriend liked soccer reminds me so much of Ann in Parks and Rec. She has all these phases that directly relate to her current boyfriend. Hilarious on TV but not very smart in real life!

  • Vicky K September 14th, 2013 3:42 AM

    As always great article.
    I’ve never used some of the “dating rules”.
    If I like the guy, I call him. I have got nothing to lose. And I don’t regret anything. Always take a chance whenever you can.

  • thinksassy September 14th, 2013 10:25 AM

    Wow, thank you for this article! ^^
    I’ve never been in a relationship before, mostly because I’m shy. Since I’ve never fallen in love, and since noone seemed to have a crush on me before, I just figured that relationships weren’t for me, like, I have a lot of strengths, but getting involved in relationships just isn’t one of those. But now I feel like I really want to do it. I want to try new things and be brave, and I’ve also met someone I’m interested in… the problem is, he told me he didn’t want to step into a relationship right now. Still, I thought I had some chance, because we have been flirting and we cared for each other and it was fun. But the next time we met, he just seemed generally uninterested, he didn’t talk to me at all. Since then, I can’t stop thinking about him. I want to know if he likes me but only as friends, or if he doesn’t really like me… or if he DOES like me, but still doesn’t feel like being involved in a relationship right now. If I knew it for sure that he wasn’t interested in me at all, at least I could move on and find someone else. But I just don’t have the courage to ask him out or anything.
    Hopefully this awesome article will help me to be more open about my feelings.

    • Mayabett September 15th, 2013 11:42 AM

      I think it’s unclear whether or not he’s interested or you, but he has told you explicitly that he doesn’t want a relationship. If that is what you want with him, you have to be careful. Why does he not want a relationship? That might be something you want to inquire into, because there are people who just got out of a relationship or emotional attachment and aren’t ready to dive back in, there are people who say that because they don’t have feelings for you, and there are people who say that because commitment can be a little frightening (or at least, the thought of it).

      In the end, even if you do want to date him, you might just have to respect what he told you. There are circumstances where the person might just be scared, but aside from feelings (yours or his), take into consideration what you’ve heard.
      It could be so much more fulfilling to pursue someone who’s open, as much as it’s hard when you have feelings for someone else.
      It’s a tough situation, but I feel that the best thing is to be honest with him but also respect what he wants. It might hurt, but there will always be great things ahead. :)

  • periwinkle_dreams September 14th, 2013 11:31 AM

    Great article! I think I “broke a rule” by initiating the first kiss between my boyfriend and I, and I have zero regrets about that. :) I tend to feel weird about splitting the bill, so I just treat for about half of our dates. He still pays for things more often than I do, but I let him because he says that’s something that he really wants to do for me and feels happy about because for him it’s an expression of love, not an annoying culturally-induced obligation. Which I know, because we’ve talked about it. Because communication and honesty are the BEST THINGS EVER for any relationship. :)

  • TinyWarrior September 14th, 2013 2:45 PM

    I LOVE THIS! In some ways I go by mainstream dating rules I guess, but in other ways I don’t. For example I asked my friend out on a date this summer, which was lovely but our romance ended quickly. Now I’m going out with his best friend (he said he was fine with it, though), but all of our friends are freaking out and acting like it’s *only* on me. LIKE DATING IS NOT ONE SIDED. SURE, MAYBE IT’S A LITTLE WEIRD THAT I’M DATING HIS BEST FRIEND NOW. BUT HIS BEST FRIEND CHOOSE ME TO DATE? IT’S NOT LIKE I AM FORCIBLY DATING HIM GEEZ PEOPLE ARE STRANGE

  • elliecp September 14th, 2013 6:04 PM

    I love this. such great advice…the only thing I can say is if there’s one thing that doesn’t feel right, get out right away. Regretting a relationship sucks. Be honest with your feelings <3

  • NovaIrie September 14th, 2013 7:20 PM

    I really liked this article it was very real and spoke about the way dating really is and should be. Life is not a movie no matter how much we want it to be nor should we expect a perfect romance like what we see on tv or read about in books. Being real with your significant other is extremely important because if we aren’t being real what are we? I don’t want anyone to like a fake me more than who I really am. My name was used again as a fake name I think this is turning into a conspiracy.

  • speakthroughvision September 14th, 2013 7:23 PM

    Where has this been all my life?? This helps me so much with the relationship situation im in right now. I can also relate to it big time because the relationship im STILL messily in started around the same time yours did in the spring… I wish I had read this 4 months ago!!! Thank you

  • Glenny September 14th, 2013 10:35 PM

    THIS IS AWESOME! Seriously so important for people to read.

    I think that the heteronormative and lame dating advice that women get also contribute to the whole “Woman in Love” thing that Anna talks about in this article: We’re made to be totally reliant on the male for our happiness by these rules, and so we lose our independence as lovers and HUMAN BEINGS and our male lovers gain power over us.

  • whyamidreamingwhenimstillawake September 14th, 2013 11:25 PM



  • wallflower152 September 15th, 2013 2:10 AM

    One time a cute guy who I’d never met gave me his number and I’d always heard that you should wait two weeks to call/text after someone gives you their number. WTF two weeks?! I text him the next day and we ended up dating for a while and he told me that he thought I wasn’t ever gonna text him cuz I didn’t text him the first day. And as for the paying for dates, I definitely always try to be as equal as possible. If you’re in a relationship you should be equals and therefore one person shouldn’t have to pay all the time, totally unfair and outdated. And as for the dating friends exes, just do what you want unless it is a particularly sensitive situation.

  • anindieeducation September 15th, 2013 3:11 AM

    Wait…are you reading my mind? Great article, I always struggle with dating rules because I hate ‘acting’ how we are expected to act. I can’t do the patient/coy thing but to be honest I’d rather a guy liked me for me than for the ‘Cosmo’ version that I’m not very good at pretending to be.


  • elevatemelater September 15th, 2013 7:13 AM

    Good article! Totally agree and wish more young women would realise the control they have over relationships, rather than always waiting for boys to kick them off.

    Just a little note though – you’ve got a typo on “important” in the paragraph beginning “If you’re dating for the first time…”

  • hellocatty September 15th, 2013 2:04 PM

    “Remember when Ron had to wear Voldemort’s horcrux around his neck and he became insanely jealous and suspicious of Harry and Hermione’s friendship? I started feeling that sort of resentment about my friends. With a self-esteem that delicate, thoughts like I’m actually thinner than Friend A and I totally kick Friend B’s ass in class so why am I single? creep up so easily. I adored my girls and had always shared in their happiness, so this small knot of jealousy was really annoying. I never thought about making the first move because none of them were making the first move in their relationships, and I wanted exactly what they had.”

    This paragraph really got me. For so long I kept OD’ing on the Bitter Pill and all the while trying to play by the Rules According to Cosmo–no wonder I was single!

    But those days are behind me–it’s just dropping the Rule Book that takes some time.

  • serenaaa September 16th, 2013 12:32 AM

    I finally see something similar in Chinese culture and in American culture. It is so true that many teen girls date like following some rules. But, a lot of times when we are really facing a relationship, we tend not to think too much about those rules and end up in breaking those rules. And I totally agree that we should be ourselves. Pretending to be a perfect girlfriend is going to make you exhausted. I like those suggestions you made at the end about what we are thinking and what we should really do. Doing what your hear tells you to do just makes everything much easier.

  • Lemons September 16th, 2013 5:50 AM

    This is excellent advice…I’m so glad somebody wrote about this! All those outdated rules were preached to me when I was growing up and I was so inundated by submissive ideals I started off dating with such a warped sense of inferiority!

    Thankfully my common sense kicked in pretty fast and I started going after what I wanted on my own terms. And besides..nobody ever tells you just how incredibly sexy confidence can be!

  • loonylizzy September 16th, 2013 7:43 PM

    Love this story!! Especially the part about how you don’t have to wait for the guy to make the first move. I had a really great summer romance this year, and I initiated it by writing the guy a letter telling him that I liked him. He wrote back saying that he felt the same way but would probably have been too shy to say anything if I hadn’t made the first move. After that we spent the summer holding hands and cloud watching and having picnics at the local botanical gardens and going for long walks together. It didn’t end up working out (he moved away at the end of the summer), but I’m really glad that I wrote that letter :)

    • loonylizzy September 16th, 2013 7:44 PM


  • Nova September 17th, 2013 10:01 AM

    Hello, everyone! I am so glad you all seem to have enjoyed the article. The last thing that dating should be is stressful and put pressure on us to the point where we’re bending over backwards to achieve impossible standards. I think relationships are so much better when they are an extension of a friendship. Oh, and serenaaa, I am South African and the fact that the experiences are so similar just shows how widely the commonalities reach, right?

  • Nomali September 18th, 2013 8:33 PM

    Pretty much.

  • septemba October 9th, 2013 3:07 PM

    I do agree with this to a certain extent, but not really about the idea that dating friends’ exes should be ok. Whilst I understand the acceptable boundaries of your situation were different given that you and the ‘friend’ were not speaking at the time, I generally think it is a good idea to steer clear of one’s friends’ former flames. I went out with a boy for a little while and though we didn’t reach the stage of ‘love’ or anything, I think I would be pretty hurt if a friend decided to begin a relationship with him. Having a relationship with someone who hurt your friend is a big no to me, unless you have your friend’s blessing.