"The Rules" for the Next Dating Generation.
by Leslie Morgan Steiner
I howled (not in a good way) over The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. I was in the minority – the 1995 book sold over two million copies and was translated into 26 languages.
I watched (in a good way) the 2009 movie He’s Just Not That Into You three times – twice with my kids, once with my husband, who nodded often and even cried once during the film.
“Girls are taught a lot of stuff growing up. If a guy punches you he likes you. Someday you will meet a wonderful guy and get your very own happy ending. But sometimes we're so focused on finding our happy ending we don't learn how to read the signs. How to tell the ones who want us from the ones who don't, the ones who will stay and the ones who will leave.”
Imbedded in these books and movies about subtle (and not so subtle) dating etiquette lie complicated realities of our culture. What men and women look for in a mate can be practical – and ridiculously impractical.
Washington Post reporter Lois Romano wrote about this dynamic 25 years ago, and recently examined intergenerational dating dynamics in Love and the Litmus Test. Romano – who has two daughters now in their 20s -- argues that in her and her daughters’ dating experiences, every dance inevitably takes a litmus test: “the moment in virtually every relationship when the euphoria of chemistry and promise gives way to the reality of everyday life – and a decision has to be made. An insignificant gesture, an offhand comment, or a plaid sports coat can alter destiny.”
The content of these unconscious litmus tests have changed with the generations, but the tests still remain. Her research showed that people stick by these snap judgments, seemingly based on irrelevant details. The results are mixed.
“Coming out of the ‘60s, my peers considered themselves feminist prototypes who were hellbent on having careers and families. Yet not a single woman in my original research mentioned cooking as a litmus test for a potential mate. In fact, a guy who wanted to cook you a three-course dinner at your place back then was considered a little too domesticated.”
Flash forward 20 years. No wonder so many women who chose clueless-in-the-kitchen mates were infuriated by the impossible dream of “having it all.” You cannot have it all when married to men who can’t even cook. Duh!!!
Will our daughters (and sons) be any more realistic than we were? Can we pass on what we’ve learned about relationships from years of happy or unhappy conjugation? What “rules” do 20-somethings follow today when it comes to dating and sorting through potential partners?