Your Guide to Mid-Life Dating Etiquette

Dating Etiquette

I was recently 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. The following are the common complaints I’ve heard 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 both his pant leg hems had come lose and were ragged, 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.

Couple Having DinnerShare 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 a woman out that you have no interest in just for 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.


This is an excerpt from Dating Goddess’ book, Date or Wait: Are You Ready for Mr. Great?one of the 15-book Adventures in Delicious Dating After 40 series. Order it at Dating Goddess.

Read Next:

Go Dutch or Accept Your Date’s Offer to Treat?

You Can Tell a Lot By Your Date’s … Driving


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