The following is an excerpt from the Introduction of my book It’s Complicated (But It Doesn’t Have To Be):
She followed all the “rules,” and he did exactly what his father told him to do. Even though those rules and his father’s advice were all colored by the experiences of others’ failures, of their disappointment in learning society’s love myths weren’t true, then imposing their jaded perspective on you. The contradictions pile up like a freeway accident.
Never make the first move, she was told. Never let your guard down, his father said. And don’t want it too much. But remember you still need to want it enough. Your friends tell you the fastest way to find love is to stop looking for it. Then they tell you to join an online dating website. You’re told you need to settle things right away once you start dating, find out everyone’s intentions. But then you’re told not to scare them away with your desire for closeness and intimacy. You’re told to give over your heart completely and love without abandoned. But that you can never really trust anyone because every man and woman is a Martian and Venusian stereotype you have to beat at their own game. How can you trust? Best friends, homeboys, relatives said the last thing you could do was trust anyone. Love was a game of constant chin-checking, snooping, accusations, and recriminations. All emotions must be guarded, save for anger and disappointment. Love is a battlefield where you never let them see the truth in your eyes, because they’ll only use it against you.
And you get so much information. On television. Online. And it’s coming, changing all the time.
You’re told to delay sex. Then you’re told you need to put out more. You’re told to go all out to impress on a first date. Then you’re told to be more casual and just go for coffee. She texts. He doesn’t. He likes instant messaging. She likes a phone call. She’s intensely private. He relays every intimate detail about his dating life on his blog. You go to the club with your girls and wonder why no man ever comes near. (Psst. It’s because you rolled up in a club with a bunch of girls.) You go to the club with your boys and wonder why every girl you hit on turns you down. (Psst. It’s because you hit on every . . .girl . . . in . . . the . . . club. And none of them could hear you over those thumping beats.)
Is everyone crazy? Is that why you’re alone? Is everyone an angry mass of clingy, distant, withdrawn, too intense, abusive, controlling, unfaithful hot mess? Or are you those things and that’s all you attract? You’re looking for love in all the wrong and right places, and you’re getting frustrated wondering, What are the rules? Where is the method in this relationship madness? Should a man always pay for the first date? What if you’re just meeting for coffee? What if it’s a blind date? What if the woman asked? Should the person who asked pay? After that first date, how soon should a man call back? Should a woman call? Does a text count? Does a message on Facebook count? Does a chat on instant messaging count?
In the beginning a woman never approached a man, and a man asked a woman’s father for her hand in marriage. In the past there were arrangements and there was the exchange of cattle. Today, people leave home at eighteen, start careers at twenty-two; parents are those people you visit during the holidays, and women own their own homes. So why are you still operating on by a playbook written in 1955? This isn’t Mad Men, this is the real world. When it comes to love and dating in real life and online, it’s time the book of love got an upgrade.
There will always be rules, but the game has changed. Every situation has its own nuances, its own indefinable idiosyncrasies. Meaning, while it may have worked for your friend who met his future wife at Free Wing Night at the club, and they had sex on the first date—doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Societal shifts have altered the game permanently and we have to adapt to the field.
Have you adapted?
Reprinted from It’s Complicated by Paul Carrick Brunson by arrangement with Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright © 2012 by Paul Carrick Brunson