When the waiter places the bill on the table at the end of the meal, Jean-Marc (1) systematically takes out his credit card, without the slightest hesitation. The woman he just shared this moment with often tries a line like: “No, are you sure? “ He does not take offense and responds, as he usually does: “I’m old fashioned, I find it hard to get invited by a woman …”
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This 48-year-old independent, living in the Toulouse region, even feels deeply ” uncomfortable ” when his interlocutor insists on settling or sharing the bill. No doubt the weight of the inheritance: he evokes his father, who brought the money home and whom he always saw his mother invite.
In his youth, the distribution of roles was still fairly systematic and that suited Jean-Marc. Launched in 2017, the social movement freeing the voices of victims of sexual violence, #MeToo, has deeply shaken it, symptom of a crisis of masculinity in the face of socio-economic changes. However he has “The impression of passing on the grill” by hearing some feminists talk about their struggle in the media.
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In his eyes, the debates that agitate French society only complicate relations between men and women. “When it comes to breaking the ice with someone I like, I pay more attention, he continues. #MeToo inhibited me. ” He admits, however, that he has not really changed his rituals with women, based on the rules of “French gallantry”.
“It is always the men who take the initiative”
Take the first step, hold the door to the restaurant, leave the bench, pay for drinks … The behavior of men and women reveals a society still largely governed by traditional love codes, if we are to believe several surveys published on the subject since the speech generated by the #MeToo movement around sexual violence.
Even on dating sites, “It is always the men who take the initiative, observes the anthropologist Mélanie Gourarier, researcher at the CNRS (2). The norm of the female reserve remains at the same time as that of the necessary male initiative. “
Far from being a point of detail, the question of knowing who settles the bill during a scene of seduction is a very useful magnifying glass for thinking about social relationships. Studies show that the gesture is never free. Consciously or not, the man expects compensation in return: a second date, a kiss, a sexual relationship, a form of enhancement of his self-esteem … “Paying the bill at a restaurant on a first date is also a way of establishing an implicit power relationship”, observes the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Serge Hefez (3).
The seducer takes care of his masculine identity, in other words his virility, which he associates with strength and the ability to protect the “weaker sex” in a paternalistic fashion. “By refusing, the woman establishes on the contrary a relational framework which functions more on sharing and equality”, continues the psychiatrist.
Pay, generosity or burden?
Some of the men questioned turn a blind eye to the issues that arise around the thorny settlement of the bill. They prefer to insist on the rules of gallantry or speak more readily of their ” generosity “.
Philippe, a Parisian forty-something who looks like Jim Carrey, cites his above-average salary which would naturally push him to pay for his partners, whom he assumes have lower incomes than his. It would thus compensate for the imbalance of wages between men and women. “I have no problem with being invited if the person has the means”, he wishes to add. A scenario which, in fact, rarely occurs, and only after several meetings.
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Paying can also prove to be a trap for both sexes. Just as many men find it difficult to assume a “manly” posture, the unwritten rule of inviting your partner turns into a burden in the long run, according to some accounts.
“It’s an obligation that I impose on myself. But very often this becomes the use of the pseudo-couple that is created ”, recognizes Eric. This 49-year-old Hérault refuses to be invited during the seduction phase. As a result, he finds himself stuck in the relational mode that he initiated: he is forced to pay for the following restaurants even if he does not have a penny in his account.
Getting out of the paternalistic legacy
In both men and women, “One can desire one thing and its opposite”, recalls the psychoanalyst Serge Hefez. This is the observation of Jérémy, a fifty-year-old navigating between intellectual and wealthy circles of the Parisian capital, who dreams of a real emancipation of his partners, while being aware of feeding the sexist codes of the romantic encounter.
Last week, he ran into an American woman whose income was much higher than his. “During the second evening, she made a point of inviting me to the Crillon (a luxury Parisian hotel, editor’s note). I let her do it, but I found it very unsettling ”, he confides lucidly.
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How to get out of this heritage of paternalism? The answer will perhaps come from the new generations who gladly put up with a 50-50 bill at the restaurant, from the very first evening. All the women that Julien, a 26-year-old Parisian, meets face to face, act in this way. “Invitations are accepted on condition that they are at ‘charge of revenge’, indicates this journalist raised by two women. We establish verbalized reciprocity. Paying systematically is outdated, outdated and it prevents a partnership of equals. “ François, 26, a Parisian security manager, talks about “Share the financial burden, as we share the mental burden”.
The opportunity to question
The appearance of these new rituals in the game of seduction is a matter of age but also of social background. Julien recognizes living surrounded by young people passionate about social sciences and gender issues. “Virility has never been valued in my entourage”, he observes. The tendency is to listen to the other, to gentleness, to introspection as a man.
“Masculinity is always an issue. This is its normal mode of operation: to remain ascending, it must constantly reaffirm itself, explains Mélanie Gourarier. For example, one strategy to adapt to the transformations brought about by feminisms is to say: “I question myself as a man and I listen to women.” A too demonstrative, violent masculinity is belittled and discriminating. “
In the short term, seducers of a new kind, urban and graduated, move away a little more from men of the same age, from more popular backgrounds or from foreign cultures who do not have the “modern” codes of seduction. . The discourse on a less “aggressive” masculinity and, more broadly, on gender equality touches all circles, observes Pierre, a 35-year-old Parisian educator.
He is currently accompanying a 17-year-old teenager who has dropped out of school and is involved in brawls between rival neighborhoods in the Paris region. “Behind his tough image, the youngster is in love with a girl who has fun, leads her life as she sees fit while following solid studies, tells his educator. He’s talking about a powerful girl. He feels like he has met his double and he likes it. “