My very good friend – let’s call him James – found very early in his post-separation dating career, that dating culture is rooted in some distant past.
The son of a strong feminist, who had been married to a strong feminist, James was staggered to discover that Tinder dates have weirdly anachronistic ideas when it comes to roles and protocols around dating. James, who is the CEO of a start-up, discovered that – almost without exception – his dates expected him to make arrangements and then, extraordinarily, to pay.
Just a few dates in, James made the decision to stop suggesting dinner – it was costing too much – and to opt for cheaper options such as coffee or a walk.
James’s dates were successful, career-minded, educated, and ambitious women. Yet, somehow, they expected him to stump up when the bill came out.
It had struck me how odd this seemed. James’s dates were successful, career-minded, educated, and ambitious women. Yet, somehow, they expected him to stump up when the bill came out.
I got to thinking about this after reading an article in The Atlantic recently. It was written by Ellen Lamont, an assistant professor at the Appalachian State University in the US.
As Dr Lamont points out, while most modern heterosexual women say they want equality in marriage, they have entirely different expectations when it comes to dating.
Interviewing women for a research project and book The Mating Game: How Gender Still Shapes How We Date, Dr Lamont found that the experience of Americans is pretty well identical to those on the dating scene in Australia. Women, she found “expected men to ask for, plan and pay for dates; initiate sex; confirm the exclusivity of a relationship; and propose marriage”.
Women expected men to ask for, plan and pay for dates; initiate sex; confirm the exclusivity of a relationship; and propose marriage.
“After setting all those precedents, these women then wanted a marriage in which they shared financial responsibilities, housework and childcare relatively equally,” she wrote. “Almost none of my interviewees saw these dating practices as a threat to their feminist credentials or to their desire for egalitarian marriages. But they were wrong.”
In fact, these attitudes were confirmed in 2017 research for the Australian financial institution Greater Bank which looked at perspectives about money and finances among milennials.
It found that women were three times less likely to date someone who earned less than them and men were recorded as being six times more likely (44%) to pick up the bill – only 7% of women said they would do so.
Before conducting her research Dr Lamont had high expectations there would be widespread adhesion to feminist ideals among the women she interviewed.
“Yet when they thought of equality among men and women, they focused more on professional opportunities than interpersonal dynamics,” she writes.
Lamont was gobsmacked by the anachronistic attitudes of the majority of the women she interviewed – which, confirming James’s experience – didn’t necessarily align with the men’s ideas about dating.
One female respondent said: ‘I feel like men need to feel like they are in control. And if you ask them out, you end up looking desperate and it’s a turnoff for them.’
One female respondent, for example, said: “I feel like men need to feel like they are in control. And if you ask them out, you end up looking desperate and it’s a turnoff for them.” Another said the rituals tested the man’s interest and commitment beyond a “quick hook-up” (although why paying for dinner would test that is beyond me – and could easily be interpreted as something more sinister).
A male interviewee, however, always insisted on splitting the bill, arguing that was only fair if the date was his equal. Or, as he succinctly phrased it: “Just because I carry the penis does not mean that I need to buy your food for you.”
These attitudes toward traditional gender roles tend to seep into long-term relationships – in which women take on an unfair burden of childcare and housework.
And, somewhat unsurprisingly, Dr Lamont found that these attitudes toward traditional gender roles tend to seep into long-term relationships – in which women take on an unfair burden of childcare and housework.
Quite simply, attitudes to gender roles early on in a relationship, somewhat unsurprisingly, play out in the longer term.
Egalitarianism, it seems, is difficult to renegotiate.