Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The first rule of the first date: break it.

As a modern-day, twenty-something year old female who grew up in the metropolitan, I’ve done my fair share of dating in the past decade or so. Just over the span of those few years alone, there has been a fairly vast progress made in the world of romantic relationships. While stigmas are still very much unfortunately attached to ideas embedded in the dating world such as online dating, the female approaching the male (in a heterosexual relationship), open relationships, gay relationships, and etc, I personally believe that they have slowly begun to thaw and loosen a bit. And, if a direction were to be chosen in terms of these less traditional means, it would be toward the norm more so than the taboo sector or as being considered unacceptable.

With that said, I’ve still noticed that what has yet to remain alarmingly and seemingly archaic and traditional is the first date. Yes, the first date. My very progressive, liberal, and seemingly-feminist guy friends, if out on (again, heterosexual) dates will always be the ones to pick the girl up, showing up at her door with a gift (expectedly) – maybe flowers or chocolate, will open all doors, pull out all chairs, and pay for everything on the an outing – even if it’s one that they both mutually agreed upon. Furthermore, my girlfriends – my fairly contemporary and progressive girlfriends at that, on the “receiving” end of things have come to expect this equation themselves.

While I myself don’t fall entirely into the bulk of that group, I do admittedly expect this on some level, still. I have no qualms or issues with splitting the dinner check - I have my own money, and I'll spend it how I want to - thanks. I also don’t mind if my date doesn’t show up with a gift or if we both meet up separately - I don't care for flowers, anyway, and I do enjoy driving. Also, as a fairly liberal person when it comes to sex, I don’t think it speaks entirely of one person’s character if the physical interactions go beyond just a peck at the door and I don't mind if they do, either. While I am comfortable with not engaging in an old-fashioned traditional date, obviously, I admittedly still kind-of-sort-of . . . shamefully expect it, myself. Yes, I'll 'fess up - I can easily type out right now, as a removed person from the situation currently, that I don’t mind if I have to pay or drive myself. But would I prefer to? I can’t fully stand behind the fact that I don't, unfortunately.

In an attempt to unpack exactly why that is, I pose the question of whether or not it’s simply based on the fact that the first date is usually the first formal impression that’s made in the course of a romantic relationship, and if two strangers who are initially bound together through a first date had to use any uniform testing procedure to assess the situation, it would obviously be the most traditional, archaic, most set-in-place one. The formula and standard that’s the easiest to memorize and apply, since we can't gauge the other's personality and quirks based on what little we are able to gather during merely an hour-long dinner and awkward movie watching session. Because the traditional first date is one that has been instilled in place for decades, if not centuries, through societal expectations, media portrayals, and personal encouragement from one’s peers – it seems to be the only one that’s withheld the test of time when stood up against any other version of a first date.

Now that I’ve realized this unfair expectation that I have instilled me, and as a fairly modern-day, liberally progressive person, I’m eager to change this. If society has come to the point where we can meet the love of our lives over the Internet and where a relationship doesn’t necessarily need to involve only two people, then we should be able to get past the fact that the male has to play the role of the dominant-male character who provides for the dainty female as a means of treating her well and ultimately impressing her enough. There is something entirely too animalistic and old school about that when we’ve come so far.

I can only speak, if at all, for heterosexual relationships, however, being a heterosexual female myself. So, while rather unfamiliar with struggles and realm of gay, lesbian, or transgender dating, I do think that at the very least, the world of heterosexual dating needs to change their game already.


Dusty said...

It really brought it home to me when you said that on a first date, the participants will default to the most common standard of measuring the date they can think when judging the interactions. I think the heteronormative first date has become an almost archetypal symbol for modern heterosexual romancing, and breaking out of those scripts for behavior can be so difficult, even when you want to, as you brought up.

When you stop seeing your date as the roles you are taught to expect of them (ie, the chivalrous man: the recipient woman)it will not only reduce the gendered oppression happening for both participants but it will also give you both more freedom to just be yourselves instead of what you are expected to be. Who isn't so nervous on a first date, that having more freedom to be yourself couldn't help just a little?

This also made me think a lot about dating in the queer world that I am a part of. As queer romancing has long lacked mainstream social standards of validation or evaluation, our standards for first dates have developed according to our own sub-cultural values. I wish I could say that misogyny stayed out of these developments. But even in the queer world I see gendered behavior expectations based on the roles of male chivalry/female recipients and hope too that eventually our dating reality can be a little less affected by binary gendered assumptions.

gtg263r said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gtg263r said...

Betty's argument in this post reminded me of a previous blog post discussing the idea of "female privilege." I think many concepts and explanations in that context also have applicability in the heterosexual dating context, but I want to see if I can find some basis or justification for hetero-normative dating "rituals" that doesn't implicate negative aspects of gendered behavior.

I think part of the reason that Betty (and probably other self-described feminists) still desire some level of courtship is that it helps engender romantic feelings. I can't imagine that most people who fall head over heels in love with someone else do so because of constant formalistic displays of conscientious partner equality during the courtship process.

I think both men and women probably appreciate feeling loved, cared for, and the objects of affection. In the hetero-normative dating context this may be displayed by the man buying the woman dinner or through small acts like opening the door for her. I think that if the man insisted on paying for every single meal, at some point this behavior would become patronizing, patriarchal, and sexist. However, giving the typical guy the benefit of the doubt, it's probably just meant as a sign of affection and love.

hanestagless said...

Betty, you make an interesting point about how first dates are so traditional and formal. I agree with you that this might be driven by the need for some standard so we can gauge whether we want a second date. Because of the traditional model of the first date, we have a social template so we can measure our actual experience.

Society, media, even my dad has impressed upon me what a first date should look like. The more that I deviate from the norm, the less the encounter appears to be a date.

My fear would be that by deviating from that model, whether it be splitting the bill, meeting at the location, etc., perhaps you'll have the impression that we're not on the date. Or worse, that this date doesn't measure up to your own perception of what a good date would be and not want to go out with me on a second. We don't know each other. I have no idea what your past first dates were like. The last thing I would want to do would be party to the worst first date you've ever had.

Furthermore, and tragically, if you were to insist on breaking those norms, that would give me the impression that you don't want to treat our meeting as date. In fact, if on a date, you were to insist on splitting the check, I would take that as negative signal that the date is not going well. That might be directly opposed to your sentiment.

I don't know what the solution to this would be. Perhaps it's too late for me and the traditions of the first date are too ingrained. However, I do think that you're right that we need to breakdown the gender roles of a first date just as with any other aspect of life.