The Ten Commandments of Modern Dating

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, which reminded me of the Ten Commandments.

That’s because there’s only one measly commandment telling you what to do: ‘honor thy father and thy mother.’ The remaining nine are a relentless barrage of ‘thou shalt nots’, telling you what not to do.

So if you were to follow them to the letter, then every day is Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day), since all you can do is sit in a corner calling mom and telling her how great her tuna casserole is. Unless it’s Saturday, in which case you probably aren’t allowed to do that either. And don’t even think of casually saying hi to a graven image, or worse, coveting your neighbor’s oxen.

So for somebody living in 2009, that Decalogue ain’t all that useful.

At the same time, perhaps there is another realm in which a barrage of negative directives would be useful. Some area in which people are hopelessly, repeatedly, incorrigibly screwing up their own chances.

Ah yes — that would be dating.

I’ve been on the receiving end of enough stories from men and women to notice some consistent patterns of self-sabotage in the mating dance. The good news is that once you know about them, these behaviors are entirely avoidable. Call them the Dating Decalogue, the Ten Commandments of Modern Mating or just common sense — here they are:

1) Thou shalt not flake.

If you like your date at all, it’s crucial that you show up — especially to your first appointment. Besides being tremendously deflating to your date when you cancel, there’s an even deeper reason that has nothing to do with your date and everything to do with you.

Psychologists have found that humans have a perverse tendency to align their thoughts with their actions to avoid cognitive dissonance.

So when you cancel a date or stand someone up even accidentally, something in the back of your head says, “Well, I must not have liked him/her all that much anyway.” That makes it that much harder for you to accept a second date. So unless you think you’ve got swine flu, do your best to keep the date.

2) Thou shalt not yammer on thine phone during a date.

I’ll never forget that soft summer night in the Boston Public Gardens when I was about to kiss a girl for the first time and her phone rang. She looked at it, said “It’s Mom,” and proceeded to catch up with her for the next two minutes. I walked away, never to see her again.

You’ve both put in the time and effort to meet each other, so honor that commitment and give each other your undivided attention. ‘Undivided’ means no calls made, no calls received, no texts or emails checked. Just turn the pusher* off.

Additionally, new studies show that fragmenting our attention with email, texts and other distractions lowers our IQ about as much as smoking marijuana does. A dumber you is usually a less attractive you, so stay sharp if you want to make a good impression.

3) Thou shalt not convey emotionally-sensitive content over email or text message.

Email and text lack accurate indicators of tone, making them fertile ground for miscommunication. Additionally, they provide a permanent record of temporary insanity which can be disseminated all too easily. For these three reasons, you should use these media to convey data only — where and when to meet, what to wear, etc.

Mild flirting like “Miss you” or “You’re kinda cute in a sombrero” is fine. “Only a jerk wouldn’t call me after what we did” you’ll regret, especially after it ends up on

4) Thou shalt not get sloppy drunk during a date.

This one’s obvious enough not to require an explanation, but I’ll belabor the point anyway. A date is an opportunity to make an accurate assessment of another person’s potential as a companion — and to allow that person to assess you in turn. Getting sloppy drunk ruins your judgment and alters your self-presentation. Which is a nice way of saying is makes you look like a slobbering, unappealing goober.

5) Thou shalt not have a first sexual encounter when of unsound mind.

This follows #4, but I say ‘unsound mind’ so it covers all states of altered judgment: being drunk, high or desperate. At least the first time you get sexually intimate with someone, you want to be of reasonably clear mind. Otherwise the act could lead to regret or, worse, mediocre sex.

6) Thou shalt not argue.

Being right is not the same as being liked. So if you want the other person to like you, avoid argument altogether. An argument is the only game both parties lose. Of course, somebody’s going to argue about this, and — well, it’s still unattractive.

7) Thou shalt not be an open (Face)book.

When you first meet people, you want to control the impression they get about you. Tools like Facebook provide too much information about you too fast to be placed in context accurately (“Why is he wearing a bra in public?”), facilitating misunderstanding. So don’t become instant Facebook friends or otherwise overshare personal information with someone you’ve just started dating.

Being an open book is not transparency; it’s imprudence. So control the information about you so it’s a trickle, not a flood. Not only will you forestall misunderstanding, but when people know less about you, you’ll look more mysterious and interesting to boot.

8) Thou shalt not be judgmental.

“Only a fool would do such a thing” is a judgment; ditto for “Only an idiot would vote for that guy,” no matter how true it is. So ask questions instead of issuing verdicts. Mind you, “What kind of idiot would vote for that guy?” may look like a question, but it’s still a judgment. “What was important to you about doing that” is a softer request likely to get you a higher-quality answer.

9) Thou shalt not whine.

Complaining is unattractive, no matter how justified you think it is. Yeah, your middle seat in the back of coach was terrible — and your litany of woe is not exactly charming either, so let’s talk about something more fun, shall we? And if you’re going to complain about complaining being unattractive — see #6 above.

And finally…

10) Thou shalt listen.

I made this the only positive commandment since it’s so darn important — almost as important as honoring thy father and thy mother.

Let people speak without interruption, and quit talking about yourself so much. People are dying to be heard, so if you’re the one listening, you’re giving them more life. And who doesn’t want to be around more life?

In the Tao of Dating for Women and The Tao of Dating for Men I much prefer to offer readers ideas for what to do versus what not to do. So in the next articles, I’ll be sharing some useful positive principles for long-term romantic fulfillment.

* Yes, I actually mean that your phone is like a drug dealer. And the way you compulsively check it is neurologically the same as the lab rat hitting the lever for another hit of heroin.

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