Thursday, June 8, 2017

If the Man Doesn't Ask, and Pay, Is It a Date?

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This one was composed some time ago, and is being posted just in case anyone was honestly confused by the following Opigram opinion shared at

I've been engaged for 10+ years because I've met only one man I've liked since my husband died. Coffee dates aren't worth leaving the house for and when guys think "dates" mean lunch I'm forced to educate them about my celiac gene. Bottom line: to make dating fun again, don't think of it as dating until you know what you can really enjoy doing together. And if the man doesn't ask and pay, as far as I'm concerned it's not a date.

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Anyway, someone replied, “Meaning?” Some trolls posted more overtly trollish replies that aren’t worth mentioning, but it occurs to me that that opinion could use a little clarification. Some of The Nephews are, in fact, nieces; some of them are starting to date. So:

Men are the ones who are wired to pursue—women, or success, or money or whatever else. Women may do the pursuing, if it’s terribly important to them to be seen with someone who has a certain look or degree or income, but in my observation they regret it. Men who think they’re the objects of desire aren’t motivated to pursue the women who’ve pursued them. Sometimes that leaves them motivated to pursue different women, even after they’ve said yes to women who proposed marriage.

This does not mean that women can’t get to know men who interest them, without pursuing them or being accused of it. We can get to know them at work, at school, at church or in all kinds of social groups. We can even set up opportunities for them to ask for a Real Date. I merely think men need the experience of having done the asking, in order to be motivated to make the Real Date worth either party’s time.

According to Emily Post, even in the Victorian Era, young ladies were always entitled to decide when they wanted to go to various it might be when a young man wasn’t sure that he could afford, or that the girl or woman would enjoy, the event in question. All a girl had to do to satisfy Victorian standards of propriety was make it clear that her interest was in the cultural event itself and not in being alone with the guy. This was traditionally done by acquiring at least three tickets. (The young lady could buy them herself, or let a sympathetic older person make a present of them.) A Victorian young lady would ask an older female friend to go with her first, and could then announce to a male friend that “We have an extra ticket for X. Would you like to go with us?”

Then, of course, it was up to him to decide whether to repay this general social invitation with another general social invitation, or a display of more personal interest. In the Victorian Era this would probably not have been what today’s young men would call a Real Date, either. The difference between Victorian and modern courtship is that proper Victorian parents didn’t allow their children, even “children” of twenty-five or thirty who were living “properly” at home, to spend time alone with people of the opposite sex before the engagement was announced. The Victorian young man could show personal interest by inviting the woman to the theatre, but he still had to buy a ticket for at least one older woman as a chaperone.

Today young women can invite men to do all kinds of things that give us a chance to observe their personality and character, and give the men a chance to ask for a Real Date. In most places society won’t even flap and squawk if we invite them to be alone with us in our homes, as long as their known job skills make it reasonable to imagine that they could help mend things or do chores; though, if unpleasant results occur, people will still say that allowing an alleged repairman to be “behind closed doors” with us in our homes was a Bad Idea. We might just happen to acquire only two tickets—look at all the contests that offer tickets for two people as prizes!—and, even if we’re alone with young men in private cars, few people still believe there’s any great need for a chaperone.

But I still maintain that this kind of thing should take place strictly “in the friend zone.” Women ask men to repair things because we want those things repaired, and it’s still a good idea for relatives to be in the house while they’re there. Women buy extra tickets to concerts, etc., because we want to support our favorite musicians, etc.; if we could invite fifty people to the concert instead of just one, we’d probably do that. We can hope that these social encounters with men will provide Bonding Moments on the strength of which they’ll start pursuing us. Often that happens.

We can just save ourselves a lot of heartache if we remain mindful at all times that a man doing something that he’s been asked to do is radically different from a man who’s asked for the privilege of doing the same thing. As long as we’re asking, we’re not being courted. Don’t call it a date (unless you also refer to “dates” with the dentist) and don’t act as if it were one, until the man is doing the asking.

As for paying...when people like each other they should be able to find all kinds of ways to be together without either of them having to pay for anything. I’ve never felt favorably impressed by a man spending a lot of money on corporate commercial “entertainment” options. Only in corporate-produced fictional romance is hiring a limousine “more romantic” than riding the bus, if a city bus is available; in real life walking together provides more opportunity for private conversation and even hand- or arm-holding. A poor man can make himself as lovable as a rich one, if he tries. 

In theory, I suppose, once in a while, if the woman were the one who’d always wanted to ride in a limousine, and the man wanted to be with the woman but would be just as happy to spend that time hiking or gardening or playing chess, it might seem reasonable for the woman to pay for the limousine. In my experience, I’m the frugal one who’d rather do something that doesn’t cost money, so if the man wants the movie or the restaurant meal or whatever, he’s paying for all of it. I don’t know firsthand how much damage it does to a relationship if the woman pays for even one evening “out.” But my guess would be that it does some damage—reparable or not. Paying is part of pursuit. If the woman pays for dinner at a special overpriced restaurant, on some subconscious level the man has to be thinking “Now she’s pursuing me!” Although he may feel delighted for the moment, this is not the basis for a long-term bond.

It would be a good thing for society if boys who had ever prevailed on girls to pay for even one movie ticket, even once, all resolved to demonstrate that now they were going to prove themselves worthy of that favor by becoming those young women’s faithful husbands for life. If they all understood, agreed, and acted on a rule like, “Even if the feeling of ‘erotic love’ fades and she starts to ‘feel like a roommate,’ I will remain faithful to marriage, avoid even looking at other women on those days when my wife ‘feels like a roommate,’ and be a good ‘roommate’ until the ‘feeling’ of being a bridegroom comes back—which, if I rule out pursuing any other woman as an option, I understand that it eventually will do. I understand that a woman taking even one step toward me does not mean that I can take her for granted and let my emotional ‘feelings’ set me off in pursuit of a different woman.”

It’s even possible to visualize some alternative world—some world that might seem radical-feminist to us—where men would ever behave that way, if women and older men all worked together to hold them to that sort of rule, if men known to have cheated on their wives were automatically distrusted and shunned by society, if mothers of children automatically had control of any property the fathers of those children might have possessed or acquired, if society agreed to any number of other ways to promote male chastity rather than positively admiring male unchastity. Nobody can say that it’s even impossible for that kind of society to come to exist in our world, where many people do admire, and even reward, men who cheat.

I know there are women who may say they’re willing to pay for some of the entertainment, even for “an equal share” of the entertainment, without expecting any commitment of that kind in a “dating” relationship. I suppose some of them believe that, but I suspect they really mean either (a) that they want to stay “in the friend zone” or (b) that they’ve soaked up some sort of male-authored ideas before they’ve learned much about what they want. 

If a woman starts avoiding other men and holding hands with one man, even if hand-holding is as far as the physical intimacies go, in 99 cases out of 100 she really wants that man to be her faithful husband for life. Maybe at the moment when she’s so eager to pay for the movie, she’s just competing against another woman who’s unwilling or unable to pay, but if she kisses the man good night after watching the movie, she wants him to respond like the heroes of her favorite fictional romances...and she’ll be bitterly dissatisfied when he does not. She’d do better either to wait for the man to buy the ticket, or to accept that he prefers to buy tickets for someone else and let some other man start buying tickets for her.

In the world where we actually live, I think women are better off adhering to the rule that Real Dates don’t have to involve any payment, that dates for walks in the park and free concerts and family parties are as “real” as dates for movies and restaurant meals...but, if payment is involved, the man asks and the man pays. Spending money on a man is like running a wool sweater through the dryer. It may not destroy him, but he’ll never be the same.

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