Having recently reentered the dating pool, I am reexamining (a lot of “re’s” in this post) the rules for dating. I’m wondering if in the year 2012 we a truly an egalitarian society or if we even really want to be, at least when it comes to dating?
As a “man after fifty”, I was raised to view women in a certain way and instructed to open doors, pull out chairs, stand up when a lady enters the room, etc. And of course, it was also inherent to pay for the first date, and many more dates to come. And as the father of an eighteen year old daughter, I have done my best to be conscious of how she viewed me treating women in an effort to model how I’d like her to be treated by men, so that she would have an expectation of being treated well, with respect and dignity.
And yet as my daughter was becoming a young lady and beginning to date, I also felt sorry for the teenage boys who had to pay $30 minimum for a movie and dinner and that was cheap (I also felt for their parents who subsidized this). To my daughter at least, going “dutch” seemed reasonable given no one that age really had that kind of money consistently. Of course, sometimes they snuck into the movies through the back door 🙂
So, I wondered what the latest positions were on this in the “grownup” world. Doing a little bit of Internet research, I noticed a 2009 Glamour survey of over 2900 women that indicated:
- 22.9% let the man pay.
- 13.3% let the man pay and they leave the tip.
- 45% do “the reach” and then let the man pay.
- 16.7% split the check.
- 2% try to pay the check.
This may be more cultural to America, as a British survey reveals that 58% of women expect to split the bill. I’ve also read some research that indicates the more attractive you are (male or female), the less inclined you are to pay for the date. At the same time, the more attractive your date is, the more inclined you ARE to pay as a man or split the bill as a woman.
I’ve also checked this out with a gay male friend who is also of my generation. His response was “this is f***ing 2012 just split it!”
So, what IS the truth, if there really even IS a truth on this? I will share with you my own personal thoughts, but first I want to share my concerns about the potential downside psychologically to a relationship that begins in this “man being the man” paradigm.
Yes, we are evolutionarily predisposed to have the man take charge and demonstrate his capacity to care for the woman and therefore their offspring, their family. And yes, this is arousing to both the male and the female, which tends to create attraction and perpetuate the species. However, this also sets up the relationship from day one to be in the actor/reactor dynamic.
In this actor/reactor model, for the first date, it is pretty much expected that the man decides what the couple is doing (though it can be negotiated), that he pick up the woman, that he pay, that he makes the first “move”, etc. Yes, there is room to play here, yet most of the men and women I’ve spoken with, when they are deep down honest with themselves, really LIKE it when this takes place. And it IS a model that is both in our DNA as well as psychologically and societally transmitted for many, many generations.
The downside of engaging in this model from day one is that while it can be effective for courting and mating rituals, it isn’t so great for creating partnerships and long-lasting relationships. There is all of this pressure on the man, who can fall into a deep shame spiral when he fails to meet expectations, whether his, hers or society’s.
It also puts great power in the woman’s reactions to his ministrations, which in itself is an unfair burden to her. And as the reactor, it doesn’t necessarily give the woman a full voice, in which case she may often suppress her own desires in order to please the actor. And then both feel guilty over a dynamic that seemed so wonderful in the beginning of the relationship and yet now is painful and divisive. Yes, these are generalizations, yet I truly believe they play a large part in early male/female interactions more likely on a deep unconscious level.
So where does this leave us on the question of should the man be the man on the first date? I’ll give you MY answers, making the disclaimer that I haven’t dated in quite awhile and they are subject to change with future experiences. And please separate the teacher from the teaching or more accurately, the psychologist from the dater. My answers are more huMAN than counselor. And, I also would like YOUR answers, so please comment on this post.
For me, while I’ve been a hopeless romantic many times in the past and hope to be again, I’m also pragmatic, being an engineer turned psychologist. I hate waste of all sorts and dating opens the door for waste of energy, time and money. That’s not a romantic notion, yet I have a number of female friends who have complained about dating as “another full-time job!”
For me then, a short interaction where I can meet the person and get a feel for how we connect intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually is the best place to start. I don’t want to have too many telephone/text/email interactions, as this builds up phantasy and in the first 60 seconds of connecting in the flesh, all of that might mean very little if the face-to-face doesn’t have enough juice.
So a short “coffee date” seems best to me. We meet, we talk, we gaze/stare/gawk/drool (or not) and know if there is another meeting, a true “date” in the future. And I’ll be polite and charming and gallant and offer to pay and my date may do “the reach” and offer to pay and I will most likely refuse whether I want to see her again or not. I’m still subject to that evolutionary drive and my mother’s conditioning. However, I know that I won’t resent it, as it’s not a big stretch to pay for coffee.
And on that first “true” date, I will most likely pick her up (though in these sketchy times unless there has been a personal introduction, I imagine that some would still prefer to meet at a neutral place), open the car door and pay for dinner. I’m still in that actor/reactor mode, but I’m not sure how to break it. And I’ll probably initiate that first kiss as appropriate, the timing of which is a discussion for another blogpost.
My hope is that after a bit, we will start to find some more equalizing rhythm on paying, perhaps splitting sometimes, perhaps alternating meals and entertainment or some other arrangement. I can’t tell you how many couples I’ve counseled over the past twenty years who STILL have not figured out how to organize their finances together and I believe that this begins with this actor/reactor model. Time will tell if my head, my heart, my soul, my history or some combination will come up with a better solution.
So these are my thoughts on the mattter, some driven by my intellect, some driven by my anxiety over the new/old situation of dating. Do I make any sense? Am I full of it? Is my bias as a man after fifty showing?
What are YOUR thoughts on this? Please share your perspectives as men, as women, as daters, as partners, as daters of different generations. Should the man BE the man on the first date? And what does that even mean to you?
Thank you for your thoughts,
Dr. Adam Sheck