In case the story is not common where you live, the expression “The emperor has no clothes” is from Hans Christian Anderson’s fable The Emperor’s New Clothes, published in 1837. It was one of my favorite childhood stories (at least the Mickey Mouse Version with pictures was).
Anderson’s story reveals the foolishness of a vain king who was preoccupied with his status and appearance. A pair of swindlers took advantage of the king’s character weakness by explaining they could weave a fine cloth that could only be seen by people who were fit to be royalty (or people who were fit for office).
The king paid a high price to have a suit of clothes made from this wonderful fabric, so he could test which of his courtiers was unfit for office. When he couldn’t see the imaginary clothes the swindlers made for him, he pretended he could see them to avoid the appearance of being unfit for office himself. As he paraded the new clothes through the streets, the onlookers all pretended they could see the clothes, trying to avoid being the only one to reveal their unworthy status.
A young child, who didn’t see the point of pretending, announced, “But he has nothing on!” That burst the bubble and people began laughing, revealing they did not see any clothes either. The king was too vain to admit his error, continuing the procession as he attempted to maintain his dignity by pretending nothing was wrong.
It’s not at all uncommon for men and women to ask me about various “rules of dating.” They want to know the proper etiquette for various unique situations. They hesitate to talk openly with their partner because of a fear of revealing their ignorance regarding “the rules of dating.”
Are there any rules of dating?
I could tell you my personal rules for dating, but they’re unlikely to be the same as yours. There are still cultural groups with clear patterns and expectations regarding the courting process, but those traditions are quickly fading as television and the Internet reveal the multitude of different ways of doing things, cross-pollinating ideas across different cultures.
These days, you should be far more concerned about openly discussing your expectations for dating, and far less concerned with figuring out “the rules” of everyone else. Here are a few reasons why:
- As soon as you figure out what the rules of dating are, your boyfriend does something to violate those rules, and you realize he doesn’t know them. Trusting that he had the same set of rules as you ends up causing friction.
- He may be too embarrassed to admit he cannot see the emperor’s clothes (or dating rules), so he feigns confidence, all the while sweating under the collar as he tries to guess what you are expecting next. By discussing your mutual expectations, you both have a better chance at working toward a mutually satisfying relationship.
- Some men try to make rules that are convenient to them, and inconvenient to you, taking the role of the swindler. This kind of guy hopes you are too afraid to admit you don’t know “the rules,” so your keep quiet and let him bully you around.
- You can help a guy to opt out quickly (and avoid wasting your time) if he has expectations for dating that would be incompatible with yours. Remember, that’s not failure. When you screen out someone who’s not right for you, you’re making way for the kind of man who is right for you.
The next time you feel unsure of “the rules,” play the part of the kid. Talk openly about the fact that people have different expectations. Admit you’re not sure what he’s expecting in a given situation or circumstance. Tell him your preference, and ask him about his. This is the beginning of a healthy negotiation process for two equal partners who want to treat each other with dignity and respect.