Allow me to preface this writing with a caveat. I am a modern, yet traditional, straight single guy who still believes in chivalry. A world where a gentleman should still open car doors and his lady not be offended by this action. This post is not intended to make any sexist statements, but rather just a humble observation of the dating world today.
A recent reality check of the blurring of gender lines occurred on my dinner date. We pulled into the restaurant and I immediately jumped out to circle around my car to open the door for my elegantly dressed date. As I confidently opened her door, I was met with an icy glare and even colder words as she asked, “Do you think I’m too helpless to get my own door?” Stunned, I replied absolutely not, explaining I was simply trying to be courteous. She adamantly stated she was fully capable of getting her own door and I vividly remember her reaching for the door in an exaggerated motion to fully exhibit her capability in closing (slamming!) the door.
Over dinner, I recall thinking maybe she was right. Why was I always the amiable, pleasing gentleman. Nice guys finish last, right? Girls love the bad boys with an attitude. Why didn’t I just say “You wanna get out? Handle’s right over there babe. See ya in the restaurant.” But then I started thinking maybe this is her issue. Maybe she doesn’t know how to act or be treated like a lady. I vacillated back ‘n forth with this new theory as we dined, only to wrestle with now how to pay the bill. Would she be offended if I picked up the tab? Do I offer to go Dutch? The reality was that she asked me out on this first date so why shouldn’t she pay for dinner? I was truly confused and the waiter didn’t help matters by perfectly placing the bill right in the middle of the table. Surely it was my imagination, but I could’ve sworn I saw a smirk on the waiter’s face. My mind was racing as I pretended to hear whatever story she was rambling on, fixated on the leather AMEX folder sitting squarely between us. Naturally, she seemed oblivious to it, but at the moment it felt like the 800 pound gorilla in the room and I simply could not focus on any other matter. So….I just let it sit there.
After about five grueling minutes and unable to deal with her ceaseless blabber any more, I reached for it and simultaneously grabbed my wallet. Without hesitation, she reached for my hand and said we’re splitting the bill. New dilemma! Do I politely refuse and confidently drop my VISA into the folder or will this doubly offend her? The inner voice within me whispering I need to project success and be the man clearly said yes but will I risk insulting her even more by agreeing to go Dutch? After all, she asked me out and is a highflying executive that undoubtedly makes more money than me. Was this a subtle test where she had no expectation of me agreeing to split the check and fully knew I would politely decline her offer? Hmmm, on second thought, why isn’t she picking up the whole tab?
Ahhh, the joys of dating. This scenario illustrates how the traditional gender roles have blurred where often we don’t know how to act properly on a date. In today’s modern world, the gal may ask the guy out and is even often the breadwinner. Should the same traditional roles still apply or should the gal now be equally expected to drive, make the reservations and even pay for dinner? Who calls who after a successful first date? Should I expect to receive roses at my office? What are the dating rules in 2021 – would somebody please write a Dating For Dummies book?!
In the corporate world where the glass ceiling is rapidly shattering – or at least showing significant cracks – it is not atypical to see a fiery, driven, female executive balanced by a sensitive, soft-spoken male counterpart. Google hired a female CFO and Yahoo had a female CEO. Who kicks off a team meeting in their high level corporate meetings – should our “ladies first” rule apply here too? Would eyebrows be raised if he didn’t reach for her coat or the door on their way out or would there be double whispers if he actually did help with her coat and get the door? Should we be blind to gender in the workplace but not the dating scene?
In the political world it cuts both ways. During a campaign or vigorous debate, the male candidate always risks being too aggressive towards his female competitor looking like the alpha dog. Conversely, if she goes on the offensive with a verbal attack, the media will characterize her as a pushy feminist. Both walk on eggshells navigating this delicate balance as extreme behavior will typically be judged unfavorably. We recently witnessed this dynamic in the French elections as Marine Le Pen viciously pounced on her male counterpart in the final debate and the French public deemed it distasteful.
There are no easy answers as we navigate the battle of the sexes. But the proper gender role dilemma strikes to the very core of each of us as we all have very important relationships across the gender table. My sense is we are all slightly confused as there are so many gray areas but would argue that the optimal starting point would be a baseline of mutual respect and human dignity. With this as the foundation to build off, in a relationship a couple can then establish the boundaries and correct behavior they desire. One partner will assert him/her self and the other will respond accordingly and the boundaries will be understood and mutually accepted. They may verbally spar or test the waters, but this will ultimately become their new ground rules and set their new dynamic. Each particular couple creates their own unique rules of engagement.
That may work privately for a new couple, but how does society respond to a couple negotiating this new dynamic in the public eye? On television, in movies, books or any type of pop culture – who will be the judge? The audience. The very same people who are now recreating the rules in their private lives will ultimately judge the proper gender roles played out publicly. We will vote with our feet, our wallets, and definitely now our voices with the prevalence of social media. This has given rise to the Cancel Culture. The entertainment world will continuously test the boundaries, provoking us with shock value, but the public consensus on what is ultimately acceptable will always prevail in the end.
As we all navigate these land mines, the traditional gender roles have irreversibly been blurred. So, in this new dance of the modern era, who leads?