Stories of girls flirting with their local barista for extra caramel drizzle or seducing boys at the bar for free drinks are rampant around college campuses. And you’re just as likely to hear boys complaining about how girls just used them for free drinks without a hook up or even a number in return.
Somehow we’ve become more comfortable gambling with the hope that someone will be able to decode our gestures than simply admitting that we might like someone and hope to get to know them better. At least third graders are brave enough to pass notes to their crushes, asking them to check yes if they like them back. But as grown ups, far too often we take the easy way out, commodifying our affections rather than risking emotional vulnerability.
For a boy to expect something — sexual or otherwise — in return for buying a $5 margarita is insulting, but even by turning down a drink, a woman risks acquiring the dreaded “bitch” label. Likewise, shy guys often feel unarmed approaching attractive women with nothing to offer but their attention. And when they do offer to buy a girl a drink, it’s not uncommon for them to be met with requests for a drink for her friend too.
But it’s too easy to say men are chauvinistic pigs and women are shrewd manipulators.
While societal attitudes in no way make up for individually disdainful behavior, such talk wouldn’t be so pervasive were this not how so many men and women thought. Rather than trying to milk each other for anything possible — be it a romp in the sheets or a round of free drinks — we need to reassess how we see each other, how we see the humanity in one another.
Weren’t little girls brought up to know that they had more to bring to the table than their bodies and pretty faces? Weren’t little boys brought up to think that their minds had as much to offer as their wallets did?
Why then, in the 21st century are we so afraid of saying how we feel about one another?
I hope that my children grow up in a society where women don’t even feel the need to explain that they may be happy to sit and converse with a stranger, but owe nothing in exchange for any other perks used to attract their attention. I hope that they grow up around people with the confidence to approach one another without the protective lure of free drinks, but merely honesty and an earnest desire for human connection.
Relationships aren’t built on extra espresso shots and free beer; they are built on openness and vulnerability. They are built from the self confidence of believing that whatever you have to offer — be it a kind smile, witty banter, musical know-how, or an infectious laugh — will be enough.
Know your worth and forget the free drinks.