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first-date, gender etiquette question

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I hope this is the right board on which to post this question. And I apologize in advance for its rambling nature.

Recently I went on an online-dating-match first date. I am female, my date was male, and we're in our 30s. We had dinner at a nice but casual place. As we perused the menus, he asked what I was getting, and I said I wasn't sure yet (I'm incredibly indecisive). As is typical in this kind of dining banter, I then asked if he had decided, and he said yes and mentioned something about salmon.

It took me a bit longer, but I finally decided on one of their quiche selections. Happy about finally, FINALLY, coming to a decision, I announced "I think I'm getting the quiche!"

So I flag the waitress down and she comes over to take our orders. To be courteous, I always, regardless of whom I'm dining with, give the other person (or people) a chance to say their order first. I just don't like jumping in and hogging things and saying I'LL HAVE THIS! I don't know, it's just a general thing I do, where I purposely hesitate before doing or saying something for myself when others are also involved. The bottom line is I'm trying to be polite to my dining companions, whoever they may be.

So my date immediately jumps in and says "She'll have the quiche, and I'll have the salmon." And I was immediately... what exactly is the best way to describe how I felt? I think I was really quite taken aback by that. I hate to admit this -- please don't judge me, this was simply my emotional reaction that I could not control -- but I felt a bit ticked off that he'd decided to order for me.

It wasn't SO HORRIBLE that I showed any reaction, mind you. It was just a tiny, internal, mental, millisecond-long reaction I had that was easily swept under the rug. No big deal in the grand scheme of things, especially since he turned out to be a really decent guy.

But in that moment of purposeful hesitation, where I looked briefly at my date to allow him the chance to put in his order (or pass it back to me and let me order first), he completely took it the wrong way.

So ANYWAY, my question for this post is, why did he do this? The rest of the date went fine, and he never showed any other weird (to me) behaviors that were even remotely annoying. So days later, I find myself trying to brainstorm the many reasons and/or justifications for why someone would do this. What was he thinking when he chose to order for me?

OH -- also, the gallant-ordering-for-hislady act backfired slightly because when I'd mentioned I'd get "the quiche," it was obviously not intended as directions for what he would tell the waitress, it was just to be conversational and finally answer his question. And the menu had more than one quiche selection. So when the waitress hesitated after he said "She'll have the quiche," I had to quickly pipe in and say "quiche Lorraine." So if he thought he was saving me the trouble of ordering, he failed. That actually exacerbated the weird feeling I had about this whole thing; he couldn't even do whatever he intended to do correctly.

Anyway, any ideas on why he would do this and how he thought I would have received this gesture? I'm not very schooled in traditional American dining etiquette (I'm American, born and raised, but by immigrant Asian parents), so I don't know if this falls into that category or not -- though even if it did, it puzzles me as to why this guy did it because he seems otherwise to be a very "enlightened" modern guy, for lack of a better way to stereotype.

Thanks for reading this far and any brainstorming ideas you may have!

p.s. He also failed in the joyfully blasé ordering of his own food, as it turns out they didn't just have one salmon dish, so he had to turn back to the menu and look for the specific one he wanted. So it really was ordering failure times two, but I was more bothered that he assumed he could order for me.

  1. Many woman feel that is the correct thing to do. I prefer ordering for myself, but it's no biggie. I think you are making a bit more of this then need be. If you like the guy it's sort of a small thing to hold against him. I'm sure he was just trying to be a gentleman.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Mother of four

      Agree he was trying to be a gentleman. I'm from the south, so this is not unusual. Perhaps since he did not realize there was more than one salmon choice, he did not notice there was more than one quiche choice. I'd give him the benefit of the doubt. Extra credit if he held the door/pulled out your chair for you.

      1. re: Mother of four

        Yeah, you're right. And no, I'm definitely not holding it against him; if anything, I am dying to ask him directly why he did this (on our next date), but thankfully I have just enough grace (this week, at least, heh) not to do so. So out of curiosity, I decided to turn to all you wonderful Chowhounders for more background info on this.

        1. re: buttermarblepopcorn

          ... only do that if he orders for you again. maybe he was just nervous.

          1. re: buttermarblepopcorn

            I'm a little under 30(and also from the south, but that would be off-putting to me too) and I would probably remedy it by just not telling him what I plan to order or that I am deciding between x, y, and z. This is usually the case for me anyway though, I have a few choices in mind but don't make a final decision until it's time to order.

        2. I do not see anything wrong with that. Seems like he was trying to be a gentleman and perhaps use the manners he was taught. Did it make or break the date, are you looking for something "wrong"? Relax, it was just ordering your meal for you.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JEN10

            It definitely didn't break the date; it was, if anything, a mere blip on the radar. I really do like him, and maybe this little bit contrasted so greatly with everything else that went on that evening, it stood out. What compelled me to post this question was more curiosity than anything else, I guess, over the motivation of the gesture, as it was completely unknown to me at the time.

          2. It seems to me that it's like a situation where if the two of you came to a door, and you paused instead of reaching for the handle, he would probably assume that you were pausing to give him time and space to be chivalrous and open it for you. The old custom of a man placing a woman's order (not "ordering for you" in the sense of picking out what you would eat) is something that modern women might not expect, or might even chafe against. But if each party were to place their own order, most well-mannered men would presume to let the lady go first, and when confronted with a pause, he would have no way of knowing that you have a little personal habit of never ordering first. His behavior sounds polite, not paternalistic in the way it might be for someone to presume to select your food. But then again, Jerry Seinfeld and Elaine Benes have surely dumped people for less!

            1 Reply
            1. re: swimmom

              hee hee hee on the Seinfeld reference... and also, thanks for your input, swimmom -- I think your analogy with opening doors helped me see this in a better light. And yes, I agree his action wasn't pateralistic, even if it did rub me the wrong way. I think it's just my complete ignorance of the existence of this particular aspect of gentlemanly courtesy (as opposed to, say, holding open a door or pulling out a chair, which I am completely familiar with) that really threw me for a loop.

            2. I see it as he would have deferred to you to order first, you being the lady of the party, and when you didn't order first but looked at him, he took it as his cue to be the man and do the talking. So maybe you threw him off by not going first!

              As for not knowing there were two salmon dishes, many people don't really read the whole menu through, they do more of a keyword search: quail, no - pasta, no - oh salmon I like salmon I'm sure whatever it comes with is good.... I'm one of those people who has to read every word on the menu and weigh the pros and cons of the sides and garnishes, others can just pick their main component and be happy with whatever and don't get why it's taking me so long.

              1 Reply
              1. re: babette feasts

                You're right, you're absolutely right, babette. I like how you sketched out a possible point of view from his position. It all sounds so simple now that you've laid it out like that! In my hyper-analytical mental frenzy, I just couldn't do this on my own!

                Oh, and yeah, I'm totally like you when it comes to reading menus -- I think Sally in "When Harry Met Sally" is one quick way to summarize me when I'm at my worst.

              2. Is he newly re-entering the dating game, or just a fella who doesn't go on many dates? I'd bet he was just thinking that it was a 'classy' thing to do, didn't read you particularly well, and was a little over-anxious to impress.

                It backfired of course. But I wouldn't hold it against the guy if he seems reasonable otherwise. Just tell him politely that you prefer to order for yourself. If he gets pissy about it, good riddance. If he's an otherwise nice guy who was just naively trying to impress you, he'll learn.

                4 Replies
                1. re: cowboyardee

                  Interesting that you pose this question, cowboyardee (I love typing everybody's names on Chowhound), because I think he indeed doesn't go on many dates. And what you surmise about him totally makes sense to me. The funny thing is, I think he's about as neurotic as I am, and together we could potentially create multiple layers of meta-neurosis and hyper-self-consciousness (or is that all redundant babblspeak?).

                  Anyway, it didn't backfire enough, since I'm going to see him again in less than 24 hours in a non-food/drinks setting. I'm still wondering if I should ever ask him about this or not. He seems like he'd totally be game for a discussion but I don't want to make him feel bad.

                  1. re: buttermarblepopcorn

                    I would say don't bring it up for discussion. Especially if you ever want to hear from him again.

                    1. re: buttermarblepopcorn

                      I would bring it up only if it becomes a serious, monogamous relationship where you are at the point of having inside jokes and the like.

                      I generally order for my husband......the main reason is he sucks (as does our daughter) at ordering. I know, it seems like someone who is an expert witness in court on a regular basis could order a simple meal (and our daughter is a dentist) but they add a lot of unnecessary commentary and ask questions that have nothing to do with what they order and expect the server to know what they mean as opposed to what they say.

                      Sorry for the tangent, and obviously being your first date that wasn't the case, but an example of how things you learn about someone early in the relationship become inside jokes.

                      My husband is still baffled as to why my order is never wrong and his is on a significant basis when I don't order.

                      1. re: Janet from Richmond

                        hahahahaha, oh my god, Janet, you're hilarious!!