At first, when Cathy Smith told a guy over dinner that their date was one of 31 she planned to go on that month — yes, that’s literally every single day — he was a little pissed off.
He was the only guy Smith told about her “Operation: No Pay May,” which, after she dated guys every day for weeks, had evolved into a social experiment, and she had been wanting a man’s view on it. “At first he was like, So you’re just using me?” Smith said. “And then it became a competition: He wanted to compare his date to everyone else’s date.”
Rest assured, that would be a tall task at this point for Cathy Smith, er, “Extra Cash Cathy Chapman,” as she calls herself on her blog that documents what every one of these dates is like. Some first dates really have been competitions like that — men trying to “win her,” she said, i.e., take her home and have sex with her immediately, which she hates. And others have been too serious — i.e., when the man who actually lives in Austin, she realized, started contemplating whether they would work out since he lives so far away. Many others: well, just awkward and generally bad.
But if there is anything that Cathy Smith has learned during the course of Operation: No Pay, it’s about how deeply seated gender roles really are, and that in almost every case, they don’t change. Smith decided to take on this relatively crazy life experience after her friends challenged her to download online dating apps and see if 31 dates in 31 days could even be done. Turns out, uh, yeah — quite easily, actually, Smith said. Within one day of downloading apps such as Tinder and Bumble, she already had half a dozen guys trying to take her out. On her blog, she gives each of them a nickname: "Foul Mouth" for the Navy Seal who said “fucking” every other sentence and blamed it on the military; “Bird Poop” for the NASA engineer who got — yeah, you guessed it; and “PFG & Short Shorts” for the investment banker who apparently thought a bright blue golf shirt with too-small khaki shorts was fashionable date apparel.
Here are the rules for No Pay, some of which are simply based on society’s conventional dating rules in general: Smith can’t date anyone she would never normally date just because he asks her out, like a guy with kids or a guy just trying to hit it and quit it, or a short guy. She can’t fill in any nights with a “guy friend” or ex-boyfriend; that would be cheating. She can offer to pay — but if she does, then it can’t count. And last, she originally told herself she can’t tell any of these men that their date is part of “No Pay May,” because let’s be real, what guy is going to understand a) why she’s doing this and b) that she swears she isn’t using them for the free food? (But, well, it is a great bonus, she admits.)
Smith said that, while almost every man she went out with still conformed to the male gender role of believing the chivalrous thing to do is to reach for the bill (one even discreetly told the bartender to switch out her card for his when she started a tab), app dating has created new gray areas for her that she isn’t quite used to. Some men seem to want to keep messaging her back and forth for days before they ask her to dinner, which annoys her. But while conventionally she and her friends have always expected the men to put in the work to get the date, Smith said that no matter how many times the man might reach out to her to talk, the fact that it’s through online dating just makes it all seem lazy. The worst part, she said, is when they act all funny and sweet via text, then she meets them in person and they’re awkward and boring and looking at their phone to check the NFL draft every seven seconds (“Preppy Texter,” he's called).
And if there’s anything Smith has learned about online dating, specifically, it’s that it only yields two types of men: those who want one-night stands and those who want long-term relationships — and either way, they want it immediately.
“They either want to casually hook up, or they think you’re already dating — after one date. There’s no middle ground,” Smith said. “There’s no, let’s just go out with this cute girl and see what happens. That’s how a date should be. But they overthink things so much.”
The whole month, she had to pay only one time, essentially spoiling the “No Pay” portion of this operation— which annoyed her. He was a chemical engineer who came off as nerdy, not in a bad way, and as sort of a sushi snob during their date. The date was going fine until the check arrived, and then it just sat there for a good three minutes until finally, the awkwardness became too much. “Do you want to split it?” Smith asked. And when he said “Yeah,” that was it for him. The bill was ten bucks, tip included.
“I didn’t like him enough to pursue a second date,” Smith said. “If you’re not willing to be generous enough to spend $10 on me, I don’t know, that was my thing. Maybe that’s wrong, but I have 30 other men who are willing to do that.”
She nicknamed him “Cheap Ass.”
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.