Three Dates and You’re in Bed

Why is dating today so stressful?

The answer is simple: Sex.

I know. That sounds perilously like those counter-feminist
conservatives who rail at modern woman for coldheartedly indulging
her lustful desires instead of saving her precious flower for the
lucky man who will someday lift her bridal veil. But my argument is
based not on Puritanism but on sheer utility: The way it’s done
now, courtship isn’t any fun.

There is currently only one broadly accepted rule of courtship:
The Third Date is The Date (unless, of course, you’re a
glued-together-at-the-knees Rules girl). If either party
declines sex on the Third Date, it’s a clear sign that the
relationship is going nowhere. And if the Third Date culminates in
sex, they’re officially a couple — or at least, the guy’s a cad if
he doesn’t ask the girl out again afterwards. (Sex before the Third
Date is a signal that a.) you believe in love at first sight; b.)
you’re a promiscuous floozy; or c.) you think a, he thinks b.)

It’s time for all of us to admit that the contemporary courtship
model simply doesn’t always work. If lightning doesn’t strike by
Date Three, you can end up walking away from a perfectly lovely
person who might just be a little shy, or having a bad hair day. Or
worse, by rushing headlong into a ‘committed relationship’ with
someone you’ve met only a few times, you can end up wasting weeks,
months, sometimes even years of your life on someone you don’t
really like very much, on the grounds that you’re already
‘invested’ in the relationship.

If we could decide collectively that sex is worth waiting a bit
longer for, we’d find that courtship itself might become a lot more
fun. Right now, those first couple of dates are incredibly intense;
we give ourselves only six or eight hours of conversation before
deciding whether we want to commit to a monogamous sexual
relationship. If we had, oh, six or eight-maybe even ten-dates to
make up our minds, we could focus more on the actual date and less
on its sequel. By investing a few extra hours in the process, we
might draw out of a shy person an unexpected vein of sardonic wit
or a deep well of political insight. With luck, we’d screen out
some of those false charmers who have learned to conceal their
mean-spiritedness for a week or two. And it bears mentioning that
some things are greatly improved by anticipation.

Elizabeth Austin is a Chicago writer. Reprinted from
The Washington Monthly (June 2003). Subscriptions: $44.95/yr.
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