- boy chases girl, marries girl, girl happily sacrifices individuality for family.
- boy meets girl, boy goes off to war, girl does her part to support country and waits for boy to settle down and start a family.
- boy meets girl who wants to be courted but is liberated enough to pursue her own interests, including him! both want love but don’t know how to manage individual vs. shared obligations, high likelihood of divorce or separation and in the search for “the one” both boy and girl may meet and encounter many partners.
As time marches on the old rules have definitely fallen by the wayside long before any “new” rules have been established to take their place. Technological advances alone have drastically altered how we communicate and relate to each other. Add to this changing developmental milestones (25 is the new 18) and shifting attitudes toward what constitutes a family and we are suddenly transported to a very different landscape than the dating world of our mothers (or even our older sisters).
Is it a bad sign if he doesn’t call you back right away? In the 1990’s, sure. In the 2010’s? It depends. Does he have an unreliable cell plan that doesn’t deliver messages right away (I know I do!) maybe he never got your text. Should he show he’s serious by asking you to meet his mother? 20 years ago we could count on such an indicator of his feelings but today his mom is likely to live in a different town, state or even country. Instead we live in a society where declaring relationship status on Facebook is akin to the now archaic act of giving someone a “promise ring” as proof of “going steady.”
Luckily we have moved away from the belief that if you don’t marry young you’ll end up an old maid, and many couples who are very much in love opt not to officially marry at all. The new world of love is growing and developing and the rules are no established by one single cultural hierarchy. More of the rules of modern relationships are defined by the couples themselves. Take for example the rules that my partner of 7 years and I adapted within our own relationship:
No gifts for holidays/birthdays- how is that for breaking the old tradition? Rationale: when we want to surprise or treat each other, we just do it! We don’t wait for a calendar date to feel obliged to express our feelings through gift giving.
The “Time Frame” Rule
If the relationship is not progressing the way you want in the time frame you expect, it warrants an honest conversation about expectations. There is no rule about relationship milestones and time frames, however he may be telling you loud and clear what he is or is not ready for.
The Gender/Money Rule
Great News! Scientists have confirmed that accounting abilities are NOT related to testosterone levels. Who says he needs to rule the budget and pay for everything? Many couples struggle with money rules. Women often want to have the financial upper hand to secure their future regardless of the relationship. This is fine, but clarify financial goals, expectations and roles early in the relationship to avoid a complete inverse of the traditional gender/money dilemma- having a man in your life who is financially dependent on you and becomes accustomed to this.
The No Argument Rule
Arguments are part of life. If you have no disagreements with your partner, then rush to your local ER because one of you is either a Zombie or otherwise in trouble. Expect disagreements, but establish rules for fighting fair. Rules such as “No Name Calling” or “Focus on the ISSUE, not each others’ personal flaws” etc. Even when it is time to walk away and blow off steam, make it a rule that the discussion will continue when you are both calm enough to hear each other.
The Social Control Rules
These are rules that are difficult to identify because they are emotionally loaded. Have you asked him to not go to an important business trip because other women will be there? Has he asked you to cut off your guy friends? Only you know what rules you want in these relationships, but take caution. Rules establishing social control can cause the foundations of trust and individual identity to erode.
A word of caution when it comes to defining rules for your relationship. No one can make the rules of conduct except the people who will be living by them (ie you and your partner) so if you want to know why he does something or when he will make a move, or why he hasn’t reacted the way you were expecting, before you do a Google search to understand his behavior or sneak through his inbox looking for clues as to why he acts the way he does, remember the one and only main rule that is truly timeless- nothing takes the place of direct, honest communication. If one thing hasn’t changed it is that the best way to get to the bottom of your relationship is to have open honest communication with your partner.