The Vagenda

The Modern Feminist’s Guide to Dating

Since I entered puberty, an old family friend has repeatedly asked me “Are you courting?” every time he sees me. From the ages of thirteen to eighteen I had no response other than a heavy sigh and “No. No I’m not” because I was the gawkiest, skinniest teenager you’ll have ever seen in your life. From eighteen onwards, I’ve had a lot to say, but absolutely no desire to share it with an ageing Liverpudlian man who grows tomatoes for my dad. 
The word ‘courting’ makes me picture a smug 1950s teenage boy, who can’t grow even the slightest whisper of stubble, taking a poodle-skirted girl out for an evening of absolutely no hanky-panky and an ice-cream sundae. Think Grease but without any of the erotic subtext or teen pregnancy. It’s a slightly detestable image. And it riles me because dating in 2012 is irritatingly similar.
Being a feminist and playing the dating game are not wholly compatible. When telling a group of friends I have a date with someone, the immediate response is usually ‘Where’s he taking you?’ as though this potential beau doubles up as my carer. Dating etiquette is littered with what to do and what not to do, and this varies a great deal depending on whether you have a member swinging between your legs or not. Men’s magazines don’t seem to contain a lot of advice on what to wear/say/do when dating, the ‘shit, shower and shave’ rule seems to be sufficient for them. Yet women have to walk a tightrope of absolute shite.
Unfortunately we live in a world where showbiz journalists spend half an hour at a time searching for photos of Jennifer Aniston looking mopey. We live in a world where bachelors are fabulously tuxedoed and free to do whatever they wish and spinsters may as well be dead. We live in a world where young women like myself have heart-stopping, panic-ridden moments of fear when their boyfriend leaves them, because the chances of them becoming ‘a cat lady’ have multiplied by a thousand.
If you’re female and single and clutching your vibrator in one hand and a crispy duck and pancakes meal for one in the other, then the rest of the world would probably have you believe that you’re lonely and wrong and you need to find a man immediately lest your Hoisin sauce be diluted with your own tears. But these people are wrong! There’s one specific reason why you might be single right now, apart from the fact that you might want to be, and that reason is that the world of dating is a quagmire of assumptions, outdated customs, rigidity, and ‘rules’ that no one understands or seems to question. And not only that, it’s even worse if you’re a feminist. Most of these dating ‘rules’ seem to contradict everything you probably stand for in your day to day, right-on, hard-core feminist life.
So let’s re-write the rules.
The first rule is…there are no rules! Not one!
The Rules has, astonishingly, been an obscenely popular bestseller since the mid-nineties. It’s generally dismissed as a pile of wank, and with rules like ‘LET HIM TAKE THE LEAD’ and ‘DON’T TALK TOO MUCH’ included in its repertoire then I’m inclined to agree that you’d have to be a complete tosser to take them seriously.
The Rules are just as offensive to men as they are to women. They assume that men are giant, spunking idiots who’ll be reduced to barking sea lions waiting for a haddock if they’re denied sex or regular phone calls for long enough.
In actual fact, a feminist would stand a far better chance in the dating game than someone whose studied The Rules so thoroughly that they’ve got coloured dividers marking various pages. And this is because a feminist wouldn’t listen to dire advice like ‘DON’T ACCEPT A SATURDAY NIGHT DATE AFTER WEDNESDAY’ because she votes and pays income tax and can do a competent reverse park manoeuvre and hence she knows that she can accept whatever date she wants. She knows that she can take the lead if she wants to, and she knows that she can talk as much as she wants to as well. (Unless her date’s cheeks are flapping around because of the hot air streaming out of her mouth, then she should probably evaluate her rabid loquaciousness.)
Remarkably, most men who are decent, hygienic and dateable are also reasonably smart. They will appreciate straight-forward honesty and a woman with her head screwed on will be able to give him that.
So don’t change a thing you glorious feminist, you. Don’t read The Rules. They’re a load of giant, swinging, veiny bollocks.
It’s important to get your wallet out. Regardless of gender.
We vote, we work, and we absolutely bossed the Olympic medals table. We can pay for dinner as well. Some men have this bizarre idea that women need looking after; some of them actually feel their penis swell with self-importance as they pick up a cheque. Some people would say that it’s not terrible to indulge this, but it does make the man sitting across from you sound like a monumental cock.
The kind of man you really want; the kind that respects you 100%, sees you as his absolute intellectual equal and is desperately hot for you all of the time, is the one who will smile and nod when you tell him you want to pay for half. The worst case scenario is this:
*firmly gets his wallet out with a grunt*
“We should split it. Fair’s fair.”
“Absolutely not, I cannot stand the thought of a woman paying for something in my presence. She is a delicate, income-less flower! She’s like the Queen – she doesn’t carry cash! Where did I park my gallant white horse? I believe I left it in the dark ages.”
The truth of the matter is that if a man pays for everything, one of two things will happen:
He will get really fed up with it and think you’re an ungrateful bitch who’s there for free food and not for his company.
He’ll accept it and it’ll tickle his ego, but he will also take this as you saying ‘I HAVE NO PERSONALITY OR SENSE OF SELF *giggle*’. And if you do end up marrying the fucker, he’ll expect you to never work again because he is man and he is breadwinner *grunt*.
If anything, this is a brilliant fool-proof test for the man sitting in front of you. If he’s a number 1, you’re obviously going to want to jump into bed with him because he sounds awesome. If he’s a number 2…well, you know what to do. There’s a reason forks are sharp and pointy – they’re for prodding disappointing, misogynist dates until they leave you alone.
You do not need to put that much thought into your outfit. You really don’t
I don’t like to stereotype, but most men I know wouldn’t notice if I was wearing a tea cosy on my head. Some of course, would. Some would say ‘What the fuck are you wearing on your head? We do NOT know each other’.
Women’s magazines, which are beautifully dissected and shat on at The Vagenda on a regular basis (if we do say so ourselves), are full of this bollocks. You can’t wear too bright a print because he’ll be intimidated. You can’t wear too much make-up because it’ll make him think that you’re the kind of woman who’ll give him a blow job under the table between courses, whatever ‘that kind’ of woman is.
BUT WAIT! HOLD THE PHONE! The Daily Mail has found, after glancing at some research, that there is in fact a perfect outfit for a date. And that is to wear red, have no fringe, show 40% skin, don’t wear trousers, wear heels, show off your neck, and never wear leggings. I take back everything I said, all you need to do is wear a red dress, heels, and lurch around like a giraffe. Easy.
Have sex on the first date if you want to
But not actually in the restaurant/bar, unless you’re into that. (If you are into that, then prepare to be either banned from Yo! Sushi for life or arrested.)
There is an old assumption that if a woman has sex with a man on the first date he will never call her again and he will think she’s a slut and she will be ruined forever and no one will marry her even if she has a fantastic dowry and she will be sent to either bedlam with her unborn child or the streets to be a common prostitute because she is worthless and damaged.
Is it me, or does that sound an awful lot like Dickens?
There is still work to do in regards to changing people’s bigoted opinions vis-à-vis women and sexuality, but I like to think that the majority of society is reasonably decent and kind and would never brand a woman so harshly. I hope so anyway, otherwise I’d be utterly unmarryable.
Some people just click. Their eyes meet or they go from being good friends to even better lovers, and that is what’s so wonderful about sex/love/romance, whatever you want to call it. If you’re struggling to keep your hands to yourself under the dinner table, then you should probably finish dessert, grab a taxi and rip each other’s clothes off as soon as you get home.
Much like the ‘picking up the bill’ scenario, if he does brand you a whore for sleeping with him as soon as you’ve finished your steak then he’s not worth the tiny iota of energy it requires to send a ‘fuck you then’ text. If you’re a bloke and you find yourself with a woman who is extremely keen to shag you, then thank your lucky stars! She’s clearly a forward-thinking, powerful woman who’s in charge of her own body and sexuality and she’s chosen YOU to consummate a 24 hour romance with! You lucky bugger, get in there.
Texting etiquette doesn’t actually exist. It was invented in the wealthy London borough of Kensington and Chelsea to give people something to do.
Let’s go back to The Rules for a mo. I was baffled by this book, and I remembered my mum owning it in the late 90s, so I gave her a ring. She summed it up with; “I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and it was hard to get a man in the 90s.” I was a child in the 90s, so I can’t contest either of these points. I was too busy eating Petit Filous with my hands.
The general point of The Rules is to be aloof and generally nasty – much like the playground logic of old which dictated that if you pulled a boy’s hair and then kicked him in the shin he would like you. My generation doesn’t read The Rules, but its message lives on in the world of texting etiquette. There are so many unwritten rules, most of them revolving around being distant and keeping the recipient of your texts eternally keen.
The general rules seem to be:
Don’t text them first, wait for them to text you.
Don’t reply to their texts too quickly. You’ll look keen and desperate.
Don’t put too many kisses on the end.
This ‘don’t text them first’ bollocks has always made me laugh because it makes me vividly picture people stuck in a void of no communication, both agonising and waiting for each other to make contact first. It’s literally the most pointless Mexican stand-off in existence.
In regards to the second point, there’s keen and there’s keen. There’s ‘I like you a lot, let’s get a margarita sometime’ and there’s ‘I love you. I’m going to set your house on fire if you don’t love me back.’ Obviously one wants to endeavour to be the former. The modern feminist wants to be honest and straight-talking. Playing distant games indulges this bizarre patriarchal idea that women must be ethereal, mysterious creatures. Like fairies. But we’re not fairies, because fairies don’t have tits or pubic hair or human sized thighs.
The rules of texting etiquette can be contested with one simple fact: most people don’t read that much into texts. As far as I know, the only people on earth who read an inordinate amount into every text they receive, is the cast of Made in Chelsea. If a simple ‘Great seeing you last night, fancy going for a drink sometime’ is sent in ANY direction, the recipient will turn to whoever’s sitting across from them in some King’s Road eatery and say “Is that a date I don’t know if that’s a date or not I only saw him once at Spencer’s 1920s theme prohibition fox hunting Scottish reeling party oh my God what do I do help me.”
So there you have it. Wear trousers, text back at your own convenience, get your debit card out, and wear as much eyeliner as you want. But of course, you do that anyway, because you’re a feminist and you know which way is up and which way is sexist.
- HMc
P.S. We know this dating guide is looking pretty hetero, so if you think you can write a funny Feminist’s Guide to Dating Women, you should hit us up at the usual address (


12 thoughts on “The Modern Feminist’s Guide to Dating

  1. I went on a few dates over the summer via Guardian Soulmates. On one, the guy asked me (within about an hour of meeting)how I kept my bikini line. When I explained it was au naturel, he said “well that can change”. Urgh. No,I didnt see him again.

  2. The thing that’s always puzzled me in first date advice, and early relationship rules is this: before the advent of internet dating, you actually had to have met that man before you’d've gone on a date with him. He therefore had seen what you looked like and was interested enough to go on a date with you. Therefore, why would he have been put off by something as stupid as the fact that you have a fringe?

    Obviously that’s less relevant now – but even with internet dating, why the hell would you pretend to be someone you’re not? The guy’s gonna figure out sooner or later, and besides, why would you want to be with him if he doesn’t like you for who you are??

    So yeah, great article :)

    *rant over*

  3. Not sleeping with people on a first date is such a twatty rule. Since my Mum leaned over to me one Sunday lunchtime and said-’You know, me and you father slept together the first night we met’ (yes, sunday lunchtime and no, she hadn’t been drinking)-I’ve accepted that if you want to see someone again, it is because you want to see them again and not because you’re following some out dated putting out rule. Case in point. 7 months ago, I tagged along to with my house mate to the birthday drinks of some bloke I went to uni with but never talked too and got into conversation with the only man who wasn’t involved in an intense discussion about the Europa league. It was a freakin’ expensive place so after he whispered ‘I know a Wetherspoons by the station’ seductively in my ear, we were off for a round of Jaggerbombs. The next morning he asked if he could see me again, I said yes. In January we’re moving in.
    Thank you Europa League and Jaggerbombs.

  4. “If you’re female and single and clutching your vibrator in one hand and a crispy duck and pancakes meal for one in the other, then the rest of the world would probably have you believe that you’re lonely and wrong and you need to find a man immediately lest your Hoisin sauce be diluted with your own tears. But these people are wrong!”

    Oh, this is so good.

  5. I am going on my first date in *ages* tomorrow night and this article has just totally affirmed everything I’ve been thinking in the run up. We’ll take it in turns to buy rounds and I’m coming straight from lectures so a refreshing dash of deodorant is about as exciting as my get up will be.

    THANK YOU (as always) Vagenda for keeping a girl sane.

  6. The one point I do differently is paying for dates. I like to be able to pay for the other person for a date I go on – but *not* because I think she needs “taking care of” or whatever nonsense. Because…I want to do something nice for the person! As a gesture of kindness! And yes – I have no problem if the other person can do the same thing for me next time!

    If I bought a significant other a birthday gift, I would not expect that person to reimburse me for half of it, because I bought it as a way of doing something nice for that person.

    While alternating paying for each other is mathematically the same as just splitting every check, I tend to find it much better because it means that every time we go out, (A) someone is doing something nice for someone else, and (B) someone is having something nice done for them – neither of which is the case when we split a check. It’s just playing with the numbers in some sense, but I find that since most people enjoy both of these scenarios, it has the potential to be a win-win scenario and can turn out to be really nice.

    Watching out for the sexism is important, but I like finding ways to increase the kind things people are able to do for each other (in a balanced way!), and I think this is an example of where this can be done nicely.

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