In the 1950s, that oft-ridiculed era when women all over the country were purportedly miserable, marriage proposals were so common women had to turn down several potential husbands before deciding on the right one.
That was certainly the case for my mother, who was born in 1930. As a young girl, I found countless love letters from Charlie, George, Frank—and others whose names I can’t recall—that all contained marriage proposals. They were stored in my mother’s memory box, and I would sift through them and marvel at what it was like to have so many men pining for you.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, also born in 1930, is another example of the times. Prior to becoming engaged to her husband, O’Connor turned down several marriage proposals, including, ironically, one from fellow Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, her then-law school classmate. “Dating was pretty innocent in the ’50s,” O’Connor’s son Jay told NPR.
Innocent, yes—and for good reason: dating was serious business. Since marriage was the goal, dating was viewed as a precursor to the rest of people’s lives and thus given the weight it deserves. It was also understood that the more time men and women spent together, or the longer they dated, the more likely the relationship would become physical. That, combined with a lack of reliable birth control, forced couples to keep things light.
Wrong Message: Put Career Above Family
Of course much has changed in the last 50 years, the most significant being the combination of birth control and the sexual revolution. It was then that women were encouraged “have sex like a man” and to put marriage on the back burner while they focus on school and careers instead.
This message was so strong and so pervasive that now women (and by default, men) typically view love and family as secondary to academic and professional success. “Over and over,” writes Alexandra Solomon, a psychologist who teaches a course at Northwestern University called Marriage 101, “my undergraduates tell me they try hard not to fall in love during college, imagining that would mess up their plans.”
Besides birth control, women’s new priorities are the reason dating in America is dead, and why it was subsequently replaced with the “hookup,” a vague term that can mean anything from hanging out together to having sex. After all, what other option does a grown woman who’s been groomed to be career-focused rather than family-focused have than to be casual with her body and her heart? If her professional life is considered the most important thing in life, there’s no reason to date. The whole purpose of dating is to determine whether the other person is a match. Why go through all the rigmarole if marriage isn’t on your radar? Might as well hookup until you’re ready to settle down.
Indeed, what modern women seem to aim for is sex. They have more difficulty understanding the art of courtship, or how to build a meaningful relationship with a man that may or may not lead to marriage but at very least makes a person feel secure and loved. They just skip to the end and wonder why they’re dissatisfied.
It’s time for this madness to end—not because I say so but because young women and men say. According to a study by the American Psychological Association (APA), 63 percent of college-age men and 83 percent of college-age women say they would prefer a traditional relationship to an uncommitted sexual one. Yet that’s mostly not how they live.
In light of such huge percentages, the only logical answer is to bring back courtship, or dating with purpose. Why hide that you’re looking for love when you’re dating? Why pretend you enjoy cycling through relationship after relationship year after year that has no ultimate end goal? Times may have changed, but human nature has not. Almost every person has the desire to love and to be loved.
To that end, here are 8 dating rules for women that lead to a long-term relationship or marriage. I wrote them for women because women are the relationship navigators: they have the power to steer the ship in the direction they want it to go. The trick is to steer the ship well.
Rule 1: Let him chase you.
Ladies, stop chasing men and being so available to them. You’re killing your chances for a relationship that lasts. Men are hunters: they love to go after whatever it is they want, and they won’t value what they haven’t earned. If you reverse this dynamic and become the hunter, everything else will be thrown off-kilter.
A man may respond to your overtures, but you will never know if he’s “into” you because if he was “into” you, you wouldn’t have had to do the hunting. When a man is interested in you, you will know it. There will be zero confusion on your part. Zero. Nada. None. He will hunt you down. Your job is simply to say yes or no.
Rule 2: Don’t offer to pay.
There are three reasons a woman shouldn’t pay on a date. The first is, as per Rule 1, presumably the guy asked you out—not the other way around. And the person who asks should be the person who pays.
Second, when a man pays he’s demonstrating that you’re worth spending his hard-earned money on. Don’t refuse his overture! Instead, learn to receive with graciousness. Just smile and say thank you. Being able to receive, as opposed to undermining a man’s attempt at being chivalrous, is a crucial part of the dating process. Men will take their cues from you.
Third, accepting a man’s willingness to pay says a lot about you. It lets him know that you value yourself, that you believe you’re worth spending hard-earned money on. And that’s a great place to start any relationship.
Offering to pay your half of the date cheapens the experience and makes it feel no different from two friends grabbing a bite. A date is different from hanging out with a friend—or at least, it’s supposed to be. Just because you’re capable of paying your way doesn’t mean you should. Let him take care of it.
Rule 3: Never have more than two drinks.
What you do on your own time or with your girlfriends with respect to alcohol is one thing. But getting drunk on a date is the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. You might as well have not had the date at all if you’re going to be drunk while you’re on it.
How much to drink will mean something different for everyone, depending on your weight and tolerance. But a good rule of thumb is to never have more than two drinks. And if we’re talking stiff martinis, drink it slowly and stop at one. Sex and alcohol are a potent mix. Nothing good can come of it, and a great deal can be lost.
The purpose of a date is to get to know the other person, and you can’t do that if you’re drunk. I also want you to follow Rule 6, and Rule 6 will likely be broken if you have that third drink. So be smart and stop at drink two.
Rule 4: Don’t be the giddy girl in trashy clothes.
One of the things that’s changed considerably over the years is the way women dress and behave in the company of men. There’s an inherent respect that comes from dressing classy and from maintaining a certain decorum when you’re out with a guy. This has unfortunately been lost in an era of “anything goes.”
What we wear says a lot about what we think of ourselves and how we want others to think of us. We get back what we put out into the world. Ergo, if you dress provocatively, you’ll attract a man who just wants to “get some” because that’s the vibe he picks up from you. If you dress classy, you’ll attract a man who wants to get to know you.
I’m not suggesting you have to dress like a nun. It’s fine to accentuate what you’ve got; just do it in a classy, rather than in a trashy, fashion.
The way you behave matters, too. If you’re giggly and silly, that too is the caliber of man you’ll attract. If you talk in a more mature or serious manner, you’ll attract a man of substance. And I assume you want a man of substance.
In other words, don’t be the fun, drunk party girl. A man will date—he’ll certainly have sex with!—that girl, but he won’t marry her. Party girls are the women guys date until they find the one who’s marriage material. Be that girl.
Rule 5: Don’t tell the man you’re dating how smart and successful you are.
I have some news that may come as a shock: men don’t really care how smart and successful you are. It’s not that men aren’t interested in what you do for a living (or in what you’re studying in school), but they will notice if what you do or what you plan to do has taken over your life. That’s not a selling point for them. So don’t talk about how “busy” you are or about how you travel so much or about how your career is your life and your identity.
For one thing, your career shouldn’t be your life and your identity. Moreover, when you go on and on about your career with a man you’re dating, all it tells him is that you don’t have time for him. There’s something more important in your life, and he’ll get the leftovers.
Here’s something else no one tells you. While you may have a vested interest in a man’s career goals, he doesn’t feel the same way. Most men are indifferent to a woman’s professional endeavors because they’re not looking to rely on a wife financially.
While you may not be looking for a husband to depend on, you’re still the sex that gets pregnant—which means at some point you’ll become vulnerable in a way a man will not, and you will want and need the option to stay home with your babies. And that requires being married to a man who’s gainfully employed.
Rule 6: Don’t have sex with him on the first, second, or twentieth date.
I know it’s hard to imagine a time when women didn’t have sex before marriage, but the fact that women now have sex with men before a relationship has even been established speaks volumes. We swung the pendulum much too far.
Given this new attitude toward sex and relationships, it may sound old-fashioned to suggest you not have sex with a guy until a relationship has been firmly established (which takes months or longer, depending on how often you’re seeing one another), but just because something’s unpopular doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I can assure you if the goal is lasting love, having sex with a guy before he’s “all in” will not get you where you want to go.
What makes the message about casual sex, or hooking up, so insidious is that young women are prone to feeling insecure and are thus vulnerable to the idea that sleeping with a guy will make them more attractive. It doesn’t. It makes you a cheap lay.
Rule 7: Give him space (and live your own life in the meantime).
Never plan your time or organize your life around a man when you’re in the dating stage. Not only is this unhealthy for you, when you live your own life and do your own thing, the guy you like will be even more interested in you as a result.
Never begrudge a man his space. If he likes to go out with the guys, just say, “That’s great! Have fun!” Don’t ask yourself why he didn’t ask you to come along or what it means that he didn’t ask you to come along. Do not assume he doesn’t like or love you as much as you like or love him.
Don’t assume anything. Just give him space and find something else to do with your time.
Rule 8: Move on if he can’t commit.
A great rule of thumb for deciding when it’s time to jump ship is that if your guy hasn’t proposed by the middle of year two, he’s probably not going to. (If you’re dating in college, this rule won’t necessarily apply.) Too many women waste years of their lives hoping they can talk a boyfriend into marriage. Women who master the eight dating rules don’t have to talk a man into anything—he’ll be dying to marry you!
Smart women also pick up on whether a man is marriage material early on, just as men do with women, and they don’t stick around if he isn’t. That’s an exercise in futility.
Bottom line: If your guy hasn’t made any overtures, if you have to wonder what he thinks or, God forbid, have long discussions with him about the worthiness of marriage as an institution, run! He’s not the guy for you.
Don’t you want to marry a man who wants you so badly he can’t wait to say “I do”? Wait for that guy.