5 Rules For The Dating Game

In Advice and Encouragement, Dating by Debra Fileta13 Comments

It’s really hard to play a game if you don’t know the rules. It’s even harder if no one is playing by the same rules.

I love playing sports, and one of the essentials of an organized sport is an agreed upon set of rules. There are such things as out-of-bounds, fouls, and scoring systems. Without rules, everything quickly dissolves into chaos and the likelihood of someone being injured increases.

When it comes to the dating game, no one seems to know the rules anymore. And it’s hard to play a game when there are no agreed upon rules.

• Who should ask whom out?
• Who should pay?
• If we hang out one-on-one, is that a date?
• Should men open doors for women?
• Is it appropriate for a woman to make the first move?
• Can dating be just for fun?
• Should I only date someone I can see myself marrying?
• How long should we wait to kiss?
• How long should we wait to have sex?
• How long do I wait to call or text?

Poll a random sampling of 20’s and 30’s, and you would likely get vastly different answers. And this, I think, is one of the greatest difficulties of dating today. How are we supposed to navigate dating if no one is playing by the same rules?

It’s a confusing time to be single. I have my own set up assumptions and guidelines I bring to dating, and I personally know how I would answer all of the above questions. But I can’t assume that someone I’m interested in would answer them the same way.

I’ve dated men who insist on opening doors for me and paying, and I’ve dated a guy who didn’t open doors for me because a girl from his past accused him of chauvinism when he tried to open a door for her. I know women who will ask out guys they are interested in, and I know men who would be completely turned off by that scenario.

In the midst of all the chaos that comes from the absence of agreed upon rules, I’d like to suggest one dating rule that I hope we can all agree on.

Leave people better than you found them.

When I was a kid, my parents drilled into me that if I ever borrowed something, I should return it in as good or better condition than I borrowed it. What if that’s how we thought about dating?

What I want to keep in front of us is the simple reminder that all humans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. But somehow, when we date, we can lose sight of this simple fact. Instead of seeing one another as humans, we can slip into thinking of the person we are dating as the sum total of all of our dating expectations and they become an object instead of a human. Rather than thinking about how our actions affect another human, our selfishness comes out and we only think about things from the perspective of what we want out of the situation.

How is the way you date forming your character? How are the patterns and habits you reinforce now in dating shaping you to be a better spouse one day in the future? If your goal in dating is to find the person you want to marry, then the way you date is creating patterns for how you will treat your eventual spouse. Even if you’re dating just for fun, I doubt you intentionally want to date with the purpose of hurting another human being. And yet, when it comes to dating, it seems inevitable that someone always gets hurt.

We’ve all either hurt or been hurt in dating relationships. Some of that is a necessary risk that comes with all matters of the heart. A break up is a break up, and no matter how you slice it there will be some pain. However, there are ways to date and even break up with someone that still communicates their dignity and worth as a human being. The worst pain I’ve experienced in break ups didn’t come from the break up itself, but how the break up was handled.

We know we’re supposed to treat people the way we would want to be treated, but somehow when it comes to dating we seem to throw this rule out the window. If we just stick to this basic principle, I think we’d see a lot less emotional damage being done. I suspect, too, that if we treat people with dignity and affirm their worth as a human being throughout every stage—from initial meetings, to texts and phone calls, to first dates and first kisses, to committed relationships, and to breaking things off — that we would make a lot of progress towards leaving people better than we found them.

Let me leave you with 5 practical ways you can leave people better than you found them:

1. Avoid the silent treatment
If someone has called you, texted you, or used one of the 100 other ways we have these days of communicating with one another, honor them with a timely reply. Even if you’re over them, even if you don’t want another date, they still are a human and no human deserves to be ignored.

2. Follow through on your promises
Did you say you would call? Then you should call. Did you ask for a second date? Then take them on a second date. Don’t get in the habit of telling people what they want to hear with no intention of following through.

3. Stop hooking up
Bodies are not commodities. We are more than simply physical beings, and we need to stop using one another for physical pleasure outside of an appropriately committed relationship. When you engage in any sort of physical intimacy with someone, you’re training your body that this action is okay to do with someone whom you associate your current feelings with. If you make out with everyone on the first date, then you’ve taught your body that making out is casual. If you want it to mean something when you kiss someone you really do like, then stop making out with all the people that you don’t really care that much about.

4. Use clear language
If you want to go on a date with someone, use clear language that indicates this is what you want. “I’d like to take you out”, “Can I buy you dinner?”, or “Would you like to go on a date with me?” are examples of clear language. “Hang out”, “Meet up”, or “Grab a drink sometime” are less clear. If someone asks me to hang out, I assume it’s not a date and act accordingly. So if you actually want to go on a date with someone, use language that makes your intentions clear.

5. Practice appreciation without expectation
One of the things that messes us up the most in dating is our expectations. We all bring in a truckload of expectations of what we’re looking for, what we’ve been waiting for, what we want, and how we want to be treated. When we place all this on the person we’re just going on a date with, it brings a ton of pressure and paves the road to objectify the person across table based on how they do at meeting our expectations. And, let’s be real, we probably have some unrealistic expectations. So instead of seeing how someone does at meeting all of your expectations, just be grateful and appreciative of what they do bring to the table. I never assume or expect that a guy will pay on a first date, and I usually offer to split the check. However, I really appreciate if he does offer to pay. Expect less, and appreciate more.

Laura Copeland loves serving the local church, and is on staff with the Small Groups team at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. She has a love for coffee that borders on obsession, and is always on the lookout for new outdoor adventures. You can read more over on her blog at lauramcopeland.com, or connect with her on Instagram (@lauracopeland) or Twitter (@laura_copeland).

Welcome to TrueLoveDates.com! I’m Debra Fileta, Professional Counselor & Author of the book True Love Dates, and I created this blog as a space to pair psychology and Christian spirituality to address all things love, dating, and relationships.

This month, I’ve invited some of my faithful TrueLoveDates readers to share their heart with the rest of our blog community for my #GuestPostSeries!! There are some AMAZING singles out there, people!!! I’m choosing 10 guest posts to share with you over the summer. I’m so excited to hear their stories and share their messages with you as well! Enjoy!! And be sure to leave them some love in the comment section below.  — Love, Debra


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13 Comments on "5 Rules For The Dating Game"

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Laura, This is a breath of fresh air, particularly as I’m working through a break up where I’m literally questioning everything (especially since he broke up with me in a text message while I was on vacation, and his reasons didn’t make sense). I get so frustrated with all these so called rules that supposedly help you “get” or “keep” someone. And then if for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, our culture preaches that there are no good men or women out there. After reading your post, I’ve realized that when you treat a person with dignity and respect,… Read more »
Laura Copeland
Hi Alyx, So sorry to hear about your break up! Especially over text. Please know that you deserve to be treated with more respect than that! I’ve also had relationships end unexpectedly and abruptly, and it’s confusing, painful, and makes us ask a lot of questions. I remember after one particularly painful break up, after a few months I started dating someone else and quickly knew it wasn’t going anywhere. When it was my turn to do the breaking off, I started to understand a little more about why that painful break up was the way it was! Breaking up… Read more »
Paul Versaw

Leave them better than you found them. It speaks of other centeredness. So much of the breakup motive is self centeredness. This isn’t what I want. Goes the inner dialog.

The voice of Jesus ought to be heard. We ought to be in habit of understanding and living what He wants. The he or she we are dating and then breaking up with ought to experience it as if from Christ. Answer the phone reply to the text, explain yourself, demonstrate humility.


Great piece Laura… Keep up the good work

Laura Copeland

Thank you!

I so appreciate everything this article has to offer! I’m 20 years old and can honestly say that there are no clear cut , universal standards when it comes to young adults dating … But like Laura says, I wish there were. I’ve had several offers to “hang out” or “meet up” which I’ve done and because I acted accordingly, I’ve made some really great friends. But I often feel like I’m stuck in this repeat if no one is clear with their intentions. I love points 1 & 2 “Avoiding the silent treatment” and “Follow through on your promises”… Read more »
Laura Copeland

You’re welcome! It’s good you can recognize how people are using communication as leverage against each other as a game, and not a way to honor one another. You’re ahead of the game for your age!


Thank you for the enlightenment I have spent numerous hours trying to understand what went wrong in my past relationships.

I can honestly say that I did not leave the people in my past better than I found them; moving forward with what I know now I hope to have better success at dating.

Laura Copeland

It’s great that you are taking the time to reflect on past relationships so you can grown and do better in the future. You’re setting yourself up well for better success in the future!

I just went through a break up myself so Alyx I feel your pain. I thought I’d marry this men and lived together for under a year but together for almost 2. So many red flags that when I read this article definitely put things into perspective. I broke up with him because he was not sure what he wanted and I wanted marriage and commitment however nothing was promising on his end. I ended things amicably but it was the aftermath, what he did after, the name calling, blaming games, guilt that really dug deep and made things awful.… Read more »

Debra, this article is timely because a lot of people are abusing date game. Especially, most ladies are always taken advantage of during dating. I so much like the number three(3) point or warning that we should Stop hooking up while dating. We should give heed to the points that are pointed out above.


God bless you Laura… thank you!!


Outstanding, outstanding article!!