Occasionally The Other Charlotte and I receive e-mails from readers of other IWF pages besides our very own InkWell. We usually forward those missives to the appropriate editors of those pages without responding ourselves. But this e-mail, from a guy who styles himself “Father of Sons,” warrants an InkWell response as well, especially with Valentine’s Day around the corner. Father of Sons is responding to She Thinks, a feature on our Campus Corner page that urges college women to Take Back the Date. Here’s how Father of Sons sees the issue:    

” While I agree with many of IWF’s positions and common-sense approach–on this one you still don’t get it. I have read and heard many women bemoaning the apparent demise of dating as we knew it, but I have heard no reasonable explanation of just why things should go back to the old ways. Maybe you can enlighten many young men on just why the men should do/give/buy all sorts of things for women, and the women give the pleasure of their company. Especially on campus–the most eqalitarian atmosphere you can find–why should only the men always approach/call/pay? The reason behind the ’old’ dating scheme was that women were a) weak, b) needed to be protected, and c) had relatively no funds of their own. No more.”

Hmm, Dad, you seem to view a date as a charity operation, in which a young man picks out a frail and impoverished young lady and treats her to the first decent meal she’s eaten in months. Or else–and this is indeed the view of some guys these days–you think that a date is a strictly commercial transaction: “I Do Sex for Food.” You pick up the tab at an expensive restaurant, and she obliges your appetites later on. The latter view is, of course, repulsive, and, since, as you correctly point out, the majority of college-educated young women earn as much as their male counterparts, the former view doesn’t make economic or eleemosynary sense anymore (if it ever did).

A date, however, is neither of these things. It is a formal, symbol-laden ritual of mutual respect and affection (both budding and mature) between the sexes. It is closely tied to courtship: looking for and winning an admirable and compatible mate. Dating began in the early 20th century as young single people both acquired more personal freedom and began living on their own. A young gentleman could no longer come a-calling at a young lady’s parents’ parlor, so he took her out somewhere. On the date, the young gentleman showed off his suavity, his chivalry, and most important, his all-around good manners. The way he treated waitresses and theater ushers would give his date some clues about how he would treat her and their children should they marry. His willingness to treat her–always within his means–signaled to her that he would be a good provider. For even in this liberated day, Dad, women need protection. They’re still the physically weaker sex when it comes to dark alleys. They also need husbands’ financial and emotional help while they are bearing and caring for their mutual offspring. Finally, the reason that gentlemen were expected to take the initiative in romantic arrangements was twofold: They got to demonstrate that they were real men, not wimps, and they were obliged to demonstrate their respect for, even their awe of, the young ladies they courted. In a traditional dating regime, women, not men, call the shots.

Even in the old days, however–this may come as a surprise to you, Dad–young ladies found subtle ways to reciprocate young gentlemen for the financial cost of their attentions. Young ladies also–perhaps another surprise for you–devised subtle ways of initiating relationships. There was the Extra Ticket ruse. There was the Home-Cooked Meal. There was the Party I’ve Been Invited To. All three ruses still work fine to this day. That’s why, even nowadays, although I admire the Rules philosophy of dating, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a girl’s picking up the phone now and then or (especially if she can’t cook) arranging for an outing to her own favorite restaurant and then paying for it. The point is not to surrender either your own self-respect or that of the guy pursuing (or perhaps not pursuing) you. Don’t plead for his attention; don’t feel that you owe him anything. You’re in charge.

Finally, dating is just plain romantic. Even as an old married woman, I love that my husband still takes me out on dates. Valentine’s Day–mmm! Let’s hear it for old-fashioned courtship.