That awkward moment on a first date when the check arrives and you haven’t thought about what you’re going to do. The worst thing at a time like this is hesitation. Unfortunately, what is the right thing to do is not all that obvious in this modern era of gender equality. Is it an insult to a woman if the man pays? Is it an insult to her if he doesn’t? Is it an insult to a man if the woman pays? Is an insult to a man if a woman assumes he’s going to pay? How do you know? You want to make a good impression but you feel caught in a maze filled with contradictory road signs.
The evidence gathering I have done seems to support the polls. Anecdotally, what I came up with in speaking to my clients, friends and family was basically what Chapman University’s poll turned up: the man pays (in a heterosexual dating situation). Professor David Frederick’s survey of 17,000 participants found that 84% of men and 58% of women reported that men pay for most expenses, even after dating for a while.
This issue may seem simple on the surface but it isn’t. There is a lot of information conveyed through the act of paying. Money is a tool, but it is a tool that can be wielded for good or ill. We know that money can be used to manipulate, exert power, or patronize. A person’s status, ambition, leadership, solvency, competence, attitudes toward gender, generosity, and relationship potential can be assumed, rightly or wrongly, based on that one simple act of paying the bill.
How do you navigate this seemingly shark infested water and survive? It’s a delicate balance and obviously personal values, beliefs, and attitudes are factors that cannot be underestimated. Using current research and my own vast store of observation-based knowledge as a professional dating coach, I want to walk you through some factors that may help you avoid pitfalls.
If you are a man.
If you asked for the date, especially a first date—you pay. Why is this still de rigueur? No matter how much you respect your date’s financial independence and competence, paying for the first date sends a message to her that you are solvent, responsible, generous and value the dating process.
What if she offers to pay? If she offers to pay insist that it is your treat. With exceptions so rare as to be statistically insignificant, women enjoy special treatment. You can’t go wrong paying the bill. If you don’t, it could be the worm in the apple that eats away in silence till there is nothing left. (Not to sound melodramatic or anything.)
In fact, I have found that the man generally pays for expenses throughout the early stages of dating, not just on the first date. When “dating” becomes “relationship,” usually after a few months, it is quite acceptable to let her chip in or pick up the occasional tab. This demonstrates your willingness to negotiate and her willingness to share responsibility.
If you are a woman.
If you are an independent, confident, autonomous woman, and I hope you are, you need to just accept the reality. The man will pay. It is not a sign of disrespect – just the opposite. However, if you asked for the date, you should pay. Same rules go for you as for the man on a first date when you are the initiator. This sends a message to him that you are capable, generous, and value an egalitarian relationship. If he offers to pay say it is your treat and he can get the next one. This demonstrates your appreciation for the offer and your willingness to negotiate. Realize that the majority of your early dates, after this one, will be paid for by him, however, given the unspoken “rules” I mentioned earlier.
Why not go Dutch?
You may be thinking, “Good grief, can’t we just avoid all this fuss if we just pay our own way on dates?” Nice try. But if you are considering going Dutch realize the message that doing so can send. During a first date, splitting the bill is likely to read “platonic.” It’s highly unlikely that your date will be impressed and your odds of getting another date go down. If you are looking for a way to get out of a next date, going Dutch is a fine idea.
All this being said, who should pay on a date is strictly your personal choice. It can be based on your comfort zone, gender based values, circumstances, and your relationship goals. A dating coach can help you figure out what is best for you given your situation and the person you are hoping to go out with, or are beginning to date. Good luck and happy dating!