I don't normally reprint things in their entirety, but since the Post website sometimes requires login to read articles, particularly later on, I am bringing down the wrath of the Intellectual Property Gods by reposting it here (with attribution and commentary).
I am getting married in three months.
A Dater's Bill of Rights
by Paul J. Williams
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, February 8, 2008; 11:04 AM
Let's be honest -- dating stinks. Dating is like hitting a baseball -- if you have a .300 success (defined as the person you like likes you back) rate, you're doing pretty well. Too often, dates are doomed from the start because the two parties involved go into them with vastly different views of proper dating behavior. One person might go into it expecting to contribute interesting conversation, good company and a receptive attitude, while the other person is unwilling to do more than communicate through a series of grunts, clicks and whistles, or -- the opposite problem -- feels like the date is an opportunity to share his or her full, rich and detailed biography with a degree of self-promotion that makes Paris Hilton look like J.D. Salinger.
Therefore, I'm going to lay out a Dater's Bill of Rights, a set of rules and principles that really should have been addressed by our Founding Fathers -- I mean, are you more likely to go on a date in your life, or to have to quarter a soldier? Depends on how crazy George Bush goes in his remaining eleven months in office.
So with that in mind:
You have the right to leave at any point in the first 10 minutes
This one is pretty self-explanatory -- if he swore he looks like Brad Pitt, but he looks more like Brad Garrett, you're out of there, no questions asked. If, in the first 600 seconds, she mentions criminal charges, problems with her mother AND that her favorite Will Ferrell movie is "Kicking and Screaming," you're free to go. I have actually had to do this... once. The woman looked very little like her pictures, she turned out to be a raving alterna-chick (the kind whose refrigerator is jammed with tofu mysteries and whose bathroom window is completely covered in dreamcatchers and batik) and it was obvious she was way too into living in a place I'd never be able to park. The date lasted about three minutes. I was nice about it, though.
You have the right to the other person's interest and the responsibility to be interesting
When out on a date, you have to both talk and listen. If you are the type to view a date as an opportunity to spew forth everything that has happened to you from the birth canal to that morning's hangnail, because, hey, the other person wasn't saying anything -- make sure that the other person is not quiet only because he has stabbed himself to death with a fork (And I'm using the male pronoun randomly here). Ask questions of your date, tease him gently when he says something goofy, listen to what the other person is saying without thinking about work or your dry cleaning or, for the love of God, checking your BlackBerry. In the DC area, there seems to be an amazing number of women who, on a first date, take the attitude of "OK, entertain me, but I won't tell you anything about myself. I just want you to talk enough that I can find something in what you say to completely rule you out."
On the other hand, if dessert is on the way and you haven't said anything about yourself, you need to think long and hard before you go on your next date. What have you done that you can talk about? Have you written a book, backpacked across Europe, gone skydiving, spent the night in a Vegas jail, mastered a martial art -- if you don't have at least two things you can talk about that are as interesting as the things on that list, your homework is to accomplish two before your next date. Most dating advice columnists say you should do things like this for your personal enrichment, because it will make you a better person and blah blah blah. I think you should do it for the sake of the poor sucker sitting across from you at Cosi who is about to realize you have nothing to talk about besides your job. And there are plenty of them. At least in DC, where people seem to take their job as a replacement for having a real identity.
(Why two things? Because the only thing worse than people with nothing to say are those who have only one thing to talk about -- their hockey team or Pilates or yak herding-- and just go on and on and on about it. Diversify, people.)
You have the right to an honest assessment of the date
There are people, including the one who is writing this online dating column, who have ended dates with the phrase "I'll call you," even when they have no intention of doing so. (I've been on the receiving end of this treatment, also). Sometimes no further clarification is needed -- say you end up in Tijuana with a headache and matching tattoos, or, conversely, a grand jury has been impaneled. But most dates fall somewhere in the middle. If you want to see the other person again, be direct about it. If you don't, be direct about that, too. I was usually pretty good about this. If I knew during the date that it wasn't gonna be anything more, I'd usually say something like, "I think we both realize we're not really well suited for each other, but it's really nice to be able to enjoy talking to someone new and getting out of the house, right?"
You have the right to breakfast
So, let's say the first or third or thirtieth date goes so well that the datee ends up spending the night. Assuming that the host actually likes the other person and wasn't just looking to hook up, they are responsible for acquiring bagels, donuts or other breakfast stuffs, as this tells the datee -- "Hey, I actually like you and I wasn't just looking to hook up." The first time I stayed over at my now-ex-wife's apartment, I went out and got breakfast stuff, including bagels and cream cheese. I brought them back, and she looked at the cream cheese. "What's that? I don't eat cheese..." Yeah, well, I don't read minds, either. I should have taken that as a sign.
You have the right to a minimal amount of drama
Within the first 30 days of the relationship, you should not be expected to provide a car payment, rent, bail, drugs, drug counseling, CPR, a blood transfusion or national security codes (this is D.C.; could happen). If your new paramour can't keep his act together in the first 30 days, just extrapolate how much worse things will be when he's not trying to impress you anymore. I think this kinda depends on the relationship and the person. If you've only had two dates, sure, then making all kind of demands and expectations is a little much, but 30 days can be a lot of time and if you're the compassionate sort, and not an easy mark, you should be able to tell the difference between a genuine emergency with someone you just met versus this-person-is-seriously-fucked-up.
You have the right to regular status updates
That is, the "where do we stand?" discussion. I despise uncertainty. I think the problem is that in dating, there are no metrics. In sports or business or politics, there are clear ways to measure success -- won-loss records, quarterly earnings, vote totals. In the early days of a budding relationship, when you don't yet know the other person's signals or how best to communicate your own feelings, sussing out where things are going can be like reading skywriting on a windy day. Skywriting written in Sanskrit. And you're not even looking up.
To remedy this, I think both parties should exchange formal reports once a week, detailing attraction levels, the effects of various factors, etc.: "I'm happy to report that my affection for Ryan is up 31 percent this week, continuing a steady three-week growth of increases (see chart on p. 34). Picking me up, with flowers no less, in the first quarter of week three caused a 25 percent increase alone. Since we have become intimate, Ryan has shown a lot of potential and a real go-getter attitude in the sack, as well (see chart labeled "Satisfaction" p. 36)."
Or, in lieu of all that, make an effort to communicate clearly your feelings and level of interest. Dating works best when everyone is on the same page.
To this, I'd add that you have a right NOT to be badgered about "status," too. Particularly early on. Nothing will send someone back into the weeds faster than someone who is so insecure that they need constant reassurance about "where we are" and all that. And nothing will send someone into the weeds as fast as a situation where one person is already picking out china and wedding invitations when the other person isn't even sure they wanna see this person any more. Making dumb assumptions and trying to impose one's will are absolute death in these situations.
To me, all of these rights are based on one guiding principle: dating is about balancing what's best for you with respect for the other person and a desire to make him or her happy. Easier said than done, I know, but keep this equation in mind when trying to solve a dating dilemma and you'll be much happier and more likely to survive with your sanity intact. In the months ahead, I hope to apply that principle in columns on topics such as: How do I ask someone out?; how do I know when we're exclusive?; how do I share my deep, dark secrets?; should you stay friends with exes?; what to put in an online dating profile?; what are the best (and worst) ways to break up?; how do I get my friend to be more than friends?; and more.
1. Duffbert02/11/2008 10:33:00 PM
Great column... just glad I don't have to worry about that any more. :)