On the post-feminist dating experience
For Valentine’s Day, my girlfriend and I went out to a lovely dinner. I was under the impression that everything was going well... until the check came. The waitress placed the check on the table, and when I grabbed it, my girlfriend shot me a sour look. I did not think I was doing anything wrong by not offering her a chance to pay, but this story is one of the many examples of how difficult and befuddling it is for men to court a woman in the post-feminist world we live in today.
For the first time in history, men are dating women who are their equals socially, sexually and in almost every other way. While this newfound equality is fantastic and the way things should be, the new post-feminist era creates a set of very ambiguous social cues in the romantic arena (which was already a minefield to begin with) and causes an identity crisis for men.
For example, a female friend of mine recently retold a story of a boy offering to walk her home at night with indignation. “I have two legs; I know how to walk myself!” she exclaimed. My guess is the boy was just trying to be polite, but she saw his offer as an affront to her independence. (I also think she missed the point as to what he hoped might happen after the walk.) However, I am sure there are many women out there who would appreciate a boy walking with them home. So men are stuck in a situation where we don’t know if certain acts of chivalry will win us the favor or the scorn of women.
I am not the only person to deal with this type of confusion. In an article for City Journal, Kay Hymowitz explains post-feminists’ inconsistent aversion to chivalry from a Darwinian perspective: in nature, the alpha male is the most coveted mate. He is generally the biggest and strongest, and he exercises these advantages by eating and mating with whatever and whomever he wants. Females are attracted to him because he can provide more for them than any other male. However, a human man who acts like an alpha male (eating whatever and mating with whomever he wants) is far from the gentleman ideal. And because our post-feminist world allows women the opportunity to choose whether they want to be with a gentleman, a bad-boy alpha male or avoid choosing and change their preference back and forth as they wish without any real social consequence, men like myself are often confused about which strategy to employ to best woo a woman.
And on Valentine’s Day, when my girlfriend appeared to be upset that I was paying, I was as confused as ever. The gentlemanly thing to do, obviously, was to pay for dinner. My girlfriend, however, being the post-feminist sparkplug she is, saw past my good manners and was able to take slight offence. Maybe she took the gesture as a suggestion that she is incapable of paying for her own food; maybe she was uncomfortable feeling indebted to me; maybe it was something else. In my brief few years of dating, I have learned that women are infinitely complex, and my energy is best spent not on trying to understand their motives, but rather on making myself feel comfortable with the fact that I am pretty much always going to be wrong.
I am proud to say, however, that I handled this particular situation rather creatively and gracefully. My mother taught me well, so I was determined to be a gentlemen whether she liked it or not. I exercised a strategy that I just made up called “aggressive chivalry.” I looked my beloved in the eye and sternly told her, “it’s Valentine’s Day, you are my girlfriend, I want to treat you to dinner. I hope you’re OK with that.” Her sour look turned to a smile, and she thanked me. I was, in this instance, able to successfully toe the line between alpha male and gentleman; I was decisive and confident, but also treated her like a lady. Of course she did not mind me taking her out to dinner, she just wanted to me to acknowledge that she was perfectly capable of providing for herself as well. (Don’t tell her I said this, but it seems to me there must be a more productive way of expressing this sentiment than grimacing.)
I can’t promise that this strategy will always work. I hope that my story shows, however, that just because dating is more confusing than ever does not mean that all hope for chivalry is dead. Nor does it mean that men don’t have to pick up the tab at dinner. Some things never change.