"Ask Gemma" is a new "Good Morning America" relationship column. Do you have an issue with your girlfriend, husband or partner? Or with being single/dating? GMA wants your questions. We'll answer them with help from experts. Write in now!
Dear Ask Gemma,
I'm 35 and I've realized that I do not know how to date. Instead, I find myself talking to my girlfriends about whether or not a situation I'm in, at the particular time, may or may not be actual dating.
Recently, a guy I've known for several years suggested we try dating. I was confused. Not only does he live two hours away, but he gave me a list of things that I could and could not do. For example, I could not call him daily and I, for sure, could not complain about my job. I could, however, give him the password to my Netflix account.
After a few hours of thinking about it, I decided, 'No!'
'Hell no,' is actually what I said.
I remembered that this guy and I had only went on one date in the three years that I had known him, but engaged in sexual activity more than once. How could I possibly consider dating someone who obviously did not know how to date? But, was it me who did not know how to date? What he was proposing, was it dating?
This is what I think dating is: A guy will let his intentions be known and if he likes you, he spends time with you. It gets sticky because he can technically date other women in this process. So, when does he just date you exclusively?
Yes, I am guilty of putting the cart before the horse, or is it the horse before the cart? I don't know. Point is: I have always offered sex first and I need to stop that.
My question is how do I properly date someone?
Sex Before Commitment
Dear "Sex Before Commitment,"
I've recently walked proudly to the other side of 30 and I've only — a few years ago — mastered how to date in such a way that I get what I want.
When we were teenagers — before the Internet was a handy world built into our phones filled with tons of information and, at times, misinformation — where could we learn how to date?
If you were anything like me as a teenager, talking about dating with our parents was completely out of the question. I remember riding in the car with my dad, when he tried to have "The Talk" with me.
"Do you know what the birds and the bees are?" he asked.
"Yes! Of course," I said, cheerily. "The birds and the bees is about when the birds were being bullied by the bees that would often sting them while flying in the air."
I could see my dad's utterly confused eyes staring at me from the rear-view mirror as I proudly misinterpreted that famed euphemism that described how birds lay eggs, akin to the female reproductive system, and how bees bring pollen to flowers, similar to how men reproduce.
He never brought it up again.
So I did exactly what you did. I turned to my girlfriends who would share tons of sketchy or often bad information about dating. From group dates at the movies to sidestep pesky questions from your parents to taking a bath to prevent pregnancy — my friends, at times, set me up for failure.
So when and where were we supposed to learn how to date?
It's not taught in schools. There's no required reading. Like teens of today, who are now turning to the internet to learn everything about dating — from courtship to sex — we were left with friends and popular culture to help us figure it out.
But I'm glad that in your maturity you're now turning to experts who can guide you.
Here's the thing about learning how to date: It's like learning how to drive a car. The more you do it, the better you become. Still, the road to becoming a person who actually achieves what they want from dating is filled with potholes masked as 'happily ever afters' and drivers who slam on the brakes.
But, there are best practices — depending on what you want. So let's start there.
Figure out your intention
Many think that dating starts by finding an assortment of potential suitors. But in fact a healthy dating life begins like any healthy relationship — with you.
Before shaving your legs, deciding what to wear and showing up for that first date, decide what level of commitment you're ready to make.
Are you looking to date for fun, or are you looking to date to find a partner?
Being clear with yourself early on in your process will not only make you a responsible dater, but it can also help you decide which suitors to grant the pleasure of your company.
You’re not going to date a person looking for a relationship when you’re not. And although they may be the cutest thing you’ve ever seen (Yes girl, we've all been there!) trust me - breaking it off will be tougher than days-old pizza crust, so save yourself the trouble.
From your letter it appears you're craving more of a commitment than a hook-up. Great! Own that.
Let suitors know this early on (within the first three dates), so you're both clear on future expectations.
First date no no's
In your letter, you didn't complain about finding suitors to share an afternoon with. So I'll skip over the part where I describe how to find dates — although for those wondering, dating apps and matchmakers are a great place to start — and instead talk about how to navigate after you've secured your first date.
I'm starting with the first date, so you can see why sex doesn't have to be a prerequisite for forming a long-lasting connection. I'm also starting here so we can avoid the trap of Netflix and Chilling, which you've already suffered through.
Talia Goldstein, the CEO of personal matchmaking company Three Day Rule, said any first date shouldn't be an interview.
"Keep the conversation light on the first date," she said, adding that the first few dates should be focused on seeing "if there's a connection."
Goldstein said for the first few dates avoid any "serious subjects" like politics, religion, and even past relationships.
She also suggested "not to write people off too fast. A lot of people judge too quickly on the first date and sometimes you’re not your best self on the first date. If you’re remotely attracted to the person, give them another shot to see if there's chemistry."
Goldstein said that if the chemistry isn't there by the fifth date, call it a day.
And give yourself a grace period before becoming intimate with suitors.
"There are really no hard and fast rules on when to get intimate, but never do something that you’re not comfortable with," Goldstein said.
Discover your boundaries
In your letter, you wrote that you were "confused" by one suitor who — bless his heart — came with a list of do's and don'ts.
We all come with our own expectations about dating, but if you're "confused," or uncomfortable with any request, you don't have to put up with it. By your reaction, it's clear you have no problem determining what you prefer and then vocalizing it.
Your problem seems to be how to find a healthy relationship not built on sex.
"Boss Bride: The Powerful Woman's Playbook for Love and Success" author Charreah K. Jackson has a chapter in her upcoming book, out June 5, titled, "Date Like a Pro."
In it, she touches on the pitfalls of becoming intimate too fast, or as she told "GMA," "giving someone benefits for a job that they hadn't been hired for."
"I [use] this analogy in my book: Imagine you're doing the work of senior vice president at a company. You're making sure that the company profits and is growing. But when you get to the Christmas party, you're introduced as the intern," she explained. "We would never do that at work."
Jackson, who's also the senior relationships editor at Essence magazine, said instead vocalize your intention of being in a committed relationship before becoming intimate — if that's what you desire.
"You really have to protect your space and to see yourself as the prize," she added. "We've been led to believe that being in a relationship is the prize instead of thinking, 'No, I am the prize.'"
There's no rule on when couples should begin dating exclusively, but usually it can come as early as four weeks and as delayed as 12 months. Still, if you've already told your suitor your intentions (see above!), this should not come as a surprise no matter when you broach the subject.
If he hasn't brought up the "exclusive conversation," don’t be afraid to kick start it. Pick a day when he's not having a hard time at work. Pick a time that doesn't involve a basketball or baseball game. And definitely don't have the conversation while intoxicated or hungry. You both want to be in the best frame of mind.
And then try this script: "Hey, we've been getting to know each other and I'm having so much fun getting to know you. Would you want to date exclusively?"
Then pause for a response. This pause may be uncomfortable but sit with it. Don't qualify it, or try to talk you both out of it. Pause and listen to his reaction."
If your suitor seems flustered, or embarrassed, feel free to say: "You don't have to give me a response now, but I just wanted to share how I'm feeling. Perhaps we can talk about this at a later date."
And do make sure you bring it back up again, if he doesn't broach the subject first. And be willing to walk away if his response isn't what you desire.
"There is enough love in this word even at 30, 50 and beyond to have the love we desire. What she desires is within her reach," Jackson said. "Remembering that will help you not sacrifice your desires and...make compromise unnecessarily."
Bottom line is: If you want a committed relationship before sex, create and then maintain those boundaries. It may not be easy, but I'm sure you're fully aware at age 35 that getting what you want out of life never is.
Joi-Marie McKenzie is a relationships writer for Good Morning America. She's also the author of the critically acclaimed dating memoir, The Engagement Game.