"Let me get it," I said when the check arrived.
"Oh, no, I couldn't," he said pleasantly. Then he sat back and smiled.
"Well, thank you."
This is the way it's supposed to go, right? I asked him out, I pay. Next
time, or the time after that, he would get it and somehow it would all come
out in the wash. Equality in all things. This was what we'd wanted, we
feminists. It is the '90s, with fin de siècle liberation, and we men
and women have moved on from being stuck in those tedious money roles. In fact, it's gone
beyond equal nowadays: Somehow, the law has been rewritten to include a
clause stating that whoever has more money pays more often.
It's quite a feat to ferret out someone who makes less money than me, but
somehow I always seem to manage it. And because of that little aforementioned clause and
my propensity for guilt -- actually worrying if my dates have enough money
to pay their rent and purchase their monthly supply of Top Ramen -- my Visa
seems to be unsheathed more often than anyone else's I know.
I wondered what it would be like to date someone with unlimited funds. As
far as I knew, this was unchartered waters for any of my friends, male or
female. Then I remembered Renee, she of the Bored Cat Women, who had dated a rather famous professional athlete for some time.
"It was all stretch limos, great dinners, fabulous wine, traveling around
the country," she recounted. "For a time, it was great."
"And you really liked him too, as I recall," I said.
"No, I did not. I said that at the time, because I was young, remember,
but I really liked the money. There was no sexual chemistry there at all."
There was a pause. "But he was incredibly generous, and bought me outfits,
jewelry, presents all the time. It was great. And the restaurants! But when
you're 22, that stuff seems really exciting."
"How about 32? That seems exciting to me."
"I wasn't worried about seeming like a gold digger," she continued, "but I
was worried that his teammates and friends just thought I was a little
blond bimbo. The sex part was what complicated it, because I felt a little
obligated and I didn't like having sex with him." She sighed. "I really
think it's a youth thing. When you're young it's easier to make pacts with
I turned to Harriet, who as a Rules Girl might have a different
perspective. "I've dated guys because they've had money," she said airily.
"When I was 19. This 40-year-old guy asked me out for dinner and I
remember thinking how old he seemed, like a friend of my father's. But
there were these two new restaurants that had just opened in town and I
wanted to try them. So we went and he was very boring and that
was that." She rubbed her hands together briskly.
I knew Harriet had been a rather naive 19-year-old, so I tempered my
next question. "Did you feel the obligation to kiss him?"
"Sort of," she said thoughtfully. "You know, it's the romance that always
gets in the way when you date a guy for his money. No matter what they say,
and no matter how liberated you as a woman think you are, there's still
this unspoken deal you enter into. They know it and you know it. They want
something you have, and you want something they have."
I wondered if this deal was running through the minds of all my
slacker Top Ramen boys. Somehow I didn't think so.
"Weird how it all comes down to dinner. Could you really enjoy your
poached Atlantic char at Chez Panisse knowing what you'd be expected
to do later?"
"But at the moment, it is really fun," Renee said. "The $200 bottle of
Mersault, the fawning service, the whole experience seems very romantic and
for a while he can seem very attractive, because of his money. It's
'Washington Square,' you know?"
"But I could never do it at this age," said Harriet. "A man having money
may make him more attractive, but it sure doesn't make him more sexy.
Sometimes the opposite."
"It's a stupid, 20-something rite of passage to date someone for their
money," agreed Renee. "Maybe we're in the minority, though. If you go to
any hotel bar, you see the professional gold diggers working the room.
Blond, cleavage, the whole cliché right there in living color. And I have a
friend who's got no real interests and who's not into a career and all she
wants to do is meet a rich man and marry him. That's her goal. She's not
apologetic about it either."
I had a sudden, uncomfortable thought. "Do you think my paying for
everything with my slacker boys makes me more attractive?"
Harriet and Renee looked at me evenly. "It sure can't hurt."