Time To Break The Dating Rules
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Time To Break The Dating Rules

Embrace the awkwardness: Communication is at the center of all relationships.

Let’s talk about dating as it is practiced in some segments of our community, most notably among the Orthodox. #UpperWestSide #WashingtonHeights #QueensCollege #Stern. Are we happy with the current state of dating? Are we happy with The Dating Rules?

She works in advertising. Lives on 89th and Columbus. One Saturday night she meets a guy at a mutual friend’s birthday party and they connect on Facebook. Do The Dating Rules allow her to message him “Hey, really nice meeting you, want to grab drinks this week?” If not, do we want to change that?

In the close to two decades I spent working at Yeshiva University, and in my current practice as a Life Coach, I meet many young women and men who are bothered by The Dating Rules. Let’s go back to our Ad Gal. Say she asks him out: It’s a win-win. Either he’s interested, in which case he says yes, or he’s turned off that she was so forward and he declines. But does our Ad Gal really want to date a guy who was so turned off by her making the first move?

Now I know this is all much easier said than done.  Social norms do not just change because it makes sense for them to. But they certainly will not change if we don’t start talking about them at our Shabbat tables and on our newsfeeds. Emma Watson, (of Harry Potter fame) in a recent interview talked about her experience paying for a date. She admits it was awkward, but then explained that confronting that awkwardness produced a more comfortable situation. I think in our community those conversations would be awkward as well. But, it was also probably awkward the first time a woman raised her hand in a Harvard Law School class back in 1950 or the first time a woman was seen in a police uniform. Not so awkward anymore. Watson’s suggestion was that it’s time we own the awkwardness instead of having it own us.

Communication is at the center of all relationships. When it comes to the dating relationship, let’s look at three basic questions: Who asks whom out on the first date? Who plans each date as the relationship is growing? Who pays for each date? Shouldn’t each individual feel at liberty to do each of these without any negative repercussions?

Breaking the rules is liberating for each person involved.  Let me offer an example of yet another rule to prove the point. He works in chinuch (Jewish education) and lives in the Heights. One Saturday night he is on a first date that came from a setup. After the date he thought to himself, “She is really great, but 100 percent this is not a good match.” Nonetheless, according to the dating rules he must ask her out on a second date or risk being branded as someone who is not a mensch.

This whole idea seems unhealthy and unfair for both people. Does she really want to be on a date with a guy who’s not interested in her? If she is required to say yes to these second dates, then she has the same problem as him. If not, doesn’t that seem a little imbalanced? If we believe in equal pay in the workplace, and that it is important to share responsibilities on the home front, then why should it be any different when it comes to dating? Women and men both need to take some responsibility. And if either one is not ready for a change in these traditional roles, then that choice should be theirs, and nobody, whether they are changing the rules or keeping them, should be judged for their choices.

In some circles when two people are set up, go on the required two dates, and then one of them feels this relationship is not going to work out, they don’t even communicate this information with each other directly.  Instead, the proper protocol is to go back to the person who set them up and tell that person who then conveys the message. The rationale I have been told for this is: why should they have this uncomfortable and slightly awkward talk? Neither one really wants to be having that phone conversation.  While that is certainly true, it’s far from the point. The fact is that throughout life, relationships have awkward moments and awkward conversations that we need to learn to navigate. Avoiding those conversations may be desirable at the moment, but it prevents people from forming the necessary building blocks of communication. Uncomfortable conversations are a part of life. Do you really want your first uncomfortable conversation to be with your spouse?

Each relationship we are in should be a building block for the next relationship. That includes the fun conversations, the tough ones, and yes, the awkward ones. So how will the dating rules change?  One awkward conversation at a time.

Beth Hait is the former assistant dean of students at YU/Stern College and is currently in practice as a Life Coach. Her website is www.bethhait.com and she can be reached at Dr.Beth.Hait@gmail.com

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