Finding and keeping a lover is like sitting your exams, only with more rules. Don’t mention the ex, don’t have sex on a first date, don’t eat garlic, don’t forget to wear your lucky pants… I could go on, but the internet only has so many pages to go round.
But rules assume that all people and relationships are the same. If dating for 10 years before marriage works for one couple, therefore it must work for all… right? Well no. In fact, by slavishly following rules rather than listening to your heart, you may be doing your happiness more harm than good.
Some chunks of received wisdom hold a lot of truth, but many do not. The key is to follow your own path according to how you feel and how your relationship is going. Here are 10 rules that you should question, or even ditch altogether.
1. Don’t mention the ex
If you so much as hint that you’ve ever dated anyone else, your new relationship is sunk before it’s even set sail – or so the theory goes. But is this rule really so sensible? If you’re on a date with someone you click with, you’ll find yourselves sharing all sorts of stories, hopes, worries and dreams before the evening is out, and your ex is very likely to figure in at least one of them.
Rather than struglle not keep your ex out of the conversation entirely, mention them in a friendly, dispassionate way. Don’t go out of your way to mention them, but don’t be afraid to refer to them if the context arises. Let your date know that you’re mature and sorted enough to say “my ex” without collapsing into a sobbing heap. Make light of it and move on: “not supposed to mention the ex, am I? Shame, I was just about to buy you another drink…”
2. Never have sex on the first date
Sometimes, as the old advert used to say, you just can’t help acting on impulse. Having sex on a first date does not mean a woman is “easy” and a man is pushy. It may just mean that two people really, really fancy each other. There’s no reason why they won’t want to see each other again and have lots more great sex.
If your date is only after a shag, it won’t make the blindest bit of difference if you do it on the first date or the fifth – they’ll still dump you afterwards.
3. Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen
Human beings need their egos stroked on a daily basis, so they’re attracted to people who like them. Treating ‘em mean only makes ‘em go and find someone else. No-one wants a stalker, but subtly letting them know you’re interested is the way to get a second date.
4. If it’s meant to be, you’ll know at first sight
Love is a stew of lust, friendship, trust, fascination, empathy and madness, and it takes time to develop. (We’re talking about romantic love, not love for your cat, or your Macbook Pro.) Lust at first sight happens all the time, but it ain’t love until you’ve shared a bathroom.
5. The man should pay on a first date
This is the “Manhattan rule” of dating. A newspaper outlined it thus: “You are a lady. Let him be the man.” Oh right, I’ll just get my Geisha outfit. You can’t apply hard and fast rules to this, because it depends on so many factors. Who asked for the date, whether one of you had to travel, or one earns significantly more… all sorts. Many men do like to pay, especially if you’ve made an effort to dress up (call it the legwax tax), but it doesn’t mean he’s boss.
6. Your one true soulmate is out there somewhere
A lovely spiritual idea, and a load of hogwash. Kindred spirits are the stuff of airport novels. Fact is, the world is stuffed with potential lovers for you. The idea that we each have one true love is not only drivel, it’s dangerous. If you believe that your ex was your destined soulmate, you’ll never get over them, and you’ll never give anyone else a chance.
7. Be their best friend, and it will turn into love
Many is the lovelorn man or woman who has tried to seduce their crush by being their bestest buddy. If you’re there when they need a shoulder, surely one day they’ll realise that they can’t live without you? A close, long-term friendship can indeed turn into love. But it probably won’t. If someone’s not interested in dating you now, there’s no reason why they’ll be more interested after a year using you as a freebie psychotherapist.
8. Compatible couples like all the same things
It’s a buzz to have loads in common, but it does not mean you’d make a perfect couple. Likewise, if you don’t like all the same things, there’s no reason why you can’t have a decent relationship. Don’t be too quick to run away from someone if you notice “uncool” books or CDs on their shelves, or because they’re a vegan and you’re a bacon addict. Learn and be inspired by your differences.
9. Never shack up too quickly
You probably know a couple who dated for a few intense weeks before announcing their engagement. You showered them in congratulations, but you thought: “It’ll never last.” Indeed, that crazy infatuation may wear off to leave little long-term compatibility. On the other hand, it may not. Sometimes you “just know”.
Likewise, a long courtship doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage. Brief, unhappy marriages often follow courtships of 10 years or more. Marriage can seem like a way to put the spark back into a relationship that had run its course. Sadly, it’s nothing of the sort.
10. Never cut short a first date
So if you turn up for a blind date and don’t fancy them, you should stay all evening anyway – partly to be polite, and partly because you may change your mind by chucking-out time. We disagree. Life’s too short to waste an entire evening of it on someone you’d rather carry up Ben Nevis than have sex with. You’re wasting your time and theirs, and you’re leading them on. Have one drink, say that you don’t think there’s any chemistry, thank them and bid farewell.