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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

5 Feminist Dating Dilemmas (& How to Deal)

Dating in college is already a maze of emotions: who calls whom? Who makes the first move? What in the world did he mean by that text? Adding your feminist beliefs into the mix can be even more confusing. After all, what’s a feminist collegiette to do when a campus cutie insists on paying for dinner or opening doors for her all the time?

Luckily for you, Her Campus is here to take you through the most pressing feminist dating scenarios.

Scenario #1: He insists on paying for dinner.

You head to a super-nice restaurant with a cutie in tow for your first date. Everything’s going well … until the check comes around. You want to split it so that he doesn’t have to pay for such an expensive meal, but he keeps insisting that he wants to cover the check. Should you let him foot the bill?

How to deal

When it comes to any dating scenario, it’s important to keep things in perspective. “I personally approach dating with the same feminist perspective that I approach all issues: from a value of equality and general courtesy for other people’s humanity,” says Julie Zeilinger, founder of the feminist blog The FBomb and author of A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism is Not a Dirty Word. “I think college women need to stress less about perfectly living up to a feminist script and just worry about being fair and kind to whoever they’re spending time with. At the end of the day, that’s what feminism is about — not a series of rules delineated into ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behavior.”

Joy*, a senior at Wesleyan University, has found herself in this scenario way too many times. “I personally like to split the check with dates for equality reasons, and it can always be awkward for guys if you call them out and ask them to only pay half,” she says.

Joy’s advice? If it’s a first date with someone you don’t know well, let him pay if he’s being insistent. “It can be overwhelming to spring all of your feminist dating rules on someone you don’t know well, so I’ve just found it’s better to let him pay on the first date if he’s insistent and trying to be a gentleman,” she says. “Plus, don’t think of a guy paying on the first date as patriarchy — a lot of guys are just trying to be nice and courteous! If you end up dating this guy more regularly, feel free to let him know later on that you’d like to split the check or take turns picking up the tab.”

However, Joy notes that if your date is someone you know well, feel free to tell the guy beforehand that you want to split the check or pay. “I was really good friends with my current boyfriend, Dave*, long before we dated, so he knew I was all about equality in relationships,” she says. “Before our first date, I told him I wanted to split the check, and he was totally cool with it. Plus, this prevented any surprises when we were actually on the date!”

But how to do you open up the feminist dialogue beforehand? Jasmine Ryan, a healthy relationships advocate at the University of Florida, recommends trying to talk to your guy beforehand. “It can be extremely jarring to have someone start pulling feminism jargon in the middle of a date, so if it’s very important to you, talk to your date beforehand,” she says. “Even a simple, ‘So for our date tonight, do you mind if we split the check?’ can be a great way to open the conversation.”

Scenario #2: He always wants to open the door for you.

You’ve noticed that every time you go out with a certain campus cutie, he always insists on opening all the doors: the car door, the restaurant door, your apartment door. How do you tell him that it’s too much?

How to deal

First, Ryan reminds collegiettes that just because a guy opens a door for you a couple times doesn’t mean he’s looking for the downfall of the feminist movement. “Opening doors for people is generally considered a nice thing to do in our society, so it may not even be a gender issue,” she says. “However, if you notice that your partner is insisting that he open doors for you all the time, it might be time to let him know that you can do the same for him, or you can just open your own doors yourself!”

Still want to split door-opening responsibilities? Lucy*, a junior at New York University, recommends trying to open the door for a guy as much as he opens it for you. “When I started dating my boyfriend, it almost became a little inside joke that I would open the door for him,” she says. “But eventually, I was able to tell him I did it because I believed in gender equality in dating, even with small things like opening doors for one another.”

Scenario #3: He expects you to text him 24/7.

You’ve just started seeing a guy, and you’ve noticed that he gets really annoyed when you don’t text him all the time, but he doesn’t think he has to do the same thing in return. How do you let him know that it’s not fair?

How to deal

Joy thinks you should try to avoid these types of guys altogether if possible, but she knows that’s easier said than done. “I’ve dated a couple of guys who seemed totally chill and normal when we started dating but got really controlling about certain aspects of the relationship later on,” she says.

If a guy wants you to text, Facebook message or call him all the time and doesn’t expect anything in return, Joy recommends being upfront with him as soon as possible. “If you start noticing the trend, talk to him immediately before you establish a pattern,” she says. “Ask him why he wants you to text him so much and why he can’t do the same in return. I’ve found that a lot of times, his desire to have you communicate with him all the time comes from his own issues with trust or control, so it’s better to talk about these earlier rather than later.”

During your conversation, Ryan recommends being honest, but not accusatory. “A lot of men aren’t even aware that they’re doing something wrong, so you don’t want them to go on the defensive and shut down completely,” she says. “Your tone during your conversation should be concerned and stern but not angry, and you should figure out beforehand what you want to get out of the conversation. For example, do you want to text him less, or do you want him to text you more? It’s important to have an ideal scenario in mind.”

Ryan also notes that this behavior can be indicative of larger issues. “If a conversation about why he unfairly wants you to communicate with him more without returning the favor fails, I would recommend reconsidering the relationship in general,” she says. “This type of controlling behavior is often indicative of other internal issues (like problems with trust or respect), and you might not want to stick around to see what happens.”

Scenario #4: He wants you to dote on him.

You started dating a guy who seemed really nice at first, but lately you’ve noticed that he’s always asking you to make him a sandwich and grab him a beer. How do you let him know that you’re not in this relationship to play housewife?

How to deal

Jane*, a senior at the University of Florida, started dating a guy named Eric*, who seemed really nice at first but eventually proved to just want someone to care for him. “He would invite me over to his apartment and would ask me to get beers for his friends or clean up after them,” she says. “It was ridiculous and a total red flag. I immediately talked to Eric about it, and, not surprisingly, we broke up soon afterward. There was no way I was going to date a guy who wanted me to be his personal housekeeper.”

Lucy also says that if you’re a feminist in a relationship like this, it’s best to get out of it ASAP. “These types of guys are never going to change, so it’s better not to waste your time trying,” she says. “At the end of the day, some people are all for gender equality and some aren’t. Why stick with someone who doesn’t understand your core values?”

Ryan also recommends trying to figure out when this behavior started. “If your boyfriend has always wanted you to dote on him, then I’d say it’s a problem that can lead to other harmful dating behaviors,” she says. “However, if he just recently started it, a conversation is in order. Pick a time for you two to sit down and talk, and make sure you don’t approach him in the heat of the moment (like when he’s asking you to do something for him).”

Scenario #5: He doesn’t want you talking to other guys, but he doesn’t see a reason to stop talking to other girls.

Your boyfriend freaks out if you so much as look at another guy, but you notice that he has plenty of female friends whom he hangs around with — and even flirts with. How do you tell him that’s wrong?

How to deal

Gabrielle*, a junior at New York University, ran into this issue when she dated her then-boyfriend, Joel*.

“Joel would get weirdly upset whenever I talked to other guys (even about things as mundane as the calculus homework), but strangely thought it was okay for him to keep hanging out with his girl friends all the time,” she says. “I didn’t have issues with him having female friends; my problem was that he didn’t think I was owed the same courtesy with guys. I eventually had to confront him about it from a gender-equality front; in my mind, we both had to have the same boundaries in relationships.”

Gabrielle said that to her surprise, Joel was extremely receptive when she talked to him. “I sat him down for a conversation about it, and after some initial snarky comments from him about how I was overreacting, he eventually opened up about how a past girlfriend had cheated on him, and it left him feeling less trustworthy of women,” she says. “He wasn’t even aware of how his behavior was hurting me or how ridiculous it seemed to me. Luckily, we were able to work through it and dated for two more years.”

Gabrielle believes that talking to Joel early on in the relationship saved it from going down a bad path. “I talked to Joel during the first couple months we were dating, and I can only imagine how much resentment I would’ve had towards him if I’d waited to have this conversation with him later on,” she says. “I think no matter what the feminist dating problem is, college women shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and talk to their men early and often.”

Remember that you have control of your relationship, so if a guy isn’t respectful of your feminist values, you don’t have to date him! Moreover, if you want to make a relationship work, make sure you communicate early with your partner and explain why you feel the way you do.

“I try to bring up my feminist beliefs from the perspective of education and a constructive discussion rather than immediately being defensive,” Zeilinger says. “If the guy I’m dating isn’t familiar with feminism, I don’t immediately fault him for it or write him off, but rather try to spark a conversation and explain my point of view.”

Happy dating, feminist collegiettes!

*Names have been changed.

Lily is a member of Wesleyan University's class of 2016, where she double majored in government and sociology. She's a writer, editor, and social media manager, as well as co-founder of The Prospect (www.theprospect.net), the world’s largest student-run college access organization. In addition to her work with Her Campus, she also serves in editorial roles at HelloFlo and The Muse.