What It Sometimes Means to Be a Woman: Paying on Dates

I have never been much for the dating world. It’s a world of a lot of anxieties (as if I needed more of those), a lot of rules, a lot of games, etc. It takes up a lot of time. It requires a lot of effort. It very rarely seems to pay off, unless you’re a serial dater or a serial monogamist or some sort of serial something. I have always had a lot of friends, a lot of books to read, and a horrible existential fear of eating around people. Thus, the dating world and I never quite fell in together.

I didn’t date as a toddler, or marry anyone on the playground. I didn’t kiss anyone. I think I had a boyfriend for a week in middle school until he dumped me because no one else liked me (AWESOME). I didn’t date in high school. I had my first kiss in a play senior year. I went on approximately 1 official date in college. There are a handful–literally, a handful, to be counted on one hand–of guys that I saw in some sort of romantic capacity from my late teens to my early twenties.

Here’s the thing: I’m not very good at it, in the traditional sense.

My general understanding of the requirements of a woman on a date are this: you look nice, you talk about yourself, you ask questions of the other person, you laugh at jokes, you let him (assuming this is a heteronormative date) pay. I am good at approximately one and a half things on this list, in that I’m very good at asking people questions about themselves, and I can sometimes look pretty nice.

I remember getting ready for my first REAL (and only) date in college. My friend was helping me get dressed in something more feminine than I wanted to wear and was giving me pointers (so rom-com, right?). “Let him pay,” she said warningly. “Don’t fight it, don’t argue, just let him pay.” And I already felt uneasy. Why should he pay for my dinner? Here we were, two people going out to potentially enjoy each other’s company, both testing the waters of a new acquaintance, and I was supposed to let him take fiscal responsibility for that. I didn’t like it. It made me feel beholden and indebted before the night even began.

We had a very nice dinner and I ended up letting him pay. What else could I do? This was the way things were supposed to go. I asked him if he was certain he wanted to pay for it, said I didn’t mind splitting it, really, and he said he wanted to pay, so I let him. It didn’t ruin the night. He was a nice guy, so he didn’t use it against me at the end of the evening to get anything else from me, he never brought up the fact that he’d paid for dinner and I somehow owed him something for it.

Nevertheless, when I think back on that, it still makes me uneasy. We have entered a time when making one’s own way is respected, for both sexes, for all genders, for every race, color, creed. Everyone wants to be able to take care of herself these days (well, maybe not everyone–there’s a sample population, I’m told, that would love to meet and marry a lawyer and never have to pay for anything in his/her life again). I go out with my friends because I enjoy their company. My friends don’t buy my drinks, or take me to movies, or pick up the bill at dinner. Not unless I don’t have the money for it, and then they sometimes do, with the understanding that they’ve picked me up at a time when I need it, and I’ll do the same for them in the future. How is that not the standard for starting a romantic relationship with someone?

To me, sharing finances is something that comes with intimacy; that comes with the knowledge that yes, I do like you, and I plan on sticking around; that comes with the comfort of knowing that expectations–love, sex, attention, whatever–have already been filled without any sort of monetary influence. That’s when people start sharing finances, start “picking up the bill” for each other. It’s a promise to stick around, a show of faith (in a Capitalist sense–“I believe in you so I will put money into you”), but it’s something that’s earned by a relationship.

I have been on a few date-like things since that first official date. I never let that happen to me again. I’ve been much happier for it, no matter how much I have to fight or act stubbornly to get my way, no matter how often I have to assert–sometimes ridiculously–that I’m paying for myself, or picking up the whole bill (WHAT, A WOMAN DOING THAT, UNHEARD OF), or whatever it may be.

Of course, when I pick up the check, I let him know that he’s expected to level the playing field in the future. I’m not in the market for some trophy wife I have to support!

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