New York Times

AUG 29, 2001

The Manolo Moochers

New York Times


Dating these days involves a lot more preparation than spraying, glossing and gargling.

A thoroughly modern young lady might be found Paxiling herself, Googling her date, Bikramming her body and pondering The Offering.

She might pop a social-anxiety pill to chill; check to see if her suitor's name pops up on the Internet search engine Google; take hot, sweaty yoga in a 100-degree classroom; and plot the offering, as girls call the moment when they make an insincere effort to help pay the check.

In the 70's, splitting the check was liberating. Now it's a test.

"If you offer and they accept, then it's over," says my 33-year-old girlfriend, a TV producer in New York. Agreed a 23-year-old who works for Nascar: "Last week I reached into my bag, offering to pick up our night out, knowing full well I only had $6. We want to come across as if we've had an upbringing, but we'd fall off our chair if it were accepted."

A 35-year-old TV newsmagazine producer from L.A. says: "If he hasn't asked me about myself by the time the entree comes, I don't even bother to thank him when he pays."

Going Dutch is an archaic feminist relic. "It's a scuzzy 70's thing, like platform shoes on men," says a pal.

Many women expect to be fully subsidized on romantic jaunts, too. When I asked a 28-year-old friend how he and his lawyer-girlfriend were going to divide the costs on a California vacation, he looked askance. "She never offers," he replied. "And I like paying for her."

It is, as one guy says, "one of the few remaining ways we can demonstrate our manhood."

Women no longer worry about asserting their equality; they care about assessing their sexuality.

It doesn't matter if the woman is making as much money as the man, or more. She expects him to pay, both to prove her desirability and as a way of signaling romance — something that's more confusing in a dating culture rife with casual hook-ups and group activities.

"There are plenty of ways for me to find out if he's going to see me as an equal without disturbing the dating ritual," explains a 30-year-old who works at a newspaper here. "Disturbing the dating ritual leads to chaos. Everybody knows that."

(The feminist freeloading doesn't change with marriage. Professional women still want their husbands to get the checks at restaurants, pay the mortgage and get home by 6:30 to help with chores and kids.)

Elizabeth Marquardt, the co-author of a report on college dating, observed: "One Yale girl described the ridiculous situations that can come up because of all the confusion over who pays for what and when it is a date. She found herself arguing on the sidewalk with a guy over who should pay for a Slurpee.

"A guy will ask a girl to the movies and she will think they are just hanging out. Then he offers to pay, changing the whole outing into a date — a trick date."

Marcia Gillespie, editor in chief of Ms. magazine, says the trend makes her shudder a bit, with its retro implications of a quid profiterole.

My girlfriend Dana, a 31-year-old journalist in L.A., rebuts that notion: "There is no way a woman nowadays thinks that if he pays he is entitled to anything sexually."

Women say they want old-fashioned courting, even though fleeting sexual encounters, known as hooking up, are common on college campuses. But some men see it differently.

"It used to be all about chivalry, but now it's more out of greed," says Brian, 28, an editorial assistant in New York. "Feminism has allowed women to be greedy — which is progress, right?"

Rick, a 31-year-old from Nashville, who describes himself as "a fat C.P.A.," said he had to spend $10,000 on meals to get his wife.

Other men are kinder. Marc, 26, my assistant, says that it is only fair because "women have to spend a fortune to go on the date. They have to smell nice and look nice." And a 39-year-old bachelor pal in Manhattan chimes in: "Guys can be dogs, and they'll lead women along for a long time without making that dreaded `commitment.' I don't think women should be both bankrupted and abandoned."

Carrie, a publicist in her late 20's from Long Island, is not unwilling to dig into her Kate Spade bag. "He can get the jewelry, the dinners, the shoes and the vacations," she says. "I'll get the cab."

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company