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 But the expectation that this is the realm of the man is just as outdated as girdles.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 Asking for a father's permission may be seen as respectful but it's also pretty outdated.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.