Setting: Starbucks, Oakville, Ontario. Me (cute hat) on a casual first date with a guy.
Context: Home for the holidays (I’d met the guy two days prior while out for drinks with my brother).
Today I had coffee with a guy who—within the first ten minutes of our conversation—broke one of the most important rules of a fist date. Yet, somehow, I didn’t care one bit.
Don’t mention your ex. Every dating handbook or relationship column you’ve ever read will warn against the consequences of mentioning your ex on a first date. Actually, I’d read one that very morning while researching a women’s magazine I’m writing for: “Bringing up your ex on a first date is a deal-breaker,” the magazine cautions. Obviously, this guy hadn’t read this article—or absorbed any other relationship advice circulating in popular culture — because our first moments together unfolded like this:
Me: So, what’s on your mind lately?
Boy: I’ve been thinking about my ex.
(If this were a dating video, this is where the scene would be paused and a large red X would be stamped over the screen. A love guru (Ryan Secrest?) would step in and say something like “mentioning an ex on a first date is not a good idea because….” )
I knew that by every standard this guy was breaking some unwritten rule, but I honestly didn’t care. As our conversation continued, I felt closer to him and appreciative of his honesty. His answer actually gave me a clearer idea of where his head was at. He could have lied— he was a smart guy— but he didn’t. I’d asked him what was on his mind, and he’d answered me— plain and simple.
Which got me thinking—who made these rules anyhow? Who says you can’t mention an ex on a first date, and why the hell not? Why do we walk around pretending we’ve not been written on?
When the guy mentioned his ex, I experienced this moment of vertigo; I knew, by the book, I should be shocked/appalled/upset—but I wasn’t. What’s crazy is that it actually took a moment for me to recognize that I wasn’t even upset. Culturally, I’ve been shaped to believe that I should be frustrated, but experientially, I wasn’t. Who wrote this stupid book anyhow?
It seems the more dating rules I break (or the more dating rules I witness being broken), the more firmly I believe in the stupidity of dating rules. I’m convinced that all this relationship advice, all these rules surrounding love and sex— “how to catch a man,” “how to seduce a woman”— actually mess up getting to know someone on a meaningful level.
The truth is this: I just wanted to get to know this guy. I wasn’t deeply invested in our aquaintance, but he turned out to be a wicked person, and perhaps we would have never reached that comfort level had he not been open and honest with me in the first place.
The discourse of romance is littered with the language of gaming: he’s a player, she’s playing hard to get, she cheated, etc. If we treat relationships like games—with rules and regulations—then don’t we treat the intended as players? or worse—as pawns? What if rather than approaching dating like a game, we instead treat people as human beings? When we approach people openly and honestly, suddenly, something opens—a yawning chasm peels back the pretenses and formalities and gives way to a void, a blank space in which we can breathe clear air outside the congested parameters of socially constructed dialogue.
Without rules, we can get to know someone organically —and isn’t that the best way?
Namaste to my friend who shits on taboos.