One of my male friends told me that he once dated a girl who showed up drunk on the first date and proceeded to vomit all over him! Although thankfully I have never experienced that I’m sure we have all had dates that were just plain awful, where the person did something totally inappropriate and you just wished the ground would open up and swallow you whole. And I am pretty sure we have all had our fair share of being cancelled at the last minute and even perhaps being stood up. Plus we’ve all heard the horror stories about first dates going wrong. So what has gone wrong with these scenarios and how could it be avoided. It all comes down to two small words ‘dating etiquette’.
What is dating etiquette? Well I think of it as a set of unspoken guidelines that allow the dating experience to go smoothly and be more enjoyable for both people involved. Of course we can never control what another person does, so we can only choose to be responsible for our own behavior, and I believe that if we do choose to treat the other person well and honor dating etiquette then we will have a much more pleasurable and manageable experience of dating ourselves. Plus having a code of behavior for ourselves can help to keep us safe.
Dating etiquette can include things like when to call, how often you message each other, whether you reply to every message and phone call, timings and lateness for dates, what you wear, what you discuss on your date, when to get physical, but most importantly how you treat the other person and how you expect to be treated. As you see it covers quite a wide range of aspects and so it can become a bit overwhelming and confusing. Plus you will find that people have all sorts of different ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior when it comes to dating, and so the best thing to do is create your own set of guidelines which work for you, and then stick to them. Once you actually get out there and date another person you can at some point share your guidelines with them if you so choose, and discuss it to make sure you are both happy and in agreement with how to date one another fairly. This involves total honesty and a certain level of maturity from both people. I believe that if people did this more often much heartbreak would be avoided.
First and foremost though, observing dating etiquette is for you. When we behave in a way we feel good about we begin to approve of ourselves and our self-respect and self-esteem grow.
For example you might decide that it is polite to let a person you have dated just once know if you are not going to see them again, or you may decide that this is not necessary. If you are a woman you may choose that you will not have sex on the first date because it suits you better to wait until you know the person better. Or you may have very strong feelings about not being kept waiting on dates or about messages being returned. These would all fall under ‘dating etiquette’.
Here are some pretty standard guidelines that most people would choose to follow as part of dating etiquette:
- Be on time for dates
- Don’t stand someone up at the last minute
- Don’t get really drunk on a first date
- Don’t spend all night talking about your ex (yawn)
- Wear something appropriate for the date you are going on
- Don’t automatically expect sex on a first date
In fact many people would simply call the above good manners. However some of the other little intricacies of dating etiquette can be more of a grey area. So take the time to really think about each area of dating and decide your rules and guidelines for each. You may make a guideline that you don’t date men who stand you up at the last minute, or that you don’t date women who are very late. You may decide not to wear mini skirts on a date if you are a woman because you wish to give a more classy impression. These guidelines will be as unique as you are and the important thing is to get clear on what is comfortable for you and what is not acceptable for you as an individual.
So how do you handle it when someone does something you don’t like? What do you do when someone breaks one of your rules? As mentioned before we cannot control how somebody else behaves nor would we want to. Therefore it is down to you what you are willing to accept and where you will draw the line. For example if one of your guidelines is that you don’t want to be kept waiting for a date, and you have a person who is late, your first point of call is to let them know how you feel about this. You can do this in a non blaming, straightforward manner by simply sharing how you feel and that it is not something you want in a dating relationship. However what about if they repeatedly cross your line? Well you will need to decide how firm that line is for you. If it really upsets you and you cannot tolerate the behavior then that person simply will not be a good fit for you. After you have shared how you feel if they still do it you will either need to let it go happily and update your guideline for yourself, or you will need to let them go. This is how you develop trust in yourself and your own boundaries.
Notice that for the main part, throughout this article I have referred to ‘guidelines’ rather than ‘rules’. This is because I think it is important for you to have some flexibility with yourself in terms of experimenting and seeing what feels OK for you and what is definitely NOT acceptable. As you grow and change as a person so too might your ideas about dating. Always be flexible, however once you have worked out what is right for you at any given time I suggest sticking to your own boundaries with dating etiquette. When we break our own guidelines it always comes back to bite us.