Q: An older male friend keeps paying for me—buying me meals and clothes. Am I making a mistake in accepting? I’ve repeatedly made clear that I have no romantic interest in him. I’m a struggling artist, and he’s highly successful. We’re basically BFFs, talking and laughing every day. He occasionally jokes that I should be “giving up the sugar to the sugar daddy,” but I roll my eyes and say, “Hush!” I think he’s teasing me, but could he be playing the long game?—Worried
A: Welcome to the “never say never” school of hope. My Chinese Crested, Aida, is also enrolled—hoping with all her tiny purse-doggy might, that rare metal-eating termites will make the kitchen table leg collapse, causing her to be caught in a brief but intense hailstorm of bacon.
There are some asymmetries between men and women in the effort required to get some action out of the opposite sex. Some men will engineer elaborate plots to try to wear a woman’s “nuh-uh, never gonna happen” into a “maybe just this once.” A woman, on the other hand, doesn’t have to plot. Assuming that she’s reasonably attractive, she can probably just make extended eye contact with a man while eating a banana.
This difference reflects what evolutionary psychologist David Buss explains as men’s and women’s conflicting evolutionary goals. It’s in a man’s evolutionary interest to, as they say, shoot and scoot (possibly passing on his genes without putting out any further time, energy or resources). However, because women can end up all “baby on board,” they evolved to look for emotional commitment and the ability and willingness to “provide.”
Buss notes that these sex differences in evolved mating psychology show up in the different ways that men and women try to deceive each other. Scammy men tend to exaggerate their “resources” in hopes of suckering the ladies into the sack. Scammy women, on the other hand, tend to feign “willingness to have sex in order to secure nonsexual resources.”
In your situation, however, nobody’s deceiving anybody. You’ve repeatedly made it clear that there will be no sexcapades. He’s got an amusing dining companion and a dear friend. When we care about people, we do nice things for them—offer them a bite of our sandwich or our disposable income.
Sure, he’s probably still clinging to wisps of hope. But in time, he should accept that if the day comes when you suddenly grab him in your arms, it’ll be because he’s got a small piece of chicken caught in his windpipe and he’ll die unless you give him the Heimlich maneuver.
Q: I’m a 28-year-old guy, and I read your column on how men and women are clueless about who’s supposed to pay and when. I’ve had dates be insulted when I wouldn’t take their money and others insulted when I did. Is there an optimal strategy for the first few dates?—Lost
A: Meet the flexible feminist. She can do an hour and a half straight on why we need to “smash the patriarchy,” but when the check comes, she reaches in her purse and pulls out a tube of lip gloss.
As I pointed out in that column you mention, sociologist Janet Lever and her colleagues find one striking commonality between men and women: Intense confusion about who should pay and when. For example, nearly 60 percent of women said they “always” offer to help pay, even on the first date. Meanwhile, 39 percent of women wish men would reject their offer to pay—but 40 percent say it bothers them when men don’t accept their money. Argh, huh?
Because female emotions evolved to push women to feel bad when they’re with a man who shows no signs of being a “provider,” I think it’s wise for a guy to pick up the tab on the first few dates. The researchers concur, explaining that “men who fail to pay risk being viewed as lacking economic resources or as being uninterested, unchivalrous or—worse yet—cheap.”
That said, your investment should be more symbolic than substantial, and you keep it that way by following my three-point advice for the first few dates: Make them cheap, short and local. This means, for example, getting to know a woman over happy-hour drinks—as opposed to the kind poured by a sommelier right after the team of loan officers helps you finalize your paperwork.