So recently I found myself attracted to a man,1 and started to have dreamy thoughts about him, and was considering how best to pursue him until a little voice piped up in my mind. It reminded me that if I show that I’m attracted to him, I’m breaking the rules, which might negatively impact my chances with him.

Which reminded me about The Rules, and how aggravating and disturbing I find them.

The Rules are everywhere; daytime talkshows, films, magazine articles, and the playground gossip of elementary schools. If you want them outlined, I believe there’s a whole section at your local chain bookstore devoted to laying out in girlfriendly, breathless detail how to hook a man. You can break it down to a pretty basic formula, and the steps they recommend sometimes actually work in the short term. That’s not my beef with them.  My issue is that they inspire a subconscious panic in myself and many of the hetero women I know, something that  causes us to suppress our instincts and personality because we supposedly have traits that men don’t find desirable..

Yes, yes; apparently lots of men don’t like it when you’re forward, when you pursue them, when you let them know upfront that you’re attracted to them. And yes, I’ve had some experience with some men not liking my approach,2 but also plenty of experience with men liking it. It’s actually a good thing – the guys who don’t like the way I flirt are really not going to like the way I do pretty much everything else.  By taking themselves out of the running, they’re saving me a lot of heartache and frustration.  Sometimes I don’t appreciate that in the moment, but in the long run, it’s always better.

The Rules tell you that all straight men are going to dislike you until you modify your behaviour to suit the one image of the marrying type that they’ve all got in their minds.  It’s  a piece of sexist garbage that doesn’t stand up to the most casual scrutiny.  It’s insulting to women because it implies that there’s something wrong with us and with the progress that’s been made in the past 50 years to bring us on a more equal footing with men. It’s also deeply insulting to men to look at them as one-dimensional entities with identical goals and desires. And that’s completely outside of my experience; the men in my life are every bit as complex and weird and distinct as women.

More than that, my personality is something that anyone I date or marry is going to have to both put up with and love. It would be a cruel bait-and-switch to make someone think they’ve found their perfectly agreeable match, only to discover that they’ve in fact gotten themselves legally and financially entangled  with someone stubborn, opinionated, ambitious, and restless. It’s dishonest, and weird, and really counter-productive.  It’s probably the cause of plenty of divorces and miserable partnerships.

However unfair it may be to lure a person into a relationship via false advertising, it’s more unfair to ourselves when we take that route. It says that we think we’re not someone who can be loved, and that we’ve got to trick someone into loving us. The Rules play into our deepest fears that we might be too flawed and strange to get or deserve love. That any delay in getting married means you’re less desirable or worthy of love than people who get married younger.

There’s no allowance made for any kind of satisfaction outside of the marriage track; you are merely passing time, when you are single, until you find a partner and get married.  Then you become a Real Adult and begin your Real Life.

Of course, we all3 know logically that this idea is nonsense, but it’s a pervasive bit of nonsense.  Lots of us grew up on fairytales and romances where the climax of the whole damn story is marriage, and it’s hard to shake a notion that’s been fed to us with our mother’s milk. So it doesn’t matter how many marriages around you end in divorce, or how many miserable couples you see; you believed prior to having the logical skills to see through it, and you may believe still, probably without even consciously realizing it.

I’m single, and in no great hurry to get married unless someone seriously awesome comes along. I don’t want kids of my own, so my uterus isn’t tick-tocking away like a timebomb in my innards. I flirt, I work, I hang out with friends. It’s a good life.  The Rules whisper their poisonous nonsense in my ear, but I work to try not to listen, and so it happens less frequently.  I hope that someday someone will come along who finds my worst traits endearing, and whom I find irresistible and supportive, and we’ll have more fun together than we do apart.

In the meantime, I’m not going to take an ‘any port in a storm’ approach when there is no storm. The Rules are a pack of hysterical lies, ladies. You might be lonely or horny or bored, but you are not unloveable. You might live in a city where the demographics are skewed against you, but you aren’t undateable. You will not die alone, and wolves will not eat you4. You are fine. You are worthy of real love by someone who knows your weirdest traits and loves them.

While that person takes their sweet time connecting with you, do the other things you want to do and have a good, fun, interesting life. Write your novel, take a trip to Europe, make out with someone your friends disapprove of.  Live, and don’t panic and start pretending to be someone else because The Rules say you should.  If the person of your dreams doesn’t love you just as you are, they aren’t the person of your dreams.5


Candace Shaw is an actor, writer, and arts impresario; her company Secret Frequency provides Social Media and Web Marketing services.

  1. No, this one isn’t about you, but hey there, sailor! []
  2. which isn’t actually aggressive, but does lend itself to sudden bold declarations and a fair amount of flirting []
  3. I mean, I hope we all know []
  4. Well, really, everyone dies alone. But that’s beside the point. You probably won’t get eaten by wolves. I mean, statistically speaking, it’s unlikely. []
  5. Yes, that’s rather a lot of Bridget Jones references in one article, thank you for noticing []
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