The other day, I overheard two women talking about a first date.
“He spent $200,” the first woman said.
“How did he spend that much?” the friend asked.
“Dinner and lots of drinks,” the woman replied. “But, I feel bad because he spent all that money and I don’t want to go out with him again.”
The friends brainstormed the best text message to let him down easy.
And after, I started doing a little dating math: is $200 a lot to spend on a date? Dinner at a nice place, $20 entrees, a $12 appetizer to share, two cocktails again at $10 each (because we’re doing lots of drinking), 10% tax, and a 20% tip, about $95. Then, head to a bar and get let’s say four cocktails (she said lots of drinks) at $10 each is $80. Plus a nice tip for the hardworking bartender, $16. That’s $96. So, $191. Close enough.
Of course, the math isn’t the point. Although for some women it can be, if the pockets ain’t right, they ain’t staying around. No romance without finance. It’s more that money takes on other meaning.
You can use it to measure him: How stable is this guy? How well can he provide?
And to measure yourself: How much does he like me? How much am I worth to him?
That woman’s $200 date made me think about nights like that earlier in my dating life, when guys like this would drop lots of money on a date with me. I didn’t need those fancy dinners or so many cocktails I could swim in them. But, I was raised with particular ideas about what it means to be a straight woman and that a man should take you out. Court you, really. And that courting included dinner funded by his bank account.
At one point, that belief for me was like religion, Bible thumping, shout down the preacher, and do a run around the church kind of religion. As I used to tell the men I dated then, I was raised by a Southern woman. And I would ask my girlfriends, with deep exasperation: But, why would you pay?
Did you just start singing this song to yourself?
I’m not a gold digger, but I have joked with artist friends before that it sure would be nice to have a sponsor, a patron, a sugar daddy. It sure would be nice to be a kept woman. But, in Sephora the other day, I started wondering about what being “kept” really means.
Next to me, a man was making a purchase for his girlfriend or wife. The cashier asked him if she was a Beauty Insider, Sephora’s membership incentive club.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But, I know she needs to bring her ass.”
The cashier scanning my purchase shot him a look and then looked back to her computer.
“Hey,” he yelled in the direction of some women, the one he was with supposedly in the midst of them.
“Come on.” He turned back to the cashier, “She needs to get over here.”
My cashier raised her eyebrows and we caught eyes. We made faces of disapproval at each other.
The man finally finished his purchase and as he walked toward the woman continued yelling at her to come on already.
My cashier said, “I’ve seen so many guys this week yelling at their girlfriends. It’s ridiculous. Like, why are you with him?”
We think of kept women as being taken care of financially and that guy was, right? Buying her some makeup she needed or perfume she loved. He might have been taking good care of her financial needs, but what if kept meant being taken care of in other ways?
What if kept meant being taken care of emotionally, intellectually, and physically? Because then, that guy is definitely at least failing on that first one. And of course, not every guy who takes the financial lead in relationship is that guy, but then just because he takes the financial lead shouldn’t overshadow the kind of person he actually is.
It’s why in the last few years, some of that old time dating religion that had been so ingrained in me has fallen away. I still give into more traditional gender roles, a man who calls first and asks me out. I’ve had bad luck when I was the pursuer. But, as I got older I realized I needed better ways to determine a man’s worth, and my own, than simply how much he made or how much he spent on me.
Because ultimately, I would rather be a woman kept whole and kept happy and kept satisfied without a bank account in sight.