Rules of the dating game – The key to a good time? Be yourself |

Rules of the dating game – The key to a good time? Be yourself

Gavin Darby and Karly Powell sauntered stride by stride through the halls of Nevada Union High School on a recent afternoon, chatting furiously about their lunch plans.

They weren’t holding hands, and there didn’t appear to be any kind of promise ring on Karly’s fingers, at least one that could easily be seen by the throngs of people milling around.

The 17-year-old seniors have been going out – the word “dating” just seems so, well, dated – for the past three months. Their union was forged not by some nerve-wracking confab between friends, but by virtue of the fact that both were enrolled in the same English class last year.

“I don’t even remember where we went on our first date,” Darby said.

Ah, details. While it’s true that Darby and Powell are planning a typically romantic Valentine’s Day dinner tonight at Friar Tuck’s in Nevada City and he’s giving her flowers “just because,” there’s a trend among the young and the young at heart to forgo the traditional peer-pressure packed dating ritual for something that’s simply genuine and really does come from the heart.

Be real. That’s the deal, according to an unscientific survey of cross-aged lovers in western Nevada County.

“A lot of people go out and put on an act. I’m not really good at the act,” Darby said. “I’m not very suave.”

Darby continued: “Don’t worry so much about what she’s going to think. She’s gonna find out about you anyway.”

Group dating has gained in popularity over the years. On any given Friday or Saturday night, it’s not unusual for a group of friends to hang out, eating take-out Chinese and watching “50 First Dates” for the 50th time.

Junior Lanna Lewis said the “date” needn’t be a big production, either, if it’s just the two of you.

“My boyfriend and I sit around every night and just watch TV. And we donate our money to wonderful causes,” she said.

Compatibility seems to be important, no matter what the age. Kristina Sturgell, 40, a nursing student at Sierra College’s Nevada County Campus, considers herself fortunate that she never dated anyone else but her husband, John, to whom she’s been married for 21 years.

“It doesn’t seem odd to me,” she said. “He was just a good guy who didn’t try to show off.

“We never argued. He was just, and still is, my best friend.”

True story: Last week, with her husband away on business, Sturgell slept alongside her husband’s T-shirts.

Kelly Hertan, 38, a fellow nursing student, celebrates her 19th anniversary Tuesday. At first, she admits, she disliked her future husband, Bryce, because he monopolized her best friend’s time. Later, he began to take up all of hers after he returned some of her belongings. Love blossomed shortly thereafter.

Lesson learned: “When you’re looking for potential mates, don’t eliminate people just based on your assumptions,” Hertan said.

Some of the county’s more seasoned courtship veterans interviewed last week seem heartened by the relaxation of some of the rules in the dating game.

Now, it’s OK to let the girls ask the guys, for example.

“I think it’s neat,” said Ruth Howard, 67, who has been married to her husband, Will, for 33 years. “Back then, you weren’t a lady if you asked a guy out. And you didn’t call him. You were considered forward or bold.”

Dorothy Smith, 73, lost Philip, her husband of 51 years, last March. As she sat with her friends at the Grass Valley Community/Senior Center’s needlework circle, Smith noted that it’s probably easier for those in her generation to catch a date, simply because there’s no pressure to do so.

“We have it easier than teens do,” she joked. “We don’t have to worry if we have a date for Saturday night.”

Valentine advice

So, you’ve bought the rose, you’ve made the dinner reservations, and you’ve gassed up the family’s Taurus. All set for a date, right?

Not so fast, according to an unscientific survey of Nevada County’s new and experienced daters. When it comes to dating, there’s no magic bullet. But here are some suggestions:

• Be on time. Nobody likes to wait.

• Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Take your date somewhere both of you will actually enjoy.

• Try something different: “Movies are boring, because they’re not creative or original,” said Kathy Stephensen, mother of teenage daughters. Her daughter, Janelle, 17, has taken dates ice-skating in the past. Embarrassing? Maybe. Fun? Probably. Try rock climbing or treasure hunts, she suggests.

• Be passionate about something, suggests Nevada Union junior Mackenzie Cole. Her passions? Indian food, chai tea, and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

• Consider trying the first date with a group. If you eat, you might try having everyone pick up their own tabs if you’re worried about future obligations.

• Check your compatibility. “If you laugh, you should laugh together. If you cry, he’s gone,” said Dorothy Smith of Grass Valley, who was married for 51 years until her husband’s death in March.

• Know your limits. “Be careful with dallying,” D.B. Cameron of Nevada City suggests. “It could get you into serious, long-term trouble.”

• Go with your gut. “Just marry your high school sweetheart, and don’t worry about the rest,” said Kristina Sturgell, who married hers 21 years ago.

For more comments on dating gathered from The Union Reader Circle, visit We asked members of The Union’s Reader Circle to send us their thoughts and comments on dating tips for the young ” and the young at heart. While we did find some common themes, each offered a unique take on the age-old custom of capturing someone’s heart. Here’s a sampling of what we found:

From Edwin Johnson of Grass Valley, who married his wife Rosemary after 11 days of courtship in December 1943.

Johnson writes that today’s youth are bombarded by the proliferation of media that distort what the merits of a good relationship are.

“When we were growing up, we had no TV. We had radio with such wholesome programs as “Little Orphan Annie,” “Jack Armstrong,” and many more. We could listen to baseball games, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Fred Allen, etc.

Johnson writes that, “when you meet someone you like, talk and get to know one another, If that turns into a true friendship, you will know if you want to spend the rest of your life together.”

Simple, sound advice.

Dottie Train of Lake of the Pines writes that it’s important for a young woman, if she’s serious about a guy, to see how the young man treats his mother. “If he loves and respects her, then go out with him. If he treats his mother with contempt or talks mean to her, then stay away from him. If he has no respect for the woman who gave him life, he won’t have any for you.”

Diane Meissler of Grass Valley said she has mixed feelings about dating. “It seems like an artificial, unnecessarily nerve-wracking way to get to know someone. What I like better, and what has worked for me in my rather convoluted romantic life, is to spend time with people in real situations until I get to know them well enough to decide if there’s potential for romance. You just can’t tell until you have more than a superficial connection.

“So my advice is to be real, or as real as you can muster while wondering if there’s spinach in your teeth, if the guy likes you, if what you just said was unforgivably lame. Like I say, it can be nerve-wracking.”

So if you’re planning on splurging for that $78 six-course degustation menu at Citronee, you might want to reconsider that option unless your wallet can take that consistent hit. The same goes if you want to splurge $6.55 each on the mushroom cheeseburger at Big A Rootbeer Drive-In. She (or he) might be led to believe you live your life circa 1955, where carhops and malteds ruled the day.

The moral of the story is, be true to yourself, and most likely you’ll be true to your date, too.

To read more about dating gathered from The Union Reader Circle, visit

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