In today's world, many people feel that dating rules have changed - so much so that people are constantly looking for new guidelines. With today's dating styles as varied and eclectic as Elton John's wardrobe, it's difficult to draw any distinctions on the modern rules of love and dating.
We asked 17 single men and women, ages 19-35, what they think about the rules of dating in the 21st century.
Emily, a 29-year-old graduate student, says: "If there are rules, they are a non-conscious part of my ideology. I date such vastly different people, I don't even know what common thread would align them on the rules scale."
Many singles are finding themselves in the same situation, not knowing what rules apply to dating in the new millenium.
Sam, 24, confesses: "I can't read women anymore. Some women want men to act out the traditional chivalrous role. Others are extremely independent and are offended if you open the door for them."
Unfortunately, for Emily and Sam, the rules of dating may never be definitive, but there are still a few universal dos and don'ts of dating upon which many singles - and experts - can agree.
- Be attentive to your date. When faced with the dilemma of whether to bare all or listen attentively, many singles prefer to listen. Lori is a 22-year-old college student who feels she's nailed the role of "listener". "If you listen to your date, they think you're interesting even though you haven't actually said anything. Just keep asking questions and they'll think you're brilliant and fascinating."
- Maintain eye contact. Just make sure it's not too intense. Remember, you aren't a hawk eyeing it's prey.
- Plan your date out ahead of time. Avoid falling into the vicious cycle of saying, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" Decide on something and do it. Be open to other suggestions if your plans don't work out.
- Meet in a public place on your first date. Not only is this a safe idea, it also allows for distractions should conversation lag. Rick, 24, agrees: "Leave the one-on romantic dates for when you really feel you are into a person."
- Offer to split the bill. The issue of "who pays" is probably one of the largest sources of confusion for singles. Most people today feel that the bill is the responsibility of the party that asked for the date. That said, it is courteous to offer to "go Dutch" and you should always be prepared to split the costs. If your date does pick up the tab, offer to pay the next time.
- Act chivalrous. Men, the women's liberation movement may have provided women with the means to financial independence and positions of power, but this does not mean that she no longer appreciates those little things that make you a gentlemen. Open doors for your date, pull out her chair for her, make sure she gets home safely. These are the things that make a good impression. Sarah, 31, believes: "If used correctly, chivalry is the charm of all charms; if overused, it seems like machismo."
- Follow up with your date. Call or email your date to let them know you had a good time. This doesn't have to be a plea to see them again right away. It's simply a courtesy. If your date had an enjoyable time too, this will be icing on the cake!
- Crack jokes. Not only will this put your date at ease, it will show them you have a sense of humor.
- Discuss heavier topics. Let's face it, some people SHOULD stick to small talk, but if you're informed on a topic, go ahead and discuss it. If you find some topics appropriate and your date finds them taboo, it may be better to realize this early on.
- Don't act distracted during a date. Turn off your cell phone and keep your eyes from wandering. Nothing will show a greater lack of interest on your part than fielding phone calls and checking out the waitstaff.
- Don't turn your date into a therapy session. Avoid subjects like your ex, your bad relationship with your mother or your growing sense of insecurity over the strange growth you've discovered on your back.
- Don't be pretentious. Nobody is perfect and nothing is more annoying than someone who acts like they are.
- Don't agree for the sake of agreeing. It's important to stand your ground and let your date know where you stand on certain topics. The point is getting to know one another. Most people enjoy intellectual argument, as long as you avoid insulting your date's intelligence.
- Don't try to make any uninvited physical advances. There are so many different opinions on what is acceptable, physically, on a date. Cara, 29, holds the opinion that if there is chemistry, the physical aspects of a relationship will fall into place. "If things feel right, then hold hands, kiss, whatever feels right. Nothing is worse, though, than a first date who is way too into PDA (public displays of affection). It's sort of like they are staking their claim, which is a major turn-off."
- Women, don't be afraid to ask a man for a date. In fact, many men find a woman who will make the first move attractive and confident. Kate, 30, agrees: "A woman asking a man for a date doesn't have to be a pathetic plea to listen to Seal over a candlelit dinner. You can invite the guy to something you are going to anyway, like a concert, so it's like you are asking them to come along."
- Don't consume large amounts of alcohol. In one of his early movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger told his drunken wife: "You should not drink and bake." Well, the same holds true for dating: You should not drink and date. Athough the reasons for this are pretty obvious, it's a trap many people fall into and it has ruined many a person's chances for a second date. If you must drink, stick with one beer or glass of wine.
- Don't be afraid to end the date early. If things aren't working out or you are uncomfortable, feel free to end the date at any time.