I like it when a guy picks up the tab. What can I say? The heart wants what the heart wants. So when the check comes after a meal, I don’t pull a Sheryl Sandberg and “lean in.” I lean back, polish off the rest of my wine and enjoy being courted. Because, ladies, let’s remind ourselves, that’s what this whole dance is about.
I wasn’t always this way. I remember when I was a precocious NYU student, newborn feminist and animal rights activist back in the late ’90s. Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” had been absorbed into my highly impressionable psyche, and I was momentarily fervent about the basic laws of feminism, which, for me, boiled down to: Do not shave, and, whatever you do, do not let a guy buy you dinner.
But by the time I started properly dating in my twenties — meaning frequenting venues where dinner often consisted of more than one course — I dropped the whole whipping-out-my-wallet thing (oh, and the no-shaving). I mellowed out and allowed myself to be wined and dined. It didn’t feel anti-feminist; it felt natural and made me feel like a woman in a Fellini film (except with a smaller bosom).
The sad truth is that no one knows how to be anymore. After Gloria Steinem changed the game, it all got very messy. In our post-feminist world, even the manliest of men have lost the plot. Left to their own devices in a climate of shifting gender dynamics, they are floundering like a fish out of water.
Even women are struggling to adapt to the current state of gender affairs. We’ve forged ahead with our high-powered careers, out-earning some of our male counterparts, and now a huge contingent of us have declared: “We’re happy being single forever.”
If I were a guy, I would probably feel intimidated by this new dynamic. Gender equality and feminine power are, of course, both cause for celebration, but when you have Maureen Dowd, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, posing the question “Are Men Necessary?” as the title of her New York Times bestseller, you can see how the male species at large be feeling a tad emasculated.
Which brings me to the question du jour: Who should pay on a date?
For me, if a guy asks me out and I’m interested in him romantically, I let him pay, at least for the first few dates. And then I insist on treating him eventually, or at least I try to. (I notice it makes some men feel uncomfortable.) I’m always polite, offering each time, and indelibly gracious when he makes it clear he is paying. Metrosexual or not, if I have learned anything about the male species over the last three decades it is that men want to feel like men — now more than ever since we have kind of deemed them irrelevant. And women — well, we are much more complicated, of course — but I think what we want most is to feel valued. I don’t know about you, but when a nice guy takes me out on the town, I feel valued and desired, not disempowered in any way. I feel ultra-feminine, sexy and sought-after.
You can’t fight biology. On a carnal level, men want to be in control, are inherently protective and are hard-wired for “taking care of business,” whether it be chopping down trees or paying the bill. It doesn’t matter if you earn more than him; by allowing him to buy you a soufflé at Daniel you’re not only giving him a chance to show you how generous he can be, but you’re actually allowing him to be his organic self. What a win-win! As for attached strings? You don’t owe him anything except for your charming, brilliant company.
Besides, I still subscribe to the idea that men are hunters and women are meant to be hunted. As women, we are powerful, mysterious beings — wild, complicated and alluring. We are mothers in the making, creators of the universe, master multitaskers — basically, too busy to chase a guy or deal with something as trivial as picking up the tab.
Yet as with everything in life, nothing is 100 percent black and white. I once dated a younger man who was, shall we say, fiscally challenged, and every time the bill came, I felt awkward. Do I pay because I am like 1,000 years older, or do I let him pay because he is European and chivalry is his birthright? I always felt guilty when he paid, it felt un-romantic “going Dutch,” and I felt too much like a sugar mommy when I paid. So I ended up avoiding scenarios where we would have to deal with a check.
In a nutshell, this is the story of how I learned how to cook a good meal — which, by the way, is the surest way to any man’s heart. I suppose it is kind of comforting to know that in an ever-changing world, some things don’t ever change.
Natasha is a New York-based writer covering lifestyle, spirituality and women’s issues for a variety of media outlets. Follow her on Twitter @natscript.