You know what my dating philosophy is? Until we have the Big Talk about going exclusive – and I believe in a minimum of three months of test drives before I make a purchase – I am Single and Dating. I might be having dinner with someone else. I might be shagging them. I might be sitting at home eating pickles out of the jar with a mud mask on my face. I might be trying out for roller derby. Most likely, I am drinking. But one way or another, it’s not really any of your business.

Basic ground rules include:

1) I will not pretend that I am seeing you exclusively.

2) Nonetheless, I will not be sharing details; nor will I ask them of you (DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL, if you like your phrases catchy).

3) Don’t trample all over my heart, and I will attempt to not puncture your own with my sexy, sexy stillettos.

4) We will refrain from saying “I love you,” no matter how intoxicated on drink, drug, candlelight, or screwing we may be, because this leads to unnecessary confusion and usually crying.

5) I will always use a rubber, with or without you, and expect you to do the same. Similarly, Blowjobs are for Boyfriends (TM). We will not be oral sexing because contrary to what you’ve not learned in your abstinence-only sex ed program, oral is an expedient way to share disease and does, in fact, “count.”

6) I will not query your previous number of sexual partners, and you will not ask mine, because nobody ends up happy or wants to think of themselves as #8 or #123. And anyway, we’re both lying and we both know it.

7) Any Spare Toothbrushes Unknown to You in my possession will be hidden before you enter my abode; likewise, please ensure that any foreign bras are unobtrusively located and will not become tangled around my ankles at the bottom of your bedsheets. This is called courtesy.

8) We will not talk on the phone every day. We will not see each other every night. We will not abandon our friends, hobbies, and lifestyles to wrap ourselves in a coccoon of infatuation that is illusory, fleeting, and ultimately embarrassing. We will avoid overly affectionate nicknames and discussion of long-term plans to a) swim with the dolphins in Cabo b) run with the bulls in Pamplona c) babysit your sister’s children for a weekend d) roadtrip in a Winnebago or e) other excessively romantic and “coupley” activities. Joint trips to the supermarket should be undertaken carefully, lest I playfully chuck frozen tacos into your cart for dinner or you sweetly try to replace my Lean Cuisines with fresh pasta and zuchinni in an attempt to better my diet. Dogwalking while holding hands, while acceptable, should not occur more frequently than twice a week.

9) Babies will be discussed only in the most abstract terms possible. They may be referred to as “critters.”

10) In the event we find ourselves in Big Talk territory, we will quietly but definitively severe any remaining romantic complications and progress to Phase 2. Additionally, full sexual health screenings and subsequent disclosure are mandatory, because I believe in both romance AND chlamydia. “Love in the Time of Gonnorrhea” was not on my high school reading syllabus and will not be in my bedroom without my informed consent.

And yet, I screw up every time. I don’t abide by my own rules or consistently subscribe to my own philosophy because the water in actual relationships is a lot muddier than expected (not to mention full of snakes, undertows, and probably nuclear waste). When you fall for someone, you fall, no matter how cynical you thought you were or how prickly your exterior. More to come, but first: What are your Rules of Engagement?

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