If you've been single and ready to mingle for any length of time, you've probably picked up bits of "advice," all of which add up to a confusing, outdated set of guidelines that tell us what to say and do (or not) in order to land a spouse (the assumed goal, of course).
How long should you wait to text him back? Four hours minimum. When can you sleep together? After no fewer than three dates. Should you move in together? Of course not — why would he buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?
This advice has never really been proven, of course, yet somehow we still hear it from parents, grandparents, friends and even ourselves in moments of self-doubt. The truisms have been so bought into that many have been immortalized into a book called (what else?) The Rules.
These platitudes are more than annoying to hear — they're harmful and deeply offensive. They not only put the blame on single people, but they also assume men and women play different roles in this game called love (not to mention that dating is only happening between men and women). But it's 2015. We know better. It's time to kill these nine "rules" once and for all.
1. "If you have sex on the first date, it'll never turn into a serious relationship."
The conventional wisdom that jumping into the sack too soon will prevent men (and, increasingly, women) from seeing their partner as anything but a hookup buddy has been perpetuated for literally centuries. But there's no research that proves hooking up on the first date will affect your relationship.
A 2012 study from Concordia University in Montreal found that sexual desire can transition into actual emotional connection. And to those who assume men think less of women who don't wait until the third date: The majority of men don't actually believe that.
Yes, some research has indicated a correlation between hooking up early and lower relationship satisfaction. But the differences in happiness are slim, and experts argue that personality factors and family background could actually be to blame. So if you and your partner feel like going all the way, go for it. There's no need to assume a serious relationship will be off the table afterward.
2. "A guy should really pay for the first date."
Guys, you're officially off the hook. The gender wage gap is smaller than it has ever been, and "benevolently sexist" attitudes about who's responsible for the check are changing. A 2013 survey of 17,607 unmarried heterosexual men and women revealed that 64% of men believe women should pay occasionally, and 44% would stop seeing a woman who never paid. Only 39% of women hope men would not ask them to contribute.
"Equality is equality, and it needs to apply to both sides," Kate, 26, from British Columbia told Mic. "Any man who insists beyond reason that he should pay ... raises big red flags for me, for incompatibility but also for immaturity."
Though there are plenty of modern women who appreciate being treated on a date, we've moved beyond this being an obligation. At the very least, it's no reason to stop seeing someone you otherwise really like.
3. "He won't buy the cow if he can get the milk for free."
No one will ever put a ring on your finger, the logic goes, if they can experience all the benefits of cohabitating without ever having to make the lifetime commitment of marriage. But the reality just doesn't bear that out. Cohabitation has increased 900% over the last 50 years, and a 2011 Pew Research study found that among Americans who have ever lived with an unmarried partner, 64% said they thought of it as a step toward marriage, rather than a life choice in lieu of it.
The advice is a relic of the pre-1990s, when cohabitating was still relatively uncommon and studies concluded that living together before marriage led to divorce. People who gravitated toward nonconformist relationships were thought to be less likely to embrace traditional marriage values like responsibility and commitment. But now, our traditions have relaxed, few would blink an eye if you signed a lease with your significant other — and plenty of those couples who do are seriously committed.
"If you want to do a statistical model and predict who will get married, it's people who are already living together who have the biggest chance," Pamela Smock, professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, told the Huffington Post.
4. "Play hard-to-get so you don't seem too eager."
If you purposefully act like you aren't really into someone just to protect your pride in case they aren't really into you, you're needlessly introducing drama and confusion into the relationship. Sure, it can be scary to admit that you have feelings for that cute guy or woman, but it's dishonest to pretend otherwise, and can actually have the opposite effect you intended. What if he believes you're really not interested?
Emmett, 24, from Minneapolis, said playing hard-to-get just makes dating more difficult for everyone, since game-playing makes it harder to discern when "no" really means "yes." Everyone is left feeling frustrated. "Honesty is a pretty important virtue, and being dishonest with anyone is pretty disrespectful to them as a person," he told Mic. Take the guesswork out of dating by just being straight with people. It's what everyone wants.
5. "It won't work if you don't share any common interests."
When people offer this advice, they're usually referring to superficial shared interests, like favorite movies and hobbies. But your and your partner's mutual love of long walks on the beach and House of Cards don't actually predict how successful your relationship will be. It's shared values on matters including sex, money, religion and running a household that really matter.
Avery, 22, from Ontario, admitted that she and her boyfriend appear to be complete opposites: He plays video games and listens to house music; she tries not to fall asleep while watching his beloved Star Wars, meanwhile ordering Chinese food he barely tolerates. But they share similar values.
"We both want kids. We both respect our parents the same way. We both have hard work ethics, and we both understand the other person's emotions when upset," she told Mic. "It's the deeper connection we have that makes our relationship work, and I believe that's what makes it work when couples don't have a ton in common."
6. "If you like it, then you put a ring on it."
Sorry, Beyoncé. Your future as a couple doesn't depend on the presence or absence of an engagement ring. Couples are delaying marriage at higher rates than ever before. Since the 1970s, the marriage rate has fallen 60%. Reasons include the recession, a decline in religiousness, more contraceptive use and women's ability to financially support themselves. It's simply outdated to use marriage as a marker of a relationship's staying power. And studies have shown that cohabitating and married couples exhibit the same levels of happiness.
If you haven't gotten married after one year, or two, or five, that's OK. As long as you two are happy, who cares if you haven't walked down the aisle (even if your mom insists "no ring on the finger, you must not linger").
7. "You have to feel that 'spark.'"
Everyone knows the "spark" when they feel it – that pulse-quickening heat that signals, "Hey, I want to kiss you now!" We also tend to assume that happy relationships depend on an ever-present spark, and that if the attraction fades, we're doomed.
But it's not that simple. Bruce Derman, couples therapist and author of We Could've Had a Great Date if It Wasn't for You, told Mic that there are four aspects to determine compatibility: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. You need at least three in order to make a relationship work. "The spark relates mostly to the physical aspect, and if you don't have the other three in addition, the spark may dim over the years," he said. Your relationship can survive an ebb and flow in "spark," but it can't survive a weak emotional foundation.
8. "You have to open yourself up to find love."
Actually, it turns out there is some truth to the old adage: "You'll find love when you're not looking for it," Derman said. It is easier to connect with someone when you aren't pressuring or forcing yourself." Otherwise, you are not really open and the intense energy of your agenda will dominate and drive suitable partners away," he said. Remain open to love, but no need to act like life is one never-ending date.
And no need to, as French stylist Caroline de Maigret puts it less delicately, "Always be fuckable." You're ready for love, physically and otherwise. Just let it happen.
9. "If they're acting like a jerk, that means they like you."
Come on, people. Unless you're in kindergarten, this is just common sense. If someone's treating you badly, it's safe to assume they're bad for you. As Maya Angelou said, "When people show you who they are, believe them."
h/t Cosmopolitan.com for the inspiration