Midlife dating etiquette

etiquetteThe other day I was asked me for some rules of etiquette for when one is beginning to date. While etiquette is, according to the dictionary, “the customary code of polite behavior,” there are no hard and fast rules. What is rude to one is not a big deal for another. Following are what I’ve heard are common complaints from both genders. You may not have a challenge with any item, but I think it’s important to know what may be considered good- or ill-mannered by another.

Both genders:

  • Respond promptly to online contacts, even if you’re not interested. Don’t let someone linger in limbo. If you’re not interested, send them a kind, “Thank you, but we’re not a match” email. (Some people think no response is better than an outright rejection, but the majority of people I’ve talked to about this would rather hear a polite “no thanks” than nothing at all.)
  • When on the phone, give the other your full attention. Don’t grocery shop, watch TV, read your email, or surf a dating site. I experienced the latter during an initial phone call with a potential suitor. At first I was impressed that he was referring to items on my profile; then he digressed to reading me emails he’d received from woman wanting to make contact.
  • When together, don’t answer your phone, unless you’ve specified in advance that your child or boss may call. If you do answer, make it very brief, not “No, I’m not doing anything. What’s going on with you?” Believe it or not, I’ve heard this from people over the age of 40 on a date. If the call is going to be more than a 30-second “Let me call you back in a few hours,” excuse yourself and take it outside.
  • When face to face, give the other your focus. Don’t check out others as they walk by. We can see your eyes look people up and down! The same is true at a party or bar where you are looking over the person’s shoulder.
  • Be on time. In fact, being a little early is even better. You can then stake out the quietest spot, as well as observe the posture, walk and attire of the other. I met a man once who had arrived early and staked out a table, so I didn’t see him walk in. Only when I picked up something I dropped did I noticed his both pants legs’ hem had come unsown so were ragged and dragging on the floor.
  • Get cleaned up. That means wearing neat, clean, ironed, well-fitting clothing in good repair. Brush your hair and teeth before the meeting. Take a shower that day.
  • Don’t be critical of the other. It takes a long time to develop enough trust to be allowed to give critical feedback.
  • Don’t talk about other people you are dating. When you disclose you are seeing others, you don’t need to give details, even if asked.
  • Don’t lead on the other if you have no interest.
  • Limit your discussion of your ex(es) and try to find a way to say something positive about him/her. If you’re only bashing, you’ll sound bitter and negative, which is unappealing.
  • Share the conversation, don’t hog it. Think of questions about the other that you want to know. Work to not ask the same questions every other person has asked your date.
  • Don’t talk about sexual topics before meeting or on the first date.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to one or two drinks on the first encounter. Alcohol impairs your judgment and you may make decisions you’ll later regret.
  • When you’ve decided you don’t want to see the other again, have the courage to say so as pleasantly as possible. Don’t take the coward’s way out and stop responding to emails and calls.


  • Don’t practice arbitrary rules, like only having one contact with a man per day. If you both like to email or call a few times a day, do it. Don’t limit yourself by what some “expert” says to do — including this one.
  • Don’t accept a date with a man you have no interest in just for a free lunch, dinner, or concert.
  • Do not put on lipstick or make up at the table. Excuse yourself to the ladies’ room.


  • Pick a first rendezvous spot where you’ll be comfortable treating. While it is the 21st Century, the norm is still for the man to treat on the first date unless the woman has made it clear she’d prefer to go dutch. Coffee dates are perfectly fine for a first meeting. Don’t feel you have to go to a fancy place to impress her on the first encounter.
  • Brush up on gentleman’s etiquette: ask her to order first, open doors, walk by her side, not in front unless it’s in a crowd. Know which fork to use, which glass(es) and bread plate are yours, and when to put your napkin in your lap (when you first sit down). Buy a book on male etiquette from your local independent bookstore.
  • Don’t ask out a woman you have no interest in just for a sex, unless you’re positive that’s all she wants, too. Ask, don’t assume.

Everyone can benefit from an etiquette review every once in a while, just as they could from a driving review. Don’t assume you have nothing to learn. Ask your opposite sex dating buddies for what bugs them about the your gender during dating.

What have I left out? What etiquette gaffes have I overlooked? Share your thoughts in a comment.

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5 responses to “Midlife dating etiquette”

  1. Bookyone Avatar

    Hi DG,

    Very thorough and so true, I really enjoyed reading this. I also agree with all of the above.

    I’m still moving slowly through the waters of online dating. I’ve made a few friends who correspond regularly and one guy who is a friend but whom I’m secretly hoping against hope might one day be more than just a friend. I got into a nasty fight with this particlar long distance friend the other day, (I started it, I was in a bad mood for other reasons that had noting to do with him), but fortunately he forgave me today and we talked about our expectations; (he’s recenly divorced, about a year ago, with 2 small kids and hasn’t dated anyone since his divorce, so he told me he’s not sure he’s ready for a relationship, although he does want to meet face to face). I told him I appreciated his honesty and said I’m just getting back into things myself, (I haven’t been on a date in years and since my ex dumped me 2 years ago I haven’t really socialized all that much). So, we both agreed to take things slowly and see if there are sparks when we meet. We have written a lot back and forth and shared many personal things, and have decided that even if there’s no chemistry when we meet in person that we’ll still stay friends.

    So, this newbie dater is doing OK and has, oddly enough, met another newbie dater for her first date, what are the odds of that??? 🙂

    Best wishes from bookyone 🙂

    PS – I liked your article about newbie daters as well. Since both he and I fit this category, I will be re-reading this again before our date.

  2. Marina Avatar

    My pet peeve is someone yaking on the cell phone while we’re on a date. I really like the gentleman I’m seeing, but he has a lot of friends who constantly call, even during dates. I wish he would either turn off the cell phone or send the calls to voice mail. Better yet, tell his freinds, “I’m out right now having dinner, (or at the movies) with a friend. I’ll call you later.”

    I don’t think he means any harm, but when I’m out on a date I expect to be the center of his attention until the date is over.

  3. Passing By Avatar
    Passing By

    I saw a tv show this weekend called “Confessions of a Matchmaker.” In the episode, there was a 22-year-old female who looked 10 years older thanks to weekly sessions in the tanning salon and tons of garish makeup. They showed a picture of her from when she was 18, and she was a beautiful girl. Now she already looks like an overbaked tart. The matchmaker told her to “soften” her look by weaning herself off the tanning salon and wearing less makeup.

    Anyway, the girl was set up with a 26 year-old military recruiter. The date that followed was a textbook example of bad dating etiquette.
    1). the girl mocked the guy’s job.
    2). she ordered shots at an Italian restaurant and tried to drink the guy under the table.
    3). she checked her makeup and made a phone call at the table.
    But the absolute worst thing she did, which left my jaw on the floor, was that she invited two friends to come by the restaurant to check out her date. When they arrived, she told her date that the reason why her friends were there was to give their approval of him. The young man was shocked but the young woman didn’t think there was anything at all odd or strange about two of her friends joining them on a first date. The young woman wanted to drink more shots and when her date told her that it was inappropriate and time to stop, she got annoyed with him.

    From personal experience, the best example I have of horrible dating etiquette is a guy I met through a dating service which had both video interviews and photos for members to look at. Within minutes of meeting at the restaurant, the man told me that I wasn’t what he was expecting. Thinking he couldn’t be so tactless, I gave him an opportunity to take his foot out of his mouth, so I proceeded to ask him a few questions.
    Me: “Oh, is it that I’m younger looking in person?”
    Him: No.
    Me: “Oh, is it that I’m shorter than you thought I was going to be?
    Him: No, that’s not it.
    Me: “So, what is it, then?”
    Him: You’re darker than I thought.
    Me: HUH?!

    Since I’m a black female, that kind of comment is beyond tactless. I wanted to get up and walk out of that restaurant right then and there but I sat there for another 90 minutes and made small talk. Excruciating!!

    Message to the fellows: NEVER; EVER make any comments on a woman’s appearance to her face on the first date unless you plan to say something unequivocally POSITIVE!!!!

  4. walt Avatar

    I have a few to add. For both genders, if uninterested in someone you meet on a first date, keep the date to no more than 45 minutes. A 2+ hour date sends the message that you are enjoying yourself, and would therefore want to see your date again. It’s unfair to induce someone to invest that much time with you if you are not interested. For women, when in the initial stages of dating (or even afterward) someone you like, call him on the phone once in a while, don’t wait for him to call you. A lot of women like to be “courted”, and will not call, but the man likes to see some evidence that the interest is mutual, so an ocassional call (obviously, 3 times a day is too much!) “just to talk” is a good idea. Finally, I want to underline your point about having the courage to decline further dates if not interested. Above all, do not say “yes” to the proposal of a second date, and then make up some stupid excuse (“I met someone else”, “I’m too busy”) 3 days later to get out of it.

  5. nysharon Avatar

    I thought it was OK to apply a little lip gloss at the table:(