Dating: Who pays?

"Wages of sin," by Ann Marlowe; "Skin trade," by James Surowiecki



Salon Staff
September 28, 2000 11:50PM (UTC)

Read Ann Marlowe's story

Read James Surowiecki's story

James Surowiecki is right. Women's pursuit of men with money isn't about sex. It's about what happens when you date a man who doesn't have money. He doesn't feel like he can settle down. He doesn't feel like a breadwinner, he doesn't feel like he can support a family. He mopes. He can't take you out for a nice dinner, but his masculinity and pride are wounded when you can and do.

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Women who date men who make more money than they do aren't necessarily gold diggers. Perhaps they want to make sure that their eventual offspring (that would, in theory, be the point of all this) will be provided for when they have to leave the workplace to bear, and possibly raise, them.

Criticize the woman who dumped the man who suggested they split the check on the first date to your heart's content, but she knows that a man who isn't interested in flashing the green to impress her isn't interested enough to father her children, let alone ask her out on a second date.

-- Lisa Liberati

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Having come of copulating age during that tiny window of time in the late '70s when, if the man paid, the woman really was expected to put out afterwards, I always paid my way on dates. And I always snickered at women who insisted on being, uh, "paid for."

But now I think perhaps that was a mistake. Women pay a lot for sex already: Open a copy of Cosmopolitan, one in which they tell you how to prepare for the "big night," and you'll see what I mean. The recommended cosmetics alone run into three figures; and that's not including the outfit, the protection, or the $80 spent to have someone rip the hair from your crotch.

Hitting a fellow up for a meal and a theater ticket seems, under the circumstances, more like parity than prostitution.

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-- Katherine Sandberg

James Surowiecki is entirely wrong about his reading of first date bill-paying. It is exactly because dating is not an economic transaction but a social one that the person who invites should treat. Normally the man invites the woman on a first date, and paying the bill is a sweet gesture distinguishing the man's interest from a platonic one, i.e., it's a form of courtship. Likewise, if the woman insists on paying her half on the date, believe me, she's not interested romantically.

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A request on the part of the invitor to split the check on the first date indicates (1) a stingy nature, (2) a bean counting nature (if he's already calculating who owes what to whom, is he going to keep a mental ledger about demonstrations of affection, about who ate more of the cereal -- what a drag!) and (3) a chip on the shoulder or other negative "issues," as this kind of request is sufficiently out of the norm that a person would have to feel strongly to make such a request.

By the way, I usually picked up the tab for after-dinner drinks or the movies as a gesture of reciprocated interest, and usually treated on the second date. I'm dating someone that earns less than I do. I contribute more than he does towards our activities. I was touched that he insisted on paying on the first date at a restaurant that was a notch nicer than where he would go with his friends. It made clear that his interest was romantic and was truly a sweet gift.

-- Donna Segal

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The review and essay brought up so many feelings for me. I am a single black woman living in New York. I don't make tons of money but I do pretty well and have a post-graduate degree. My chances of getting married (I am 35 years old) at this point, assuming I don't outright settle, are about nil. I am both old enough to have been raised with the fantasy of the prince coming to rescue me (read: handsome, rich guy with the personality of Clark Gable character) and young enough to have been sent the conflicting message that I must be independent, earn my own money and take care of myself. I have been told that I must be dependent and beautiful and strong and self-sufficient.

I have spent a chunk of my dating life confused beyond words. I want someone to love me, but I also want to be taken care of. (Wrong or not, it is a hard fantasy to let go of.) From childhood I was given the phrase "It's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one." I have literally been trained from youth to pursue the most successful male in the vicinity. You can probably imagine the results.

As a black woman it seems that all of this is magnified for me. There are not a lot of straight black men with similar educational backgrounds or even similar money (I no longer expect a prince type but certainly an equal). When one appears, every black woman in the immediate vicinity pursues him like he was the last drink of water in a hot and lonely desert. Believe me, it can get ugly. Women have settled for all kinds of things, including one particularly nefarious and deceitfully "honest" relationship known as man-sharing. I know many women who have settled for "no-account" men who, among their other faults, don't treat them all that well. No one wants to be alone, but lots and lots of women my age of all races are alone.

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The current dating scene is frightening to say the least. It is even more frightening and depressing to have my own sore feelings about the current dating scene echoed back to me by Bushnell and these two articles in Salon.

-- P.L. Malino

Psst -- Ann Marlowe, don't be blue. It's giving Candace Bushnell more cachet than she's earned to think she's got her fingers on the pulse of today's sexual politics -- or that her chosen device is new.

Rather than soberingly recognizable modern sexual mercenaries, these "4 Blondes" sound like two-dimensional characters from a discarded Fitzgerald manuscript -- you know, the rich are miserable, the beautiful are damned, yada yada yada.

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Most people I know want to be in love with someone they like and earn enough money -- together -- for a decent 1BR in Brooklyn, a vacation now and then and a little extra for movies, books and music.

Candace Bushnell is just this year's Jackie Susann.

-- Phil Kitchel

Marlowe and Surowiekci have nailed, albeit from different perspectives, what is so odious about Candace Bushnell's perspective on gender relations among well-heeled adults in urban centers these days. The importance of landing a man with cash, and therefore locking in lifetime access to Manolo Blahniks and Hamptons weekends, is so singularly important in Bushnell's world that all other considerations (i.e., whether one actually gets along with or is interested in one's partner) fall by the wayside.

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As a man, I am particularly turned off by this perspective, which, if true, confirms what I always thought to be an outdated, sexist belief: that all a girl wanted from a man was big bucks. I thought the desire to date the popular BMOCs solely to bask in their aura was only true among women during their freshman year at college; Bushnell suggests not only that this shallowness is at the heart of sexual relations, but worse that money has become the sole indicia of "studliness." Perhaps Bushnell's viewpoint only holds sway among a certain group of Manhattanites or Condé Nast employees, all of whose access to the levers of media ensures that it will continue to be reported as gospel (by Vogue, the New York Times Style section, etc.) no matter how far removed from reality it is; but it's a damn crying shame if it's true.

But I question the extent all men willingly buy (literally speaking) into this transactional view of gender relations. What works for a career-obsessed Wall street banker (who may prefer a materialistic trophy wife, available for sex and parties and then otherwise out of his hair) might seem empty to a large number of guys. Bushnell seems not to know of such a man, but I can easily envision one -- John Wayne crossed with the Dalai Lama as written by Richard Ford would do nicely. I look forward to the author who creates such a male character and then lets him put the blonde Bushnellian gold-diggers in their place.

-- Brian Corcoran

Thank you James Surowiecki for a truly feminist essay. You are right in stating that many people may find the idea of relationships built on mutual respect a naive idea, but I believe life and society, is what we make it. We can chose whether to strive for difficult ideals or fall back on the safer, if more restrictive modes of relating to one another.

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-- Mary Pierce


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