The Emperor Has No Clothes (And There Are No Dating Rules)

rules for datingIn 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?

rules for datingI 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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18 thoughts on “The Emperor Has No Clothes (And There Are No Dating Rules)

  1. Dee said:

    Hi James,

    Can you please advise on this scenario because I’m finding it hard to move on. After a very intense period of attraction between a good friend (over a year) at work and myself, we finally admitted we liked each other. This had been very difficult to admit because there were strong feelings on both sides but we worked very closely in the same office and among a small group of friends, and he had a girlfriend although they had broken up when we did admit. We were both travelling separately that summer so we kissed but said we would talk about it on our return in 2 months so as not to create a horrible long distance scenario. We messaged almost every day, as we would as friends, but 1 month in we met up and he said ‘you know I’m not coming back?’. It seems that his travel was an experiment to see if he could live abroad (about 3 hour flight but 12 hours door to door). I realised this was unlikely to go anywhere but we hung out all weekend and slept together, because of how much I felt. I said that was the end of it because I didn’t want to do long distance. He said it wasn’t black and white and that we should talk more. He handed in his notice and I got his job, again all very intense as he had to handover the work to me. All the time he was talking about his plans for his new life I found it very painful. However he was keen to talk in person and booked me flights out so we could spend a week together. We had an amazing week, about a month from when I saw him last, however I found out on his Facebook that he had slept with someone 2 weeks prior, and had messaged me that same night that he missed me. I couldn’t deal with the betrayal on a friendship level (I had checked the Facebook because although I knew he wanted me he seemed insecure), even though we were not exclusive, and we had a horrible argument. He was incredibly sorry and shocked how hurt I was and did nothing but apologise over email for weeks, and wanted to see me the week after. It took me weeks to really want to even talk to him again, he never called but we emailed and messaged a lot. I found out from someone else that he had started seeing someone in November, someone he didn’t like that much but would ‘do for a while’. Our mutual friends say he loves me however and we’ve managed to meet a couple of times since, and he doesn’t seem to love this girl although she is of course living close to him. Each time we see each other we are both happy in the moment but I tend to feel miserable after. I’m resigned to the fact that we need to let each other go but I need to know whether I was unreasonable. I feel like I made it clear I didn’t want to do long term but he talked me round to considering it, only to find he couldn’t wait a month to see me without sleeping with someone else just in case, and that although this might be acceptable with someone you don’t know, it shouldn’t have been with a good friend. Was I wrong to be so hurt?

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Dee. For highly personalized advice requests that are not directly related to the blog article, please submit your question to one of our relationship coaches. They’ll help you get a handle on the situation. You can submit your question and the relevant background information here.

  2. Jean said:

    Hi James
    Love this story and post today. I wrote
    You before and am making great progress, very slowly. This is exactly one of the fears the man has I am seeing. He said, ” I haven’t thought about settling down for a long time. Do you know how long it’s been since I dated? ” I wasn’t sure how to respond.
    He has been divorced over 20 years and the last time a woman was in his life left him heartbroken. I have proved to be trustworthy and steady to him. Yet this seems to be a burden on him. To be honest, I don’t really need a lot of dating, ect. My ex was what I call a show boater with me. So that doesn’t impress me. All I care about is spending valuable time together, regardless how. Any suggestions on what to do or say to ease his fears. He is awesome. Worth waiting for.
    Thanks Jean

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Jean. It sounds like you and he both have something good you currently enjoy, so it’s okay not to rush for any kind of change. If you do want some changes, make them “trials” rather than commitments. “Would you rather try this or that for a while to see how it feels?” This kind of question takes the pressure off because you can ease into new relationship interaction styles without feeling like you have to be able to see the future and know how it will feel.


      • Jean said:

        🙂 Thanks it’s a long road, but he is well worth it. I appreciate your help.

  3. Gabi said:

    Hi James,

    I would really need your advice related to my relationship- is it anyhow possible to write you an e-mail with the details and get your opininon about my situation?

    I would highly appreciate your help!

    Thank you and best regards,


    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Gabi. I will hook you up with some great relationship coaches, but I can’t take on new personal coaching clients right now. Watch your email for an invitation for our new members area where there’s a place to ask personal questions of the coaches. The new member’s area will be released in about two weeks.


  4. Cecilia Wambui said:

    You are doing great work James. your ideas have really helped me as i helped others.
    Just the right guy for this generation at a time like this in life. God bless you Sir.

  5. Wonder said:

    James, I wonder if the story of the Emperor is actually about a Narcissist who expects his subjects to only verify his false image. 😉

    • James Bauer said:

      You would have done well in the royal courts of old with a crafty mind that thinks like that.

      • Wonder said:

        LOL…thanks, James…my “crafty” mind is newly acquired after being in an extremely painful, verbally and emotionally abusive, short-lived marriage with a Narcissist/Sociopath. Trust me, I was as naïve as they come before that. 🙁 I hope none of your readers ever fall victim to one. The worst part is their nice side makes you believe you have met Prince Charming but when the mask comes off (which happens when you innocently point out that they are wearing no clothes ;-)) then you are raged at and devalued and discarded so fast and traumatized for years to come. I’m still healing but my radar is up for these types now. I’d like to think that I am not “crafty” in the manipulative way they are but, rather, I have finally developed a much-needed, healthy dose of self-preserving cynicism. 🙂 Thanks for your work. 🙂

      • Ann said:

        I appreciate your reply about being in a short-lived marriage to a narcissist/sociopath. I was in a relationship with a similar man until about 2 months ago, and the pain from all of it is still almost unbearable at times. He continues to try to manipulate, “plays nice,” and then the mask comes off (as you pointed out), and then he insults me almost every time I see him – which is usually at church or some other social function we are both attending. He broke off with me because he said I was “too sensitive” – I’m guessing you heard that excuse, too? He defined “too sensitive” as me expressing my opinion or disagreeing with him. Ugh! It is so damaging and can really make you doubt yourself. I’m working on that part feverishly with a counselor – trying to mend my view of myself and rebuild my own self-value. I really appreciate your honesty here. It helps to be in solidarity with other women who have faced this and survived.

  6. Tricia said:

    Very interesting –
    Charlotte, I had a similar situation with the most eligible bachelor in my town – UGH!!
    So I will definitely WAIT next time; I’m 66 and “relationshipless” for almost four years by choice – celibate too! I refuse to ‘settle’ –
    I have some online dates yet to come – looking forward to the future!

  7. I appreciate your suggestion of asking the guy about “his” expectations…tho my general opinion is they want sex as soon as they think they can get it…However, I had the wealthiest, smartest, and most attractive guy I ever dated say ‘WE’ had put the cart before the horse…he went on to form a monogamous relationship with a retired executive woman who said no sex until he was in a committed relationship with her. Adding on my latest reading that said sex with a man that hasn’t already become emotionally connected to you will likely result in him NOT becoming emotionally connected. I’ve been married and widowed 73…life is getting tougher.

  8. Chrissy said:

    I’ve been dating this special man for 18 mos now. He’s been wanting us to commit for the last 10 mos or so. He’s absolutely delightful – adores me, so physically affectionate, lots of chemistry & passion between us, he’s incredibly smart and the funniest man I ever met. He would do just about anything for me.

    Problem is he does strange things. He’s the messiest, most disorganized person I’ve ever known – leaves a trail of messes no matter what he does. He also seems to make inappropriate jokes at inopportune times (probably when he’s uncomfortable.)

    He shared early on that he took medication for being bipolar & ADD – then I found out about 7 mos in that he had an addiction to painkillers. He’s been in rehab 3 or 4 times in the last 10 mos and was living in a sober-living house until a few weeks ago, when he got thrown out because they found paraphernalia in the mess of stuff he had in storage there. I’m sure he wasn’t using at that time, but now I am sure he’s in a relapse.

    It’s a holiday today & I’m home alone – my family is 2500 miles away. I can’t visit anyone as I have the flu – and he went to see his family a couple of hours away. He’s supposed to check back into the sober house when he returns. I realize the drug issue recovery will be a challenge for quite some time and that relapse is common & part of the process.

    My problem is I have been missing him so badly today & crying a lot – wondering if I should make the offer that I will make more signs of commitment (a key? a drawer here?) IF and only if he will commit to working on being cleaner & more organized – more conscious and staying clean.

    I’m in my late fifties – have had numerous relationships & was married – and frankly, I’m afraid I will never find someone I can be as close to as I have been with him. On the other hand, as much as I love him, I can’t bear to think I will have to tolerate this level of chaos the rest of my life.

    Should I take a break & date other men for awhile & see if he is serious about getting better?

    • James Bauer said:

      Your thinking is clear on this. Do not commit your time and heart to a person until they are the person you could be happy with. Don’t commit based on hopes of what they could become. Addiction is hard to beat, but I hope he succeeds. Make sure he is sober for at least a year before you get serious about something like marriage.

    • Sharie said:

      Please get educated about nutrition for ADD and bipolar. It can be helped dramatically with proper supplementation and pill addiction can easily be solved. He sounds great and I know from experience that getting the brain balanced will fix all of these things. Sources: Julia Ross – The Mood Cure, True Hope nutritional products (Google this since there have been changes recently), lithium orotate. The bipolar brain burns out nutrients at a much faster rate. It’s a pity to throw a good person away when all they need is to get a balanced brain. I have a few bipolar and ADD friends and am a nutritionist so I have a small idea of what I’m talking about! I hope he is open to this. Most of them don’t want to do meds or be addicted. If you can be patient and he agrees to commit to a fair trial period, give him a chance. He will become even more of what you like about him now.

      • Lydia said:

        Wow! You just infused this sticky sounding situation with so much grounded hope and clarity! Thank you for seeing its possibilities and resolutions!!

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