I’ve been a semi-rebel my whole life. Fortunately for my parents, for the most part, my rebellions growing up were limited to prank phone calls and eating pineapple on top of buildings. In school, I wouldn’t say I was a regular in the principle’s office but I spent my fair share of time in the halls of Collinsville Middle School for asking untimely questions and talking a bit too much. I remember one day in my eight grade science class, all the students were feeling rather rambunctious and of course, I didn’t help. Our teacher, Mr. Saltsman, warned that the next person who spoke would be kicked out of class. Being the star student I was, I raised my hand in the middle of his lecture and asked, “If everyone in the world went to China and jumped at the same time would that throw the Earth off it’s axis?” My classmates cracked up and Mr. Saltsman just pointed to the familiar hallway and told me to sit there and contemplate life. Despite my middle school antics, there are a couple areas in my life that I have clung to the rules as if they were the last life rafts on a sinking ship. Those areas I’m referring to are careers and romantic relationship, but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on the latter.
From a very early age we are taught the rules of the dating world whether we realize it or not. Children are taught that the Daddy brings home the bacon and Mommy cooks it, girls have cooties and boys shouldn’t cry. As we get older our sphere of influence reaches past the grasp of our parents and seeps its way into our minds through pop culture, various organizations and peers. This is when the rule teaching begins. We are given rules to follow on both ends of the spectrum. From high school on, girls are taught one of two things. They are taught that in order to be attractive to the opposite sex they must be willing to act more interested, dress more promiscuously and look like the stereotypical sexy girl idolized in the movies. On the other end of the spectrum, girls are taught that in order to get a guy they must act like they don’t care, play hard to get and appear unavailable. We are introduced to the modern dating “lingo” (“No, Billy and Becky are just talking, but Joe and Susie are dating. She said that after a couple more dates he needs to ask to be her boyfriend.” etc.) and given rules for what is acceptable within each stage.
After high school, one might assume that the “game” gets simpler– but it really doesn’t. Our society is filled with people who are accustomed to both the traditional dating approaches of the past and equally immersed in the independence of the twenty-first century. Although both of these ideas are wonderful, when the two are combined there is bound to be some confusion about the rules of dating, sex and love. The self-help industry loves to break it down for us and make it super simple to understand by giving us rules like, the 3 date rule (no sleeping together before the third date), the 3 day call rule (ask for the girls number and don’t call for three days), and the labels of talking, dating and exclusive. Unfortunately for self-help readers like myself, it’s not that simple! Throughout my entire dating life, I have tried to abide by these and other similar rules we all know and love (or love to hate); and although I am pretty darn good at playing the game– I’ve yet to be in love. Since moving to NYC I have been presented with so many opportunities to grow in romantic relationships and absolutely NONE of them have fit neatly into the cubbies I created for them. Okay this guy and I are DEFINITELY not just friends, but he is totally not my boyfriend! WHAT ARE WE? has been a thought I have obsessed over recently which eventually led to my Relationship Rule Number One…
FORGET ALL THE RULES! Every single one. Here’s why: Rules imply that there is some sort of game and I am not at all interested in playing games, I really just want to live, love and grow. Each of us has two sides, our egos and our true selves. It is our ego that causes us to be attached to rule-like actions such as, “He better call me by five and it’s over” or he isn’t rich enough, tall enough or talented enough. Our ego is the one that tells us we need to slap a label on everything and find commitment before they leave (FYI: The ego is nothing more than our fear, and fear causes us to do some crazy stuff, even if it’s not best for us). It is our ego that causes us to get jealous and obsess over where something is going. I am a recovering ego-aholic myself, my ego has been on the fritz ever since I started dating and I am just now realizing THIS IS NOT ME, it’s my fear and insecurity. The other side of us, our true selves, is the one that will actually help us find love. Our true self is the one that causes us to look at traits that matter and ask questions like how does this person make me feel? Do they help me grow? And are we helping each other love more? Although I am still in the process of listening to my true self in relationships, I am convinced that following this voice rather than the ego is a key ingredient in finding lasting love.
I’m sure some of you are reading this thinking, “Well that’s just great Katie, but what about my STANDARDS; I have standards!” Girl (Guy), I hear ya. I’m so picky! I’m pretty sure a Brad Pitt look alike could walk up to me with a dozen roses, dressed in this season’s Ralph Lauren collection, saying all he wants to do is talk about our feelings and then then make-out passionately in the rain with Sixpence None the Richer playing in the back ground and I would STILL find some issue with him. I’m a picky girl. I am NOT saying to ditch your standard, all I am suggesting is that you ask your self if your standards are really worth standing for. When asking that question there are a couple of things to consider. Initially, is the standard you hold one you have set or has someone set it for you? Perhaps your standard was set by your parents, your church, pop culture or your past relationships; if so, take the time to examine whether or not that standard actually serves you and if it is a truth you hold for yourself. The second thing to ask is, is this standard set by my ego or my true self? In the past I have been guilty of listening to my ego when it comes to dates. I would get all hung up on where the guy would take me; at times I would think that he must care a lot because he took me to the nicest restaurant in town etc. Sadly, I would stay in unfulfilled relationships just because they provided me with the “scene” I liked to be in. At times this idea caused me to pass up dates and time with wonderful guys who may not have been able to take me to the nicest steak house in town but connected with me on a much deeper level. Again, I am not saying the luxurious life is a bad thing, I can’t wait to be a regular at some five star restaurant in NYC, but it is important to remember although these dates may be fun, they DO NOT MATTER– love, communication and fun does. (Plus we are in our twenties, it’s okay to be kinda broke!)
I get it, relationships are scary and not having a road map to guide us through them isn’t always convenient. But I do believe that if we can train ourselves to let go of all the rules we have been taught about playing the game and ask ourselves what really matters, then we will be well on our ways to finding love and as a result having more fulfilled relationships now and in the future.