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The Non-Rule, 'Rules' of Dating

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I have read article after article about dating. I've read more books than I care to share, listened to more podcasts than I feel comfortable admitting and have even turned to movies in times of complete and utter desperation to understand the whole concept, which truly is foreign to me. And after more than eight years in long-term relationships that have all ended for one reason or another, I find myself back in the dating world, this time with a different attitude.

This summer is will be one year that I have been single. I started dating on and off back in December, but found it to be tedious, exhausting, challenging and for a lack of better words, completely emotionally brutal. In the month of January alone, I went on close to 15 dates with a wide range of men, from lawyers to yogis to hippies to businessmen. I dated a banker and a farmer, a cowboy (not kidding) and a meditation instructor. I even dated a guy who was already married once and had kids from his previous relationship. But what I found was something that I really wasn't expecting. The thing is, no one really has any idea how dating really "works." I have spent the past year of my life doing my best to decode and understand the ins and outs of dating. When is the right time to kiss someone? How many dates before having "the conversation" about going exclusive or continuing to date other people? Can I text him after the first date or do I have to wait for him to text me? And the list goes on and on. And so I would turn to my friends for advice -- to call or not to call, to share my feelings or to play it cool, etc. And what I found is that everyone has something different to say. One friend says do this, another friend says do that -- yet nothing seemed to align with how I was really feeling.

One day, after about four dates with a guy, I felt like things were going well and assumed they were moving forward. I thought it was a great time to tell him how I felt and see what happened, but my friend literally removed my phone from my hands warning me that I would "ruin" any potential I had with him by being too honest. I listened to her and never shared how I felt and the guy ended up telling me that he wanted to date someone who was a little more honest and forward with her feelings. Wonderful. And just like that, I was back at square one.

I recently relocated to the East Coast, and about two weeks into my time here, I decided to start dating again. I signed up with a popular online dating site, thinking it couldn't hurt to try again, and assuming that men on the East Coast would at least offer a different outcome than I had been experiencing with men in Los Angeles. And to be astonishment, things have been completely different this time around. Though I can't say that I have cracked the code, or now have endless answers to dating questions, I did learn something about myself that seemed to translate to my dating experience.

I decided this time that I was going to go into dating with the intention of having FUN. I'd gotten to a point months ago where dating felt like a grueling chore, and I can't say I ever really had fun while I was dating. So this time, I made it clear as day on my profile that I wanted to have fun. I realize now that without fun, there really isn't anything. In my opinion, fun is a great place for two people (who don't know each other at all) to begin -- because let's be honest -- if I am not having fun, I am likely not going to want to see someone again. And on the flip side, I imagine that if a man isn't having fun with a woman, it's a mutual feeling.

In the past, I had a negative image of having fun while dating. I thought that if I told men I wanted to have fun that they wouldn't take me seriously or see me as the mature and dynamic woman I am. I assumed they would see or hear the word "fun" and think I was shallow, or not looking for a relationship with substance, or anything deep or meaningful. But what I have found is just the opposite. I am being very honest and authentic when I speak about having fun. What has ended up happening is that while having fun with someone, I build a potential foundation for things moving forward. I had a friend describe dating as, "Just keep doing it until it stops being fun," and I thought it was genius. It's true that it could last for weeks or months or years -- or even the rest of my life. But it's also true that as soon as things stop being fun, it's time to move on. This doesn't mean not communicating or not moving forward into a relationship or into something deeper and more meaningful, but it does mean that the foundation is still based on having fun together.

It's true that more than half of the people on the dating websites (or people participating in any and all kinds of dating) are in fact "looking for that special someone." It's in that fierce search that they actually miss out on connecting with someone who may or may not turn out to be that person. I admit I used to have a checklist when it came to men. And sure, as a 30-year-old woman, I have my fair share of "deal breakers."

What has changed is that I am more than willing to go out on a date or two (or six or seven) with someone who I wouldn't have normally dated. What I am learning is that if I am too rigid and focus too much attention on what I am "looking" for (and what everything must look like and feel like in that process), I am missing out on allowing myself to experience something special. Because really, the specialness is in those moments where I am on a date with someone and laughing so hard my stomach hurts and just enjoying the time together and not focussing on what comes next. The next thing will come just as fast as the last thing did, but it comes back around to just being in what's happening right now.

And as far as the calling and the texting and the "rules" about dating and intimacy and all of that, my motto is just be honest. If it feels like the right time to have a conversation, have it. If you feel nervous about having a conversation, say that. If you had a great time and want to send a short text, do it. Why not? Life is short. Sure, it may be breaking all of those dating "rules," but at least it's authentic and eliminates the games, at least a little bit. In the end I may still have a broken heart, or feel disappointed when a guy doesn't call or text me or seem as interested as I want him to be, but it's better to know than not to know. Dating may bring forward my worst insecurities and a lot of unfavorable feelings that I need to deal with, but it's in all that dishonesty and game playing that issues start and the fun of the whole thing starts to get smaller and smaller. My truth is that I'd rather just be myself, however it looks, and keep on doing what I want, which is to have fun and keep it real with myself. I don't really think it could be easier than that.

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