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Is the three-date rule in effect?
By Margot Carmichael Lester

Dear Margot,
I'm a recent widower back in the dating world after 26 years out. A lot has changed since I was last on the scene, and I’ve got a few questions. Chief among them: Is the three-date rule still in effect? Or is it now acceptable to give in to urges regardless of the number of dates we've been on?
- Randy in Richmond

Dear Randy,
First, my condolences on your loss – and my congratulations on feeling ready to get back in the game.

Many things have, indeed, changed since you were last a contestant in the dating game. Social and sexual mores have evolved. And there’s a new crop of public health issues that weren’t around back then. But I don’t want to freak you out. So let’s just focus on your question, shall we?

I know I’m no Alfred C. Kinsey, but while it appears from movies, television, magazines and, of course, the Web, that our culture has loosened up considerably in the last two decades, you might be surprised at the results of a recent poll on dating and physical intimacy. I know I was.

We asked 5,237 singles, “How many dates does it take before you become intimate?” And we even admonished them to be honest because it was an anonymous poll. The results show the old moral fiber getting stretched in two directions:
  • 12.74% — One: I throw caution to the wind.
  • 24.94% — Two: I've made up my mind after the first date.
  • 21.48% — Three: If it doesn't happen now, it won't happen at all.
  • 34.18% — Four or more: I'm not jumping into anything.
  • 6.66% — Other: We're not going there until I get a ring.
That’s right. More than a third of those surveyed said they wait four or more dates before becoming intimate. That’s one full date – or more – longer than you were waiting (assuming you were) back in the day. And since more than 60% of those surveyed said they’d at least wait it out through the perennial magic number, it’s apparent the three-date milestone still retains its significance.

That said, however, more than one third of respondents said they hooked up after one or two dates. While not an overwhelming percentage, it is proof that some folks are feeling the urge to merge (and acting on it). Then again, perhaps powerful attraction confounds our ability to count. As they say on TV, your mileage may vary.

So what does this mean for you, Randy? Do these numbers suggest you keep your gun in your holster for a while? Or do they provide carte blanche for you to indulge your every whim?

Only you can answer that, big fella.

My personal feeling is that people of our vintage (because I’m betting you weren’t a child groom) are exempted from the Three-Date Rule. That’s not to say we should be hitting the hay with everybody we date. But at this stage in our lives, we probably know how to read body language, and how to assess if someone’s of the same mindset as ourselves. We also have more tools to help us make a graceful exit should our senses fail us.

Even if you’ve been out of the singles swirl for a while, you haven’t been a monk (have you?). You’ve had women flirt with you in the intervening years. And chances are good you’ve done some flirting yourself. (P.S. that’s nothing to be ashamed of). I doubt you’ve lost your ability to distinguish a harmless flirtation from a loaded for bear invitation.

So, I say dispense with any preconceived notions of “the right time” to make a move with your date. Instead, rely on your senses and her signals. It’s unlikely you could go too far wrong. And if you do, just chalk it up to being a little rusty. If you handle it gently, she’ll probably be flattered — and forgiving.

One caution, however. While I don’t advocate riding your brakes, I don’t promote mashing the gas either. Just keep your libido in low gear and enjoy the slow, meandering pace of natural attraction.

Most importantly: Rather than allowing an arbitrary rule to determine your behavior, use your own good judgment. Don’t have any? Revert to the arbitrary rule.

Hope this helps, Randy. Let me know how it goes.

Ask Yourself This: What’s the worst that could happen?
So you’ve been on the bench for a while. Now that you’re back in the starting line-up, give yourself some time to get warmed up and find your game again. What’s the worst that could happen? Sure, you’ll throw up some airballs. And it’s a safe bet you’ll have some shots blocked, but don’t let that stop you. Stick to your game, keep practicing and don’t forget the value of good sportsmanship. You’ll find your shooting range soon enough.

Margot Carmichael Lester began her career as a love and relationships columnist for in 2001. She knows what works – and what doesn’t – from decades of experience with romance. Adding to her Internet dating expertise is the fact that after years of searching for Prince Charming, she found him online and they’ve lived happily ever after ever since. Learn more about Margot or send her your own question to

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