Paying For Dates Is Getting Incredibly Awkward

June 29, 2017

women pay for datesA recent article in the Wall St. Journal highlights how incredibly uncivil we’ve become toward one another. I don’t know whether this is related to the climate of political partisanship, but it sounds like we’ve hit a new low in dating.

In Who Pays on the First Date? No One Knows Anymore, and It’s Really Awkward reporters Khadeeja Safdar and Brian Baskin provide some horrific and rather amusing examples from people they spoke with:

  • Guys “forgetting” their wallets.
  • Guys letting a woman pay the entire bill when she reaches for her wallet.
  • Guys wanting to split the bill evenly when they consumed a lot more than their date.
  • One guy wanted to share a burger and fries, cut most of the burger for himself, then paid half.
  • One guy went to the restroom before the check came, saying “I’ll be waiting outside.”
  • One guy asked a woman “Don’t you have food at home?” when she inquired about ordering more than a drink.
  • One guy paid and then Venmo’d his date for $20 afterwards.
  • One guy stared the woman down until she paid for his movie ticket and snacks – on her birthday, at his invitation.
  • One woman ordered a pasta dish to eat at the restaurant and a grilled fish entree to take home.

It’s interesting that only one example of abuse is by a woman, though several of the men interviewed worried about women seeking free meals and one enlightened gentleman felt that it would be politically incorrect and rude not to let a woman pay.

The article attributes these new practices to a huge increase in first dates due to dating apps like Tinder. Fair enough – fancy dates add up quickly:

“According to analysis conducted by Deutsche Bank, paying for two people in New York or San Francisco to go to a movie and have a meal, plus a few beers and taxi rides, comes to about $130. Three of those a week can cost more than $20,000 a year.”

I’m a proponent of cheap, short first dates for this very reason – you spend fewer resources, including money and time. Informal dates are also more fun and less stressful for most people.

Who should pay is not a straightforward issue at a time when many women are outperforming men in school and in the workplace. There are ethical, emotional and strategic considerations.

Ethics: Who should pay for dates?

Various ethical arguments have been made to determine whose responsibility it is to pay:

1. The person who initiated the date should pay.

The rules aren’t complicated, according to etiquette experts. “If you invite, you pay,” said Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.” “But the reality is that the other person may not know the rules or realize it’s a date.”

Personally, I feel that this advice is outdated. When I suggest a lunch outing with a same-sex friend, there’s an implicit understanding that we’ll share the check. I’ve rarely encountered any deviation from this practice. If two people are chatting on Tinder and moving toward a date, it seems only fair to consider the interest mutual and assume you’ll split the bill.

On the other hand, if a man does pay and a woman wants to see him again, she should offer to pick up the check next time.

2. Historically, men got something in exchange for paying a woman’s way.

The custom of a man paying on a date is a relic of chivalry that is several centuries outdated and connotes ownership, said Julia Long, a sociology lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University who specializes in feminist theory. “Women are not commodities to be bought.”

Men have historically courted women for sex/commitment by showing their willingness to expend resources. Because men display and women select, paying a woman’s way has always been one way of competing with other men for female attention.

“‘Cause it’s a woman’s world

Might as well face it

Yeah they got what we want and we’re willing to chase it

It’s a woman’s world, boys like it or not

Men buy the drinks, girls call the shots”

Steve Holy

Today, women resist any notion of owing a man sex if he buys dinner, and unlike old-fashioned courting, a date does not signal a man’s desire to make a commitment. The feminists are right on this one, though many men choose to be generous without feeling entitled to a reward.

Still, many women feel uncomfortable letting a guy pay, especially if they know they don’t want to see him again. They’ll insist on paying to “close out” the interaction fairly, with no sense of future obligation. According to Match’s Singles in America 2017 survey, 86% of women say they do it to feel free of any post-date obligation.

Those women are wise – a study of male undergraduates found that men are more likely to justify date rape when they pay or when the woman initiates the date.

By the way, according to the article, gay men go on quicker, cheaper dates, and it’s generally assumed the older man will pay. On Grindr, old men display and young men select.

3. The person who has more money should pay.

Several women mentioned the gender pay gap. But young, single, childless women earn 8% more than the men in their peer group. As women continue to make gains in education and the workplace, they will increasingly find themselves on first dates with men who earn less than they do. Of course, they may not know that. There’s no fair way of applying this rule for a first date. If a couple with uneven financial resources dates seriously, they should work out a fair arrangement.

4. Neither party should abuse the other for personal gain.

Ordering an extra entree to go, eating two-thirds and paying half, or exiting the restaurant before the check arrives are all rude, abusive behaviors. If I encountered any of those on a date, I would not hesitate to call it out. You’ve got nothing to lose at that point – surely you’d never want to see that person again!

Emotional preferences: Who should pay?

Many women still prefer that men pay. 

“The practice of a man paying on a heterosexual date has proved more resistant to change than other gendered norms, said David Frederick, a psychology professor at Chapman University. In a 17,600-person study he published with colleagues in 2015, 39% of the women surveyed said they hoped the man would decline an offer to help pay the bill.”

I wrote a post covering that study. It’s not as straightforward as it sounds. In a the 2013 study Who Pays For Dates? researcher David Frederick found that:

39% of women wished men would reject their offers to pay BUT 44% didn’t like it when men expected them to pay.

44% of men said they would break up with a woman who never pays BUT 76% feel guilty accepting money from women.

Over time, couples shift to sharing expenses.

4 in 10 men and women agreed that dating expenses were at least partially shared within the first month, and roughly three-fourths (74% of men, 83% of women) reported sharing expenses by six months. 

Most men still want to pay on the first date.

A study by Nerdwallet found:

82% of men and 73% of women believe men should pick up the check on the first date. Just 14% of men and 24% of women believe the bill should be split. 4% believe men should pay nothing!

Strategy: Who should pay?

Men like it when women offer.

Match’s 2017 Single in America survey found that 71% of men like it when women offer to pay. Those women are likely to be viewed as having better character than women who assume it’s the man’s responsibility. From a strategic standpoint, that’s more likely to lead to a second date.

The maximum cost to you will only be what you consumed anyway. There’s an easy way to guard against being taken for a ride by a douchebag. Instead of the fake wallet grab, why not graciously suggest “Shall we split this?” If the guy wants to treat you he’ll say so, while still being impressed that you didn’t take him for granted. Win-win.

Women who insist on paying are asserting their independence.

If you don’t want a man to pay your way no matter what, making it clear early on is a good idea. It helps establish whether you’re compatible on key issues around women’s roles, and sets the tone for future interaction.

As so many women have already figured out, it also releases women from any sense of obligation to the man at the end of the date.

The best approach – as always – is the open and honest one. You can’t be wrong if you’re gracious and generous while maintaining reasonable boundaries for yourself. I hope you don’t wind up on a date with any of the turkeys interviewed by the Wall St. Journal, but if you do, you’ll at least have a great story to share with your friends.

How do you handle this? Do you find it awkward? What’s your personal preference? Let’s discuss!