According to modern legend, it was St Brigid who petitioned St Patrick in the fifth century for the opportunity for women to propose to their partners on the extra day in a leap year. This practice may have persisted for a millennium and a half, but the rest of life has mostly changed. (Though this fact may have escaped the authors of The Rules.) So here are our new rules for romance for a modern, feminist generation.
Don't rush into a relationship – it's not obligatory
In a recent survey, more than half of the women questioned said that they enjoy being single and appreciate spending time and money however they like. Fewer than a third disliked being alone, compared with 70 per cent of men. Not surprising: the health and longevity benefits of getting married are significantly higher for men than for women. So be choosy: he needs you more than you need him.
Technology is our friend
Everyone's doing it these days – even girls on train platforms – so, on the basis that his photo and his info are probably fake and he might be married, take the "supermarket sweep" approach: pile 'em high, date 'em cheap. By the way, sales of ukuleles have apparently plummeted since that annoying advert came on TV.
Go Dutch – always
If I had a pound for every excuse I've heard from women who'd rather chew off their arms than pay for their own tea, I could take you all out for chips and still have change for the bus fare home. "He ought to pay for the pleasure of my company," they say. If you only go out with boring men, maybe, but then you're obviously choosing the wrong guys. "But I paid for these ginormous heels to wear on our date." He didn't ask you to, and he won't notice. "He asked me out, so he should pay." So, he who pays the piper calls the tune? Then fine, start as you mean to go on, but don't come crying when you realise that there's a name for women like that. And finally: "The gender pay gap is still massive." And this is exactly why you must split the bill. You don't solve inequality by pandering to it. Now get your wallet out.
Don't wait for him to call
Really, this is not the 1980s; if you want to talk there's Facebook, Twitter, Skype, texting...
Fit romance in where you can
Rule seven in the 1995 dating handbook The Rules says: "Don't accept a Saturday night date after Wednesday." If you're not busy having a life, and you've met a man who is not busy having one either, then by all means follow The Rules. If you do, and he does, unfortunately you will never have time to see each other if you both stick to guidelines like these.
Safety is fun, too
The walk of shame has become the stride of pride. But remember, Charley says, always tell your flatmate where you are going.
Be suspicious of the expression "friends with benefits"
Quotation marks are probably required around "friends" and "benefits"...
Don't fear the Valentine's Day bores
Some women will try to make you feel inferior, using as weapons the massive bunches of roses that they have been bought by under-the-thumb boyfriends. Remember, these women are not in the sisterhood.
Have a toolkit and know how to use it. Sisters who do it for themselves can afford to be more discerning. And by "tools", we mean hammers and nails.
Don't expect too much
Those of us who read modern literature and watch a lot of movies may have formed the impression that men should be able to express their emotions. In fact, this generally only happens in fiction. Read High Fidelity and watch Swingers for a handy guide to how to speak man, and, otherwise, don't expect too much.
Don't get the wrong idea about "romance"
No matter how many times it appears in anthologies of The Most Romantic Poems of All Time, Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" is not a romantic poem. To précis it, the poem says that if you don't have sex with him now you will inevitably die a withered old virgin and be violated in your grave by worms.
Mates before men
The Spice Girls had one thing right: you don't blow your mates out for a bloke. Not ever. If he doesn't understand, show him the door.
Share the good things in life
Who gets the remote? Whoever doesn't get their side of the bed.
Really share them, that is
And who gets their favourite side of the bed? See above.
Make firm boundaries
Never ask a man to carry your bags, share your curry or finish your pint. Make sure that he never expects the same of you.
Be realistic about moving in together
Be prepared to hear some very strong opinions about cushions. Really. You think he's a fairlylaid-back guy? He's not. Not when it comes to soft furnishings.
Don't sweat the small stuff
Yes, in a truly equal society men would pick up their socks, share the washing up and care about the subtle differences between English Mist, Apple Green and Molton Brown. Also, they wouldn't empty out their pockets and leave loose change, golf tees, bits of string and business cards sitting on furniture for you to pick up, only for them to come back the next day and empty out an equally random collection of objects on to a different surface, thwarting your Sisyphean attempt to put them all away. No, it is not feminist to tidy up after him. But neither is it a good use of your time and energy to try and change him. Women have more and better cone cells than men, that's why we notice these things. For an easy life, give it up.
Get a whiteboard. If it isn't written down, it isn't a job. Likewise, get a calendar. If it ain't written down, it ain't happening.
Be grown-up about financial responsibilities
Three-quarters of Britons agree that couples in a lasting relationship should have joint finances, while 26 per cent of men and only 13 per cent of woman want to take control of the combined budget. So, who should be in charge of the joint-account debit card? Well, whichever one can be bothered to open the post and remember the PIN, of course.
Don't panic if he doesn't ask you to marry him...
Ask him. Or don't get married. Or, if it means that much to you, dump him. (NB: dumping him probably will not make him propose: life is not a Jennifer Aniston romcom, not even for Jennifer Aniston. Especially not for Jennifer Aniston.)
... or if he does
However, you'd be better off concentrating on how to put him off, according to a survey published last week by American Express. In it, 30 per cent of men said that it is acceptable to get engaged within a year. Most women (36 per cent) thought that two years would be more appropriate.
Don't fall for old customs
Of course he should not ask your dad for your hand in marriage. Not unless you and his mum get to arrange his stag do.
In Victorian times, the only woman who dared ask a man to marry her was Queen Victoria herself, and that was a matter of royal protocol. (It may also have been a matter of necessity, according to a new book by Helen Rappaport, Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy. The first time Albert met the young queen he thought her "not beautiful by any means" and so may never have proposed at all if she hadn't taken the initiative.) However, you may have noticed that we no longer live in Victorian times. If you want to marry him, why not ask? Must a man do everything? NB: If he has spent your entire relationship insisting that he despises the institution of marriage, you probably ought to pass on this one.
... but not necessarily on 29 February
If you wish to propose on the one day every four years when women are supposedly allowed to take control of their own destinies, feel free. We wouldn't want to frighten the patriarchy, would we? (No offence to St Brigid, but women are allowed to have ideas all through the year now, you know.)
Be realistic about engagement-ring expectations...
Sorry, but the month's salary rule is only as traditional as the 1930s De Beers marketing campaign that first mentioned it. It's more sensible, and no less romantic, to pay as much for a piece of jewellery as your insurance policy covers for loss and accidental damage to items outside of the home. Especially if you are either clumsy or forgetful.
... and a little leeway on your wedding day
Unfortunately, marriage is an echo of a patriarchal system in which young women were handed from man to man, often for money, so if you're going to do it you might as well do it properly and just forget about feminism for one day: wear white, say "I do", and ask your dad to give you away. But it is only for one day, remember, so never promise to "obey".
Marriage is for two
Yes, he has to wear a wedding ring. Unless he is Gollum, it doesn't hurt us, Precious. And how else do you think other women will know not to fall in love with him?
There is no need to take his name – unless yours is rubbish
I once suggested marriage to a man who was named House, on the basis that we could be the House-Guests or the Guest-Houses, depending on whether we were visiting friends or being visited. Fortunately for us both and our now-partners, Mr House wasn't keen and we both have far happier hyphenations to look forward to. Unless you do too, there's no need to take his name, unless there is something particularly embarrassing about your own.
Live happily ever after
The feeling of being "in love" lasts at most for two years, according to Chemistry World. After this, testosterone production (associated with the first flush of sexual attraction) slows and is replaced by an increase in oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone". This is good news – it means that if you make sure you like each other before you get hitched, then the following years will be fine.
The day of the damsel
It may be handy having an extra day to catch up with yourself, but there's nothing attractive about seeing single men cower with fear once every four years as the leap day approaches. So who's to blame?
* Julius Caesar has a lot to answer for. Until he came along people lived according to a 355-day calendar – with an additional 22-day month every two years. But it was complicated; festivals started slipping into different seasons. So, Caesar's astronomer, Sosigenes, was tasked with simplifying the calendar and came up with the 365-day year with an extra day every four years to scoop up the extra hours (each year is, technically, 365.242 days long). Thus, the 29 February was born.
* The Ladies Privilege, attached to 29 February, is believed to date back to the fifth century, when St Bridget complained to St Patrick about how long women had to wait for a proposal.
* Scotland is said to have passed a law in 1288 allowing women to propose during leap years, as decreed by Queen Margaret of Scotland (even though she was only five at the time – and living in Norway). Tradition says any man turning down a woman's hand would have to pay a fine of up to £100, or be obliged to buy a silk dress or gloves for the one spurned.
* PLAN UK, the global children's charity, predicts that the slightly staggering figure of a million women will propose, nationwide, this week.
Genevieve RobertsReuse content