The Modern Lover

A lot has changed over the years that man has been "civilized". Fashions come and go and come back again; laws are born, altered, or abolished altogether; the economy goes up and (more noticeably) falls down; and despite centuries of traditions being handed down from one generation to the next, our most basic ways of life are constantly held under a microscope of Right vs. Wrong, True vs. False, and The Way It Was vs. The Way It Is.

One of those basic traditions, (the silliest and most confusing, in my opinion) is courtship, a.k.a. dating.

It doesn't seem to matter whether one is checking the "gay", "straight", or "something else" box. I've heard it from friends, seen it written in books, watched it play out in movies and music videos: Dating is complicated.

Obviously there is no Right way to date. If such a recipe for success did exist, I wonder how many of us would actually follow it. Personally, most of the fun of dating someone new is the adventure and mystery of what might happen next. Sure, sometimes it's also helpful to know about the big cliff on the other side of the hill before you make a running leap, but we don't always have the luxury of seeing that far ahead.

Here are a few things I've learned about dating & relationships, either thanks to my own experiences or those of my friends and family:

  • Dating is like gambling. Whether the relationship lasts 5 minutes or 5 years, there is no sure-as-shit way to tell if the person you're involved with is a safe bet. Forget about blind dates for a second. Hanging out with someone you like for the first few times can be exhilarating, but all it takes is one unexpected conversation topic, one innocent peek in the medicine cabinet, one seemingly harmless hobby, or one unnoticed obsession to turn Prince or Princess Charming into King or Queen of Psychoville. In my experience, a good relationship is one that forces both parties to take a bit of a risk so that the playing field of vulnerability is balanced and the winnings are enjoyed equally.
  • Dating is full of rules. Many of these unofficial laws of love & lust almost always go unspoken between partners. For example, trying to figure out who's going to pay for the date before the check arrives. Some say the person who initiated the date should pay, but some might argue that each person should take turns paying or split the bill each time in an attempt to make things fair. These little traditions and social norms can get tricky, and very specific, but most of them are unavoidable. In my experience, a good relationship is one that breaks the rules once in awhile and allows each person to establish his/her own ideas of what you're "supposed to do".
  • Dating isn't linear. Even though life itself would have you believe that we all start at the beginning, do stuff in the middle, and go out with a spectacular grand finale, that's just not the way dating is (or should be, in my opinion). As children, we go through grade school constantly reminded of our position on the academic ladder. First grade, second grade, third, and so on. We clearly know where we're headed -- graduation -- and as far off as it may seem, the steps are all laid out for us to follow, rinse, and repeat. We're supposed to graduate, go to college, find purpose in life, contribute to society, and live happily ever after. The same with jobs: get hired, learn the ropes, work hard, get promoted, get a raise, become successful, get promoted again, earn respect, serve your sentence, retire, and live happily ever after. The world would have you believe dating is no exception to this stepping-stone way of thinking: meet, date, fall in love, get married, have kids, and live happily ever after. I'm of the opinion that a good relationship is more like a well-kept garden: you plant something, nurture it, trim it, feed it, and plant new things around it from time to time to keep it interesting. There's no day on the calendar that says "finish gardening" because it's something you just keep doing. Sure, dating is something you can start doing, but like a garden the relationship will take on many shapes, colors, and fragrances depending on the weather that surrounds it and the work that's put into it.
Though it's not a comprehensive list of all the things I've discovered about dating, it at least hits on most of the major things I keep in mind when testing the waters with a new love interest. And while I may not be much of a gambler or a rule breaker, I'm gradually learning that dating, much like life, is only as complicated as you allow it to be.

What have you learned about dating? Where did you learn the "rules" of dating? What's your personal dating style?

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