Courtship evolved over the centuries for marriage and procreation purposes. As such, we've been passed down a set of powerful dating guidelines, many predicated on heteronormative standards (1950s etiquette handbooks and "Miss Manners" come to mind).
But the "rules" of the dating game from the old guard aren't set in stone, nor do they reflect the way we live our lives today. This is evident in conversations such as the one Emma Watson led last week. When it comes to dating rules like who pays and who opens doors, the actress said, couples should feel liberated to do "whatever makes you each feel comfortable."
"It's a problem," Watson told the audience at Facebook's London office, "when people expect things to be a certain way."
We don't have to live by those expectations and rules, and nowhere is this clearer than within "queer dating." So we asked several LGBT-identified daters to debunk some of the oldest dating "rules" and tell us, in their experience, what dating can be like when you get honest about what you really want.
The "rule": If you match on a dating app, the man sends the first message.
The real talk: The old concept of chivalry, in which a gentleman asks out a lady, still lives on in our digital age. But that's not the only way things can unfold, as couples with two men (or zero men) show.
David*, a media professional who identifies as gay, told Mic, "It doesn't matter who messages first: as long as you're friendly. Caginess gets in the way of actually making a connection. Don't miss the entire point. Even if it's just that cat emoji with heart eyes, send it."
The "rule": The man asks the woman out.
The real talk: Men have historically been positioned as the ones responsible for popping any questions related to courtship, to the point of popping the Question. But who asks who out is in fact mutable. Tom, a gay public relations executive, told Mic. "Anyone can ask anyone out — that's the only rule."
Liz, who identifies as queer, tells Mic that in her experience, "[t]he most interested party or the bravest one makes the first move. In my experience as a femme, butches tend to hang back and wait for femmes to show interest. The ratio of good butches to fab femmes is such that the butches rarely have to wait long. Femmes also tend to make the first sexual move."
The "rule": The man takes charge of the first date plans.
The real talk: Given that he's the one who did the wooing, as tradition would have it, the man often controls the date agenda. Indeed, many women still express this as a preference. But being the date coordinator isn't a gendered role by any means — it can come down to just taking some initiative on either side.
Scout, a transgender man, told Mic, "Whoever is chasing the other the hardest clearly plans the date. Don't ask what someone wants to do for the first few dates, just puff up your chest and suggest something interesting."
Or feel free to make a joint decision. "Whoever asks the person out usually takes charge," Samuel, who works in media and identifies as gay, told Mic. "But suggestions are usually welcome."
The "rule": The man always pays.
The real talk: Despite increasingly vocal debates on the matter, this tradition persists, even when women would prefer to change things up. But it's possible to find alternative pay models, as it were.
"If it's a first date, the person who asked might pay, or you might go Dutch," Samuel said. "If it's a subsequent date, a few scenarios play out: If Person A paid for the first date, Person B might pay for the second date ('You got the last one!'). If Person A and Person B went Dutch on the first date, they might do so again on the second date, but if someone is feeling confident, they might insist on paying ('You can get the next one' is probably my favorite way of being asked out)."
Regardless of the final choice, it's all about the discussion. Trans* and genderqueer therapist Laura told Mic, "I've always had it be mutual. We're adults, we're both women. This isn't the 1950s. We're both there to learn about each other, share a nice evening, see if there is chemistry."
Echoed Tom, "If men and women are equals, shouldn't they be interchangeable in this equation? Chivalry is functionless in this regard, which goes to show how flimsy the rules are in contemporary dating. I've never once had a guy insist on paying the bill. I've never once expected to be paid for, and I'd be rather surprised if a date expected me to pay for them. I'm all grown up and can proudly pay for my own food and drinks."
The "rule": Bringing up your ex is off limits.
"It seems to always come up in the first date, even if the 'rules' say you're supposed to avoid the topic," Laura told Mic. "First dates are about opening up and learning about the other person, and I find myself wanting to know a bit about why they're single to help me have a sense for who I'm dating and their history."
That said, you have the gauge the situation. "Bringing up your ex is always a bad idea," said Samuel, "mostly because in most cities, there's a decent chance the person you're on a date with has slept with them."
The "rule": Jumping into sex after the first date isn't ideal.
The real talk: The preconceived idea that sleeping with someone on the first date will send the "wrong message" is still strong. But the decision is rarely so clear-cut, nor does it need to come with a value judgment.
"Why wouldn't it be acceptable?" Laura said. "If I'm drawn to the person, physically and emotionally (or even just physically), it's in my head. Sometimes sex on the first date happens. We're adults and if it's a choice we both make... so long as we're safe, why not? We're sharing pleasure."
"It all depends on how much you like him," said David. "There is far too much importance put on the date itself and not enough on everything after that."
Most importantly, the decision doesn't have to have cosmic meaning. "Most people will judge themselves harsher for this choice than the other person will, however," Tom said. "I know women and men who believe having sex on the first date comes at the price of never having a second. But the exceptions to that maxim of thought are endless. You want to be on a date with someone who's comfortable enough with sex to either draw the line and wait, or to embrace whatever they're feeling at that time by acting on it."
The "rule": If the date went well, the man follows up.
The real talk: The age-old image of a girl sitting pretty next to the telephone still exists in certain instances. But both people realizing they have the power to call (or text or email, as the case may be) can be freeing.
Damien, who identifies as gay, told Mic, "This I am adamant about: Both people must follow up. Even if it's to say 'I'm not interested.' If I don't hear from a date the next day at least, then I am suspicious that they've read some dating book about how its best to wait three days or something and I'm immediately turned off. When someone responds within the next day, I feel like they're ready to try something or communicate with honesty."
Or, as Samuel put it, "If the date went well, you send a lot of emoji-laden text messages (either party)." No pressure needed.
The "rule": The exclusive talk happens before the "boyfriend-girlfriend" talk.
The real talk: Labels can be a source of comfort, but they're only needed when a couple wants them. Moreover, exclusivity doesn't have to be inevitable, nor is it the only sign a couple is "serious."
"The exclusive talk happens (in my experience) at the same time as the boyfriend-boyfriend talk, or after. Or, like, never. Or the issue is revisited after the boyfriend-boyfriend talk," Samuel said.
"Some people can live without rules and titles, one just needs a strong mutual understanding," said David. "Exclusivity defines boyfriends — unless the couple decides they're in an open relationship, which is like free-range."
As Watson said, it's all about having a conversation, no matter how awkward.
*Some names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.