Although I barely listen to any pop music, even I couldn’t fail to notice this single that has spent seven weeks in the UK charts and made it to number one two weeks in a row here in Britain this summer. Dua Lipa’s track “New Rules” is undoubtedly catchy, but it’s the lyrics that have propelled its success. In the song, Lipa describes the new rules that she has decided to follow in her decision to get over the boy who is messing her about:
“One, don’t pick up the phone
You know he’s only calling ’cause he’s drunk and alone
Two, don’t let him in
You have to kick him out again
Three, don’t be his friend
You know you’re gonna wake up in his bed in the morning.”
While the song is very popular in Europe, the song is less well known in other countries, so you can check it out here (in the unlikely event that it doesn’t break the charts in your country as well soon!):
I found it both heartbreaking and fascinating that a song with those lyrics would make it to number one. That it clearly resonates that deeply with enough people to put it there, says a lot about the society we live in. But I’m not observing this track from afar. The song resonates with me too, and it hurts.
Why does it hurt?
Well what hurts me is the idea that many people buy into, the idea that is expressed in the song: that we’re all expected to play this brave-new-world game where men and women use each other, hook up, don’t commit and keep their options open, the game where one party inevitably gets more involved than the other, where one party can ghost in and out of a relationship (which isn’t actually a relationship because one side doesn’t want to commit) and where one person does all the chasing and the other person keeps them dangling on the end of a piece of string. The same game where often, one person says “jump” and the other says “how high?”. From my own experience and from talking to friends, this is pretty common practice in the dating scene for my generation and below.
And I’m going to state here too, that these vague, ghosting, non-committal relationships can still occur without sex being involved. Men and women can still use each other emotionally, if not physically.
“Oh, he makes me feel like nobody else
But my love, he doesn’t love me
But my love, he doesn’t love me
So I tell myself, I tell myself
I do, I do, I do”
These kind of relationships survive on the adrenaline and the hit that happens when the other person comes back again after disappearing. They are the ego-boost that lurks in the background when life is dull and we feel forgotten in general. They are often not real friendships, but rather based on what one person can gain from the other. They are easily dropped, but not so easily forgotten. The trouble with them is that because they swing from highs to lows, the highs are incredibly addictive. And like all addictions, it takes a lot of retraining your brain to be free from them.
While I don’t condone every attitude of Dua Lipa’s song, I do understand and resonate with the general message of it, namely that if you’re being messed around by someone, no matter how alluring or addictive they are, or how good they make you feel, they are not treating you with the respect you deserve and you should hold your head up high and walk away.
With that in mind, here are my suggestions for eleven “new rules” to consider when dating. They are addressing the lax, non-committal approach to relationships that leave everyone using or being used. I am, of course, writing from a female perspective, addressing the real-life behavior of men whom I have come across, but of course, this behavior applies to both men and women, and so I am addressing both sexes in the way I’ve phrased most of these rules.
Be polite and respectful. You don’t need to be rude. But be polite upfront and be clear that you are not interested from the start. Don’t play them around for a few weeks until you work out how to let them down gently.
If you are not interested but you like hanging out with them, flirting and taking up a chunk of their time and using them as your emotional stop-gap, give yourself a mental slap up the side of the head and sit yourself down for a long, hard soul searching talk.
If you really like spending that much time with them, and you really like them, commit to them and date them. If you don’t actually want to commit to them and date them and invest real time and emotions in them, cut right back and stay friends. Do this because you are a decent person, who respects other people, and treats them as you would like to be treated.
Or it is not going to work out, be clear and say this as soon as you realize that is how you are feeling. Do not “keep your options open.” Do not be selfish and use them for whatever you can get even though you are not interested in full commitment.
In the first instance, if you’ve exchanged numbers or details, let the man be the one to contact first. If he doesn’t contact you after asking for your number, don’t waste your time in contacting him first. Yes, seriously. I mean it. I hated that idea a few years ago. I thought it was unfeminist and left the woman in an inactive and weak place, just waiting for her fairytale prince to turn up and rescue her. Yuck. Now I see this differently. This is how I actually set the standards that I expect. I have decided that I am worth the risk of a man asking me for my number and then being brave enough to reach out and actively do something about dating me. If he is not brave enough to message me or ring me to arrange a date, then I am not going to chase him. If he cannot do that, then what other commitments is he too afraid to make?
Still not convinced?:
“You are worth the risk a man must take to use your phone number. You are worth the energy he has to expend to pursue you. You are worth the decisiveness he has to employ to choose you.
When a man I like won’t do those things but I grant him all access to me anyway, I participate in the perpetuation of his passivity.
For our sake and for his, it’s time to stop that—and to recommit to the virtue that equips us to wait as long as it takes to meet the man who’ll love us well: patience.”
Obviously, give the guy a break. You don’t have to be an ice-queen waiting for him. Don’t mess him around either. There is a way to let him know you’re interested and open for him to contact you, without you needing to chase him.
As per point 4, if you’ve exchanged numbers, be brave and make the first move! If she scorns you or rejects you, then you’ve dodged a bullet. If you’re nervous and not sure, please just remember that if she is someone decent and wonderful and someone you are possibly going to spend the rest of your life with, then she is one-hundred-per-cent worth the adventure of asking her out on a first date. Plus, it is character building and manly to take that leap 😉
Messenger or similar messaging apps are meant to supplement your relationship in being a useful tool to help you arrange real life meetings, or to help you keep in touch in temporary long-term relationship situations. They are not meant to be the entire basis of your relationship. If you hardly meet each other in real life and conduct the majority of the relationship online, then you are not actually prioritising the relationship or each other. Solely online relationships are not the real deal, they can be ended as easily as it takes to press “delete” or “block” and they usually exist on the idealised fantasy of the other person, which conveniently does not get shattered by the reality of real life. You are worth the time and effort to meet up and anyone who keeps putting you off with their busy work life or schedule- but then messages for hours when it’s convenient for them- is making you an option, not a priority.
Do not phase into your relationship-that-is-not-a-relationship conveniently without a conversation of “are we, aren’t we?” so that you can take whatever you want and leave what you don’t want. Relationships that don’t really begin or end with clear, defined conversations so that both parties know exactly where they stand are hugely unfair. They allow someone all the perks of a relationship without the effort of commitment. They allow people to walk away without shouldering the responsibility of hurting someone because: “oh well, we weren’t in a relationship anyway”. They allow someone to walk back in after months apart, because, oh well, we didn’t really break up! Do not stand for this kind of relationship. You are not being demanding, unreasonable, needy, or hard to please by expecting the simple decency of actually being in a relationship, where you can call the other your boyfriend/girlfriend and they actually commit to being a part of your life. Anything less than that and you are being taken for a ride. You deserve more than that. Bail!
You know what?! I have some really great male friends, whose friendship I truly appreciate. They aren’t “just friends”, as if that is some consolation prize. They are my friends, and they are good ones. And we behave like friends. We have a good time together, we share thoughts and feelings and help each other out. But we know where our boundaries are. They are my friends, not an emotional stand-in for the boyfriend I don’t have. Look at what a friendship actually is- it always requires healthy boundaries. No one gets to be “just friends” with you and then take more than they have earned. They are not your surrogate spouse, who gets to jump in and out with no strings attached. On this note, let’s quickly mention “friends-with-benefits”, which is another false kind of relationship that benefits precisely no-one. If you are in that type of relationship, please, please, reconsider. Learn about the amazing gift of chastity, and remember that you are worthy of a real, committed relationship.
Every time you let a boy (yes a boy, because a real man doesn’t behave like that) back in your life when he has not earned it (and by that I mean, been truly respectful, and not bought his way back with gifts and cheap words) you tell him that you condone his pitiful behaviour. I know it sucks that this responsibility falls on us, when in the first place it should be men behaving well from the offset. But as it is, you don’t owe any guy anything if he is playing fast and loose with you. Words are cheap, so don’t judge a guy by his words, but by how he actually treats you.
By this I mean, if you’re just looking for someone to comfort you because you’re lonely, but you can’t see yourself actually dating them, then don’t start the long-drawn out back and forth of dancing round that tagging-each-other-in-memes thing and not replying for weeks and then messaging at 2am. I’m going to temper my tough-love here and add, I get it: loneliness sucks. We live in an epidemic of it. It is so hard to keep hoping and waiting for the real deal. Where are all the good guys?! Where are all the good women?! I know this is hard! But seriously, don’t give in halfway to crappy stop-gaps and non-relationships just to fill the void. They’re never satisfying, they’re not the real deal, they hurt both of you (even if it doesn’t seem like it). They just contribute to a society that uses each other for their own ends.
A hallmark that I have so often noticed in these kind of relationships is that no one wants to admit that they have actually been hurt by the entire experience. If we admit we’re hurting, then we admit that the concept of being free to do what we like, when we like, with whoever we like, is a failed experiment. And who wants to admit that?! Who wants to actually follow rules? (Quite a lot of people, judging by the success of Dua Lipa’s song!) But rules and boundaries have reasons behind them. They ensure people don’t get hurt. So while my wish would be that society would heal to the extent that this kind of behaviour didn’t happen in the first place, in the meantime I would advocate honesty when you are hurting. I don’t mean behaving outrageously when a guy has stood you up or messed you about, though slashing his tires or breaking his windows might seem enormously satisfying. What I do mean is not to walk away as tough as a piece of granite numb to the pain that has been inflicted on you. This kind of behaviour hurts, it is not right, you do not deserve it, and you should not be expected to pretend that everything is ok, that you are fine with playing this painful game, and that it is just part-and parcel of “boys being boys” and we all have to just deal with it.
Bear with me while I quote Michelle Obama, because here she has something really good to say when she says:
“All of us are doing what women have always done: we’re trying to keep our heads above water, just trying to get through it, trying to pretend like this doesn’t really bother us maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak.”
I think that quote can actually apply well to both sexes. It is not weak to be hurt when you have been misused in the name of fun, love, a no-strings-attached relationship, or whatever you want to call it. Get yourself out of the game, wait for someone who sees your worth, who will prioritize you and care about you and want what is truly good for you, not just to satisfy their own needs.
Tell that person that they are disrespecting you, and that you do not stand for it. Everyone deserves to be respected. If they have hurt you, don’t let them crawl back into your life, however charming or sweet they try to be. Be done with it all. Get angry with this state of the world but let that anger propel you to strive for something better. Forgive, but don’t give someone a place in your life when they cannot be bothered to give you a place in theirs.
Abusive and manipulative relationships can be enormously damaging. If you have been affected by any of these relationships, we really encourage you to seek professional and or spiritual help and support. You shouldn’t have to feel that you have to carry that burden alone. We’re praying for you.
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