Women have been fighting for equal rights for hundreds of years, want equal pay for the same work as our male counterparts, have broken into just about every male-dominated industry, and now graduate from college at a higher rate than the guys do. Yet on dates, females apparently prefer — and sometimes, expect — men to pick up the tab at dinner. So what gives?
The phenomenon has even stumped scientists, who recently analyzed gender roles in the courtship stages of relationships. Among other findings, they examined the so-called "courtesy grab"— a woman’s half-hearted attempt to reach for her wallet when the dinner check comes — in a world where women are dominating the work force. According to the results of a study of 17,000 survey participants presented Sunday at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, more than half of women offer to kick in on dating-related expenses, yet 39 percent admitted to hoping that their partners wouldn't take them up on their offer, and 44 percent said they were annoyed when they did.
Why do women revert to so-called antiquated mating rituals?
Evolution may have something to do with it. In order to produce healthy offspring, prehistoric women gravitated toward strong, protective, and resourceful men who could slay big predators and protect the family. Although we’ve evolved way past the caveman days, we may still be wired to fulfill traditional gender roles. There’s also a physiological response at play: When we feel in love or desired by another person, our bodies are flooded with dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, as well as oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone. "Each time a man pays for dinner, he's subconsciously expressing his desire to invest in the relationship, it not only triggers this biological response, it feels very flattering to women," psychoanalyst Bethany Marshall, PhD, author of "Deal Breakers," told Yahoo! Shine.
It could also be an unromantic side effect of the economy. We’ve known for a while now that women are outdoing men at college and at the office. It’s possible that after a 10-hour day of running the show, some high-powered women want to shed that role and be pampered by their partners. “I see many patients who hold the reigns at work but relinquish them to their partners when they get home,” said Marshall. “It may seem contradictory, but having flexible gender roles is a marker of a healthy relationship.”
And of course, social media doesn't help. The engagement and wedding industries have shifted from intimate, personal events to choreographed, public blowouts with many couples trying to outdo each other (witness wedding day flash mobs fit for a reality show) in the romance department. “All this exposure to manufactured notions of love may have boosted dating expectations,” said Marshall.
And it turns out that guys are just as confused when it comes to dinner-check etiquette. The majority of men surveyed, 64 percent, said women should kick in for dinner and 44 percent claim they would end the relationship if she didn’t. And yet, 76 percent of men felt guilty accepting a woman’s money on a date. “However, the men who wanted women to contribute rarely expected her to pay 100 percent or even 50 percent of her share,” study co-author Janet Lever, a professor of psychology at School of Natural & Social Sciences at California State University, Los Angeles, told Yahoo! Shine. “The majority of men felt that by offering to pay, women signified a reciprocity and an investment in continuing the relationship — that could mean that the woman leaves the tip or merely pays for popcorn at the movies.”
Interestingly, the study also found that both men and women loosened up expectations over time. Forty percent of men and women agreed that dating expenses were partially shared within the first month, and roughly three-fourths of both sexes reported some sharing of expenses by six months in.
Lever's advice? “Dating is a pressure-filled show where both people are nervously trying to put their best foot forward, so during the first few dates, a man could offer to pay to set a predictable script and remove anxiety for both people.” But when it comes to the courtesy grab? “When women offer to pay and aren’t sincere, it sends a mixed message to their dates and may even set the stage for unhealthy relationship habits."
So ladies, only reach for your purse if you mean it!