Blog has moved, searching new blog...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Your Notion of "Dating" is Out-Dated

We've come a long way since the Sabine women and the need to literally capture a mate. When it comes to contemporary ideas of "right" or "traditional" dating though, we don't seem that far removed from the medieval notions of match-making, let alone Victorian era gender roles.

I'm not an historian or a dating expert but can't we agree that a lot of our customs just don't make sense with our current and very good notions of gender equality?

I've Got the Power

As a male, I know that certain things are expected of us men on dates - anything from holding open a door to "pursuing" the woman to paying for the date. I can't speak from the women's perspective so I won't. But I have issues with this script.

First, this isn't the 1950s. Men solely paying for dates makes a lot of sense when they're the only gender making an income! Or when their income is enough to support a whole family. Neither of those is true today. Men aren't the only ones working and salaries for both genders generally aren't enough to support a nonworking spouse and any children. I don't mind paying for dates, really. But the expectation that this is the realm of the man is just as outdated as girdles. Maybe even more so since we still have Spanx.

I also have a distaste for guys feeling the need to be the pursuer. A lot of men feel emasculated if they're asked out or bought dinner, and the only reason is they don't feel in control or that they're "wearing the pants" (read "have the power"). A lot of our dating rules seem to be about delegating power to the proper gender, and it's just ridiculously stupid. And downright unhealthy often enough. If you truly can't see gender equality and still feel you need power as a man or need to give it up as a woman, then I honestly don't think your imaging God who is true Masculinity and true Femininity. God isn't concerned with power games.

The last power complaint is women being treated as property. We like to replace "property" with words like "proper" (how very close it is!) or "respectful." Asking for a father's permission may be seen as respectful but it's also pretty outdated. My parents loved us boys just as much as my sister and they don't feel the need to vet girlfriends (or, to their credit, boyfriends in my sister's case). If you're a minor, parental permission makes sense. If an adult, again, it's about a male having power over you, which I just can't understand.

So where to go from here?

Yeah, I clearly don't know the answer. But I know I make it a point to say upfront to people I date that I'm a feminist and that I believe in equality. Relevant to this topic, that takes the form of sharing expenses - usually whoever proposes the date pays. It also means letting go of the reigns. I pursue someone when I like them. I've had women pursue me too, and I gotta say, I'm a fan. If it's not about my ego, which I hope it isn't, then what do I care if someone is up front about liking me? I still do some traditional things in dating but it's because they're my preference and not because they meet some objective standard.

I'll also say, if you just happen to like traditional dating, that's great! Nothing wrong with that. If you like having doors held open for you and being pursued and a lot of other traditional things, more power to you. It's not a problem at all to want to be dated in a certain way. The problem is when you feel, by virtue of your gender, that you're entitled to certain behavior from a dating partner or that dating has to happen a certain way. It doesn't. But we should all know our own preferences, and who cares if yours is traditional?

I'd say that however you feel about dating, be aware that traditional and nontraditional expectations in dating carry with them a philosophy of power and importance distributed between the two of you. I'm uncomfortable having most of the power (as the male pursuer) and hoping that if I ever tie the knot with someone, our mindset will radically be changed to seeing each other as equals. That's unrealistic, and I think the way you date is probably the way you'll see a spouse. Make sure it's a healthy path.


  1. Amen and amen! I believe in egalitarian marriages, so why shouldn't dating model that? Even many of my more progressive friends, though, feel that there is some merit to be had in the old model of "guy asks, guy pays." The reasoning I hear for this kind of thing is usually circular logic, mostly amounting to "just because" or leaning heavily on gender stereotypes, such as the assumption that men are, on the whole, less willing to commit in the first place, so it is important for them to take a more active role in pursuing. I don't necessarily agree with this line of thinking, but I have to admit that personal experience suggests that if a guy doesn't ask me out first, he doesn't like me anyway, so there is no use in going down that street.

    In other words, I think a lot of women (and men) revert to these traditional roles in dating because it is still so prevalent in our society that any deviation from it seems to signal a kind of seriousness we may not want to assume. I live in an area where it is all but unheard-of for a woman to do the asking, so the few women who are bold enough to do so are made to look "desperate" or like "whoa, she must really like him" because there is no precedent (or at least existing narrative) for women to ask men out regularly and/or casually. I have to admit I'm not in the practice of being one of those bold women, but I sort of have a mind to be.

    I feel that the existing dating model in our society can often lead to excessive, unwanted machismo in men, to say nothing of the women deflated by the fact that they have so little control in their dating lives other than to put on more lipstick and hope that someone notices. In a word: #notcool. However, as I mentioned before, it can be hard for even well-meaning people to break the mold of tradition in productive ways.

    Oh, and I loved how you characterized God as both true masculinity and true femininity. Right on!

  2. I certainly agree that every relationship is sui generis; certainly I prefer a woman who is every bit of a breadwinner as I am, and I am not challenged by a strong-willed woman. That being said, I think that it does us good to grow up with certain social rituals and etiquette, even if no longer in date, precisely because it gives a certain structure and outline to life. It prevents there from being so many arguments about how to split checks, for instance, if it is always assumed that the man will pay unless by previous mutual agreements. Society is built on these kind of irrationalities, like gargoyles on a Gothic cathedral, but they add to life. A feminist who lets her date pay for the meal has more money to spend on things that are actually important to her. A chauvinist who pays for a woman's meals has less money. I fail to see a victim. And although I am a firm supporter of human rights and dignity, I believe that egalitarianism should be struck down wherever it rears its ugly head as the natural enemy of civility, leisure, and charm.

  3. Two very different perspectives, haha. Good to have.

    Richelle, I really agree with you. It's difficult to break the mold when you live in an area or subculture that doesn't accommodate those choices. I guess everyone has to decide how much they think these gender roles will negatively (or positively) impact their lives if they adhere to them and if it's worth limiting your dating options to try to date outside of those expectations. But I can sympathize that it's difficult; American Christian culture is suffocatingly traditional in this respect.

    Clayton, true egalitarianism is never in conflict with GOOD practices of civility, leisure, and charm. But I think we can agree that wherever "charm" or the like conflict with someone's dignity, we need to change our definitions of those terms. These terms usually mean unfair distributions of power in practice. Often we can pine for bygone eras where people were Really moral or gentile or sophisticated and as a result mask the underlying evils that propped up such power differentials.

  4. I totally agree with the original post - why are there not more people challenging this norm? Once I explained my position on this to my then-girlfriend... it was an awkward conversation (because I didn't want her to think I was cheap or something), but definitely worth having.

    Unfortunately I've heard a lot of people argue that men should pay for dates because they make more money, and that men should make more money because they're expected to pay for dates...

    1. Circular logic is amazing, haha. And yes - these conversations are terribly awkward. Especially if you're a male feminist speaking to a female who would never identify with that term...

  5. ^Such first world problems. Sorry, this post has been bugging me for days. Who's going to pay for a meal that costs more than what many people in the world make in a week? Female circumcision, now there's a topic of conversation worth having about victimization or exploitation. Women being bought meals? Piffle. The principle of double effect applies here I think. Will the good of doing away with this "inequality" (in which the only victim is the poor man, and he does it voluntarily) outweigh the good effect of having some cultural unity around the process of courtship? I don't think so.

    1. Those are fair criticisms, especially the bit about first world problems. But I personally know beggars who make more money begging in a day than families in other parts of the world make in a week. But that doesn't make these American homeless wealthy men. The relativity here is important. And I don't think we can wait to rectify small wrongs in inequality at home just because larger ones exist abroad. I don't think it's an either/or.

  6. Some wisdom to add to the dating discussion:

    1. Hahaha, thank you. I suspect you posted because it's actually a valid point - there are generally far more physical dangers to women than men in dating. We could probably try to unpack that at some point.