Every time I begin dating a new guy, people all around me — my friends, my coworkers, the ever-present voices of Internet articles — are quick to remind me of "the rules."
Don't double text. Don't sleep with a guy on the first date. Wait for him to contact you. If he isn't doing x, y, z, he isn't interested.
For a while, I tried to follow the rules. Sometimes I succeeded, but most of the time, I forgot and my real self came through. Sometimes, things went well, and oftentimes, things went poorly. But, I started to notice something.
Things going well or poorly never correlated with whether or not I was following the rules.
The only correlation I noticed with the rules was they gave me a lot of anxiety, and my friends used them to blame me when things went wrong, instead of blaming the guy for being an assh*le.
At this point, I decided that instead of blindly trying and mostly failing to follow the rules, I would think critically about what they assume about men, women and the ways in which they interact.
Take not sleeping with someone on the first date: That rule not only assumes the guy is an assh*le who will cast judgments on a woman who sleeps with him, but it also negates that a woman's desire to have sex is just as legitimate as a man's.
If two people are on a date and feel sexual chemistry, and both of them have given consent, they should feel free to have sex.
I don't want to date a man who would judge a woman for sleeping with him on the first date because that man wouldn't share my fundamental belief that women have the same rights as men to have sexual urges.
Another rule my friends believe is I need to make any guy I see take me out in public and do non-sexual activities within the first month of us seeing each other. If I don't, he would never see me as more than a hookup.
The flaw with this rule is that it assumes both people have uncomplicated lives and the freedom to follow the traditional timeline for relationships.
There are other things a man can do to show he is interested in a woman than taking her out to lunch or for a walk in the park. I'm very busy and I tend to date guys who also have full schedules; we don't always have coinciding chunks of free time.
If I'm going to get serious with someone, it's true we will eventually need to do non-sexual activities. But, it's a mistake to put a month-long timeline on this or to assume activities must be traditional.
The rules assume all relationships need to fall within the traditional narrative and take place on the same timeline.
The relationships these rules describe all follow the accepted narrative of dating, where the man courts the woman with dinner, drinks and walks in the park, and they have chaste sex two weeks later, become serious in the coming months and eventually get married and start a family.
They don't take into account that not everyone wants or needs to follow this narrative. Successful relationships come in all forms, and you shouldn't give up on one just because it doesn't fit a story you grew up hearing.
But, the real reason I decided to reject the rules is because they added so much anxiety to my life. My friends felt it acceptable to shame me when I slept with a guy the first night we met and then he didn't call.
I started to blame myself every time something went wrong. Eventually, I was so anxious about reflecting on whether my actions were driving men away that I started to panic about every text I sent a guy and every interaction we had.
I wasn't giving the guys I was dating the chance to prove themselves because I was so afraid and bound to the negative narrative.
We need to stop comparing our romantic interactions to the traditional narratives and accept that men and women are individual people with distinct personalities.
When dating someone new, it's important to not judge him or her based on the negative narratives we're fed about how men and women interact.
We need to give each person we date the chance to be a quality human without pigeonholing him or her to a two-dimensional type.
And, that's scary — it's scary to be in relationships that don't follow the traditional narrative because then, you have nowhere to look for reassurance that things will be okay.
The only thing we can do is be brave enough to live out our narratives with every man or woman we date, and accept we can't know from the outset where any relationship may lead.