Dating Rules: If the guy offers to change her oil, does the gal owe him anything?

May 1, 2012 at 11:47 am 3 comments

“Dad, do I have to help change the oil in the car?” It’s been a long time since I changed my own oil – though my dad taught me how. One of the benefits of growing up in an all girl family – there is no division of labor along gender lines. While my husband is usually the one who gets dirty under the car to change the oil, I am capable of doing it and want my girls to master the skill of taking care of their own vehicles for a number of reasons – one of which has to do with the rule of reciprocation. I’ll never forget learning this concept in my Persuasive Communication class and don’t make a very good target of most marketing schemes. We learned about various tactics used to influence compliance and persuade people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t be inclined to do. One of the tactics we discussed involved the rule of reciprocation. I was already somewhat familiar with this concept because I wrote a paper in High School titled, “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.”

In discussing the rule of reciprocation, one scholar notes, “Possibly one of the most potent compliance techniques is the rule of reciprocation, which prompts us to repay what someone has given us. When we are given a gift, we feel indebted to the giver, often feel uncomfortable with this indebtedness, and feel compelled to cancel the debt…often against our better judgment. The rule of reciprocation is widespread across human cultures, suggesting that it is fundamental to creating interdependencies on which societies, cultures, and civilizations are built. In effect, the rule of reciprocation assures that someone can give something away first, with the relative assurance that this initial gift will eventually be repaid–nothing is lost.”

This rule of reciprocation is not always applied consciously. For instance, at church we invite our volunteers to a free lunch to thank them for their service. Along with serving them a free meal, we have drawings for giveaways and by the end of the day, many volunteers feel a sense of indebtedness. So, when the time comes to sign up to volunteer again or when they are contemplating quitting their volunteer position – they are more likely to choose to continue volunteering because of this general sense of “owing” something. This rule of reciprocation is likely intended by God to create cultures of mutual interdependence, but like all good things, it is often abused. Some use their influence and the rule of reciprocation to serve themselves, instead of for the good of the whole. You’re probably imagining your own scenarios, but I’ll offer a common one. Guy meets gal on college campus and invites her to dinner. He takes her to a nice restaurant and offers to pick up the tab. Later, they go to a club and he buys her quite a few drinks. With her judgment impaired by the alcohol and her growing discomfort of indebtedness, she gives in to his sexual advances but later regrets it in the morning.

Some gals are not so easily persuaded, and this is one of the reasons I want my girls to be able to change their own oil. A gal goes out on a date and let’s the guy pay for dinner, he doesn’t ask for sex in return. But, the relationship goes on and he continues to give gifts – not only tangible gifts of dinner dates and chocolates or flowers, but gifts of service – like changing the oil on her car when she is in need. At some point, she may reach a tipping point and the discomfort of this growing sense of indebtedness breaks down her better judgment and she attempts to cancel the debt by giving him something she later regrets. Thankfully, not all guys springing for a meal with a gal are in it for sex – some are making a genuine offer of friendship and love that they hope will be reciprocated in kind. I’ve also seen beautiful church ministries where men who are skilled at changing oil in cars serve single women with the gift of their time and ability, and the women are blessed. There is a healthy functioning of interdependence – of giving and receiving, a beautiful reciprocity that invites us into cooperative relationship with God for the sake of others. Jesus taught this principle, whoever is forgiven much loves much. (Luke 7) And Paul gives us parameters for this principle: Owe no person anything, except the debt of love. (Romans 13)

Unfortunately, there are many large scale abuses of this powerful principle – one of which I plan to work against in Thailand. Some of the rural regions are struggling in poverty and families send their girls to the city to earn money to send home and support the family. Men prey on such vulnerable girls and use this rule of reciprocity to their own advantage. They lure girls in by giving them gifts they are unable to repay in any way. The overwhelming sense of indebtedness traps the girls into the sex trade with little hope of escape – they can’t imagine how they could ever repay the great debt they owe expect by doing what the sex traffickers tell them to do. It’s the only way.

I’m heading to Thailand next month to help rescue ten girls caught in the sex trade and deliver them into transitional safe houses in country. These girls need to know there is another way. They need someone to cancel their debt and give them a way of escape. Global Breakthrough provides a way out. Will you join me in rescuing ten girls? Our team hopes to raise over $12,000 to accomplish our goal. Some of the funds will go towards our travel, but funds raised above and beyond our travel expenses go toward paying these girls’ debts, providing a safe place for them to receive training and help in finding a different kind of job, and blessing them with new clothes and other items they need. Visit the Global Breakthrough website to contribute and learn more about this project. You’ll find my name listed in the drop-down menu under Giving Categories – Thailand-May Trip ELIZABETH C. If you’ve read this far in the blog, I know you care. Thanks for joining me and many others in this important work.


Entry filed under: gender, human nature, relationships, sexuality.

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  • 1. jsmunroe  |  May 2, 2012 at 6:58 am

    I focus on the debt that can never be repaid and all of the other things owed seem very small.

  • 2. jsmunroe  |  May 2, 2012 at 7:00 am

    Man that sounded very in-the-box, Christian-ghetto. Sorry.

    Postmodern! Got to think postmodern!

  • 3. Elizabeth Chapin  |  May 4, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Just came across this quote, “Most relationships are bound by trust. Trust is habitual reciprocity that becomes coated by emotion.” -David Brooks, “The Social Animal”

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