For a whole long time I’ve been writing about how men should pay on first dates. I have long accepted this as fact, but I have been so, so conflicted about why that is so. After all, I’m a died-in-the-made-by-women-in-Somalia-hemp feminist. I advocate for women achieving and maintaining their financial independence at (nearly) all costs.
So how can I advocate for playing the role of financial dependence on dates? Not when I am proud that I take care of myself. Not when I eat my own broiled branzino and braised chard. When I expect to be treated as equal in every single sense of that word, how on God’s green Earth could I feel entitled to a free latte?
I finally figured it out. Here goes:
Guys need to take care of women. That’s what biology tells them to do, and they feel good when they do it. And women need to feel cared for. Maybe even especially strong women who take care of a whole lot of everything all the time. Which is why even (especially?), strong, feminist women are still drawn to manly men. Alpha men.
But in contemporary society, “taking care of” means different things to different people. To different men. And their women. That may mean he makes more money, yes. It may also mean he takes care of the house and kids while she kicks butt on Wall Street. Or Washington or Silicon Valley. It may mean that he takes care of her intellectually or emotionally — up for late-night listening, or breakfast debates. Maybe (and also, one hopes) being a man means he takes care of her in bed.
But these ways of expressing masculinity are not likely revealed when you check out his eHarmony profile, on a first date, or even a fourth. Each man’s brand of caring is unique, and the ways men and women express their sex and sexuality is negotiated, often silently, between the couple over weeks, months and — if the relationship lasts — decades. Today, with few clear rules about gender roles, it is every couple for itself to decide how each partner will express his and her gender.
But on a first date? No one can see what kind of power dynamic will evolve in the relationship. So how can a man signal to a woman that he can take care of a woman? He relies on the culturally recognized signal that he is a masculine man. An alpha male. A gentleman:
He assumes the check, puts down his MasterCard, refuses her feeble offer to contribute, and picks up the tab.
That doesn’t mean that he pays forever. Or that the only way he can show he’s a man is by how much he spends. It is simply a token gesture during the courtship to let her know his ability and willingness to care for her.
This should go on, in most cases, for a couple dates. Depending on quickly things move, she should at least offer to chip in on date three. Unless, of course, he showed her early on exactly how he is capable of taking care of her. Which might be a great financial move for the truly savvy.