Jennifer, 26, was waiting by the phone. As a law school administrator in Washington, D.C., she managed the law review and earned a reputation for her ability to take charge of every situationÃ¢â‚¬”except this one. Jennifer was waiting by the phone not for an important work call, but for a call from a guy she liked, hoping that he would ask her out.
Women today aren't ashamed to call themselves feministsÃ¢â‚¬”and neither is Jennifer. We're filling up boardrooms and universities (more than half of college graduates are women) and thriving in our careers. And we're looking for partners who recognize that.
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But instead of taking charge in our dating lives, we're still waiting for guys to ask us out, expecting them to pick up the check, and letting them decide the level of commitment, according to a new study in the journal Gender & Society.
The study looked at the dating histories of 38 college-educated women between the ages of 25 and 40Ã¢â‚¬”everything from the first date to the decision to marry. Although almost all of them said they wanted relationships where the breadwinning, housework, and childcare were shared equally, they still adhered to traditional gender roles when it came to dating. Nearly all of the women expected a man to pay on the first date (although that responsibility eased off after a few dates) and let men determine the level of commitment within the relationship.
The women interviewed for this study chocked it up to tradition, suggesting that this was just the way things have always been. "We can trace these courtship norms back to the 1920s, when the advent of automobiles allowed dating to take place outside of the house for the first time," explains Chiara Atik, author of Modern Dating: A Field Guide. "And in the 20s, it was the men who had the cars and the money, and therefore could do things like pay for your dinner or your movie ticket." Obviously this isn't true anymore. You can pay for that movie ticketÃ¢â‚¬”and his, too. So why are many women still expecting men to pay for everything?
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"I think this phenomenon can partially be explained by how women interpret what it means to be 'treated,'" explains Kathleen Bogle, Ph.D., director of Women's Studies at La Salle University and author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus. "If a man really likes you, women think: he'll ask me out, he'll initiate a text to say he had a great time on the date, he'll ask me out again. And, if a man likes you a lot, he will take you to a nice restaurant and treat to everything," says Bogle.
Women in the study echoed this concept, saying they used chivalry as a litmus test for a man's character. If he was willing to pay for dinner and open doors for her, it was a signal that he was respectful and caring.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We should all be with partners who treat us well," says Samhita Mukhopadhyay, author of Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life, who explains that chivalry isn't bad for its own sake. Of course, there's nothing wrong with appreciating a guy for buying dinner, but it shouldn't be a "rule" you follow because you think you have to or because that's his role. If you're hoping for a more egalitarian relationship in the long run, why not let some of that come through in your dating behaviorsÃ¢â‚¬”by sometimes texting him first, planning the date, or picking up the check every now and then.
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Since there's no correlation between acts of chivalry and egalitarian relationships, it's hard to see if a gallant date could turn into the kind of partner that would help out at home, pitch in for the housework, and help keep up with the demands of domestic life.
So how do we start dating like feminists?
Don't stress about coming on too strong. The women in the study were most concerned that guys would reject or not understand them if they made the first moveÃ¢â‚¬”going so far as to say that men were turned off by their forwardness.
The thing is, neither of you are mind readers, and the beginning part of relationships is always a guessing game as you get to know the other person. So showing a little interest doesn't need to be considered aggressive or too forward. Even if you'd prefer to have him plan the date, letting him know you're available and interested is a good way of saying, "your move," says Atik. Maybe that's giving a new guy your number, texting to ask if he's free this weekend, or calling him after the first date and suggesting a second.
Striking that push-pull balance will mean that no one is strictly being pursued and no one is strictly the pursuer. Since this is the same type of equal-power relationship most women want in their marriages, there's no reason not to start implementing them in your dating lifeÃ¢â‚¬”who says he has to plan every date or be the first one to text every single time?
Just do what feels right. Ultimately, there's no sense in dating one way if it doesn't feel right. If it makes you uncomfortable to see a guy paying for every date when you know you make more than him, say something. And on the other hand, if you're really dying to have the guy ask you out and pick the restaurant, then don't settle for having to make the choices every single time.
"I don't think that women have to be like, 'All right, we're switching the roles, and we're going to start asking guys out and paying for everything," says Atik. "The point isÃ¢â‚¬”and it's not just a woman's problem, it's a man's problem tooÃ¢â‚¬”figuring out how we're going to do this with these changed roles in a way that's comfortable and empowering and attractive for everyone."
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