How Millennials (and Chrissy Teigen) Are Tearing Up 'The Rules'

On a recent episode of Watch What Happens Live, Real Housewife of Orange County Kelly Dodd was asked if she slept with her current squeeze on the first night. "No, not at all," she said quickly. "We didn't at all." She was contradicted almost immediately by the man in question. "Just a little bit," Frank Acosta, also a guest on the show, blushed.

Dodd's jaw dropped and she began vehemently denying it. It was left to third guest, Chrissy Teigen, to calm the madness. "It's fine," she said casually. "I closed the deal the first [night]." Teigan then explained in more detail the first day she met (and had sex with) her husband, John Legend.

The difference between 42-year-old Dodd and 32-year-old Teigen's approaches to discussing first-night sexual encounters represents a wider generational difference across America. And oh what a difference one decade makes.

For many heterosexual American women who came of age in the '90s, like Dodd, there were literal rules to follow when it came to having sex with a new person. The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider came out in 1995 and gave single women an extraordinarily harsh set of behavioral restrictions to live by. Feminists were outspoken against the book at the time, and others suggested it was also insulting to men. The Rules was still a smash hit that sold millions of copies and was translated into 27 languages.

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The book's 35 rules are reasonably astonishing to look back on now. Chapter titles include:

  • Don't Stare at Men or Talk Too Much
  • Don't Talk to a Man First (and Don't Ask Him to Dance)
  • No More than Casual Kissing on the First Date
  • Don't Rush into Sex and Other Rules for Intimacy
  • Don't Tell Him What to Do
  • Don't Expect a Man to Change or Try to Change Him
  • Be Easy to Live With

In 2001, Katie Roiphe wrote in The Guardian: "I have noticed The Rules on all sorts of intelligent people's bookshelves... I have noticed smart women buying it and following its ethos… I have heard educated, liberal women talking about how long to wait before calling a man back, or whether the date should be in her neighbourhood, or how long to wait until sleeping with him, as if there is... some mathematical principle to romantic happiness that she has yet to divine... It is strange that the '50s courtship rituals our mothers fought so hard to get away from should come to be so appealing, so necessary, to a new generation."

No matter how crazy it seems now, The Rules really did shape a generation of daters, and, in some corners at least, the old guard is still hanging on. Your Tango says, "Don't go all the way. At least not until well after your first date." Meet Mindful advises, "Hold the sex." Thought Catalog agrees, "I advise my female clients to hold out at least past the first date. Give him a chance to get to know you outside the bedroom." Muscle & Fitness even offers some surreptitious slut-shaming: "She says, 'Let's go to yours.' She means, 'You're sexy, but I probably won't return your calls after we've spent the night together.'"

For the people who came of age in the new Millennium though, attitudes are wildly different. In a dating world dominated by apps, swiping, texting and sexting, The Rules feels positively Dickensian. Multiple dating websites reflect this. Australian eHarmony has stated outright that The Rules was "all about playing hard to get and manipulating to get what you want." Earlier this year, Match UK also announced that "Waiting rules are dead and gone. The three-day rule? Don’t text immediately after an amazing date? These ancient games are history."

Women's publications back up that trend, including: Bustle ("Just as rules should be thrown out the window, so should 'scheduling' when you'll have sex for the first time"), Cosmopolitan ("If it doesn't work out, it's not because you hooked up too soon"), She Said ("Have sex whenever you damn well please"), and the NY Post ("Old rule: No sex until the third date. New rule: Test out the chemistry as soon as you feel like it.") One man told Glamour: "If you like us, there is no reason to hold back. If you don't like us, don't sleep with us. When you know, you know."

There has been such a swift turn around in societal attitudes that the two different schools of thought sometimes find themselves clashing in ways far more dramatic than we saw on Watch What Happens Live. One episode of The Doctors last year proved how contentious things could get, when two male panelists fundamentally and passionately disagreed on the topic.

In the end, it's pretty obvious which side of this argument is going to win out eventually. Not only does Teigen's successful relationship offer concrete proof that the old rules are nonsense, but Kelly Dodd also relaxed immediately and visibly as soon as Teigen nonchalantly made her first-night admission.

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Truthfully, as much as its influence remains, The Rules came during the last gasp of pre-internet living and, arguably, was probably the last time such unreasonable restrictions could be willingly adopted by so many women. We're still seeing them because old habits die hard and sex-shame is hard to shake off once it's been ingrained. But the internet and rule-free modern dating have made these kinds of vacuums much harder to maintain, and women much harder to control—and that can be nothing but a good thing.

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