18 Truths About Those “18 Truths About Modern Dating”

Stop Putting Up With the World. Start Making It.
by Stephanie Johnstone & David McGee

If a couple days ago you heard somebody screaming like Westley when Prince Humperdinck set the machine to 50, that was us having just read the 18 Truths About Modern Dating thing that’s gone viral. And while we believe screaming like that was a perfectly reasonable response to reading it, we wanted to also respond in perhaps a more constructive way.

Let’s talk about these “truths”.

1. The person who cares less has all the power. Nobody wants to be the one who’s more interested.

It sucks that much of our culture tells us that being removed is cool. We think that probably stems from how difficult and scary it can feel to be honestly vulnerable. Anyone who has tried this knows that there is a great potential for hurt. But there’s also the greatest potential for fulfillment.

If it’s important to you to have power, have the courage to be upfront and honest about what you feel, even (especially!) when it’s hard. This will make you more powerful than somebody cagily holding back is ever going to be. And this kind of courage is contagious, yo.

2. Because we want to show how cavalier and blasé we can be to the other person, little psychological games like ‘Intentionally Take Hours Or Days To Text Back’ will happen. They aren’t fun.

Are you doing this? Just don’t do this. Don’t be cavalier and blasé toward people you ostensibly care about.

If you are building your relationships on psychological games, is that really the sort of future you’d like to build?

If you think that somebody else is doing this to you, and it feels crummy, consider asking them what works for them in terms of frequency of communication (this could be as easy and straightforward as saying “Hey, what works for you in terms of frequency of communication? I want to make sure we’re on the same page.”), and check in with yourself to see if that works for you. Hooray!

3. A person being carefree because they have zero interest in you looks exactly like a person being carefree because they think you’re amazing & are making a conscious effort to play it cool. Good luck deciphering

What? No. You don’t have to decipher this stuff. There’s this other great option: TALK TO EACH OTHER ABOUT THINGS.

4. Making phone calls is a dying art. Chances are, most of your relationship’s communication will happen via text, which is the most detached, impersonal form of interaction. Get familiar with those emoticon options.

If you want to call someone, call them. If you would like them to call you, ask them to call you. It really can be that simple.

Even texting doesn’t have to be impersonal! You can write a whole love poem in texts, if that’s your jam. Don’t blame the tool: texting can be whatever you want it to be. :-p

5. Set plans are dead. People have options and up-to-the-minute updates on their friends (or other potential romantic interests) whereabouts thanks to texts & social media. If you aren’t the top priority, your invitation to spend time will be given a “Maybe” or “I’ll let you know” and the deciding factor(s) will be if that person has offers more fun/interesting than you on the table.

If it’s important to you to make set plans and stick to them, it’s OK to ask for that! Maybe somebody will find it really hot that you’re so excited to see them that you want to put it in your calendar in pen. Maybe they share your frustration with ambivalence. Or, hey, maybe they like to be ambivalent. And maybe that means they’re not the right match for you, and that’s OK too. Luckily, other humans exist, and some of them almost certainly share your scheduling preferences. Rock on.

6. Someone who hurt you isn’t automatically going to have bad karma. At least not in the immediate future. I know it only seems fair, but sometimes people cheat and betray and move on happily while the person they left is in shambles.

Hey, you know, this one is actually a truth you just have to deal with. Bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. C’est la vie. But how about we all do our best not to cheat, or betray, or leave people in shambles? Ever. Right?

7. The only difference between your actions being romantic and creepy is how attractive the other person finds you. That’s it, that’s all.

Despite what culture tells us, not everybody wants to be romanced. And despite what romantic comedies and chart-topping pop songs tell us, obsessive behavior is not inherently romantic. “Romantic” actions are often unwelcome, regardless of whether someone is attracted to you. If you’re not sure, maybe stay away until/unless you’re SURE that your attention will be welcome. The best possible way to know this is: ASK! And if people are telling you that your attention is unwelcome: LISTEN!

8. “Let’s chill” & “Wanna hang out?” are vague phrases that likely mean “let’s hookup” — and while you probably hate receiving them, they’re the common way to invite someone to spend time these days, and appear to be here to stay.

Sure, it can be difficult to know and say exactly what you mean all the time. But if you’re not clear what someone else is asking you, ask them to clarify.

9. Some people just want to hookup and if you’re seeking more than sex, they won’t tell you that they’re the wrong person for you. At least, not until after they score your prize. While human decency is ideal, honesty isn’t mandatory.

Wait, what? Sex isn’t YOUR PRIZE. It’s neither a prize to give nor a prize to be won. What even is this?

It’s OK to be into a hookup for sex, and it’s OK to not want a relationship to be just about sex. Whatever you’re into: just be honest. There’s a possibility for infinite hurt whatever side of this you’re on. Prioritize being clear about what you’re interested in, and be upfront about it.

10. The text message you sent went through. If they didn’t respond, it wasn’t because of malfunctioning phone carrier services.

Well, it might have been, but if you don’t trust what someone’s telling you, you probably have muuuuuuuuch bigger problems to talk about.

11. So many people are scared of commitment and being official that they’ll remain in a label-free relationship, which blurs lines and only works until it doesn’t. I’ve said it many times before, I’ll say it again – “we’re just talking” is opening the door for cheating that technically wasn’t cheating because, hey, you weren’t together together.

“Cheating” doesn’t have a universal definition; figure out with your partners what constitutes cheating. What counts as cheating to you? Thinking about someone else and smiling? Thinking about someone else during sex? Feeling attracted even a little bit? Having a three hour conversation in a dark corner at a party, but you don’t touch? Giving a BJ but not having feelings about it?

And hey, not only does cheating not have a set definition, NOTHING does. There’s no such thing as a perfect model of “a relationship”. A relationship is built by people relating. We get to create how we are.

12. Social media creates new temptations and opportunities to cheat. The private messaging and options for subtle flirtation (e.g. liking of pictures) aren’t an excuse or validation for cheating, but they certainly increase the chances of it happening.

Again, don’t blame the tool. Clicking an upward thumb doesn’t increase a chance of cheating happening; cheating does. Not talking to each other does. Discuss with your partners what sorts of social media interaction you’re comfortable with.

13. Social media can also create the illusion of having options, which leads to people looking at Facebook as an attractive people menu instead of a means of keeping contact with friends & family.

Everyone always has options. This isn’t an illusion. This is always going to be true. But you don’t have to think about relationships that way at all! Do you want your partner to be with you because they have NO OTHER OPTION or do you want them to be with you because they choose, on a daily basis, to be with YOU?

14. You aren’t likely to see much of someone’s genuine, unfiltered self until you’re in an actual relationship with him or her. Generally people are scared that sincerely putting themselves out there will result in finding out that they’re too available, too anxious, too nerdy, too nice, too safe, too boring, not funny enough, not pretty enough, not some other person enough to be embraced.

It does indeed seem that this is a common phenomenon, and, honestly, it breaks our hearts. It is very, very hard to be your genuine self, and all of us are imperfect at it, even when we are trying to sincerely put ourselves out there.

But: what is the fucking point of relating to people if you’re actively trying to not really be you? A relationship is a constant act of relating. It’s not Quidditch, where once you catch the Snitch (kissing! sex! saying I love you! marriage! whatever!) the game is won. We have the option to do our very best to be kind, and be honest, and spend time only with people who recognize that kindness and honesty are awesome.

15. Any person you get romantically involved with you’ll either wind up staying with forever or breaking up with them at some point. These are equally terrifying concepts.

This is true of every person you meet ever: you’ll either know each other until one of you dies, or not. And though of course it can be hard, it doesn’t have to be terrifying.

Relationships that last forever aren’t necessarily good; relationships that end weren’t necessarily bad. Every person in your life — friend, family, lover, barista, that person who smiled at you that one day on the subway, whether your connection is romantic or not — helps make you who you are. This can be heart-shatteringly gorgeous and wonderful. We feel like shouting this from the rooftop.

16. When dating, instead of expressing how they feel directly to you, a person is more likely to post a Facebook status or Instagram a Tumblr-esque photo of a sunset with a quote or song lyric of someone else’s words on it, and while it may not mention your name, it’s blatantly directed at you.

We, too, once went to middle school.

17. There are plenty of people who’ll have zero respect for your relationship and if they want the person you’re with, they’ll have no qualms with trying to overstep boundaries to get to ‘em. Girl code and guy code are wishful thinking and human code isn’t embedded in everyone.

Um, these people are assholes. Don’t hang out with them.

18. If you get dumped, it’s probably going to be pretty brutal. People can cut ties over the phone and avoid seeing the tears stream down your face or end things via text and avoid hearing the pain in your cracking voice and sniffling nose. Send a lengthy text and voilà, relationship over. The easy way out is far from the most considerate.

Don’t be brutal when you dump someone. Just don’t.

We’ve been getting increasingly blunt because come on now. By 18 this is positively wearying.
It can’t be said enough: we *collectively create* the culture around dating AND every other way of being with each other! Dating rules are not written in the fabric of the cosmos; they are a reflection of the way people treat each other. Even if the things listed in these 18 are common tendencies, they are emphatically NOT things we just “have to deal with”. It’s like Reid Mihalko says: Be the change you want to see in the bedroom.

Let’s imagine for a moment that the “truths about modern dating” are things like:
-We do our best to contagiously and courageously be our authentic selves.
-When we date people, we are clear about what kind of communication and relationship rhythms work best for us.
-We do what we can to remain kind in every interaction with everyone ever, whether it’s romantic or not.
-We try not to take anybody for granted – ever.
-We remember that we have the power to create and define relationships in the way that works for us.

That’s a world we would like to live in, and we believe it is within our reach. How about you? Let’s build it together. Today. Right now.

Stephanie Johnstone is an NYC-based human / composer / organizer / theatermaker / muckraker / sexuality educator with a fierce commitment to celebrating and cultivating interdependence.

David McGee writes mostly plays but other things too, sometimes. His writing has been published by n+1 in the book “Trouble is the Banks: Letters to Wall Street” and cited by Against Equality (Queer Challenges to the Politics of Inclusion).

Sex For Smart People (That Means You!) is a podcast by us (Stephanie and Dave!). We think that authenticity and communication are the sexiest. www.sexforsmartpeople.com

A (By-No-Means-Comprehensive) Reading List for Sexy People

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I like to read and think about sex and sexuality.  But even after several years of this being true, I still feel a little bit awkward buying “The Multi-Orgasmic Couple” at Shakespeare and Co, or reading “Your Brain On Sex” on a crowded subway car.  The culture of stigma and shame is so pervasive, it makes sense that there is residue of it in most of us.

This same stigma and shame keeps us from communicating as fully and openly in our intimate partnerships, and subsequently, there can be misunderstanding and heartbreak where there could be joy and growth.  You do not need to read several books about sex in order to be great at sex and great at communication about sex, but I also think that it is absurd to believe that we will just be skilled at those things by stumbling into them.  And sometimes, reading books can be a great start! So here are some of my favorites from my years of reading. I’d love to hear about your favorites, too.

Super Extra Highly Recommended- 3 books that have most shaped my worldview:

*Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino

(I encountered this book after I had already spent a few years practicing and thinking about the ideas it espouses, and I still found it valuable.  However you feel about the monogamy spectrum, and whatever the shape of your partnerships, I recommend this book as an excellent foundational guide about authenticity and communicating openly about needs and wants in the context of romantic/sexual relationships.  I think this should be read in every high school sociology class.)

*The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life by Michael Warner

(If you are at all passionate about progressive sexual politics, this book is a must, whether or not you identify as queer.  It is an extremely trenchant cultural analysis, full of precision and full of heart, radical without ever being holier-than-thou.  Raises wide and important questions about the fight for gay marriage and U.S. sexual health policy, through the lense of commitment to transcending stigma and shame.)

*The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World by Michelle Goldberg

(This is a meticulously researched treatise on how women’s rights and reproductive rights are deeply embedded in just about every macro-struggle for justice and equality.  I had already read a great deal about things like birth control, female genital mutilation, and abortion rights, but this draws connections between all of these things (and more!) in ways that have significantly galvanized me.)


Highly Recommended – Practical Guides:

*The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide for All of Us by Felice Newman

(This book hugely delivers on its title! Super comprehensive and inclusive and thorough (about topics ranging from details of anatomy to creating lasting relationships))

*She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide To Pleasuring a Woman by Ian Kerner

(To anyone who is excited about female orgasm, but especially to the gentlemen out there: run, do not walk, to acquire this book!  It is a gorgeously-written 250 page tome on cunnilingus, written in the context of a progressive philosophy of pleasure.)

*Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the 21st Century by Barbara Carrellas and Annie Sprinkle

This book upturns misunderstandings (about tantra as primarily about day-long orgasms) by espousing a philosophy of the erotic as present in every aspect of life.  After reading this book, I was able to give myself an orgasm with no touching, just from breathing! You’d probably get a lot out of “Urban Tantra” if you feel more aligned with somebody while breathing in sync with them, in the context of any kind of intimacy, sexual or not.  It also contains one of the better chapters on safer sex that I’ve ever encountered. And huge points for queer and kink inclusivity!!)

*The Multi-Orgasmic Couple: Sexual Secrets Every Couple Should Know by Chia and Abrams

(This is rooted in Taoist ideas about sexuality (related to but distinct from Tantra), and it contains lots of powerful/practical exercises about communication and channeling sexual energy (for solo sex and for partnered sex). I am aligned with the philosophies that sex can be a practice, much like a yoga practice, and that sexuality is deeply connected to aliveness and vitality. If those ideas appeal to you, you will probably get a lot from this book! The only major drawback is that it only gives a slight nod to gender complexity in the form of: everyone has masculine and feminine energies within them, but beyond that, it is definitely situated firmly in the heteronormative.)

*The New Topping Book & The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy

(For anyone with any fascination with or interest in power play and/or sensation play and/or bondage (and let’s face it, that’s most of us!), regardless of your level of experience, I think these books are must-reads. They are short and sweet and practical, written with a delightfully exuberant tone. I think it is worth reading both of them, even if you err more on the side of dominant or more on the side of submissive.)

*The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Adventures by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy

(This was the first book that I read about polyamory.  The tone of it is a little bit crunchy granola for me, but the heart of it is great. I recommend “Opening Up” more heartily, as it was written more recently and its language jives with me better, but “The Ethical Slut” is still worthwhile.)


Highly Recommended- Books About Ideas:

*Mating In Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel

(This is a profound investigation into why it tends to be so difficult to sustain and cultivate desire in the context of long-term relationships plus practical ideas about how to shake that up, on individual and also widespread cultural levels. I love her frame: that most people want their partnerships to be both their anchors and their waves.  It reads a little like a self-help book, so if you are turned off by that, it may not be for you.)

*Your Brain On Sex: How Smarter Sex Can Change Your Life by Stanley Siegel

(Rooted in psychology and not at all in neuroscience (for the latter, try “This Is Your Brain On Sex” by Kayt Sukel, which I have not yet read), the thesis of this book is something I love: that we need to think and talk and learn more about sex and desire- It is not something we can just stumble into being good at. I like Siegel’s concept of ‘intelligent lust’: a deep understanding of your own desires and how to communicate about them.  This also reads a little self-helpy, and I disagree with Siegel’s insistence that ALL fantasies and desires are shaped from past experience (I think sometimes desires can just be taken at face value), but I think it’s still good.)

*Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex by Pat Califia

(This is a collection of eye-opening essays about the incendiary intersection of sex and politics.  Califia unflinchingly takes on child pornography, sex in public, putting the sex back into sexuality, and the often unexamined aspects of the AIDS crisis.  These essays have shaken up my thinking in many ways, even though I am not sure if I wholeheartedly agree with some of the theses.)

*How To Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton

(“We don’t think too much about sex, we’re merely thinking about it in the wrong way.”  Amen to that, the tagline of this book!  This short pop-philosophical treatise is thought-provoking and beautifully written, full of passages that frame things in ways I haven’t thought of before…  And full of things I disagree with, like any good pop-philosophical treatise.)

*Sister/Outsider by Audre Lourde

(This collection of incisive essays delves into intersections of race, class, sex, sexuality, and gender.  Lourde is one of my favorite thinkers, and she consistently blows my mind.)

*Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire by Several Authors!

(Sitting in two complex and highly contested terms: “queer” and “anarchism”, this welcome, though sometime uneven, collection of essays inspired me to underline things and make stars in the margins all over the place!  Especially “Queering Heteronormativity”.)

*Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein

(This is so so good.  Part essay, part coming-of-age story.  I think that if it were read in every high school sociology class, the world would be a better place!)

*Sex At Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means For Modern Relationships by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

(Many people I respect have great esteem for this book. I actually don’t love it, as I am suspicious of evolutionary psychology and playing into philosophies about noble savages (“Guns, Germs, and Steel” falls into those things, too).  But nevertheless, I hugely appreciate the ways in which this book is provocative; I think we need more things like this that poke at the supposed naturalness of marriage and monogamy, and “Sex At Dawn” has had great mainstream reach.)

*Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by Eric Berkowitz

(A fascinating history of sex laws and sex politics through the ages.  Great perspective for those of us who fight for sexual freedom these days. It acknowledges that it is Western-centric.)


Highly Recommended- For kids and parents:

*And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

(the heart-warming story of the gay penguins at the Central Park Zoo, and the baby penguin they raised together. I have it on my coffee table at home.  Oh man, this book makes me smile.)

*It’s So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie Harris

(Admittedly, I also have this book on my coffee table! I learned about these three, by Robie Harris, during trainings I did at Planned Parenthood about young people’s sexuality.  I wish I had encountered books as celebratory and thorough as part of my sex ed when I was a kid.)

*It’s Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Robie Harris

*It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie Harris

If you end up reading any of these on my recommendation, I would love to know what you think!  And this list is by no means comprehensive – there are so many books on these topics that I still want to read.  What are your favorite books about sex and sexuality that are not included here?