THE KAREN FOX DATING RULES
Alright. So I'm suddenly dating again after some 3 years of being comfortably ensconced in a nice, secure relationship. The dating part is kind of fun--but I'm in awe of how bad people are at it. Some of these boys go way too far, never taking no for an answer even though your secretary has obviously screened their calls all week. Some boys are way too shy and can't figure out that, yes, sticking your tongue in their ear means you like them. Some boys hold such promise and then blow it by some innopportune act like asking if they can kiss you. (I thought that once Diane Chambers announced in the last episode of the first season of Cheers that a guy should NEVER ask first that this faux pas would forever be put to rest. But no.)
So, here's a set of rules. It's not just for the men out there. There are some rules in here for the women, too. The point of these rules are threefold: how to date successfully, how to do embarrassing things without putting yourself out on the line TOO much, and how to read signals from the other person. This last one is kind of key-- people spend way too much time thinking that their love interests are being cryptic when just the littlest bit of effort can make it all crystal clear.
These are not rules for relationships. Relationships are a whole different ball of wax. In general relationships are much better considered case by case. The dating rules are for involvements with people you don't know that well, people you'd like to get to know better, or people you'd like to let down gently and not have to get to know better.
Also, these are not rules for when you've met someone and it's all just rolling along perfectly. You're clearly doing it right; ignore my dumb rules. These rules are for in between the times when it's rolling along perfectly. .
Dating is not about brutal honesty. Brutal honesty is some self-help idea that leads to nothing good, I assure you. If you're a girl, you remember slumber parties where you all decided to write down the exact truth about each other--invariably someone ended up crying in the bathroom. Civilized people convey things without brutal honesty. I'm not saying you should lie or play games or be cryptic. I'm just saying that, when dating, people should rely on cues much more than they often do.
So: do not tell them how nervous you are, when your last date was, how many people you've slept with. On the flip side don't put the other person in a situation where they have to be brutally honest with you--where they have to tell you out loud whether or not they're interested, for example. Pay attention and figure it out for yourself.
Directness, on the other hand, is a good thing. Directness is about action, not words. Always act like you have every right to be doing whatever it is you're doing--calling, asking them out, kissing them. Above all else, be confident. If you're not confident about dating: fake it. You pull people into your reality this way. They'll believe you have the right to be doing it, too. You may have to come up with some tricks to make this work. One trick that works well: play to the cameras. The whole time you're doing whatever you're doing, just think about how you're going to retell the story later. Enjoy it as a funny story even as you're doing it. It defuses a situation and makes you realize that it's just not nearly as important as you think.
Wait. I forgot. There's a third thing you need to do to date successfully. Take your time. There is no reason to rush anything. Rushing puts pressure on the situation and what we are most definitely trying to avoid is pressure. People run screaming in the opposite direction from pressure. If you are interested in someone, plan a long term attack--getting to know them, getting involved in some activity where they're going to be, planning a party so you can invite them, that kind of thing. All too often people get it into their heads that they need to know what the status of the relationship is right now. And then they throw themselves at someone, up the stakes and lose out completely. Avoid this. Keep it slow and steady. It keeps you relaxed. It keeps them paying attention. Both are good things.
Girls, here's the thing: no one else is in your head. No, he didn't ignore you to be mean. And he didn't leave the toilet seat up on purpose. And he didn't know just how hurt you'd be that he forgot you like chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, not chocolate chip mint. (Unless of course you wail on him about these things all the time, at which point, yes, he's starting to do it on purpose, 'cause you're being so damn annoying.) Usually, boys just aren't self-aware enough to realize how their actions are going to affect you. (Actually, people in general aren't self-aware enough to realize how their actions are going to affect you--but that's a lesson for a web page on self-esteem rules, so I'll skip it here.) So, explain what they did that might, if they continue such unconscionable behavior, set you flying off the handle and appear crazy at a later date--and don't go crazy until such time.
Wait, let me rephrase that. "Explain" is far too ambiguous. It suggests sitting them down and telling them at length why such a thing as forgetting your favorite ice cream flavor really reflects a deeper ambivalence towards you that makes you question his interest and you certainly hope it won't happen again. No. Explaining is a one sentence thing that happens the moment the unforgivable occurrence happens. Do not steam. Do not dwell. Do not ask him if he did it because he's stopped liking you. "Don't do that--it makes me cranky," should suffice.
Now, boys, all of the above having been said: you should know already that she likes chocolate chip cookie dough not chocolate chip mint! Granted, women tend to overthink things, but that doesn't mean you get to stop thinking just to even the balance. (In the extreme, there are these boys whom I envision are something like cows--seeing shapes and colors and little else, "Hmmm, green. Grass. Green grass, good. Girl. Girl upset. Girl upset, bad.") You may think women's motives are unfathomable. They're not, but if you want to believe that you can. But, the thing is that no matter the motives, the actions are pretty consistent. You don't have to understand why she moves--just take the time to understand how.
Always ask someone out for a specific thing. Make it easy on yourself by its being something that you are doing anyway. "My friend just gave me two tickets to the Hoya's game Wednesday." "I'm going to a sneak preview of "Evita" on Friday and I've been invited with an escort." "A bunch of us are going to Happy Hour tonight." First of all, you won't be a nervous wreck asking somone out this way. After all you could be asking them to come along out of friendship. Second, they can say yes, or they can say, "Sorry, I already have plans for Wednesday" without it being a whole issue. Either way you've just gotten a whole lot of information without anyone putting themselves out on the line, which would have made everybody nervous later.
And never ask more than once. If the person says no, they said no. (Unless they made it clear that they genuinely had a previous commitment and would have been otherwise interested: "Wow, I love basketball and want to be first on your list the next time you get tickets.")
Personally, I'm very big on the Happy Hour group date. I think when you're first interested in someone, you should play it very low-pressure. It's more of a "I like you and want to hang out with you" thing. Get them out with your friends. Spend some casual time together. Then when it's clear you like each other, get them alone. But if you start with a date date there's so much pressure. It's a job interview. You have to decide at the end of the evening whether you like them, whether you want to go out with them again. I know of very few relationships that start from real Do-You-Want-To-Get-Dinner-With-Me-Saturday-Night dates. Much better to get to know each other on a couple of casual outings. You'll be friends first, which is always a good thing in a relationship. And if one or the other of you is not interested, then you find that out before it becomes an All or Nothing situation.
The scenario: the girl initiated the date. The rule: The check comes. She reaches for her purse. He says he'll pay. She resists. He insists. Just do it ok, boys? It's nicer that way. Even if you're not interested in dating her. It's gentlemanly and makes you look good. She's been stressed all night because she asked you out and maybe that was too forward and maybe she should have just waited and on and on. Then you pay for dinner. And it makes everything ok. It makes you an active participant in the date and it means that you didn't hate being there all night. At the very least, split the check.
Note this has nothing to do with subsequent dates. Pay attention and figure that part out on your own. Some women think they should always be paid for. Personally, I'm a believer in not making a big deal about it, but keeping an eye out to make sure that things end up pretty evenly in the end. He pays for dinner; I pay for the movies. That kind of thing.
But, of course, never kiss someone who doesn't want to be kissed.
This is where boys get all defensive. How are they supposed to know? Come ON. This is not really that subtle. If you have to lean across more than a foot of space, she doesn't want to be kissed. And anyway, you shouldn't be trying to kiss someone out of the blue anyway. It's like pealing out of a driveway without giving the engine time to warm up. You've got to move a little closer, touch them a little first. Personally, I think holding someone's hand first is a little weird, but some women like that. The all time best thing to do though, is play with her hair. Brush it out of her face. Don't do this while staring intently into her eyes trying to Make A Moment out of it. Just do it casually. Touch her like it's the most natural thing in the world to be touching her. Pay attention: if she retreats to the opposite side of the couch or porch or car well then she's more than a foot away isn't she? No kisses. If she sticks around, keep playing with the hair and go for it.
Note the beauty of this plan. You will never embarrass yourself by brushing someone's hair out of their eyes while continuing to talk about whatever it is you're talking about. You haven't gone in for a kiss and had her react like a wet fish. On the other hand, if you bother to pay any attention whatsoever you'll be able to gauge whether or not she's interested.
(By the way, the classic female "yes I'm interested" maneuver is to get cold and start shivering. It's not that we're faking that we're cold--but, c'mon, if we weren't really trying to get you to put your arm around us, we would have found a sweater to put on by now.)
And finally when you commit to the kiss, don't chicken out and veer off to the side (I swear I've had boys do this, landing a peck somewhere on my upper neck). And don't go nuts with passion either. It's a first kiss--make it sweet and short, 5-10 seconds at most, smile at her and then go back to talking.
This is, of course, the description of a date first kiss, you know where you actually like the girl--but it will get you pretty far with one you just randomly picked up too.
For Men: You'll know if they like you. Trust me, you will. What this means is that if you're really not sure--then they probably don't. Most women are not teases. If you've been out on 5 dates and she hasn't kissed you yet, then she's going home to her friends and saying "Jesus Christ, hasn't he noticed that I haven't kissed him yet?!?!?! Why does he keep calling me? He's going to make me tell him to go away, isn't he?" She may also be doing things like not returning your calls and only seeing you once every other week or so. Why the girl does keep going out on the occasional date, I don't know. It's just something we do. We were brought up to be conciliatory. Blame it on our mothers. But, remember, you should be civilized. Pick up on the cues and don't force a big confrontation. This way you both come out with your egos intact.
An example: I have a girlfriend who, in college, didn't want to go out on a date she'd agreed to go out on. When the boy came to pick her up, she was upstairs hiding in a friend's room. He stormed around the dorm looking for her and finally knocked on the door of the room she was in. My friend hid behind the door, while her friend opened it. The guy asked where his prospective date was and the woman said she didn't know. The guy then peered around the door, saw his date, said, "oh, there you are! Are you ready?" My friend smiled and said "Sure, give me five minutes" and they went out on the date. I will not defend her behaviour, but come on! He should have paid attention to what she was doing, not what she was saying. You may think that this is an extreme example but, as far as I can tell, guys do things like this all the time.)
For Women: You'll know if they like you. Trust me, you will. But only if you're not a freak about it. You know how if one of your friends is really busy and they say "I can't talk right now" you hang up the phone and don't think twice about it? Because you know that you're friends. She's been nice to you 50 million other times, so the fact that she was short once isn't an issue. But if a boy does it to you, you get all stressed out and insecure and convinced that he hates you--even though he's also been nice to you 50 million times before. Don't succomb to this rollercoaster ride. (On the other hand, women need to be sensitive to the cues, too. If you're always calling and he's always getting off the phone--pay attention to that. It could mean he's not interested, it could mean he doesn't like being called at work, it could mean lots of things. Lay off for awhile. See what happens.)
Blowing People Off
Beware, I'm on a little bit of a tirade about this lately. Just please tell me where is it written that everyone always deserves some kind of explanation or assessment on whether or not you're interested? Let's say you ask someone out on a date. He or she says no. You now know that the askee is not interested--at least at this juncture--in becoming romantically involved with you. Finito. I think we all agree that the askee owes no detailed explanations to the asker.
So, let's take case number two. You ask someone on a date. He or she does not know whether or not they're interested but figures it's worth giving a shot. He or she says yes. After the date, however, said askee has become certain: definitely not interested. By virtue of having said yes to one date do they now owe the asker a full breakup spiel? Do they owe any explanation whatsoever? No.
The blow-off is a fully acceptable maneuver at this point. It should always be done nicely, of course. With a smile. But saying no to dates after having gone on one date (and maybe even two or three, really) is no different than saying no from the beginning. No explanations required.
(But I have a friend with something of a dissent, which she mailed to a boy who deserved it, because he was several weeks and kisses into the relationship when he pulled the blow-off maneuver. Timing is all.)
Also, remember there should be no brutal honesty. So, the words "It turns out I'm really not all that attracted to you" or "I thought your laugh was endearing but actually it sounds like a donkey" or "I'd rather sit home and watch those twins on 'Full House' than listen to that stupid story about your fraternity again" should never cross your lips.
The way to do this is to pick an excuse that does have some truth to it. I'm not over my ex-girlfriend yet. Work is way too intense right now. I always get depressed in February. I just don't believe that people born in the year of the rat should date people born in the year of the dragon. That kind of thing.
(Please note: My work is way too intense right now and I'm not over my ex-boyfriend. So when I say that, it's not just an excuse, ok?)
So, with your excuse in hand you go to the other person and present it as if it's a problem that you've recently become aware of. And you start a conversation in which you pretend that it gradually dawns on you that well, I guess what I really need is some time alone. That way it looks like you didn't really sit down to break up with the other person. It doesn't just hit them out of the blue. Once this sentiment is out there--firmly stated--you don't have to revisit it. It has become clear that this is a Break Up conversation and repeating the point is only hurtful. Now you start saying things like "It's really too bad, because I've been having a good time with you" and "If it were at a different point in my life it probably could have worked out" and "I guess that's why I've been so cranky lately, you've been great to put up with me. I'll miss you." Do you understand what's going on here? You are continually reiterating that Yes, It's Over while couching it in really complimentary language.
Now we all know that in reality you just like someone or you don't. But people who are being rejected will suspend disbelief to save their egos and it's only civilized to help them out.
I repeat: do not use this technique on someone with whom you're seriously involved. They deserve a little more honesty and a little more time to get used to the idea. My first love broke up with me this way. My only consolation is that Hell is supposed to be a very desolate place. . .
First and foremost, believe what the other person says. Believe that they really no longer wish to date you, and believe that they genuinely like you as a human being.
Let me 'splain. My little scenario above on breaking up with someone is meant to have the gentlest impact possible. But it's not going to work if you only hear half the words and think to yourself "well, they were so nice about it, maybe they just need some time." No. The other person does not need time. They told you the truth. They no longer wish to be involved with you. At this point, if you all behave like adults, there's a chance for you to be friendly. On the other hand, if you force the issue and don't back off when you were kindly asked to--well, then the other person is going to be forced to blow you off completely, totally and harshly. So back off. That means that you can call in a month, but not in a week. And if they should happen to call you before that--they are being civilized and being nice. Do not take it as a sign to rush headlong back in to the relationship.
But you also have to believe that the break-upper does genuinely like you, the break-uppee. They're clearly not in love with you--but if they didn't have some respect for you they would have simply changed their phone number instead of nicely telling you the relationship was over. So don't go beating yourself up. And don't go reinventing the entire relationship in light of the current circumstances, thinking things like "hmmm, so that night when he told me he had the stomach flu and couldn't go out, he probably was just bored to death of me and didn't know how to tell me." He had the stomach flu, ok? Don't torture yourself.
There are a couple of ways to do this in practice. 1) Pretend you have dates. The human mind is a powerful thing. Your whole body will weirdly believe that which your brain only pretends to believe. And when you believe it, the rest of the world will believe it and then suddenly you are a Datable Person. Make up blind dates to tell people about. Bring mysterious members of the opposite sex to parties and be vague about what your relationship is. (As one of my friend's has started repeating to herself, "Hello, I'm virtual girl. Welcome to my reality.") As a Person With Dates, the real dates (that people will suddenly be asking you out on, or else setting you up on) will be more fun, and less pressure-filled. 2) I'm not as big on the second option, but it seems to work for some people. Tell yourself you're not going to even try to date for 6 months. Find new friends, solidify your old friendships, get a new hobby, but no dating. Forget it. Not even if Brad Pitt himself asks you out. You will soon find yourself sparklingly witty at all gatherings because you no longer care what happens. Brad Pitt will indeed soon ask you out.
Don't question it. Buy her flowers. You will be rewarded.
It's just that we like regular attention. Consistently. All the time. You would think that the fact that you took us out to a fancy dinner last night should earn you brownie points for at least a week. But it doesn't. It only gets you about 24 hours. If there isn't at least a phone call within 24 hours, your stock plummets. But see how easy is the solution? Just one measly phone call. It's all we ask. And for some reason, you have to call pretty quickly after having a good time together. You have to call right afterwards, the next day. And then you can take a couple of days off.
The attention thing is what leads--in the extreme--to girls getting cranky in front of your friends or family. I even knew why I got cranky in front of my ex-boyfriend's family and I still couldn't stop it. It's hardwired somehow. But there's an easy solution. You just need to make sure you give her a bunch of brief respites alone. Drag her off to another room for a few minutes every once in awhile. Even every hour if necessary. At the very least make sure to tell her that you're psyched you're going to get to be alone with her later.
Also, we like to be complimented. Fun, spontaneous compliments. "Wow, you look good," when you first see her. It's not so hard. Just do it.
In fact, just talking about the woman is a good thing. If she's talking about a problem at work you respond with "Well, you could handle it the way you handled this, or that." It means you've been paying attention, figuring her out. A definite plus. Or talk about her to the group, too: "Jenny has a funny story about that." It's great when you're standing next to a boy and he says something about you to a group that announces to the world that you have a connection and that he knows something about you. God, I love that.
Anyway, you get the idea. I will not for one second defend these female needs as rational--but that doesn't mean you're going to be able to reason her out of them. They're there and they're not going to go away. And if you don't keep up your end of the maintenance bargain she'll throw total fits and become even more high maintenance. So do it and don't complain.
And one last thing: always call on Sunday night. Sunday nights are just notoriously lonely.
Another issue, of course, is jealousy. Jealousy is something that you're stuck with, and I don't think it's an unreasonable emotion to have. In many cases being jealous is the only nice thing to do--makes the other person feel important. But you just can't go overboard with jealousy, and you really just can't act on it. Going overboard means being jealous of every single person he ever sees or talks to--male or female--except for you. Identify just who you're jealous of--and stick to it. (Personally, ex-girlfriends make me crazy while current flirtations don't bother me at all.) Acting on it means expecting him to seriously change his behaviour to accomodate your jealousy. You may expect little changes, maybe--being extra affectionate with you when the two of you are around someone who stresses you out, for example. But demands that he completely ax that person from his life are not acceptable. (You are perfectly within your rights to ask that she not be invited to your wedding, however.)
Women tend to assume that when a man does something he knows exactly how it's going to affect her and he does it consciously. But men are just as confused about this dating stuff as women are. Men get nervous and men get shy and men have pride and men have been hurt, etc. etc. And these things influence their actions as much as they influence ours. So these are the kinds of feelings I'm talking about. When a guy does something that seems weird or wrong or mean don't just instantly get defensive--take a second to figure out what motivated it. Then get defensive.
You do this for three reasons. 1) Because it will make her happy and make her know that whether or not you ever see each other again you had fun with her. 2) Because it means that the next time you see her you don't have to avoid her--and hey you never know what could happen in 5 years, you might fall madly in love with her but she won't date you because you once blew her off. 3) Because you gotta be able to talk to a girl after you hook up with her. It's just not that big of a deal. So practice with the random ones so you're not a freak around the non-random ones.
What do you say? If you're not at all interested, keep it short. Just say that you wanted to make sure that she got home alright, or to check up on how hungover she was, or to say you had a good time last night. Don't give her your number.
If you like her, you call because it will get you in her good graces and make her feel secure. One of two things will happen: everything will be instantly wonderful or you'll both be a little wary and insecure. If the former: roll with it, you don't need my rules; if the latter:start following the procedures for asking someone out.
If you are interested in seeing him and he makes an effort to call and hang out with you, then there's also no issue. If you're interested and there are no forthcoming calls, follow the rules for asking someone out on a date. Alternative plans (and actually the ones I'd probably personally follow) are to a) stalk him, show up where you know he's going to be, but try to be a little subtle about it or b) organize a party in the next couple of weeks--whether it be a blow-out or smallish-dinner--and invite him to that. If he doesn't come to the party (and doesn't call to explain) he's not interested.
That having been said, people actually tend to err in the opposite direction. Getting stiff and awkward when they shouldn't. Think of the hook up as a whole episode that doesn't end until you're out the door. Keep affectionate. Get dressed in front of each other. Kiss each other goodbye. It doesn't matter that you may not want anything to happen again. The alternative is worse. Horrible awkwardness, not knowing what to do with your hands, terribly distant and halting discussions, panic. Keep the mood comfortable; panic after you leave.
In general, it's usually the person who's at home--male or female--who's feeling in control. It's up to that person to suggest breakfast, a shower, or another game of the strip poker that got you into this situation in the first place. It's up to the guest to pay attention and leave already if such suggestions are not forthcoming.
(If you're a boy, remember that you have to call the girl that night, no matter what.)
First of all, this thing about "just wanting someone for their body" is the most ridiculous notion that some 1950's mother came up with to stifle her daughter's spirit. No one really just wants someone for their body. Not for long anyway. (I'm sure we've all felt, as one of my girlfriends once announced "If I had to fuck that personality to fuck that body, I'd do it." But the number of people who come under that category are few and far between.) Guys, like women, are attracted to the whole enchilada: personality, smarts, career, hot red convertible. . . even at the end of the night, when they're drunk out of their gourd, willing to hook up with the last girl left at the party they convince themselves that they're attracted to the whole picture.
So, that having been said, the way that one (not just men; women, too) expresses attraction is through physical interaction. But lots of women do this weird thing with that in their heads. They think that the moment that a guy is paying attention to her body that he must have forgotten about her great sense of humor, awesome pool-playing and cute car. Suddenly the very fact that the guy is attracted to her--and showing it in the only possible way to show it--becomes a negative, or even degrading, thing.
Get over it.
Someone's being attracted to you is a good thing. It is a compliment. It is more than a compliment. It's a rush. It's power. It's damn fun.
(And if you start paying attention to the people around you, you will notice that the women who know this are never talked about or considered sluts. It's the General Philosophy again--act confident and you will be respected. On the flip side, if everytime you get entwined with a guy you feel used. . . well, then you create a reality where you are being used. It's all in your own head.)
That's about as risque as a man can get and be successful. (Though I do know one woman who says she'd go home with a guy who just walked up to her and said "Nice shoes, wanna fuck?" and I know of another woman who did.) For women who are looking to get kissed, however, my second favorite is "That's a great shirt. . . but it would look better on my floor." Or for the truly bold, "Let's get one thing straight," followed by a long, hard look at their crotch. Well, you can always say you did it on a dare. . .
For men, though, I have the all time winner. I know it works because someone used it on me and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. In a bar, no less. One of my friends has started using it and it's worked for him, too. It's not a conversation opener, you've got to wing that part on your own. But, somewhere in there you say, "You know, I'd really like you to meet my sister." They'll ask why and you respond with something along the lines of "You just remind me of her. You're both really [fill in the blank: enthusiastic, funny, into horses, knowledgeable about art. . .]" This works for SO many reasons. For one thing you sneak in a compliment, always a good thing. You've also couched yourself as someone who's close with his family, also a good thing. And lastly you've implied longevity. Very subtly. No promises. But you've suggested that this is not just some lame pick up routine, but that you want to see her again.
Try it. You'll be amazed. It does not matter that you don't have a sister. It works. She will go home with you.