Oh man, you just killed his boner. Or maybe gave him one? I don't know. I give up.
Who initiates the date? Should he make a reservation then tell her where to meet — or ask her favorite spot? Offer to pick her up? If he confirms beforehand does he sound needy? What should he wear? Is dressing up for a date passee?
Is it too presumptuous to suggest a bottle? What about a nightcap?
Who makes the move?
Brings the condoms? Goes down first? Gets on top? Gets off first?
Does he assume he'll stay the night? Call the next day (or text?)? Is an invite to see her four days later too soon? She is still on Match.com. What does that mean? If she doesn't respond after six hours does he ping her again? Friend her on Facebook? Pretend it never happened?
And that is just the first week. When it comes to dating, the feelings have been the same since the dawn of humanity: thrilling, intoxicating, humbling and humiliating. But the rules of dating have changed dramatically in the past few years. The advent of online dating, social media and texting mean that decorum dictating dating code has been turned on its ear.
I should know. I date. And I often find navigating courtship rules to be an amorphous landmine. And I'm a woman – I'm not expected to lead the courtship ritual. But I am expected to set the gender rules, and I'm not sure what those are. Mayhem ensues.
For example — the last time I was single 12 years ago, if I was sleeping with someone and going on proper dates (plural) with him, I was not seeing other people. Today, everyone is a free agent until all parties explicitly agree otherwise. That is a real game-changer — a memo that has not been delivered to every newly single person.
Case in point: A couple years ago I was dating someone I really liked – someone who fancied himself quite progressive (I concurred). I had been out there for a couple years, getting acclimated to the new dating world. He was fresh out of the shoot. It was hot and heavy and I eagerly awaited his play for exclusivity while I keep seeing other people, even though I was nearly certain he was not (being that he was still playing under those old rules from the early aughts), and I was only interested in dating him. The affair imploded in a burst of electric confusion when, in frustration and uncertainty, I declared: “You know I'm seeing other people, right?”
“I would be seeing other people too if I weren't so busy I don't like the idea of you seeing other guys I assumed you were seeing other people and you totally should!”
That conflicted responses is a perfect example of how men — especially progressive, feminist men like you and I date — want to do right by women. There is a sense in the world and dating especially that is full of man-hate. Women oft declare — unabashedly — that men are patently unfaithful, childish, unhelpful and, in general, douches. There is a lot of pressure for men to overcompensate for their gender's perceived shortcomings — warranted or not.
These men I date, they want to do the right thing by feminist women, but they're not sure what that is. Because we're not sure what that is. Since women set the gender agenda, guys feel pressure to follow our lead. It is reasonable for them to expect us to know if they should pay or stay. But, if you're like me, sometimes I really want him get the fuck out, but feel bad saying so. But if he stays and I prefer he call Uber and leave me to a good night's sleep, I will so not respect him. So sometimes I let him think it's his idea to go, even though I worry I hurt his feelings while he worries he hurt my feelings — which I feel guilty about, and I imagine he does, too.
That is only where the problem begins. Because, as I said, they follow our lead. Me? I like him to lead, and so do you. And men like to lead. But that makes us bonkers. The refuse-to-ask-for-direction thing? It drives women crazy. Guys like to feel like they know what they're doing, and women like guys who know what they're doing. And a man who knows how to handle things? Super sexy. A guy flubbing around, unsure? Not so much.
As we're are all struggling to figure out how to get what we need and want at work, in Washington and in bed, it is tough to define exactly what “being a man” means — just as we struggle to define our femininity — and feminism. After all, no matter how often I've sat back in my chair when the check arrives, no matter how many times I write about my certainty that man should pay on first dates, regardless if I cringe when on that all-important first encounter he says, “I'll get this one and you grab the next one, OK?” or even when it is so clear that he feels amazing for treating me to theater tickets — I still suffer a twinge of post-feminist guilt for not insisting I pull my financial weight at all times.
So if I'm struggling to sort this out, and he's struggling to do right by me, well, it's a case of the blind-leading-the blind. And he's in a shitty position, because there is no right answer. And I feel bad for him, because all he wants to do is to feel confident he is doing the right thing.
I also feel bad for me, because I want to be with a man who feels confident and I realize that I totally contribute to a whole lot of the contrary. And I also feel bad for me because I want to feel confident I'm doing the right thing, too.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.