By Amy Alkon
Q: My boyfriend of a year is a big sweetheart, but whenever we go out to eat, he always orders first. It really bothers me, and I feel disrespected and embarrassed that people are seeing this, despite how this probably makes me a bad feminist. How do I ask him nicely to let me order first when we dine out?—Irked
A: Suddenly, he’s shoving you out of the way to get to the lifeboat—yelling back, “Babe, you’ll be fine! You were on the swim team!”
At least, that’s the way the older couple next to you is likely to see it when he orders his meal first, and that is embarrassing. Sadly, it doesn’t help that feminist academics have deemed customs like women ordering first “benevolent sexism”—casting women as weak and in need of protection and coddling by men (aka patriarchal cockroaches).
Males, throughout human history and throughout the animal kingdom, did evolve to be the protectors and defenders of women. This makes biological sense, considering that women provide a cozy B&B for the developing fetus, plus liquid refreshment and childcare after the kid is born. And even a relatively wimpy man is likely to have more muscle mass, upper-body strength and aggression-energizing testosterone than most women.
A number of modern behavioral protocols come out of these sex differences. For example, there’s how the man’s the one to walk closest to the curb, open the car door and act as a human shield against a gun-toting mugger—despite how, these days, even the itsy-bitsiest woman can make quick work of an attacker with her sparkly “My Little Pony”-emblazoned Smith & Wesson.
The reality is that the psychology driving these customs, which evolved over millions of years, doesn’t just change all “presto gloriasteinemo!” because women now have ways to defend themselves. That’s probably why you feel embarrassed about others’ eyes on you. Evolutionary psychologist Daniel Sznycer, who researches shame, explains that shame is not just a feeling. It seems to be an information management program that evolved to help us protect our reputation. That feel-bad that rises up in us is a signal that we’d better do something pronto to stop our slide down the social totem pole.
As for how to tell your boyfriend, keep in mind that you can school a guy in social customs but you can’t school him in being “a big sweetheart.” Use a compliment as your launchpad—about wonderful things he does for you—and then throw in a, “I know you didn’t realize this, but … ” This way, it’s not so much a criticism as a pointer on how to make you happier.
And the truth is, if you’re like a lot of women, you might find it sexy when the physical differences between men and women are emphasized in small symbolic ways like this. No, you aren’t a traitor to womankind if you say, “Thanks … that’s so sweet!” when a guy puts his coat around your shoulders—instead of, “Get that thing off me! I’ll do the feminist thing and freeze.”
Q: I’m a divorced woman in my 40s, and I just started dating again. I’m seriously tired of it already, after just two dates with two really disappointing guys. I want to cut to the picture in my head—cuddling on the couch and watching Netflix with my new handsome beau. Meeting somebody shouldn’t be this hard. I’m launching a new business, and my time seems better spent working than on some crappy date. But I also don’t want to be alone forever.—Annoyed
A: Your expectations about how easy it should be to find new love aren’t just unrealistic; they’re unrealistic by fairy-tale standards. It’s “Someday, my prince will come,” not “Get crowd control over here pronto for the mob of handsome, fabulous royals who will soon be gathering on my front lawn.”
Picturing yourself in the cuddly-wuddly life you feel you should already have may be part of the problem. Motivation researcher Gabriele Oettingen finds that fantasizing is often demotivating—fooling our mind into believing that we already have the thing we’re dreaming of. Oettingen’s research makes a case for combining fantasizing with what I’d call “positive pessimism”—making yourself consider all the things standing in the way of what you want. As Oettingen explains it, thinking concretely about the obstacles we have to overcome helps energize us to tackle them.
The reality is, the older you get and the more you expect from a boyfriend, the harder it will be to find one. So either buckle down and prepare for the dating grind or do what it takes to immediately have a life partner who will look at you with great adoration: Give your dog salami.