Dating has arguably never been as confusing as it is in the 21st century. Singles trying to find love today not only have to contend with hookup culture, friends with benefits and flirting via text message but also with mixed messages from the so-called experts. A new dating book, for example, tells women It’s Okay to Sleep With Him on the First Date. Meanwhile the authors of classic courtship guide The Rules revamped their old school dating advice with a book released in January to help singles navigate relationships in the digital age. Although Not Your Mother’s Rules provides some common sense tips on online dating, courting on Facebook and the like, The Rules authors forbid women to accept last minute dates, let alone sleep with a guy on the very first one.
So whose advice should singles take? Their own, says About.com’s* dating guide Bonny Albo. Albo has not only written hundreds of articles about dating but also regularly fields dating questions from readers of both sexes who range in age from their teens to their sixties and beyond. Total Betty recently spoke with Albo to find out if there are any “rules” for dating in this era or if they’ve all gone the way of the rotary phone.
Nadra Nittle: Are there any dating rules worth following anymore?
Bonny Albo: The only rule I want anyone to follow is their own internal compass. I’d rather them just follow their own rules than think they must do that and this and this to get married or have sex or whatever people say.
NN: What are your thoughts on the new book It’s Okay to Sleep With Him On the First Date?
BA: On one hand you want to empower people to feel like they own their sexuality—that it’s okay whatever choices they make. At the same time to blatantly tell people it’s okay to sleep with a guy on the first date, I think for teenagers that would be really bad form to be suggesting that.
NN: Discuss the age old rule, which some would call sexist, that it’s not okay for women to pursue men they’re interested in dating.
BA: Asking a guy out and pursuing a man are very different. If a woman really wants to go out with a man she can just let him know she’s interested. She can say, ‘I would love to go to coffee with you.’ She’s not asking him out.
NN: Let’s discuss the idea of dating. Is it an antiquated concept?
BA: Very few people under age 25 call what they’re doing dating in the very traditional way from the 1950s. A lot of people are doing the hookup thing. They say, ‘I don’t know what this relationship is. I want see what’s out there. I want to have fun. …How do I define this?’ As long as everybody is on the same page, a relationship can constitute many things.
NN: Who should pay for dates?
BA: In the six years I’ve been doing this that’s the most raging discussion. I’ve heard three sides—the guy pays, the girl pays, they go Dutch. Whoever asks for the date should be paying in my opinion. Otherwise for same-sex couples, for instance, who pays?
NN: Let’s talk breakups. Do you recommend the No Contact Rule after couples split?
BA: Almost exclusively you should focus elsewhere after a breakup. Find the thing that gives you joy and focus on that. I tell my readers to commit to something they can focus on. The more you do that, the more you reconnect with yourself.
NN: What about rebound relationships? Some experts advise waiting a certain amount of time after a breakup to begin dating again.
BA: If the rebound relationship is based on complaining about your ex, you’re just in the same relationship all over again.
NN: So much dating advice is aimed at women, but men make their share of dating mistakes too. What do you find to be the most common dating mistake men make?
BA: The biggest mistake men make is they see a woman they like and don’t immediately make an effort to get to know her or say hello. They tell themselves, ‘She’s so pretty; she’s probably got a boyfriend.’ They psych themselves out. I would also say that once intimacy becomes a part of the picture, men behave as if it doesn’t change the relationship when it does.
NN: A new RAND study on cohabitation found that men and women have different expectations about living together. Women may see living together as a steppingstone to marriage, while men may use cohabitation as a way to stall the relationship and avoid getting married.
BA: That’s fascinating. So many couples who cohabitate are not ever getting married. Marriage is a bigger commitment. People can cohabitate forever. They ask, ‘Why do I need that piece of paper? This is good enough. Why do we have to change it if it’s working?’ It’s also really easy to get married but pretty difficult to get divorced. It’s a lengthy process. I think it comes down to communication with yourself first, otherwise you could be waiting several years to get married.
*Nadra Nittle is About.com’s Race Relations Guide.