Why most how-to-get-a-relationship advice is bunk
The comment thread under this unexpectedly blew up, and I think it's because a lot of people took my "you've already had sex anyway, who are you fooling" response the wrong way. I was strictly responding to the widespread interpretation college students applied to a hook-up-leads-to-a-kiss-only date scenario. The kids took a rather innocuous description of two people hooking up, then going on a date that ends only with a kiss to mean that the woman is trying to signal non-sluttiness. This was taken by some, I think, to mean that I was insisting there's no good reason to lay off sex if you start dating someone seriously. I mean, I personally see no reason to, but follow your star. My honest interpretation of the story as presented—refresher, two people hook up and then go on a date afterwards that ends only in a kiss—was, "Guess they didn't feel like doing it." I literally felt no compulsion to wonder why. For all I know, it's her period or has to go to work early and they stayed up too late. Since these things are Rorshach tests for your own experiences and values, that's basically how I took it. In my experience, the main reason two completely free people who are into fucking each other generally would take a pass on any specific occasion is that they have some boring ass reason to do so. Some times you are having so much fun on a date you don't realize that it's too late and you have to get up. It happens, in my experience, way more than you're trying to exert some control over whether or not you get into a commitment or not.
My reaction of "meh, you've done it already, who are you fooling" was strictly to the apparently-common practice of trying to retcon someone out of sluttitude. All other esoteric reasons people have to hook up and then try to date someone without fucking them—or just generally waiting to have sex—I was not addressing.
That said, I will say this: I am intensely skeptical of the idea that you can exert some control over a situation by having or not having sex with a person you're attracted to. I really do think that one of the most toxic aspects of all the gendered dating advice out there is it gives even skeptical people some belief that there's a way that sex can be manipulated to get you to that desired state of being in a happy relationship. (Assuming that's what you want—there's really not much in terms of real dating advice for people who have a different idea of what they want.) But there's been zero consistency across groups of people or even with individuals, in my experience. I've seen women hold off on sex for a long time (even until after marriage), and it blows up as soon as they actually go there. I've seen plenty of people fuck within hours of meeting and they're still together and super happy. I've seen people fuck right away and it doesn't work out. I just don't think there's a way to game it. There's really no relationship between when you have sex and whether or not a good relationship will blossom. Good relationships are about the people in them and how they treat each other's brains, not when they manipulate each other's genitals.
Which isn't to say I think everyone should jump in bed right away. That makes some people uncomfortable, which is fine. I wish men had more room to say they prefer sex with someone they already know well, and not to have to put that on women, in fact. But no need to rationalize it with elaborate theories of which strategy "works" in securing certain goals. "I don't want to," is reason enough, isn't it?
One last thing: I'm a huge fan of long term romantic entanglements, which my dating history will definitely show. But I think the joy they can provide people is often used as a weapon to devalue different kinds of connections and ways of having fun. Relationships that aren't headed towards marriage (or some kind of commitment) are often discredited as a waste of time, and I think that social prejudice was guiding some of the discussion leading to hurt feelings. I wish there were more social space for people to have torrid affairs with people that are unsuitable partners for anything more, because why not? "Friends with benefits" gets talked down a lot in our culture, but I've also seen it keep people sane until they meet someone they really do fall in love with, over and over again. In fact, I'd say at least half of my friends in happy relationships were fucking someone NSA when they met the person they fell in love with, but that's something that rarely gets talked about. If it's not sexy to you to do that, that's great and follow your star. But I do think if we had more social space to say that relationships that fall outside of the heading-towards-marriage paradigm are also good if you enjoy them, that would take a lot of tension out of the "nuh-uh, my way is the best way!" flame wars that sprout up. Really, people beyond bohemians deserve to have the shot to have a diverse array of sexual relationships and experiences under their belts.
And really, I think it would be interesting to have more honest discussions about how people do hook up and how there's really not set pattern from which we can derive any solid lessons. You can control the energy you put in the world and the boundaries you're willing to draw, but there's a certain mystery to why it works for some people and doesn't for others, and that I think isn't going to be changed by timing your encounters and what happens in them.