Some videos make you stop and think. For me, it was the clip of actors Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan being welcomed on stage at an event. While the former was handed a bouquet, a forlorn Dornan was left empty-handed. Johnson quickly plucked a flower from her bouquet to hand to him—but Dornan refused.
Something about that video struck a nerve. And while I’m not sure if Shalaka Kulkarni, a 30-year-old author and brand consultant from Bengaluru, has seen the same video, but she seems to be following in Johnson’s footsteps.
“I once read a tweet about how some men receive flowers only at their funerals and it hit me hard. Now I take pride in getting flowers for men and complimenting them,” says Kulkarni, who loves to twist gender norms in dating. “I vividly remember how men have responded after receiving flowers. It’s a wonderful sight,” she adds.
But really, it’s not about the men. It’s about women wanting to take full control of the dating experience.
As opportunities expand for women when it comes to financial independence, sexual freedom, and personhood, these liberties have also expanded women’s options in how they choose to date. The dating app QuackQuack notes this in a recent survey, identifying “that 43% of GenZ, as opposed to 21% of millennials, think the traditional gender roles in online dating are evolving” on topics such as chivalry, making the first move, and more.
“Men have been conditioned to think that they have to pay on the first date or ask the woman out. I want to break the stereotype because it makes me feel more confident that I get to make choices and have the same power as my date does,” says Saranyaa Ramesh, a 23-year-old student from Bengaluru.
For Ritika Jajoo, a 23-year-old from Delhi working in venture capital, splitting the bill often stems from a desire to not owe anything to a date that she is not interested in seeing again. “I have even sent my share later via UPI when the guy refused to split.”
For some like S.N, a 24-year-old from Bengaluru working at a tech startup, splitting the bill is no conscious attempt at all. Growing up with a single mother shaped her approach to dating—giving it a feminist flavour without her particularly trying hard at it.
“All the bills were paid by her and that rubbed off on me,” she says. “On first dates, I find myself naturally reaching for the bill because, in my world, it seemed normal.”
Sakshi Chowdhry, a 30-year-old marketing manager from New Delhi, recalls proposing to her husband and being the first one to say “I love you” as a consequence of “growing up and doing everything myself”. Chowdhry adds how this brought her closer to her partner. “He loved it and felt happy that we were not tied to age-old ways of living life.”
As good as it might make women feel, the perception towards women making the first move or flipping gender norms is not met fairly. A 2011 study, “Casual Hookups to Formal Dates: Refining the Boundaries of the Sexual Double Standard”, published in Gender and Society, Sage Publications, found that if a man initiated a date, both partners were perceived to be “interested”—a woman initiating a date saw around 40% of the participants agreeing that the man would only go “out of pity”. After all, conventional wisdom states that all the woman has to do is sit still, look pretty, and wait for the man to decide he wants you.
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What complicates things is when these reactions are drawn not just from strangers—but one’s friends. However, Udita Pal, based in Bengaluru, doesn’t let this impact her behaviour. “Some of my partner’s friends were also not okay with the fact that my partner found someone so sorted. When our friends ask, “Who bought the house? The car?”, things get a little weird. “Isn’t it a man’s job?” they ask me. But I think buying assets is completely gender neutral.”
And while there are certainly bigger fights to fight, being a woman is also about taking every little win and letting it ease the continual, woeful existence of being the ‘so perceived’ weaker gender.
So if we women want to feel happy about footing the bill—for God’s sake—let us.
Delhi-based Nona Uppal writes on love and relationships. She is on Instagram @nonauppal