Do we sabotage what we want for our relationships by paying too much attention to social expectations?

I am not here to prescribe how people should act, merely to suggest that doing things the way “we’ve always done them” gets us to places we’ve always gone. If that’s not where you want to end up, you may not want to get on that road in the first place.

Who has the power isn’t something that most people are accustomed to thinking of on a first date. It’s also something that can be interpreted differently by those involved in the date. Negotiating power doesn’t have to be sitting down and hashing out who gets to make which decisions and who has veto power over what. It can be much more subtle than that, especially because it happens without us noticing most of the time. Take a look at the typical first date format:
Man and woman flirt.
Man asks woman out.
Woman accepts.
Man brings flowers, decides on the restaurant and pays.

So far the woman hasn’t done much. Some might say, why should she? I would argue that it depends on what she’s looking for. I don’t expect people to go on every first date thinking that it’ll lead to marriage, but why would we do things the way “we’ve always done them” if we want an end result that isn’t the one we always get. So, if the woman is looking for a relationship that eventually ends in a traditional marriage, then she could do what we’ve always done. No, I wouldn’t judge her for that or for the men that are happy with her doing so. If she wants a different relationship, then maybe she should do something differently somewhere in there. There are men, too, who wish to have relationships that are not traditional, maybe they should also look into doing things a little differently somewhere along the way.

There are many things that could be done different leading up to the point when we realize that a first date has turned into something more. At what point do we start to worry about the way these action set up power dynamics that we’re going to live with? At what point do we start to try to even out the power in the relationship? And by what methods?

Yes, there are some methods that are quite forward and even argumentative that could be used, but as stated above, it can be more subtle than that. Something as simple as alternating who pays for meals and outings can highlight equal status of both members of a relationship as well as the importance of both having their own financial independence. When it happened to me, I didn’t have the tact to be so subtle.

I just threw it out there right when things were getting serious. I needed my financial independence in order to feel sane. Some might say it was lucky that I was with a man who was good with that and with my total inability to say it well. I was probably lucky that he understand what I meant more than what I said too. The point is that it was something that I needed, for me, and he understood that. We had been in a traditional relationship up to that point but he was willing to give something else a shot. So far, something else has worked out pretty well for us. Maybe we’ll go back to the traditional model one day, maybe not. Either way, we’re going to work to maintain a power dynamic that we’re both happy with and we’re going to be realistic about what exactly that is.

Do you want a traditional relationship? Do you negotiate away from one? Are you subtle? Or do you just blurt it out like I did? Is it ever too late to make a change?

Check out Love Between Equals: How Peer Marriage Really Works for more on how it works and how it doesn’t. There’s also a lot of compare and contrast to traditional marriage that highlights the pros and cons of that path too.

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