Rules for dating: 1...
May 2, 2014 10:05 AM   Subscribe

This is mainly for my much younger sister although it might be relevant for little oink someday ... For the first time she has several people interested in her (they have said so). She asks me for advice. She seems flattered by the attention but not sure how to proceed. They are all good friends. I don't know what to say. Hovering between an unrealistic desire to keep her from getting hurt (don't first relationships often?) and the recognition she has a good head thus trusting her decision. Is there some basic dos and donts?
posted by oink to Human Relations (30 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
How old is she? Is she still living at home? Does she work with these people, or are they classmates, or what? Most advice is going to depend a lot on context.
posted by rtha at 10:11 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, a couple basic don'ts: Don't play games, and don't make people guess what you mean or what you want (or, if you do, don't be surprised if you get something you didn't expect, or don't get what you want).
posted by rtha at 10:12 AM on May 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: In addition to rtha's very good advice (and questions about context), I would add:

- Don't pit people against each other.

- If one of these people is a close friend's recent ex (or anyone who isn't 100% "available"), back away and don't poke the crazy.

- It's OK to not like someone back who carries a torch for you. You're probably hurting them, but it's better than pretending you like them and hurting them worse down the line. Don't lead people on, I guess.
posted by Sara C. at 10:19 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1. It's okay to go out with different people at the same time, as long as everyone knows what the deal is.

2. You don't have to go out with anyone you're not attracted to, ever, not even once. Be nice, but feel free to say no.

3. Always feel comfortable asking whatever is on your mind. Never feel compelled to tell anyone anything you don't want to.

4. Go slow. Passion is fun, but find out about compatibility before handing over your heart, your head and any sex stuff.

5. Texting is only for factual, short informational things. "The movie starts at 8:15." NEVER text anything relationship oriented. Don't argue by text, don't flirt by text, don't send pictures of yourself or body parts by text.

6. Don't ever fake anything with anyone. It's okay to go to a ball game with a book, if it's not your thing, but don't feel compelled to pretend that you like baseball if you don't.

7. Be yourself 100%, always and first. If you have to keep things inside, or push to do things you're not comfortable doing, then you're working to please the person you're dating, and not being true and authentic. The right person will like you, weirdness and all.

8. No one likes everything about someone, but that's okay, it doesn't mean you can't date that person. There are deal breakers though, and you'll know them when you see them.

9. If someone is scary towards you, and threatens violence, or is violent (hitting the wall, yelling, etc) get out of that person's way, run away if you have to. Call me or one of your friends to come get you.

10. Never get into a car when the driver has been drinking. I don't care if it's 3:00 AM, if it's snowing or whatever. Call me or someone else and we'll come get you, no questions asked.

11. If you don't feel comfortable, it's okay to leave.

12. Always stay in control of your drink and always get your own drink. If someone makes a big deal about it, just say, "I know, it's weird, but that's just how I am."

13. If you go out with a group of friends, you leave with who you came with. Be the big jerky cock-blocker if you have to.

14. Have enough money on you so that you can call a cab if you have to. In fact, here's $20. Keep it behind your license in your wallet.

I will admit, some of these may seem suspicious and old-fashioned (especially the drink and mad-money thing) but I'd rather be uptight then regretful.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:19 AM on May 2, 2014 [17 favorites]

Response by poster: She's 18. She lives at home, I don't. Parents not around. They go to same classes at uni.

She says she does not know what she wants.
posted by oink at 10:20 AM on May 2, 2014

Best answer: It seems like her first question is how to decide which, if any, of her friends she should date. When it comes to Who To Date I have three rules for myself:

1. Someone I like. There are mega-hot guys who are rude or bro-y or just too different from me to be compatible. I don't date those people.

2. Someone I'm attracted to. Similarly, there are guys who are so sweet and treat me beautifully and are in every way gems of humans. But I have a weird sinking feeling when they go to kiss me. I don't date those people. (She may want to pay close attention to this rule, with the whole "good friend interested in me" thing.)

3. Someone who will not implode my social life. No one who's involved with someone else. No close friends' immediate exes. No one way to old or young for me. Ideally, someone who will strengthen my social bonds rather than decay them.

If there is no one in my life who passes all three of these rules, I don't date anyone. That means I spend chunks of my life single. Another rule of dating is that it being single is awesome too.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 10:21 AM on May 2, 2014 [15 favorites]

Best answer: 1. Be kind.
2. Be honest.
3. Expect to be treated with honesty and kindness yourself.

Those right there will head off most basic relationship problems.

And a bonus since she's (presumably) pretty young:

4. No one knows what they're doing any more than you do. Everyone feels awkward and confused.
posted by phunniemee at 10:21 AM on May 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My rules:
1) If she isn't interested and/or doesn't think of that person in a romantic way she has to tell them. Don't give them false hope. Be nice about it, but be upfront.
2) If she IS interested I think she should also be upfront about it. No playing coy. Coy is a dick move. She doesn't have to run screaming at them "I LOVE YOU AND WANT YOUR BABIES!". She can simply say, "I'm flattered and surprised. Going out on a date with you sounds fun and kind of exciting." or whatever. Clarity and honesty. Even if she isn't sure how she feels about them I think it is fair game to say that too.
3) She needs to know that it is okay that she doesn't know what she wants. If she isn't sure if she wants to pursue a romantic relationship with one of her friends that is aboslutely okay. Just because someone knows how they feel about YOU doesn't mean that you must immediately make a decision on how you feel about THEM.
4) Never accept a date out of politeness. If you don't want to go on a date, if you aren't attracted to them or aren't interested in them, then decline the date.
5) Listen to your instincts. If someone is making you uncomfortable, even if you can't quite pin down WHY they make you uncomfortable, that is reason enough to put the breaks on.

And like rabbitbookworm, it is important that you like the person you are dating, and also that you like YOURSELF when you are with them. It is super common and very easy to act different at the beginning of a relationship. When I was younger I always dumbed myself down around my dates, I would pretend to like hockey, and I would feign all sorts of interests so that I would appear more appealing to them. This is stupid because those changes are hard to keep up, especially if you expect anything long term. Just be yourself. Make sure that you are always acting in a way that reflects how you actually feel, what you believe, and what is important.

SUPER BONUS RULE: Read "The Game" or some other pick up artist handbook. Know your enemy. Avoid any man who engages in any of those behaviours.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:30 AM on May 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Break up with someone if you don't want to be with them anymore. Don't dodge their calls and don't try to get them to break up with you. It never works anyway.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:31 AM on May 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 1. This is probably going to be phrased wrong, but, the only thing you ever "owe" your partner is honesty. You don't owe someone your time because they did something nice for you. You don't owe someone sex because they bought you dinner. You don't need a "reason" to break up with someone.

2. Learn what some common red flags are and how to recognize them.

3. If the first 6 months aren't an easy, fun-filled walk in the park, this is not a good relationship.

4. It's ok if to just have sex with people and not be in a relationship with them (as long as everyone's on the same page). Use protection and get tested regularly.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:38 AM on May 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: She should really just date someone else if none of these guys is really doing it for her.

So I guess I'd say: if you have to talk yourself into it, it's not for you, and just because a guy is nice and has decent hygiene and likes you doesn't mean you're obligated to "give him a chance". Physical attraction is a Big Deal and she has the right to pursue it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:41 AM on May 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, also, if someone says "I love you" in an attempt to get you to go further with them physically, just effing leave. Don't feel guilty. Fuck that noise.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:44 AM on May 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: And, once you're in a relationship, you don't have to have a reason to leave. You can leave a decent, nice guy just because you're not feeling it. If you're not happy, work on it or leave, but it's not worth dragging things out just to try to avoid hurting the person you love.
posted by bookdragoness at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: They are all good friends.

If this means "they are all good friends of hers but not each other" my advice is: consider leaving it be. I know this is how young men are socialized these days - make female friends and wait until a friendship is good and established and then completely change the rules and put the burden on the woman to adapt/give them what they want/feel like they don't have a choice. Don't date people who treat your friendship like that.

If this means "they are all good friends with each other", she should very strongly consider leaving it be, for that way lies an extraordinary amount of drama and hurt feelings and awkward threesomes and sometimes actual physical danger if one or more of these men is especially invested and not supremely stable. There is a lot of very primal power in "that boy got the toy I wanted" anger. But this is also one of those things that almost nobody learns until they slog knee-deep through it themselves.

Honestly, my motto is: don't date friends. Date acquaintances.

Do not date someone just because they like you, and it is okay to break up with someone simply because you want to. Not feelin' it is an absolutely 100% legitimate reason, in part because that's your instincts speaking to you and it is right to listen to you. It doesn't mean he's a serial killer or anything, just that it's not for you. That is okay, not everyone needs to be for you. Other people deserve partners too.

Being a fake you for someone means he loves fake you, not real you. At any point you find yourself fearing that his affection will go away if you are honest, you need to go have a long sit-down with yourself about the situation. This is also applicable to friends and work.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:51 AM on May 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Don't treat yourself badly in order to make someone think you're treating them well.
posted by xingcat at 10:52 AM on May 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Last one, sorry these are coming to me in bits and pieces: just because you love someone doesn't mean you should be together. Love is important and so is compromise, but you can love someone and have the relationship not be right.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:54 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here are the Dating Rules:

RULE ONE: Respect yourself. Do not let others treat you disrespectfully.

The rest, in no particular order:

Don't date someone just to date someone. Date someone if you're excited about each other - if it feels like you both have crushes on each other. If you don't feel that way about anyone, don't date anyone. Somebody will come along.

Don't enter into a sexual relationship with a friend if they're someone whose friendship you can't afford to lose.

Be honest. Expect honesty from others. Have no truck with people who aren't honest - see Rule One.

Cheating is anything your romantic partner knew you wouldn't be okay with. They can't get out of cheating on a technicality. If someone tells you that sexting isn't cheating or whatever, they are full of it. If "what you knew your romantic partner wouldn't be okay with" is something like not wanting you to even talk to anyone of the opposite sex, just break up with them, because they are crazy.

Partners can ask for things. They cannot demand. No one controls you but you.

Don't cheat and don't be a party to cheating. Someone who'll screw around with you will screw around on you.

Don't do anything you're not comfortable with. Don't let yourself be talked into anything you're not comfortable with. Have no truck with people who don't take no for an answer - see Rule One.

If you want something, ask for it. Encourage others to do the same. Accept that asking for something does not mean you'll get it. But make your desires known. For example: If you want your partner to get you something specific for your birthday, you have to tell them that or you can't be upset when you don't get it.

Someone is your boyfriend (or girlfriend) when you've talked about it and you've both decided that you are boyfriend and girlfriend (or girlfriend and girlfriend, or whatever permutation suits you). Don't assume.

Long-term relationships take work. Early on, they usually chug along just fine by themselves. If you find that a relationship is a huge headache of uncertainty for you in the first couple months, you should probably just eject. You may miss out on something good, but probably not.

You don't owe a one-night-stand anything besides the same courtesy and respect you owe anyone. But you do owe them that.

Stay friends with an ex if you can, and if you both want to. But give it time. Don't try it right away.

Also, after a breakup, give yourself some space from your new ex, even if you really want to talk to them. You cannot be the one to help them get over you, and vice versa.

If you're dating someone, and you hate their friends or family or both, be aware that there's nothing wrong with dating this person but the relationship will have a built-in expiration date.

If you feel like things are coming to an end with the person you're dating, just rip off the band-aid and break things off. Don't wait for the right time. The only exceptions are their birthday or similar big days like that: holidays, graduation days, funerals, et cetera. You can dump them before, or after, but never the day of.

When breaking up with someone, you need to understand that there is no way to be kind about it. It's a fundamentally unkind act. Instead, be merciful. End things when you know you're done, and don't argue about it.

Don't snoop on a partner. Even if they leave their email up, even if while closing the window you see something which alarms you. Don't read the texts on their phone. Don't read their diary. It's a crappy thing to do, and you will always find something that makes you feel like shit. If you already suspect them of something, talk directly (and respectfully) to them about it. Control freaks are unpleasant people. Don't be one.

Eat lunch. Don't skip meals. That may not seem like it's dating advice, but it is. You'll see.


You're gonna get your heart broken. That ain't great, but that's how it is. When you get hurt, it's going to feel like the end of the world. It isn't. Rely on your friends and family and people who love you. Cry when it's time to cry and let the feelings come when they're ready. Be kind to yourself.

You're gonna get your heart broken more than once. You will learn things from these experiences. Learn to separate out the lessons that will serve you well later and the lessons that will make you bitter. Don't let it make you bitter, and don't let it make you afraid. The world is littered with people who agonize over the best way to make sure they never get hurt. Don't be one of them. Charge ahead undaunted and see what life has to give you. Sometimes it will give you wonderful things and sometimes it will not. It's all part of the ride. Enjoy.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:59 AM on May 2, 2014 [16 favorites]

Best answer: It took me 10 years to learn how to treat male friends who are interested in me (when I am not interested back, or, even harder, when I am not sure if I am interested back). This is tough stuff. Many girls (and sometimes even some women) do not realize the power they have to hurt men, and how deeply men feel rejection.

Basic rules:
1. Don't lead them on. Don't flirt, kiss, touch, indulge, hang out with one-on-one unless are you actively interested in them and are figuring out if you want a relationship. If you are feeling uncertain, pull back and treat them totally platonically until you sort yourself out.
2. If you're not into it, say no to invitations that are date-like or potentially dates and redirect to a group activity.
3. If you like more than one guy in a group of friends, figure it out on your own before you kiss any of them. Don't make them compete for you - make a decision about which one you want to pursue things with and go for it only then. If it doesn't work out, wait until feelings have cooled until dating another guy in the same group.
4. Depending on how old she is: you don't have to have sex. Even if you had it before, even if you've had it with this person, even if you'd had it with him yesterday. Being "ready for sex" is not binary, you are allowed to feel ready and comfortable sometimes and then change your mind, or intermittently not feel into, later. Supplementary: Sex is nothing like porn. Hard to help with this one because I think porn may have ruined sex for the men her age.
posted by amaire at 11:15 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't enter into a sexual relationship with a friend if they're someone whose friendship you can't afford to lose.

Speaking as a person who married one of her good friends and someone who she worked with, this one isn't always true. I know lots of people who were "best friends" with the partner before becoming romantically involved. If Mr. McSockerson and I hadn't worked out it would have been fairly catastrophic. We were closely intertwined socially and we worked together fairly closely. My social and work life would have been in dire straits. HOWEVER, our situation was a bit of a no brainer. We both knew the risk and both felt very clearly that it was 1000% worth the risk. And, hey, we're super happy and married and in love! Yay!

So, my point is that you CAN date someone whose friendship you can't afford to lose, but only if you are both sure it is worth the risk.

On the other side of the coin, I strongly suggest not risking a friendship on a one night stand or if you are at all unsure. No "I'm drunk and horny, wanna bone?" stupid hook ups with friends. Bad bad bad idea. Ask me how I know.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:20 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On the "don't date a friend because you don't want to lose their friendship" angle, I would also say, look, let's be honest. Some friendships are not forever, and that's OK. When you're eighteen, it seems like everyone in your life is the most important thing ever. But the reality is that this is a time in your life where there's a lot of flux. People graduate and move on and you never hear from them again. Social circles -- especially around school -- form, merge, dissolve, and regroup like crazy. Somebody moves apartments or gets a new hobby and you barely see them anymore. There are people I spent all my time with at eighteen whose names I don't even remember in my 30s.

So if you really like someone and want to give it a try with them, but are afraid to because you might "ruin the friendship"? Just do it. On the one hand, this could be the love of your life and not "ruining" anything. On the other hand, you might not be friends in a year whether you go out with them or not. Better to regret something that happened than to always wonder what if.
posted by Sara C. at 11:25 AM on May 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Mean what you say and say what you mean.

Don't misinterpret the feeling of being flattered by someone's interest in you as you also having feelings for them.

You will get your heart broken, it is inevitable. It will feel like the end of the world, but it is not.
posted by inertia at 11:37 AM on May 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Apparently I need to clarify, so I will clarify.

The rule is: Don't enter into a sexual relationship with a friend if they're someone whose friendship you can't afford to lose.

To be clear, it's not someone whose friendship you don't want to lose (I assume that's most friends), or a friendship you don't want to ruin (see above).

It is someone whose friendship you can't afford to lose; someone with whom suddenly being on bad terms would be a complete disaster in ways that extend beyond your own friendship and into consequences for your social life and professional life. As seen above, there are exceptions, and if you both are absolutely completely certain about it, then yeah, go for it.

But if you're looking at a situation where you absolutely need any possible breakup to either not happen or to go totally ideally, it's almost never worth it.

The rule exists for a lot of reasons, one of them being that it's easy to let yourself believe that the aftermath of a breakup can be controlled, but it cannot.

This also reminds me of one other thing that a person should know, and here it is:

Don't put any stock in it when someone tells you how they're going to feel. This is something many people believe is possible. It is not. Sometimes we guess and the guess is right. But if someone tells you how they're going to feel about something before it's actually happened, take that into consideration but don't hinge your decisions on it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:55 AM on May 2, 2014

Best answer: The mistake I see young women (and older women, and men, but especially younger women) making the most is paying more attention to whether the guy likes them than to whether they like the guy. Don't agonize over whether a guy's into you in the abstract. Figure out if you like him first.
posted by mskyle at 12:19 PM on May 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Here's what I wish someone had told me when I was 18:
  • You are not a mind-reader. Take people at face value—if someone's not honest with you, that's on them.
  • Likewise, don't expect anyone else to read your mind. Don't drop hints; don't play games. Be clear and honest.
  • You can't make anyone meet your needs. All you can do is express those needs clearly and honestly. After that, the ball's in their court. If they can't or won't meet your needs, the ball's back in your court, and you have to decide: live without that need, or live without that person.
  • If someone disrespects your clearly-stated boundaries, get the hell out of there. (Prerequisite: Learn what your boundaries are and how to clearly state them. Depending on how you grew up, this may be non-trivial.)
  • Learn to identify the "voice" of your conscience. Ignore it at your own peril.

posted by Zozo at 12:30 PM on May 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There's at least a 99 percent chance that this isn't gonna be the guy she ends up with. So relax, enjoy it, and don't get all bound up in I LOVE YOU FOREVER.

Communicate what you want. Really, just communicate. That's most of what relationships are, anyway. It's OK to feel whatever you feel, just work on communicating it in a healthy way.

Oh, yeah, and she should also get the heads up that a lot of the advice, like the above, is damn easy to write compared to how hard it is to live. She'll fuck up at least a couple times, and this is totally normal and not — in the bigger scheme of things — a huge deal.
posted by klangklangston at 4:48 PM on May 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh! I forgot my favorite piece of advice: When someone tells you what they are like, believe them. You can't change someone into the person you want them to be.
posted by xingcat at 6:35 AM on May 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is an elaboration on some of the replies above, but when I was your sister's age, I had real trouble with the "don't lead them on" part when multiple friendly guys were interested in me.

The problem was it would not have been helpful to me at that time to say "don't lead them on." I did not understand what "leading someone on" meant back then. I thought it had to be very explicit - forgot that the people I was hanging out with were just other nice and clueless 18 year olds who couldn't take hints/subtlety, needed be told whether I was interested in them or not. I am naturally a little flirty but I thought that the best course to take with these men was to be friendly towards them, and just not to do anything explicitly date-like. That way I hoped to keep them as friends but not get entangled romantically with them or hurt them. This was a mistake. I hurt a number of people's feelings more this way - and came off as being deceptive instead of honest - than I would have if I had just said "Sure, it would be fun to go out to coffee, I just want to be clear that I'm only looking to be friends with you."

I was afraid the only reason they were interested in me was the idea that they might have a chance with me, and if I was too up front with them they would just ditch me as a friend - plus, I have to admit, I liked the attention. Took me too long to realize that anyone who would ditch me because I wasn't looking for a romantic relationship with them was not "friend" material anyway.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:06 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't ask: "How should I feel about this?" Instead, ask: "How do I feel about this?"
posted by John Cohen at 1:26 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 3 of my TOP TIPS (which I always forget to do)

1. Don't put anybody on a pedestal
Always BELIEVE that you are just as good as anybody else no matter how much you like them and think they are awesome. Believe that you are awesome too!

2. Be wholehearted and say what you mean
Nothing you think or feel or are is weird. Everything about you is OKAY. So tell that person if you want something or if something makes you uncomfortable, or if you have a story to share, JUST SAY! It's okay!! If in doubt, always be wholehearted and unassuming, but straightforward with what you think and feel.

3. Focus on what you need and what you're looking for
Remember to focus on yourself too! Always think about what you need right now, and during dates don't forget to screen for the qualities that you want in a partner. Neurotransmitters and butterflies are great, but so are the qualities of kindness and intelligence and a sense of humour. So never lose sight of what you're looking for!
posted by dinosaurprincess at 3:53 PM on May 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's an incredibly valuable skill to know how to figure out what you want.

By writing about your thoughts, asking yourself questions, playing forward scenarios in your head, you can get a sense of your mental landscape and figure out what would compliment it.

Sometimes the guess-and-check involves taking actions without complete confidence, but that's okay. Changing your mind is also okay. But the better you are at introspecting about what specifically caused a change (whether internally or externally), the more confident you can be in standing beside your decisions.

Being very specific about what you want (in your own mind) is very important. Being able to translate from feelings into practicalities and actions is a huge boon. It's way more helpful for "a few days" than just "time".
posted by itesser at 4:19 PM on May 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

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