I don’t know why my date’s first words to me were “You’re late,” even though I arrived just 10 minutes after the appointed hour. I don’t know why the appointed hour was 4 o’clock in the afternoon and not something more civilized like 7 o’clock in the evening, or why he chose to meet at Starbucks when I had confessed to being perplexed by the whole Starbucks phenomenon, or why I had to pay for my own bottled water when surely he could have sprung for the $2. But I do know one thing. There can now be no doubt: Chivalry is definitely dead in Manhattan.
It’s not just about the money; the $2 wasn’t going to break either one of us. It’s the gesture. Call me fusty, but I like it when men open doors, walk me home, pay for my dinner or, for that matter, my water. Chivalry is a precious commodity, and one that makes me swoon. Too bad it’s in such short supply here.
I grew up in Texas, where all men are chivalrous. Although I’ve lived in New York for almost 20 years, I’ve only been divorced and dating for the past eight. Am I just a princess who thinks too much of herself and is stuck in another era? Or have post-postmodern men become spoiled because we’ve let them?
Eight of my last nine dates have been with guys who are cheap—something they should have been cautioned against in Courtship 101. Tim told me he wasn’t “against money” when I offered to share the cost of our drinks and then, without further hesitation, snatched the $20 out of my hand. Until that moment, I’d been on the fence about whether or not I wanted to see him again. I bought myself a “No.”
Jeff wanted to take me to the corner diner for dinner, a suggestion I refused. I recommended a neighborhood bistro instead, figuring that if money was the issue, I would just order a salad. It wouldn’t cost more than a grilled chicken sandwich, and at least the lighting would be ambient.
It didn’t matter anyway: Jeff complained so much about his financial situation that I paid for my half of the check. Then I listened as he told me about the $400,000 deals he had in the works on the way home.
I don’t understand. These men asked me out. Isn’t the one who initiates the invitation supposed to pay? The answer is yes, according to both Letitia Baldrige’s New Manners for New Times and Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette. After that, the woman (since, after all, it is usually the woman who receives the invitation) can reciprocate by buying movie tickets, paying for drinks, maybe cooking a meal—something to show that she appreciates the effort the man has made on her behalf. The problem is, there is no “after that” for me. When a guy accepts my money, it’s an immediate deal breaker.
Logically, it doesn’t seem fair that the guy always has to pay. I am sure that they go on as many bad dates as women do, and the idea of continually forking over cash for what may or may not be a pleasant evening makes them resentful. But there is no logic in the world of love, so I’m not allowing them that excuse.
I am not insensitive to financial issues. Seriously in debt myself, I am aware that dating is an expensive proposition. As a mother of two, I have to hire a baby sitter when I go out, so on average I start the evening $50 in the hole. Add to that the amount of money women spend on makeup, hair and wardrobe, and dating becomes something of an investment for us before we even walk out the door.
But if money really is an issue for the guy, $400,000 deals notwithstanding, there are ways around it. Don, a teacher, invited me to his apartment for dinner. I brought a bottle of wine and chocolates for dessert, and he cooked. The food was disastrous, but I was totally charmed by the gesture. Douglas, a photographer, took me for a sunset picnic in Central Park and brought homemade chocolate-chip cookies. Both were clever solutions to a shortage of funds, and far preferable to sitting in an overpriced restaurant anyway. Besides, thoughtfulness is incredibly sexy.
But then there was Peter. He was cute, he was smart, he had real potential—until the check came for our drinks. He let it lie between us as if it were a land mine. I picked it up, expecting him to grab it out of my hand, but he didn’t. Instead, he let me pay the total, dashing any real hope I had that there was anything princely about him.
A friend of mine suggested that if I tell my dates I’m offended by their cheapness, maybe they would change their ways. But it’s not my job to tell grown men how to behave! I’m not their mother, and if I were, I would definitely put them in a “time out.”
The feminist movement gave us many wonderful things—among them the ability to spend as much time in the boardroom as the dining room, options other than sitting at home with the perfectly prepared meal waiting for hubby to arrive. But did it also give us a generation of men who have ceased to be gentlemen? That’s not what we meant. It’s not what I meant, anyway.
Gentlemen do exist. My friends are married to them—Rob, George and Kevin are all fabulous guys. They have collectively adopted me, and every time we go out as a group they refuse my money and insist upon walking me to my door. It’s happened so often that I’ve started to refuse their invitations because I don’t want to feel like a mooch. Although it’s frustrating that all the chivalrous men I know are unavailable, it’s encouraging to know that they exist.
The good news is, I’ve made a decision about future first dates. After reading Mmes. Baldrige and Vanderbilt, I’m not going to offer to pay anymore, unless the guy is truly broke. This way, it won’t be so confusing: I won’t leave feeling resentful, and the guy won’t wonder why I won’t return his phone calls. Had I done that with the fellow who stiffed me at Starbucks, I could have saved myself an enormous amount of aggravation. Not to mention two whole dollars.