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Column: Modern dating and the awkward question of who foots the bill...

There’s no excuse for women not coughing up when it comes to footing the bill for a date – an equal partnership means equality across the board, writes Aoife O’Connor.

Aoife O'Connor

THE LIFE AND times of an Irish singleton dabbling in the art of dating is not for the faint-hearted. There are no set rules anymore when it comes to dalliances with the opposite sex, which can spell disaster for unsure courters.

Going on a first date is like stepping on ice – will it hold or will it crack and send you plummeting into a cold despair? Like I said, it’s not for the faint-hearted. It also helps if you’ve got deep pockets because it’s an expensive undertaking.

Who pays?

Which leads to the unsavoury discussion of who pays nowadays. In an era of equality, the obstacle course that is dating etiquette has replaced traditional courting which was a lot simpler.

Courtship involves very clear intentions from the male, who goes out of his way to “woo” his chosen female. Wining and dining come as standard when courting, with a couple of bouquets of flowers and some fancy chocolates thrown in for good measure. The man of course pays for everything.

But this very 1950s notion of blissful happiness, with the woman playing the demure dame who sits pretty and laps up the attention while her beau racks up his credit card, begs the question: have things changed all that much?

Dutiful boyfriend

One past encounter sticks with me in particular: a girl I knew didn’t bring her wallet on a night out in town because she expected her boyfriend to pay for everything – drinks, nightclub entry, food afterwards and the obligatory taxi home. And being a dutiful boyfriend he didn’t put up any resistance. The logic of such a relationship defies me to this day.

Feminist victories of the last century have reinvented the role of women in society, but have also blurred the lines of defined gender roles so much so that when it comes to dating, is it better for the man to revert to a tried and tested precedent or assume a more egalitarian and modern approach?

The one constant factor in all this is the woman. And to be honest, we can be a bit all over the place at the best of times. We don’t know what we want. If it’s romance and the grand gestures then we are labelled as being demanding defectors from the sisterhood, betraying the movement of burning bras in lieu of the romantic ideal. On the flip side, if we claim independence and an aversion to traditional courtship, then we’re out to break a man’s spirit.

Some women want to be spoiled

It’s not much easier for guys who are faced with the societal pressure to tentatively judge what the best way to approach dating is without offending the girl. Some women want and expect to be spoiled, while others will cringe and get fair thick at the very notion of not paying their way. So for men it’s a case of ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’.

To complicate things even more, the language of modern-day dating has also evolved and communication platforms have diversified. There are now endless apps selling instant messaging alongside texting, smiley faces and mind-bending abbreviations for emotion, all contributing to making communication less personal and more isolated, which doesn’t bode well for the dating scene that obviously relies heavily on the art of conversation.

While romance is open to individual interpretation, some traditions are slow to modernise, none more so than the belief that the onus is on the man to do all the chasing, the planning and the paying.

Fear of rejection

Of course women ask men out, but dating today still swings in favour of the man taking the plunge. Regardless of who asks who, it requires guts and initiative. Throw in the fear of rejection and it’s no wonder that there is a trend towards commitment-free casual dating, where going for a coffee is a quick and relatively painless alternative to the prolonged dinner and drinks option. It’s cheaper too.

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Whether a man goes down the old-fashioned romance route or flies the flag for equality and is slower to put his hand in his pocket, it won’t prevent a woman from over analysing every gesture, no matter how small or insignificant. Blame magazines and Sex and the City. We are constantly bombarded with crash courses in analysing everything from body language to the use of punctuation in text messages. Personally, if you find yourself forensically examining the use of the humble comma I think it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate things.

It’s a seldom few who haven’t experienced the quick shift or lob of the gob at some point, which is usually about as intimate as a gig in the Phoenix Park, so we can’t be all that surprised when our romantic maturity is somewhat stunted as a nation.

Equality across the board

But that is still no excuse for women not to cough up when it comes to footing the bill. Those who argue that men want to pay all the time need a reality check. And any man who says the same needs to stop living in times past. How can some women expect equality in every facet of life but their relationships? And what’s so wrong with taking turns and treating a guy every now and again with a grand gesture?

It comes down to give and take. An equal partnership means equality across the board.

Aoife O’Connor is a journalist from Kerry. You can view here LinkedIn page here or follow her on Twitter here. For more articles by Aoife for click here.

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