EVA ruminates on dating in the 21st century: To pay or not to pay, is that really the question?

What did he want? A date without the pressure? No, I finally wrote back, I’m not upset with you. I just am really focused on getting married.

Eva ruminates on dating in the 21st century. (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Eva ruminates on dating in the 21st century.
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
A few months ago, I went on several dates with Assaf.
What’s special about that, you ask. You’re Eva, on a mission to find the right partner, aren’t you? Well, yes, is my reply. But this being the bitza (i.e. The Swamp, where singles often get stuck on a dating merry-go-round), things are rarely that simple.
So: Assaf. I met this clean-cut Israeli accountant, in his late 30s, at a friend’s Shabbat meal. At first glance, he was charming, kinda cute, though not overly exciting.
But in my current quest to find the “good man with a briefcase” over the “muscled dude on a motorcycle,” this lack of excitement was actually a good thing.
So when he asked my friend for my number, I told her “giddyup.” And my initial impression held over our four-date journey. (Journey... you ponder. You’ll see, is my rejoinder.) Assaf seemed stable and successful, a nice man from a nice family. Conversation was steady, he was complimentary, he called promptly after each date to ask me out again.
Until he didn’t. I’m not into the counting thing, and to me, four dates really isn’t very much. Oh, it’s enough to attest to a glimmer of attraction; obviously you’re not repulsing each other and finding enough to talk about.
But to moi, each date is a world unto itself, in which you decide whether you enjoy the guy’s company and see enough potential to go again.
As such, I had not given my few dates with Assaf all that much thought. I felt he could be a potential, though nothing physical had happened between us – if you read my last column on Stan the Man, you’ll know this is not unusual – but I liked him enough to wonder if it would be good, when it happened (which seemed likely).
I was wrong. Two days after our fourth date (a warning sign in itself, he always called the next day), Assaf rang up.
“I can’t talk for long, but have to tell you: Something’s missing. I’m sure you feel it too,” he said woodenly.
I looked at the phone in a state of semi-disbelief.
“Um, well, I haven’t really had time to – ” “Sorry, I can’t talk for long, I have to go,” he cut me off. “But it’s really a shame. I’m going to miss you.
Perhaps we can have some wine soon to discuss it all?” And with that, he clicked off. Where was the mildmannered, circumspect guy I had thought him to be? Had I said something terrible; made a glaring faux pas? (And wine? At our tête-à-têtes, we had just drunk cola or tea... Who was this Cabernet-quaffing person?) And that was just it. He left me with a feeling of: A.
Not knowing him in the slightest (How well can you know anyone after meeting them a few times, but there was clearly more there?); B. Having done something to turn him off.
Being that I hadn’t seen it coming, I was somewhat surprised and hurt; spending a little more time than usual analyzing the situation with my mom and some friends. Was I not polite enough? Did I allude to a gloriously slutty past? Did I have saddlebags? No, no and no, we assessed. I had been the model of breeding, being myself while telling him just enough about my history. And my ankles were clearly fine; he had mentioned how attractive he thought I was on multiple occasions.
You just don’t know the guy and what he’s all about, they advised. Forget about it. Move on.
SO I moved on. But that certainly wasn’t the last of Assaf.
Firstly, he appeared to regret his decision, texting me the next week to schmooze about the weather. When I didn’t reply – what was the point? – he tried again a few days later with some other mundane remark, then finally texting: I hope you’re not upset with me. I meant what I said about wanting to get together.
What did he want? A date without the pressure? No, I finally wrote back, I’m not upset with you. I just am really focused on getting married, and don’t want these confusing interactions.
I respect that, he wrote back.
But he didn’t. I really want to meet and talk, he tried again a week later.
Clearly there was a bee in this guy’s bonnet. I agreed to meet up with him for some “wine” at a café near a party I planned to go later that evening – we could talk, but he wasn’t going to be my only plan of the night.
After exchanging pleasantries, I prompted him: So? What was the big thing you wanted to say? You’re a really good girl, it was a hard decision to make not to go out with you anymore.
My response: What was the issue anyway? He finally came out with it: I was just really perturbed that you never offered to pay.
Come again? I was dumbfounded. This hadn’t occurred to me.
I just had never dealt with this before, he went on.
It felt like you were taking advantage of me, and just going out to see what you could get.
There were a lot of layers to this but as you know, dear reader, the issue of gender roles in 21st-century dating is something I have thought about a lot.
I am American and you are Israeli, I pointed out. We have different norms. While Israelis often go Dutch, American men often find you overly feminist if you want to split the bill. Paying is a demonstration of caring, a man taking care of a woman – something I enjoy.
Plus: I did pay, I said, for your tea that one time. And I had, remembering the occasion well, knowing how Israeli men could be, making sure I got my wallet out when the check arrived on the third date, with the fleeting thought that I wished we had gone out for dinner rather than just beverages, since I was hungry.
Wondering why he had yet to take me to dinner.
Also: Why didn’t you just communicate this to me when we were dating? I asked. Now, it’s a “thing,” when it could have been a discussion.
I didn’t really get an answer. Assaf just kept going on that he was confused, not really addressing my points. I surmised that he was somewhat commitment-phobic, using this as an excuse but finding himself attracted to me, not wanting to stay away.
And was there a touch of cheapness there? He had a good job, he had asked me out, we hadn’t gone anywhere fancy... why was he harping on shelling out a few shekels? This wasn’t right. I made my excuses, and knowing what I did, this time offered to pay for my wine. He accepted – something I found annoying and telling, given he had insisted repeatedly on meeting me. But I dutifully paid, hoping it was the last I would see or hear of Assaf.
IT WASN’T. He buggered off after a few more attempts to go on neighborhood walks with me (never dinner), finally leaving me alone.
A month or so went by. Then, walking with a gym buddy of mine, she confided happily she was seeing someone. He was Israeli, cleancut, seemed serious... he sounded like Assaf.
It was Assaf (Oh, incestuous bitza...). That was fine; people move on. But: The only fly in the ointment, she said, is he complained early on that I never offer to pay. And that an Israeli woman would have known to do so.
After that, I paid on a number of occasions, she went on, and I even pointed out I take care of him in other ways: Making sure I look beautiful when I see him, hosting an elaborate Shabbat meal (which wasn’t cheap!) for him and a few friends.
There’s many good things between us, she insisted. He always compliments me, he’s charmed all my friends, he’s steady and from a nice family.
But it’s remained an issue with us, she said, a little of the joy going out of her eyes. It’s fine when we just hang out, but whenever the check comes, I feel uncomfortable.
Well, there it was. Assaf had learned to communicate before it was too late, but the issue itself had reared its ugly head again.
This woman was an American like me, we were about the same age and had other very similar categorical attributes. Why did Assaf choose to date our type if he wanted Israeli cultural norms? And why did he ask us out, yet parse out who had done what? I told her that I could not be impartial, explaining my history with him, telling her to make her own decisions but take what I said into account.
As of this writing, she continues to mull it over and go out with Assaf, despite the “American vs Israeli” argument being employed on a number of occasions, such as when she doesn’t know she should buy movie tickets early for Thursday night (“Everyone knows that in Israel movies sell out early on the weekend”), or hasn’t texted him back quickly enough, even though he is busy working and she is just looking for a job, and thus, it seems, should be at his beck and call.
And I have also continued thinking about Assaf, and just what his issue was, and is. Was it that we didn’t offer to pay, and therefore did not respect him enough as a unique man rather than an ATM? Was this a straightforward man-vs-woman issue, complicated by the changing norms of 2014? Or was there a lack of generosity of spirit on Assaf’s part, where he was oh-so-concerned about “What have you done for me lately,” rather than appreciating a woman for what she is, intent on changing her into his American-Israeli prototype? Was he truly a good guy, or was this a persona for a man who really made women feel bad about themselves? I’m going with the latter. I had sensed it early on, luckily, in Assaf’s “confusion” about me.
I just hope my friend eventually does, too.