First Date Pressures and Expectations

“What, you’re not going to invite me in?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“But, but—I bought you dinner!”

So goes the end of a date in the movie “Red,” which I largely enjoyed and which features several ‘strong female characters,’ as we like to call them. The thing that got me thinking was the expectation that dinner=sex. And that accepting a paid meal from your date is a go-ahead for gettin’ it on that night. In my experience with the dating world, I have never encountered a similar event. BUT, certain conversations I’ve had lately have made me aware that this expectation exists.

Traditionally speaking, males pay on dates—especially early on in the relationship. And this means that the females on the date are already obliged to gush a few thank yous and maybe even show physical appreciation with hand-holding or kissing. Most girls that I know would not do that if the night was unenjoyable or if that had zero interest in their date, but that does not mean that the obligation to show appreciation is non-existent.

I’ve gone through sexual assault counseling training with The Aurora Center, and the example of this after dinner exchange taking place was discussed both in scenario form and in real life experience form. The volunteers who go to classes and give sexual violence presentations say it comes up in discussions quite frequently after the PowerPoint they show. The expectation of sex for a thirty dollar meal carries huge implications and pressure for the woman on the date; and it also asserts the dominance of the male over her in a heteronormative situation. I do know that for as many men who exact this sort of power, there are twice as many who do not—it is just unfortunate that the ones who do garner all the attention.

Going on a date should be a fun and exciting experience. Agreeing to go on a date with someone typically signifies a certain level of interest, and it seems like respect should be present, always. Girls should not end up having sex or engaging in any kind of physical contact that they otherwise wouldn’t just because they had dinner bought for them.  And unfortunately, saying no is not always as easy in real life as it is in scenarios or on paper. The repercussions of such a date leave lasting, unfair feelings for the woman, and undoubtedly regrets and questions of what she could have done differently–leading to victim blame.

Most girls can buy their own dinners and don’t mind; I’ll start whipping my check card out if that is what it takes to level the playing field. A burger and fries, while tasty, do not guarantee sex and should not even warrant an assumption that it will be offered, or okay in that situation.


4 thoughts on “First Date Pressures and Expectations

  1. Why don’t we all just start paying our half, or switching off on who pays for which date (if there’s more than one)? This isn’t the 1950’s anymore – women can and do work, and don’t have to rely on men to pay their way anymore. This tradition has always bothered me, and fixing that seems like an easy way to fix these “expectations”. I think that men know that it’s outdated, too, and that’s why there are expectations in the first place. I mean, why else should they pay for a woman’s meal, if not to get something out of it? This is the twenty first century – they both know that she can pay. Not that trying to force yourself on someone is EVER okay, but you can see where that mindset could easily come from.
    Anyway, that’s always been my issue with paying for meals. Want to change the current dominance structure? Stop enabling it.

  2. I totally agree– there should not be a pressure on anyone to pay for a meal, though it is nice when anyone does something like pay for a treat for someone else. However, and you hint at it, I don’t think we need to be nice enough to understand where these expectations of sex come from. There is a lot going on in the psychology of someone who expects sex and someone who feels obligated to provide it, and women shouldn’t really be blamed for “enabling” dominant behavior.

    • Oh, I’m in no way implying that anyone who feels pressured is at fault – they had/have no intention of having sex with someone, and the other person needs to respect that. There’s no question about that. It’s just, I hear things like this all the time – some women like being able to talk themselves out of parking tickets, they like old-fashioned gentlemen giving them seats on the bus, they like not having to pay for dinner. And who can blame them – if you can get a nice meal for free and have it be totally normal, why wouldn’t you? But here’s the thing – a guy’s not going to take a girl out on the date and then say “hey, how about YOU pay?” on the chance that she has an issue with this tradition – if she didn’t, she and everyone else there could look down on him for not following this little social code. Therefore, it’s up to the people on the receiving end to initiate the change, to have the conversation about who’ll be paying. By not having these conversations, the status quo remains the same – the guys aren’t going to change it because they don’t want to be blacklisted forever, and the ladies aren’t changing it because hey, free food. Yes, it is absolutely wrong, terrible, and unjustified that there is pressure for sex and other such favors coming out of this deadlock, but a large number of women passively accepting that they don’t have to pay is indeed enabling. That’s not to say that there aren’t a plethora of other issues contributing – there are two people involved on your average date, after all – but it’s only going to change if society changes, and that’ll only happen when the passive attitude stops.
      (But of course, then we get into the Catch-22 of where this acceptance of not paying comes from and things get REALLY interesting, if by “interesting” we mean “simultaneously fascinating and depressing”.)

      • True! I totally agree. I was writing this more from the perspective of sexual assault and victim blame is a huge problem– it depends on what specific aspect of these problems you’re looking at! I’m a sexual assault counselor so that’s the lens I usually look at things through.

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