The Dating Game: The Three Date Rule

Megan Carpentier
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The "three-date rule" is stupid. So's the five-date rule, the six-month rule and any other rule that someone's told you should govern the time in your relationship that you choose to engage in physical intimacy. The problem is that, in sorting through all the messages of when you should or should not submit to what the other person apparently wants from the get-go, not enough people get around to considering what feels right to them.

And, as Jaclyn wrote at Feministe this week, sometimes what feels right for you isn't what those social messages tell you ought to feel right—and some times it changes based on the person and the situation.

For some people, engaging in physical intimacy is a well-worn road to emotional attachment; for others, it's a result of emotional attachment; and for yet others, it can be unrelated. And for many of us, it changes based on the person, the time and our own individual situations. Rules—especially ones other people make up and promote—don't take any of that individuality into account.

When it comes to sex or relationships, I simply try not to do something that I'll regret later, or something that will get me hurt with little pay-off (eagle-eyed readers may note that this is a working theory I've implemented with middling success at times). But if I kiss someone and wonder if he'll actually be interested in talking to me tomorrow if I sleep with him tonight—and, moreso, if that will really upset me—I head to bed, just me and my vibe. When I've been unwilling to engage in physical intimacy, or go beyond certain actions, I say no, and I mean it: I don't much care for being pressured, or for people that pressure me, and anyone who tries rarely earns another date, let alone a pass to continue with what he was trying to start.

The key to all of this, of course, is a willingness both to talk to your potential partner, and to listen to yourself. If you ask for what you want and need—sex, space, time, understanding—and you don't get it, then you sort of already know that the person isn't worth sleeping with, let alone liking or really falling for. And if you aren't sure what you want, or what you need, or how you'll react or what you can handle gracefully without causing yourself untoward grief, then it's long past time to step back, look at your history, listen to your feelings and figure it out—before the next person tries to convince you to do something you're unsure about doing, but unsure about why.



[Image via Yellow.Cat on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]

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16 Comments Have Been Posted


This post could not be more appropriate for me today. While recovering from sex and love addiction for the past 8 years, I have had very strict rules about when I can engage in sex with someone. Even if I felt like I could have been sexually intimate sooner than my rules suggested, I didn't. I stuck to my rules. There were exceptions to this, but they were infrequent, and often made during periods of emotional stress. So when I did end up breaking the "no sex till a certain number of dates" rule, I did so with callous disregard for my feelings and the feelings of my partner.

Having recently made changes to my rules--now guidelines--about intimacy, I now give myself the freedom to trust myself, to notice what I really want. I am able to be completely authentic with myself, and with whomever I choose for an intimate encounter. Instead of enforcing time-lines, I now enforce that I must like, trust and respect someone--and they me--before having sex; and before kissing someone, I have to like them. (Liking someone before kissing them seems like a no-brainer on paper. But in practice, I noticed that I kissed guys I didn't like because it was date 5 and my rules said I could kiss them). They must know my STD status and I theirs. I must practice safer sex.

On Tuesday night I got to put these new guidelines into practice. I met a guy I met on Craigslist, who'd posted on Casual Encounters. We played pool for a bit, went for a walk, then when I felt comfortable, I invited him back to my apartment. At one point, when I was lying naked on my couch and he was kneeling next to me and...well, use your imagination...I let out this giggle. He asked why I'd giggled and I said, "You're so gentle." And what he was doing felt really nice. In that moment, I think I was also feeling the joy of freedom.

I am still struggling a bit with feelings of shame--but they are only traces of old ideas now (and I recognize them as such), that I must feel shame if I didn't follow rules. What I'm working on right now in my life is finding out what really, really turns me on. And I'm letting myself experience sexual pleasure. It feels like a revelation. To be able to explore that with such a lovely, gentle lover as I did on Tuesday is an experience I cherish, and hope I always will.

Re: Intimacy

Wow, wonderful post. I love that you are going on trust, your feelings, and allowing yourself to delve into pleasurable abandonment. So many times I meet women who have no sense of themselves or self-confidence and I just want to hug them and ask them why don't you respect yourself, you are a wonderful person? And as for feeling shame don't. An intelligent man should not be intimidated by a women's intelligence, accomplishments, or sexual activities/explorations (there is being safe as you mentioned above but I'm talking about being judgemental). If so he's not worth an intimate encounter or a longer relationship.

Bravo to you and i wish you more wonderful explorations on your feelings and not generic time lines/rules.

Not anything personal, but... an entirely different context, this is something that my dad says to me a lot (that he doesn't understand why successful women often have low self-esteem), but it just sort of annoys me because society is often very hostile to women who are successful, leaving them uncertain about themselves, so it can seem almost like an affront to hear someone tell us that our self-esteem isn't good—we know this, but we're working it out for ourselves at our own pace! This isn't an attack, and I do get where you're coming from, but it still really frustrates me when the patriarchy tries to push women one way and then individual men try to take it upon themselves to correct it—I feel as if I'm in enough of a cultural Catch-22 as it is.


And I don't think this is a thing men do. In fact, I didn't even notice the original comment was from a guy. I have been involved in countless conversations that go something like, "Oh, why doesn't she have any self-respect, she deserves so much better!" Hell, I've been the one to SAY that. And what it really comes down to is judgment. We look at what someone is doing, and pass judgment about it, and presume to think we really have that person's best interests at heart. It's interesting how often the "why doesn't she have any self-respect" comments come when we're passing judgment about another woman's sexual activity, isn't.

As far as rules about sexual intimacy, and making your own decisions about when to do it, I was really struck by the line in the post, "I simply try not to do something I'll regret later." Simple has nothing to do with it, in my experience. I've had way too many experiences in which something feels completely right at the time and only becomes regrettable later. This most often went something like this: I would have a great time with someone, really enjoy his company, and decide, because I wanted to, to do the deed. And then get the brush off later on. Which I often attribute to acculturation: I think a lot of dudes have been way too conditioned to see a woman who puts out on the first date as someone who is unworthy of serious consideration as a partner, no matter how much they genuinely like the person. Man, I've had people make comments to that effect to me after the fact.

I think it's all well and good to sit here and talk about how important it is to be thoughtful of your own needs and respect your own boundaries and ask for what you need and deserve, but that really ignores how the greater cultural context affects our relationships and our experiences of sexual intimacy.

I don't think intimacy rules

I don't think intimacy rules are "stupid". For some people they help take some of the guesswork out of life choices that have often caused them frustration or stress. It also erasures the realities of those whose sexual and intimacy guidelines are shaped by their faith or spiritual belief system.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

guidelines is a better term

I think rules sounds rigid and formulated by something outside of yourself. You should have guidelines, but they should be personally derived. Do not let a book or a friend decide what is best for you.

It is likely that if you are feeling shame for something, your personal beliefs find it to be wrong. Change the action or the belief.

Be clear and honest with yourself about the end result you are seeking from your connection with that person. If you are looking for life long partnership, there may be some other qualities you want to access before you let him bend you over the couch butt naked. If physical connection is the end result you are seeking then bend away - only you can to reconcile your actions with your conscience.

I absolutely agree with

I absolutely agree with using guidelines instead of rules.

I find it important to note that shame does not always indicate that one's belief systems+one's actions=no shame or vice versa. Sexuality, especially that which deviates from normative standards, can oftentimes lead to unwanted shame, despite one's desires and belief systems about sex. Many of us are told that our sexual desires are shameful, perverted, deviant, impure, immoral, etc...leading to imposed internalization of these negative, often hate inspired opinions. I think using the word respected could be a better way to put it. Do I feel respected in this sexual partnership? Is this partner imposing unwanted shame onto my sexual actions, desires? Does this make me feel good? Etc.....

Also, "letting him bend you over on the couch butt naked" implies that this post is only geared towards heterosexual partnerships. It also takes away female agency in wanting to be bent over and automatically places the women into the subordinate sexual role...but of course desiring to be in the subordinate role also should not be devalued.


Thank you for writing "shame does not always indicate that one's belief systems+one's actions=no shame or vice versa." I am the "Intimacy" poster, and I have been feeling like I am on an island. The shame comes out of habit, not because I am uncomfortable with my actions. But there are so few people--especially women--with whom I can discuss this, it leads to feeling isolated. Why did I decide to meet a guy on CL and have sex with him? Because I thought it would be fun and I would enjoy it. And guess what? It was fun and I did enjoy it. A lot.

The trouble for me now is feeling like I am alone in a sea of, frankly, limited ideas about my sexuality as a woman--that I am not allowed to enjoy sex for its own sake. Oh, I suppose it would be alright if I were in a long term relationship and my partner and I had an active, kinky sex life. But as it stands now, I am feeling like there are no other women in the world who feel and act as I do. The shame is not internal.

I actually feel the way I used to when I was being abused: I feel like I constantly have to be ready for the out-of-nowhere blow; that at some point, another woman is going to approach me and tell me how I am fooling myself.

Because I am so new to these attitudes and actions about my sexuality, I think I am still letting my cultural training get in the way of my authentic self. I don't expect anything of the guy I had sex with. I know he is not going to be my life partner. But we could be friends, which would be lovely. And I am not obsessing about the sex or him. I'm more obsessing about my own feelings of contentment (this is an unfamiliar feeling around my sexuality), and feeling sad that there isn't anywhere I can actually share my delight, my pride that I have done things so differently, that I have grown so much.

I personally find it hard to

I personally find it hard to congratulate anyone who is using Craigslist Casual Encounters, probably because I've never even used online dating because I think it's too dangerous. So I would be wary of using something like that site myself. I know you had written that you only took him to your house once you were comfortable,u li but it still seems like something that is too dangerous for me to do, hence I have a hard time saying "Good for you!" to someone I feel is taking a huge risk like that.

The other thing I was thinking after reading your post is that blogging is no substitute for therapy. If you feel like someone's comments on a website, like women who may not agree with or validate your experiences, feels like intimate partner violence, you could be depressed and need professional intervention. Just a thought.

Shame II

I found out something wonderful. The shame I felt was a projection, a story I was making up in my head that others were going to tell me I am wrong.

It's lovely for all of you to have such strong opinions about what I need (congratulations, therapy, etc.) What is beautiful for me is that I know exactly what I need, and I get those needs met. Your assessments of me speak volumes about you.

To the "Intimacy" poster

that's the nice one ;) -> I don't expect anything of the guy I had sex with. I know he is not going to be my life partner. But we could be friends, which would be lovely. <---------but have you considered that he may be hurt , may be he really like you (beyond sex)????

I truely appreciate your attitude and that you are not alone, just that your current surrounding may be a bit old fashioned :P

Hi everyone, I think that

Hi everyone,

I think that people don't understand what the three date rule really is. The rule exists to help men who are clueless about women not to get their hearts broken.

The concept is this: regardless of what a woman says or believes about herself, if she feels attraction to a man, she will sleep with him on the third date. If she believes that she is someone who needs more time to get to know someone, she will invent some justification to break her rules if she is truly attracted to a man.

I know there are exceptions to this rule. A middle-aged woman might truly need more time, or a young woman in a foreign country (who has NOT moved to the US) who is saving herself for marriage.

But a few exceptions don't mean there is no rule.

I think the three-date rule is very important for men to understand, and to more-or-less follow. If you are on date number 4 or 5 and there has been no making out, no sweat, no passion, you need to get out before you get involved in a relationship where the attraction was never strong.

The other part of the rule is this: if you are on date #3 with a woman who IS attracted to you, you need to take things in a sexual direction. If you don't, there is a good chance the woman will subconsciously think you are not the man she thought you were.

Even the slowest, most cautious woman will go fast when she truly feels attraction.

This rule is not sexism. It is wisdom.
OK, I've said my piece, now fire away!

I think this post is

I think this post is extremely ignorant, and I'm put off by your assumption that if a woman is attracted to you ("regardless of what she says or believes about herself"), she will sleep with you on the third date. What, she'll be so hopeless in the face of your charm and good looks that she'll simply have no choice but to put out? Your suggestion that men need to take things in a sexual direction on the third date particularly disgusts/frightens me. First, it makes no mention of the woman's desire for sex, or lack thereof, and, second, it assumes that all men WANT to sleep with a woman by that date, furthering the idea of a sex-driven macho male by disregarding men who might not feel ready or might have other reasons for not wanting sex.

Your "exceptions to the rule" are troubling too. A middle-aged woman might "truly" need more time. As if this is such an abnormal, ridiculous, rare specimen, a woman who might need more than three dates to sleep with you, for whatever reason??? Your extreme overgeneralization of these "simple, obvious" facts about women ("Even the slowest, most cautious woman will go fast when she truly feels attraction") is so incredibly insulting, and it doesn't help your case to say there are only "a few" exceptions because that is so far from the truth, and even if it weren't, your analysis and rationale are horrifying.

It sounds like this rule is, in fact, blatant sexism, since you're advising men to get out of dating relationships where there is no sex at first, therefore encouraging women to sleep with a man before she loses him, which is exactly the problem we're trying to address in the first place (why society makes women feel like they are worth nothing/can't have a relationship or get what they want without sleeping with someone). I don't know who you are or why you think YOU got to decide what "the rule" is, but stop calling yourself "wise" and recognize your analysis for what it is, pure sexism and astounding ignorance.

My rule in college was I had

My rule in college was I had to know the person's middle name. I couldn't ask or check their ID--it had to come up in conversation.

Good Post

It is so unfortunate that we would ignore what feels right. Whether what feels right is a one night stand or one hundred year partnership. Good post. I hope people really start to implement this train of thought in their lives.

"I simply try not to do

"I simply try not to do something that I'll regret later" BINGO!

This should be what they teach in sex ed. classes in high school. Just think a little bit instead of follow some preconceived notion about what you should and shouldn't do in society's eyes.

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