Relationship Rules I'm Glad I Broke
Indigo’s website offers 592 books on relationship advice. If you’re looking for a book on how to get in to, get out of, stay in or fix a relationship, there’s a book for you. Some of them are based on psychological studies, others on personal experience, and some others on a mix of the two. One thing they all seem to contain is a list of rules. Always do this. Never do that. Rule after rule after rule as if every relationship were a simple formula of person + person and all other variables are to be disregarded. Often these rules are based in long-standing religious and moral principles and/or beliefs about what men and women want and need and how they behave.
The single largest issue I have with relationship advice is that people do not fit into neat little categories and therefore relationships cannot be simplified to a list of rules and regulations to follow according to the sex/interests/age etc. of your partner in order to achieve relationship success. What I’ve learned, from my relationship and from observing the relationships of others, is that successful relationships are the result of hard work, compatibility, sheer dumb luck and following your own rules. Obviously there are general principles that stand for all – be honest with your partner, do not be abusive, etc. – but every relationship is unique and what works for me might not work for you. That’s why I strongly believe that some rules are meant to be broken, even the ones that seem perfectly logical.
I’ve broken the following two relationship rules that some people hold steadfastly to, but it’s worked for us, and I am glad we broke them.
1. Friends Before Lovers
I met my boyfriend on OkCupid, a dating site with an intolerably corny pink and blue colour scheme and abundance of ill-matches. I’d encountered my fair share of weirdos before I met my boyfriend and I was actually on the verge of quitting the site when he messaged me. But stars aligned, I got his message and things just clicked. I gave him my number after a few messages. We went on our first date less than a week after our first encounter, and were officially exclusive after 11 days and 3 dates. After 8 months, we moved in together. We have never been friends and never had intentions to be. I didn’t even know he existed before he sent me that first message. But here we are, three amazing years later. Now, he is both my lover, and one of my best friends. I can’t say whether our relationship would be better or worse for wear if we’d chosen to ignore our feelings for one another and been “friendly” before becoming lovers. But why should we have?
I think the suggestion that people should be friends before lovers is based on the idea that being friends gives you the opportunity to get to know one another before deciding whether this is a person you’d like to commit to and I completely understand the merits of this. For a lot of people, it’s important to feel a partner out before jumping into a relationship. Sometimes, as you get to know a person, you realize that the fact that she’s a vegetarian and loves cat or that he’s a relentless carnivore with a severe fur allergy makes you incompatible. Red flags like bad tempers, criminal records, a propensity for cheating or lifestyle choices that don’t sit well with yours take time to show themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, going slow is not a bad thing. But it isn’t always necessary. Sometimes, you just know that someone is right for you. It’s not just infatuation, warm fuzzies or sexual tension that makes you want to skip the get-to-know-you phase, but a deep sense of belonging and connectedness. Sometimes, your gut is just as adept at sensing when something is good for you as it is at sensing when something is bad. Like I often tell people when they raise their eyebrows at my “how did you meet?” story, sometimes you just know.
No sex before…
Depending on the rule book you consult, the end of that sentence can vary from “…knowing each other’s names” to “…your bones turn to ash in your grave.” According to my Christian upbringing, the due date would be marriage. As I’m currently typing this with a bare left ring finger, I think we can figure I’ve broken that rule. The most popular rule currently standing on this subject is the 90-day rule, widely attributed to Steve Harvey as he writes about it in his book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. The rule basically states that a woman should wait 90 days before having sex with any prospective partner. In an interview, Steve Harvey explains that he based the 90 day rule on the probationary period a company gives you before hiring you full time and providing you with benefits. He says, “Women should look at their benefit the same way because they have the greatest benefit package available to man … so why would you pass out the greatest benefit package … and he isn’t qualified for it? So you need a 90-day probation period [to get to know them] and that’s how long I think women should wait.”
His reasoning seems sound enough, and might work for others, but I disagree with it for a few reasons. Firstly, if a man with ill-intentions figures out he has to wait 90 days to have sex with a woman, he only has to do what it takes to charm the panties off her three months down the road. I’m sure many men can maintain good behaviour for a three-month period. And once that probation is over, there’s nothing saying he can’t thank that woman for the little game they played and roll out the door. Waiting 90 days guarantees nothing. Secondly, men aren’t the only ones who desire sex. This rule is based on the idea that sex is a benefit to the man and disregards the fact that women enjoy having sex too. If a woman gets that aforementioned feeling of certainty and comfort a month into dating a man, should she hold out another two months, horny and miserable, to fulfill a 90 day rule?
Sex is a deeply personal act. Not just between the people having it, but individually. What feels good to you, and what feels right to you, who you share yourself with and how much emotional stock you put into that intimacy, is determined by you, and you alone. Steve Harvey might say 90 days, some may say marriage, and you may say after the third date. When you have sex with someone should be when it feels right to you.
The point I’m making is that you shouldn’t feel bound to the rules of dating and relationships if they don’t make sense for you and/or your partner. The pace at which a relationship should advance, how soon you have sex, how monogamous or open your relationship is, who does what domestic tasks and how the bills are split are all factors that can vary greatly depending on the individuals involved and the circumstances of your relationship. As I said before, people and relationships are complex and cannot be reduced to a simple list of dos and don’ts. Relationship advice books can be great tools, but they’re just that – just tools, just advice. I myself seek advice from friends, books or online, but I take it all with a grain of salt, because no one knows our relationship like we do. I encourage you to do the same. Follow the rules that work, break the ones that don't and make your own up as you go. Don’t tie yourself dogmatically to a relationship guide—if it doesn’t fit, don’t try to squeeze yourself into it.