Traditional Dating and the “Ideal” Man
A few weeks ago, I listened to a Tony Campolo sermon about teens and dating. Most of it was relevant for adults though, and I found his perspective and criticisms of the way Americans date to be very interesting and thought-provoking.
During the sermon he told a story about his own high school years and a girl that he liked. He’d asked her out, and she’d said yes, and they’d gone out on three dates. Like a good gentleman, he paid for everything. But he also kept track of the costs carefully, and by the end of the third date had spent $24.40 on her. The following day at school, he noticed the girl sitting and chatting with another boy. Indignant, he marched over, told the boy off, and asked her what she was doing talking to another boy, since she was already going steady with him.
He’d felt entitled. He’d paid for her, and he wanted what he paid for.
This got me thinking. I’ve always accepted and even glorified traditional perspectives on dating, such as the one that considers it chivalrous when a man pays for the date. I’ve always thought it was pretty considerate and gentlemanly when a man does so for me, and in fact I’ve pretty much come to expect it. Like if we split the bill on a date, or if I pay the bill, somehow it’s a black mark on his record and a reason for me to turn my nose down at him. And the same goes for a guy who opens the door for me, buys me flowers and gifts, and takes the initiative when he feels we’re ready for a first kiss.
Dr. Campolo’s sermon makes me wonder if such a traditional approach to dating creates a subtle imbalance in a relationship. When a guy pays for the meal every time, I always feel obligated to let him choose where we eat, even if he never makes me feel that way. And I feel more obligated to let him choose the activity when we go on a different kind of date because he’s paying for it, and the last thing I’d want is for him to pay for an activity he won’t enjoy. And if Dr. Campolo’s story is any indication, the guy probably feels more entitled to make those choices too. He might feel like I owe him something in return for the cash he is willingly forking over in his pursuit of me.
This is all very hard for me to think through, because I have always been such a traditional thinker when it comes to dating. Masculinity as our culture defines it is something I’ve always desired in a man—strong, ambitious, willing to lead, and dedicated to providing financially. All of which is just another way of saying…I’ve always desired a man who pays for dates. But after thinking about Tony’s story, I’ve got to wonder if such a desire is healthy, and if I’ve been guilty of putting masculinity and my ideas about modern-day chivalry in a box as much as I’ve often put other things in boxes.
Maybe, after all, the sort of man who strives for equality and balance in a relationship is really the strong one.
Maybe the sort of man who is willing to sacrifice his desire to have control in a relationship is actually the best sort of leader.
And maybe being dedicated to providing financially means making the best decisions together with the woman he is with (just as this man did) — even if it means sacrificing his own dreams and his own reputation as a financial provider to allow room for me to dream.
Maybe my expectations are all wrong. I’m willing to admit that, and work on redefining what sorts of qualities I ought to be looking for in a man.