Navigating the dating world today can be very challenging. As the roles of women change and the nature of acceptable relationships change, then do the expectations in a relationship change. Is it necessary for a guy to hold the door open for a girl? Should he pay? Should they split the bill? Should she pay for one thing and he for the other?
One of my good friends who is very independent started dating a ‘southern boy’ not to long ago. She is the type who wont let a guy pay for her dinner, drinks or movies. If he pays for one thing, she wants to pay for the other. The guy she is dating feels like he should pay for everything on their dates.
One book that got me excited about gender class like this one is entitled Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus by Kathleen A. Bogle. In her book, she describes how college students view hooking up and her analysis of its affects on women and dating. During the first decade of the 20th century dating was a process by which young men would “call on” young women at their homes. In this process, women were basically in control of the calling. They invited young men to their homes and would entertain them in the woman’s parlor with her and her family. This kind of dating or calling is seen in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life where Mary Hatch has long time crush, George Bailey calling on her. He arrives wearing a suit and she receives him wearing a pretty dress. ( p. 13) Here she is in charge of the meeting. He doesn’t pay for anything, neither does she.
Dating began as an increasing number of women were entering the public sphere; attending college, taking jobs, and generally having a larger presence in public life. Men and women dated to get out of the parental eye. By the 1920s dating was the way to get to know a partner. According to Bogle, this relationship was very class and popularity based. This style of getting to know another person seemed really casual to me. But by the 1940s dating changed again due to WWII. Men became a scarce resource, and dating became less of a game of seeing how many high ranking dates you could get to focusing on being exclusive or ‘going steady.’ (p. 17) Movies like Grease show the process of going steady. Danny and Sandy end up going steady. Other couples on the show change relationships, but all together seem to seek a partner or steady ultimately. This is a scene from the movie as Sandy and Danny decide that they are meant to be together.
Going steady meant that the young men were expected to take their girlfriends on a specific number of dates per week. This meant that they had to pay for the dates. So here who pays is clearly defined. It was assumed that women either earned less money than their male counterparts or had no money at all.( p.18) But both dating and going steady put men in control of who initiated and controlled the relationship.
Now we have moved into the hooking up era. Today many college students meet their sexual partner or romantic partner at places like parties and bars. There neither is responsible for paying for the other. But if they do decide to go on a date who pays now. We are now in the era of the broke college kid where neither the guy nor the girl has a large expendable income. Though I don’t know of any research on this subject, but I would assume that girls in college make just as much money at their minimum wage job as their male counterparts in their minimum wage jobs. Many couples still stick to the old traditional style of dating, where the guy pays for everything.
A good example of this would be in the later seasons of Gilmore Girls. Rory Gilmore starts dating Logan Huntsberger and he pays for everything. He takes her out often and always foots the bill. She doesn’t seem to mind. That could indicate that both he and she are both performing in their gender roles in terms of a dating relationship. It could also merely reflect that he ( having access to daddy’s credit card) has much more money that she does and therefore pays for her because of the large difference in income.
Other couples are more evenly divided. Like Donna and Eric from That 70s Show. It seems like they don’t spend a lot of money out and if they do, then Eric is not expected to pay all the time. I also feel like Donna wears the pants in their relationship. Unlike Rory and Logan’s relationship in which Logan seems to hold more of the power, Donna and Eric seem to have a balance of power or have a relationship where Donna holds more of the power than Eric does.
So now that we don’t have a script to decide how to maneuver through relationships, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Good because it allows us to define our relationships as we would like, maybe bad because when expectations about relational roles are different conflict can occur.