Death to the Three-Date Rule
Illustration: Olivia Fields

Death to the Three-Date Rule

We’re all grown. Let’s forget archaic constructs and feel free to have sex whenever we want.

A week from now, I will be 47 years old. I am as grown as grown can be. I have an adult daughter and a teenaged daughter. I’m a divorcée and a fiancée, two fancy French words that give me extra grown woman status. I’m doing well in my career and thriving in all areas of my life. I’m blessed to have made good choices.

So why is it that a 25-year-old book and a 22-year-old television show can still control my thought process?

In 1995, Grand Central Publishing released The Rules, a self-help guide written by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. The subtitle is anti-feminist as hell — Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right — and the guidance within the pages even more awful. The “rules” were all catered toward changing you into a man’s idea of the perfect woman: Always wear heels; get a nose job; wear your hair long; don’t call him, ever; go out as much as possible, even if you’re not in the mood. (The one that makes me facepalm the hardest? If you have sex with him and spend the night, get dressed quickly and leave, so he doesn’t think you’re angling to spend time together the next day. Oof.)

It was exhausting. Secrets for capturing someone’s heart? There are no secrets. Just be your best self, have a complete life without a partner, and put as much effort into finding a partner as you want to!

And yet. If you were in a certain age bracket back then and possibly looking for a life partner, you might’ve wondered if there was some merit to The Rules. You wouldn’t have been alone: A lot of women out there, wobbling on stilettos and exhausted from the scene, were trying to follow the rules. They made no sense — but that didn’t stop the book from selling millions of copies and intriguing many Generation Xers. Like me.

Have I waited until at least the third date before having sex? Sure. When I wanted to. Have I not waited? Sure. Again, when I wanted to.

But The Rules was only the beginning. In 1998, Sex and the City premiered. Four women, supposedly gutsy and brave, navigating the show’s titular activity and location. In one early episode, Charlotte — the prim and proper one of the crew — said she didn’t have sex until the third date. No matter what.

My eyebrow has been raised ever since.

Have I waited until at least the third date before having sex? Sure. When I wanted to. Have I not waited? Sure. Again, when I wanted to.

The three-date rule seemed utterly arbitrary, something that was only useful as a reference in conversation. But it also got a foothold in the culture almost immediately. So plenty of women, me included, continued to have sex on the first date or the second date, or without a date at all — and we just pretended that we were Charlottes.

Back to the present and my grown-grown self.

I’ve done well with dating and sex — even though I’m not always honest about it with my actual Charlotte-type friends. This is why my current partner rolls his eyes at two parts of our dating history. Number one: We met on a dating app. Yikes. That’s hard to type. There’s nothing wrong with meeting someone via Plenty Of Fish or Match or Hinge or any other program. I even help my single friends with their profiles.

But when it comes to me? Well, I’d like to say I met my partner in a more organic way, like at the supermarket or in the comments section of a Verzuz battle. But nope. I swiped. He swiped. And here we are. I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, by setting my intentions and being very clear on what I wanted, I did follow The Rules in some way. (Except I doubt that the authors would approve of my shopping for a mate on an app.)

The other thing I feel weird about is when we had sex for the first time. It’s so silly. I’m grown-grown! He’s grown-grown! Who cares? I do. So if you ever meet my partner and he tells you we had sex on the second date — I don’t know why that would even happen — he’s lying. Trust me.

It was at least the third date.