Dating etiquette?
July 22, 2005 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Half-past Thirty Dating Filter: Here I am dating at 34, and it sure is a drag. But online dating sites make it strangely easy also. I'm curious about how people think about dating etiquette.

How do you balance first impressions with actually getting to know a person? What goes into the decision to become exclusive with one person? How many dates is typical before you have sex (or are substantially physically intimate), and what other factors are at play? Once you have sex what are your new assumptions about the person you're dating (that might be unspoken even if you've had a sensible conversation before sex)? In general, what is your etiquette of dating?

Although I have quite a bit of experience in relationships, I have less experience of actually dating. I have my own ideas about these things, and I've discussed this with friends, I'm just interested in other's experiences and thoughts. Particularly those of women, since I'm a man.

Oh, and I'm curious specifically about dating in order to develop a long-term relationship, not in being a player.

[If anyone offers me a ring in this thread, I promise to flag it 'best answer.']
posted by OmieWise to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, none of your questions have one simple answer. My 'etiquette' of dating is to be myself and let the flow determine the direction.
posted by mischief at 9:46 AM on July 22, 2005

Well I've often cited the Ruth Ginsberg rule of dating, otherwise known as "no sex in 3 times and you're out", but this might be geared more towards the player. I would say you'd have to at least signal things are going somewhere by the second date and make things happen on the third. At the very least, how else is he suppose to know you're not stringing him along?
posted by geoff. at 9:48 AM on July 22, 2005

Oops you're a guy. Yeah don't let her string you along past 3 dates without getting any ass. Seriously, this is not a jock cocky thing but a stay-away from cockteases kind of thing. Some girls live for the game.
posted by geoff. at 9:49 AM on July 22, 2005

I'll agree with mischief. It's a misconception that people are generally looking for the same thing. Some people will attempt to strip off in your living room on the first date, and some people won't be thinking of sleeping with you for several months.

My girlfriend has told me that basically not being a sleazy jackass on the first date is the most important thing. I was slow to make any moves on her, but our success was all down to giving great first impressions, and then things can start getting more.. interesting. We went exclusive after just a few days as we felt rather well matched (and we're not dating types anyway), and are still together. My assumptions of her did not change after "you know what", as we were already close by that time, but yeah we talked about it a lot, and I think that's important.

Don't be worried about knocking people back. You need to find the right person, not just any person. Lastly, my #1 dating tip.. don't date someone who you cannot communicate wth frankly and honestly about the important things. That might apply for the first few dates, when you're still impression making.. but any good further relationship is based on communication.
posted by wackybrit at 9:57 AM on July 22, 2005 [6 favorites]

Yeah don't let her string you along past 3 dates without getting any ass.

Wow. I'm so glad I haven't followed that advice in my previous dating life. I would have missed out on some great relationships.

My number one rule of dating is that everybody is different. Some people you date will assume that most members of their sex is substantially similar in their outlook towards dating. They're wrong, and your past experience is probably proof of that, but they might be a little confused when you point it out.
posted by grouse at 10:05 AM on July 22, 2005

I fear I might have worded my question infelicitously. I'm not really asking for help dating, I do ok in that department, and I recognize the kinds of variations that exist between people and situations. I'm more interested in how people think about dating, about how people personally think about those variations for themselves. geoff.'s contribution, while radically different from my own approach to these questions, and a bit distasteful to me as a result, is precisely his take on what's important.
posted by OmieWise at 10:06 AM on July 22, 2005

Oops you're a guy. Yeah don't let her string you along past 3 dates without getting any ass. Seriously, this is not a jock cocky thing but a stay-away from cockteases kind of thing. Some girls live for the game.

That might work if you're a "dating person" who expects to be dating for many years and isn't looking for a proper relationship. The OP has stated that a long-term relationship is his goal, so your advice isn't good in this case. The best relationships take time to build.
posted by wackybrit at 10:06 AM on July 22, 2005

I really don't think about dating. Communicating with another person is about spontaneity; too many parameters, too many variables. Ask something more concrete, OmieWise.
posted by mischief at 10:13 AM on July 22, 2005

I haven't dated in about 20 years, so this may not be all that helpful, but from talking with a friend of mine who's still dating, and watching her interaction with a guy my wife was trying to set her up with, it's my sense that first impressions are excruciatingly important. That first impression gets formed in about 10 seconds, unfortunately, and constitutes the starting point, from which the rest of the date occurs. I think this may be why the whole speed dating movement has met with so much acceptance, because it allows people to just form a first impression. I think this is pretty unfortunate, by the way, as first impressions seem to be pretty much on the order of hotornot ratings. I haven't read Blink, but I was wondering if this is part of the system Gladwell is talking about.

My other observation is that the fantasy of a soulmate, the one right person for each of us, is a totally destructive force on dating, because people wih this fantasy are rating the real person that they are with against a fantasy person who has no flaws.
posted by jasper411 at 10:16 AM on July 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've almost never dated per se, which sounds like it may be similar to your experience. My basic feeling, though I'm shacked up for now, is that I still don't date and probably wouldn't if I found myself to be single again. What I mean by that is, I meet people often by going out and doing things that I like to do. If I meet people I seem to click with, I'll often invite them out to do something with just me [this is similar when meeting people online, early meetups with lots of people, further meetups more one-on-one] and if that seems to be working out and I get similar signals from them, I'd move towards getting to know them more intimately. All of this could take place over an afternoon, or it could take place over weeks. In my experience if I've been steadily interacting with someone for more than a month and no moves have been made [by me or by him] I usually assume the chemistry just isn't there and sort of mentally move on in terms of looking for longer term relationships.

I have to agree with geoff. that it's good to cut and run at some point if it looks like you're making the right moves and not getting any responses of a "yeah I'm into you" way. I don't mean just never return a phone call, but shift your romantic interests elsewhere. I've developed great friendships but also sort of misled myself spending too much time with people in what I thought was a getting to know them better sort of I'm-into-you way and they thought was just spending friendly time together.

For me, once I've started sleeping with someone, I like to know if we're exclusive or not. It's not a dealbreaker either way [though if I'm looking for a long term relationsup, I lean towards exclusive] but nothing sucks like assuming because you're sleeping over someone's house four nights a week that you're their one and only, and finding out in some rude way that you're not. I've also found, historically, that people will sometimes tell you what they think you want to hear, so you have to pay attention to actions as well as words, or just act directly things like "When I asked if you were dating other people, I also meant are you fucking other people?"

If exclusivity is important to you, or moving towards a long term relationship, be up front about it without appearing desperate. The long term relationships I've been in have been like wackybrit's: we just knew when we started seeing each other seriously that we didn't want to see other people. Maybe that's good choices at work or maybe it's just good luck. I sort of hate drama in relationships so I think that by leaning away from overly dramatic types I may have selected for more straightforward types.

In any case, best of luck, I don't envy your position. If you meet any nice ladies online and need an "I met this guy in person and he seems like an alright guy to me" note, drop me a line.
posted by jessamyn at 10:21 AM on July 22, 2005 [2 favorites]

Your question reminded me of this post from Gawker today, about a new reality show following Internet-dating couples.

Many of these dates seem to talk about the same, internerdy things. Everyone feels weird about putting pictures online. Everyone is horrified when someone doesn’t look as advertised. Everyone hates people who lie about their age. No one knows how soon, when dating someone from the web, is too soon for sex. Um, how about never?

Clearly, you're not the only person thinking about this.
posted by junkbox at 10:31 AM on July 22, 2005

I have to disagree with geoff., respectfully. I'm a man and I am NEVER ready to have sex on the first date, even if she is, and three is pushing it as well. I guess I want to feel friendly with the person before I stick my dick in her. If we're friends prior to any "dating" then yes, sex can happen a lot faster.

But 3 dates = cocktease? That's ridiculous. However, there may be some value in this perspective (depending on you, I guess). Speaking for myself, I want someone with a healthy sexual appetite, who's comfortable about sex, and with whom I have some chemistry. If sparks start flying by date 3, maybe there's something special there. But I wouldn't despair after 5 or 6 dates if no sex had happened yet. The best sexual partners I've had have taken time to get to know.

The thing with online dating is to know the difference between a 3-date acquaintance that you haven't had sex with yet, and a 3-date acquaintance that you've got zero chemistry with. I once went to 6 dates before realizing that "hmm... yeah... there's just nothing there, is there?"

mischief's answer is correct, though I'd rephrase. Even in my own anecdotal experience there has been a lot of variance. Don't set any paramters, mentally, or you'll be preparing to be disappointed. Take each individual as they are, and expect to react to them differently. There's no predicting or controlling how it will all work.
posted by scarabic at 10:34 AM on July 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

As an English guy in my twenties, I'm quite jealous of the 'dating' thing, because it doesn't seem to happen with me or people I know that much. People seem to meet at work, pick someone up in a bar, or simply get hammered and drunkenly grope each other. A lot of girls seem to either assume you're together if you see each other a couple of times, or else are looking for players to chat them up.

I like the idea that you can meet up with someone, maybe kiss or whatever, but it's still part of the date and you could be dating other people. Seems like a more civilised way of doing things.
posted by lunkfish at 10:45 AM on July 22, 2005

Hey, OmieWise, I have a nice, long response typed up, then I realized that my wife, who reads here, might not be happy with my posting it here for all to read. Sure, there are no simple answers, there are exceptions to every rule, all that, but there are some good general guidelines. Email on the way.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:04 AM on July 22, 2005

Definitely what mischief stated. I met my current, and permanent, partner when I was 35, (she was 30). On our first "date" I thought of it as a platonic thing. We were exclusive from our second date onward.

About the only "rule" I followed when I was dating, was that if I encountered someone who thought we were following some kind of structured path on rails, I jumped off of the ride almost immediately.
posted by Manjusri at 11:06 AM on July 22, 2005 [2 favorites]

I'm more interested in how people think about dating, about how people personally think about those variations for themselves.
So, basically this is the dreaded ChatFilter, huh?

Based on your mixtape felicity, if I didn't date Seattle-only and over-35-only, I'd date you myself.
posted by matildaben at 11:59 AM on July 22, 2005

[If anyone offers me a ring in this thread, I promise to flag it 'best answer.']

Sure, Omie, I'll give you a ring. Send me your phone number...
posted by spacewrench at 12:14 PM on July 22, 2005

Actually -- not really ChatFilter. There are a lot of us in this situation. I've had a string of long-term relationships, and prior to that never really "Dated" because for people our age, dating was considered passe throughout our teens and early 20s. Like the English fello above, you just hooked up and waited to see what would come of it.

Like OmieWise, now I'm a lot more mature and not really interested in hooking up with people I just met. I want to hear about how dating relationships are negotiated in the 30s, too. But I think we may need more specific questions asked in order to get good answers.

don't let her string you along past 3 dates without getting any ass. Seriously, this is not a jock cocky thing but a stay-away from cockteases kind of thing. Some girls live for the game.

Ummm...I haven't checked my watch in a it 1953? Or is this person just really young? Seriously -- with an attitude like that, if you're not getting any after 3 dates, it's probably not the girl that has the problem.
posted by Miko at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2005

Based on your mixtape felicity, if I didn't date Seattle-only and over-35-only, I'd date you myself.

We're now officially in Craigslist territory. Ask MetaFilter has jumped the shark.
posted by grouse at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2005

lunkfish, that sounds like my style of dating. get mixed up with people you like, drink and have fun and do stuff, and fun sometimes relationshippy things happen. it seems to get harder to do that as you get older though.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 12:23 PM on July 22, 2005

lunkfish, that sounds like my style of dating. get mixed up with people you like, drink and have fun and do stuff, and fun sometimes relationshippy things happen. it seems to get harder to do that as you get older though.

It's all good doing fun stuff and getting off with people, but a lot of girls will assume that you're then going out. Going out with someone is a big deal and I find that a bit immature. Girls who date seem to know what they want more and are clear about when they're ready to take it further.

I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side though - wouldn't want to give up drunken pulling.
posted by lunkfish at 12:45 PM on July 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'll give you ring number two! Pick Me I love murder ballads dearly!
posted by mrs.pants at 2:51 PM on July 22, 2005

I'm 26, and have been doing the internet dating thing for about 3 years. A year and a half of that was interrupted by a girlfriend, which I managed to snag from one of my internet dates. She dumped me a few weeks ago (she's battling depression and found she didn't love me anymore), so I'm back in the game, and just had a date from the internet last night.

I've found that, for me, there's no firm answer, but there are some rules to which I'll adhere. I try to keep email contact going for 4-5 emails. I found, early on, that if I went on a date with a girl with whom I hadn't had that level of contact, I wouldn't have any good questions to ask her, and I'd have to resort to the typical small-talk questions that don't present me as thoughtful and don't allow her to be attractive. After a while, I'll either ask for or she'll offer her phone number, and I'll plan something close to her area and take her out. I pay.

It's not a tremendously successful endeavour. Here in Los Angeles, the women often seem utterly disinterested when they arrive, even if they flirted over emails. I think there are a lot of women here who date specifically for free, nice dinners. I've even had a few specifically ask for a nice dinner when I suggest meeting over coffee. Also, the fact that I am not "LA attractive" (I'd be a hottie anywhere else, but here, metrosexual hipsters are the prescription of the day; I'm too ordinary and kind to be artistic and dangerous) doesn't put them in a flirty mood.

As for sex, there I can't help you. I tend to end the courtship if I detect no chemistry, as I'm not out for booty. The only girl I had sex with from the internet was my girlfriend, and we chose to be exclusive before getting naughty (5 dates).
posted by Pacrand at 2:52 PM on July 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

What lunkfish said. I think most Brits look at this quaint "dating" thing you nice American chaps do and we feel like we're looking at an old movie. I've never had a "date" in my life and I wouldn't have a clue how to go about getting such a thing even if I wanted to. You meet someone and you hit it off. Or you don't. Maybe at work, maybe in a bar or club, maybe wherever. It's just... life. Isn't it? And if not why not?

Ummm... but, yes, advice. I obviously would favour ditching all preconceived notions or concerns about "How often this, how many times before that?" etc and just meet people, talk to people, see how it goes. I've met women where sparks have flown instantly and we've been rutting the same day. I've had a serious relationship where I knew the woman for over two years before we even realised we fancied giving it a whirl. Just relax, be yourself and don't analyse so much.
posted by Decani at 2:57 PM on July 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's interesting -- what the Brits are saying is how Americans did things 15, 20 years ago. I remember snickering in high school when a parent would say "Oh, do you have a date?" Sounded sooo old-fashioned and stupid.

Maybe you guys across the pond are still able to meet each other in the course of normal daily life. Maybe something has happened to our culture that means we can no longer depend on making those connections face-to-face, and have to resort to the intentionality of dating as a weeding-out process. I don't know...are all the boys sitting in their living rooms playing xBox? Is this why I have to meet them online?
posted by Miko at 3:01 PM on July 22, 2005

Miko - I think you're right, there is something screwy with American culture that prevents us making connections. I don't even know where I'd meet women besides the internet.
posted by Pacrand at 3:36 PM on July 22, 2005

I hate the British non-dating drunken pulling culture. But what do I know?
posted by grouse at 3:43 PM on July 22, 2005

First off, to address the "three dates or she's a cocktease" theory, I don't really find the number of dates to be an issue at all in the sex department. Things happen when they happen and even when they happen early or late, they happen at their own pace, leading to either development or a denouement.

It is, as mischief said above, largely about spontaneity. Dating doesn't have to be nearly as much of a chore as people here and in the real world are making it out to be. Sure, it sucks to be alone. It sucks to have to continually restore your charisma back to default mode if it doesn't work out with several women in a row. But you learn a lot along the way. In the end, the tropes of etiquette that are implied within the question aren't nearly as important as being able to feel and function in the abstract.

Particularly when both parties are being themselves and are naturally curious and comfortable with each other. That would be the ultimate gauge, I think. Being comfortable enough with someone that the two of you are able to balance the desires in the early months of jumping on each other every minute with the equally important idea of getting to know each other, emotionally and intuitively.
posted by ed at 4:21 PM on July 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Pacrand - I used to feel that way, but then I started doing league sports and found that there's a lot of people who hook up that way. (Except for me, of course, but that's because I'm socially inept...)
posted by SpecialK at 4:44 PM on July 22, 2005

Don't overthink it man. I think the best way to meet people is to get out and do activities that interest you, or meet people through your friends. That way they already pass through a filter of sorts. The best "etiquette" is to be yourself. If you're looking for a long-term relationship, they're going to find out everything about you anyway. Before I even went on the first date with my current girlfriend, I told her the most embarassing thing I could think of about myself. Good icebreaker. Good luck.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 8:16 PM on July 22, 2005 [2 favorites]

Communicate, communicate, communicate. That's my only real advice, longer answer follows

I like jessamyn's answer but I am coming from across a cultural gap -- she says "I still don't date," but then outlines an excellent process for getting to know someone you met doing things you like. By the time you're in a situation where you're getting to know someone one-on-one, that's called a date where I come from, whether you're taking a girl out to dinner or playing scrabble at home. It doesn't matter whether you find meeting girls online easier or if you want to get to know an acquaintance better, it's still called a date around here. So, knowing that I have that bias in mind, here goes...

First impressions vs getting to know them: It's true that "you never get a second chance to make a first impression," but then again, you get a billion chances to get to know someone better. So technically, though you may want a perfect first impression, it only needs to be good enough that she doesn't decide to leave and never see you again. My wife, who met me through living in the same apartment complex, thought I was hopelessly nerdy until she met the rest of students in the Physics department. (I did manage to make a good "repeat first impression" on the third date, where finally I dressed up enough to actually look good).

Physical intimacy: With my religion and geography, people here still want to save sex until marriage. Even if you don't subscribe to the "sex outside of marriage is wrong" bit, I would think it unwise to consider sex until both partners think they will be mating for life. It's just such an intimate act that I think you're setting yourself up for heartbreak otherwise. If you're really intimate (in the non-sexual sense) with each other before you add sex into the mix, there's no new assumptions about the person you're with, but that takes more than just "a sensible conversation" a la Jerry Seinfeld and Elaine.

Physical Intimacy II (how many dates is typical before some sort of substantial physical intimacy): I'll assume you're still dating people you're at least attracted to; if the attraction is mutual, and you decide to increase the level of physical intimacy, the best etiquette I can think of is to communicate. Why is it that when people are trying to get to know each other better, the physical part of that seems to be a world of unspoken and mismatched expectations? Okay, making the first move, holding her hand, or stealing a kiss can be terrifying because you don't know whether she'll reciprocate, and you certainly don't want to spoil the moment by asking permission. When to make the first move? When you think it's right, of course. Just give her an option -- extend your hand, don't grab hers. Or bring your face a little closer for the kiss, but don't move in for the kill. That way if it's too early for her, at least she knows you're interested, but not a perv, and if she is interested too you don't keep her waiting. Once it is clear that you feel some passion for each other, don't keep guessing what the best thing would be -- if you both know what you want, and where you want to draw the line, you won't ever regret your behavior.

Becoming exclusive: The best dating advice I was ever given was this: "you'll know when it's right." Since you want a long term relationship, if you date enough people you'll eventually find one person that a long term relationship is just comfortable with -- the rest of dating is just good practice. Again, the only truly necessary etiquette is to just make sure you communicate.
posted by rossmik at 2:44 AM on July 23, 2005

I would think it unwise to consider sex until both partners think they will be mating for life. It's just such an intimate act that I think you're setting yourself up for heartbreak otherwise.

Thanks for your other good advice, but in this sentence you set the sex up to be an enormous deal. It's not that big a deal to people in their mid-30s. It's not a small deal -- we're certainly acknowledging a desire to move beyond the immediate hook-up -- but it's not some shining, distant mountaintop, either. The question of possibly "mating for life" is not one I even want on the table until I have some idea what "mating for this weekend" is like. Sorry.

Looking back on my own life, sure there's been a bit of heartbreak, but sex isn't really what made it heartbreaking. And anyway, I would never, ever, want to have lived the last 20 years without any sex. It would have been impossible to have had the long, rewarding, and profoundly important relationships I have enjoyed. The fact that they didn't result in a walk down the aisle (and possibly, subsequent messy divorce) really doesn't constitute a good argument that I should have stayed chaste.

Your point on communication is a good one. Perhaps it's easy to make too much of the negotiation, and drag in fears that I could somehow "blow it" with someone I don't know well. I suppose the truth is, if you've found enough common ground to think that there might really be something there, you should be able to talk about the developing situation.
posted by Miko at 7:41 AM on July 23, 2005

Thanks for your response, Miko; one of the things I love about MeFi is that I regularly learn how much variety there is in the world and how narrow my perspective is.

As far as "other's experiences and thoughts" go, rest assured that for people of my background, "enormous" doesn't even begin to describe how big a deal sex is, whether you're 18, 36, 54, or 72. As you wisely point out, however, this attitude may not be universally shared, and "unwise" was probably too judgmental a word to use.

But I suppose the general attitude here concerning "life" vs "the weekend" is that if you're prepared to mate for life, you can change what mating for the weekend may be like. I couldn't expect to immediately know what would be best for my wife or expect her to immediately know what would be best for me, even if we both had been more experienced before we met. After all, everyone is sexually unique, and in a long term relationship, you're probably already prepared for the fact that at some point, your sexual compatibility will be affected by aging in general, if not by medical problems, changes in appearance, changes in libido, depression, and all the other things people ask anonymous questions about on AskMe. As always, though, given a good level of communication and commitment, practice makes perfect :-)

(Again, YMMV. This is just the view from where I sit)
posted by rossmik at 3:46 PM on July 23, 2005

« Older What if I don't RETURN TO SENDER?   |   Suggest a Wine Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.