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Last week’s post on chivalry in dating generated some interesting discussion and commentary. Some thought chivalry was generally a good idea, some thought it was a necessity, and some thought it unfair. One of the issues that came up was whether chivalry was rewarding – i.e. whether it paid dividends or made a woman take you for granted.

This got me thinking about generosity in dating. With men’s dating advice, there is often debate about whether a man should be a Nice Guy – some believe being nice wins you the girl, others say it does nothing but make women take you for granted. With women’s dating advice, there’s a similar debate around being a loving, feminine woman versus being a spitfire that men won’t walk all over. These debates really tackle the same topic:

Is niceness and generosity an attractive quality, or is it something people say they want but don’t respect?

For men, this issue comes up early in the dating process because every man must decide how he will attempt to attract women and whether he will use chivalry or pay for a date. For women, the issue often comes up a little later in the dating process: she must decide when to offer to help pay, when to offer sex and how much, and how available she should be. And, when they’ve been dating a while, both sexes weigh how much to give the other person in terms of their time, energy, and money. Overall, for many, there is the fear that if you give too much, the other person won’t appreciate it.

The truth is, niceness and generosity are great things; but too much of them will backfire.

Let’s say I run into an acquaintance and we decide to meet for dinner later that week. I live in Denver and he lives in the mountains, 40 miles away, so we decide to meet in the middle.

  • I could drive 20 miles to our meeting place.
  • I could ride my bike 20 miles to meet him.
  • I could throw on my running shoes and Camelbak and run 20 miles to meet him.

From his perspective, he just wants to have dinner and chat. If I drive there, he will appreciate my driving to meet him, despite my making minimal effort (and no more effort than he made). If I bike there, he will be surprised, even impressed, that I went to such effort just to meet him. If I run (running 20 miles is no small feat, even for a trained distance runner), he will be impressed that I could do that, but he will also think, “You did all that just to meet me?” He will be impressed, but he will also wonder why I would put myself through such effort when I could have just driven. He may wonder, deep down, if I am trying too hard or desperate to impress. He may even feel a bit guilty that I ran, and wonder if he should somehow reciprocate. And if I run, even if I just did it for myself, there may be a small part of me that will expect him to reward my efforts, perhaps by coming all the way to Denver next time we meet or just by being really impressed by me.

The point is that giving, niceness, and effort are good, but they are only good to a point. Once you give more than the situation calls for, you introduce a certain level of discomfort for yourself and for the other person. And when you give, there is a point at which the rewards offer diminishing returns; once you go beyond that, you will be taken for granted – not because the person is selfish, but because they didn’t require the extra effort.

Generosity, niceness, and chivalry are great things and a positive way to approach dating. When you date, offer them up when you want to and when you feel they’re appreciated. But once you feel your efforts aren’t paying off, considering pulling back a little and driving instead of running.

Thoughts on niceness and giving in dating? How much is too much?

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