Leave at least an hour between text messages.
Don't accidentally point at wedding dresses whilst you're out together.
Don't do too much smiling in case they think you're a psychopath.
Urgh, I'm glad to be out of it.
The rule I always struggled the most with was 'Don't look too keen'.
Now, this is not because I'm a crazy person with a body secretly tattooed with the name of every man I've ever admired (I'm afraid of needles, thanks very much) but because this rule is actually unfinished. What it should say is: 'Don't look too keen unless you're ABSOLUTELY 100% SURE that they are equally keen on you in which case, do what you like'.
The game goes something like this.
- Meet someone you like.
- Appear interested but nonchalant, like a Coronation Street viewer passing the time with an episode of Eastenders. You're here, you're looking, but you've just got so much else going on.
- Commence dating. Brush your hair and clean your teeth but don't let them think it was all for them. There's a good chance you'd have done that today anyway.
- Begin to incorporate occasional smiling and physical contact into dates. Maybe even laugh at their jokes but don't play with your hair. It'll totally give the game away.
- Undertake mind reading exercises/ask a couple of their mates if they've mentioned you, to confirm that they definitely do like you precisely as much as you like them.
- Say something encouraging like "You're nice" or "Those jeans fit you well around the waist" to let them know that actually, yes, you are interested too.
- Enter balanced, game free relationship. Reply to their text messages when you want and perhaps even answer the phone when they ring you (unless Corrie's on, obviously).
- Get married. State just how keen you are in front of everybody you know.
- Schedule regular occasions on which to demonstrate your deep felt keenness throughout the year, such as anniversaries, birthdays and Pancake Day.
- Specifically do not appear keen on anybody else at all for the rest of your life, with the following permitted exceptions: David Beckham, Leonard DiCaprio (Romeo and Juliet era preferred) and anybody offering free chocolates, as long as you make sure you get enough free samples for both of you.
But here's a thing nobody tells you. That isn't really the end of it.
If you're somebody who has worked tirelessly for years to ensure you're always on the right side of the keenness tracks, taking occasional breaks to kick yourself hard in the shin for accidentally misreading a high-five as a marriage proposal, your guard never quite goes down.
I think it's because dating teaches us to be so cautious that when we do let ourselves relax, an alarm bell rings inside our heads and says WOAH WOAH WOAH YOU'RE VULNERABLE! QUICK, DELETE HIS NUMBER AND START PRONOUNCING HIS NAME INCORRECTLY! YOU NEED TO WIN BACK SOME POWER!
It can come up out of the blue. You can be asking an innocent question about the weekend ahead and your options for mutual socialising, and all of a sudden you're feeling the need to clarify that you were just wondering what they were up to and you don't even want to hang out with them anyway, and you have so many other options on the table you can hardly wade through them, whilst they look on, baffled.
It can be difficult to shake the dating game off. Of course some elements apply forever - it's nice to listen to what people have to say instead of just saying "Uhuh" every ten seconds and continuing to look at Twitter, and washing is always a positive activity, but once you're in a relationship it's nice just to have a bit of trust and stop all this fannying about it.
The dating game is just that - a game. Sometimes you win - and by win I mean you meet somebody you like and who likes you and that you enjoy spending time together for an appropriate length of time (whether that be forever, or until you realise that you just can't get past your differing opinions on who made a better Batman), and sometimes you lose, by which I mean that it leaves you wondering whether you should just marry your cat and be done with it.
But when it does work out, you have to just throw the rule book out and admit that you do indeed like another human being. Relationships do make you vulnerable because you can't enter into one without admitting that actually you are rather keen. Queen Keen of Keen Town, actually, and you don't care who knows it.
All you can do is try and find yourself in a situation where everybody is as keen as each other so that that never feels like a bad thing. With somebody who also believes that eight is the optimum number of kisses to include at the end of a text message, and who feels just as strongly about the apostrophe as you do, and who agrees that, yes, Pancake Day really is the greatest day of the year.