By: Sarah Boesveld of the The Globe and Mail
If you want to date Marisa Di Bari, get ready to play by her rules.
Rule No. 1: no action before the third date. Rule No. 2: no dating guys five years her junior. Rule No. 3: no dating guys who live more than 100 kilometres away (or further than a 45-minute drive).
But of course, rules are made to be broken. In fact, Ms. Di Bari has broken all three, most recently when she dated someone seven years younger.
“Guys that age, they're not ready to commit, they just want to fool around and party,” says the 33-year-old Toronto events specialist. “It's Murphy's law, right? You make this rule and then of course you meet the one who is the epitome of the rule.”
Rules are ubiquitous in the dating scene, and have both helped and hindered potential couplings for generations. They're the driving force in I Hate Valentine's Day , a soon-to-be-released romantic comedy with Nia Vardalos playing Genevieve, a Manhattan florist who likes to date but would rather skip the rejection, heartbreak and complicated mess that is the real dating world.
Her standards are stiff – if he hopes to sweep her off her feet, her suitor must consistently make thoughtful, romantic gestures and pull off a string of five flawless dates. He soon learns it's all for naught – she'll still ditch him after the fifth date and move on to the next unsuspecting bloke.
Genevieve thinks she's got it all figured out until a chance encounter with Greg, a dashing restaurateur played by John Corbett, makes her question her rule-making ways.
That questioning ripples through the minds of every rule-crafting dater at one point or another. While they are often made with good reason, rules can also shutter windows of opportunity.
“It's a superstitious kind of thing,” says Nancy Ross, a relationship counsellor in Toronto. While she says some rules are good, such as avoiding people with tendencies toward violence, finicky regulations can cause even the most discerning dater to miss out. “You close doors you don't necessarily have to, [which can] create difficulty or create pain.”
Bad experiences and damaged trust are often catalysts for rule-making, says Evan Marc Katz, the Los Angeles-based author of Why You're Still Single: Things Your Friends Would Tell You If You Promised Not to Get Mad . It's a natural defence mechanism, he says.
“We are a society of rules; we are a society of laws. We like to put labels on things. But life defies labels,” he says. “It's not that five dates for X or three months for Y is necessarily unreasonable – it might be a decent ballpark. You just can't live your life by the letter of that law as much as understand the spirit of that law.”
He says making rules based on numbers, such as Genevieve's five-date limit or comedian-cum-love guru Steve Harvey's rule of 90-day abstinence, is generally a bad idea.
Daters say rules have helped them maintain high standards and weed out undesirable suitors.
Kiwi Mohamed, a 25-year-old sales associate in Toronto, follows The Rules , a self-help dating tome gobbled up by women since its first release in the mid-1990s. She calls The Rules , which advises women never to make the first move, “a filtration system.” It's also a protective layer.
“I'm incredibly shy when it comes to the general boy matter,” Ms. Mohamed says. “So, I guess The Rules are my excuse to continue to be shy.”
Some daters' rules are more like deal breakers.
For Jessica Lockhart, the sight of a bad tattoo halts any blossoming romance in its tracks. She remembers having an intense attraction to a young man who'd swept into her small Alberta hometown one summer about five years ago. After admiring his visible tattoos at a bar one night, she made her way to a 7-Eleven with him and a few other friends. When one asked if the guy had any other tats, he lifted his shirt to reveal rippled abs and the word “biznatch” scrawled across his belly.
“Needless to say I never saw him again,” says the 25-year-old Toronto blogger. “Bad tattoos are definitely a sign of somebody who makes poor life decisions and probably poor relationship decisions.”
Liz Parker, a 39-year-old communications specialist in Toronto, says she's loath to date anyone who shows up late for an evening out or, worse yet, if they're inappropriately dressed. If they mention sex on the first date, the deal will also be off. Like Ms. Mohamed, she uses her rules to filter out duds, but says it's worrisome that many people don't have sound justifications for the rules they set and just follow what their friends are doing.
“Most people make these decisions based on what's expected of them, and a lot of people date that way,” Ms. Parker says.
Tearing up a list of physical requirements was the best decision Rae Ratslef ever made. Back in April, the 37-year-old single mom in Surrey, B.C., walked into the offices of It's Just Lunch, a dating service, with the aim of dating a guy who was at least 5 foot 10, who made more money than her and had dark features. She soon learned to loosen up and widen the pool.
But when it comes to dating, she says, The Rules' tenet of making the man do all the work has proven true. Once she had missed a man's call and she phoned him back – much to his surprise and, apparently, his displeasure. “It was really an awkward conversation and I never heard from him again.”
Though flexible, Ms. Mohamed says she breaks her rules every now and again. Earlier this week, she sent a soul-baring text to a guy she'd had a crush on for months. She scolded herself, but felt a heavy burden lift. “I felt incredibly liberated, I'm not going to lie,” she says.
Despite her single status, Ms. Di Bari sticks to her regulations. They help keep her standards high and maintain her dignity. But most of all, they protect her from heartbreak. Sometimes, she feels a little like she's missing out.
“There were times when having the rules actually hurt me because I might've missed out on an opportunity because of them,” she says. “I guess I'm a glutton for punishment.”