Of all the awkward aspects of heterosexual courtship, figuring out how to handle the check at the end of the first date is one of the worst. Will an old-school date think you're sending platonic vibes if you offer to split the check? Or are you an asshole if you don't "reach" for your wallet? What does it say about you -- a relatively evolved, progressive individual when it comes to gender roles -- if you allow a man to pay for you (or if you don't)?
Figuring out who pays for first dates can be a surprisingly charged endeavor.
According to the etiquette experts at Emily Post, "Whoever did the asking is on the hook to pay the check unless otherwise specified." But it's not always so simple when you take into account the varied -- often loaded -- opinions daters have on the subject. It's nearly impossible to know what kind of messages you're sending by splitting the check, covering the entire bill or sitting tight as the guy picks up the tab (if you even care about what he thinks, that is).
To get a bit of clarity on how straight women feel about paying on the first date, we consulted our readers on Facebook. Their answers basically fell into four categories:
There were those who thought the man should always pay...
“When I was younger, I'd 'reach' for the bill with no intention of paying, but I at least made the gesture. If he accepted my 'offer,' I'd pay but there would never be a second date, no matter how good the first date was. Now that I'm older, I don't even make the gesture -- better he knows what's expected of him early on!”
“I recently went on a date with a man who insisted we split the check, but he itemized the check and said, 'I'll pay for one of your glasses of wine and half the apps.' It really put a damper on the end of the date and turned something that had been a romantic night into a negotiation, so I just grabbed the whole check and paid it. I think it is classy for a man to plan on paying if he invites you on a date. If a guy doesn't want to spend the money on a glass of wine while enjoying my company, why would I want to spend any time on him?”
“If a man asks a woman on a date, he should pay, but she should offer to help pay. He should decline, even for her to pay just the tip, if he wants a second date. Once they have a few dates, she should help with the costs of dating.”
...and those who were conflicted about the whole thing.
“I always offer to pay half, but my worst relationships have always been with men who accepted. I'll continue to offer because part of me will always be weirded out to just assume someone's going to pay for my shit, but honestly, if they accept, it’s not a good sign for the future. I make my own money and I'm proud of my ability to take care of myself, or even treat a man if I want, but this dynamic confuses the hell out of me. I don't know why men who will take my money always end up disasters. And the feminist in me hates how pleased I am when they pay. I hate literally everything about settling the bill on first dates. I hate offering and accepting. Ugh.”
“This is a confusing and panic-inducing topic. For me, it gets even more complicated, since I write about restaurants for a living. Not only do a lot of guys expect me to pick the restaurant and recommend menu items, I worry that they expect me to pay, too. There are the dates where I panic and just take the check; there are the dates where I sit on my hands and wait a few seconds to see if he takes the check; and there are the dates where I immediately tell this date is going nowhere and I tell the waiter that it's going to be a split check. Then there are the guys. The ones that won’t let you pay and the ones let you pay and say they will get the next one and thank you. I might also add that, most of the time, if I let them pay, I offer to get the next meal.”
But mostly, women were totally fine with splitting the check...
“My boyfriend and I met on a blind date. I knew from texting that he was a grad student living on a stipend, while I was comfortable in my career and financial position. When we went on our first date, there were no awkward movements for the check or awkward conversations -- we each paid for our own portion. We've been together over a year now and still split all expenses 50-50, even down to a six-pack of beer and Netflix. I think this leaves room in our relationship to truly enjoy each other's company without worrying about the feelings of obligation or advantage-taking that can sometimes arise when one person in a relationship spends more money than the other.”
“Honestly, I don’t look down on anyone who expects men to pay for the first date. However, constantly reinforcing this societal norm of men paying the bill at the end of a first date -- a tradition that was set probably hundreds of years ago, maybe even before dates were a thing -- could negatively affect the progress we are trying to make as women. I understand how people might think that it is a simple act of chivalry by the man, but the meaning behind chivalry today is so much different than the meaning it had 50, 20 or even 10 years ago. I personally have always offered to pay or split the bill. My boyfriend and I have a system where I get to pick the place if he's paying for dinner, and he gets to pick the place when I pay for dinner. This method has really helped us show affection to each other in a way we both know best and in a way that is equal and fair. He loves the fact that we both share the responsibilities and one isn't ‘overpowered’ by the other.”
“When I go on dates, I always offer to split the bill or round of drinks. I do it because I think it's more important to be considerate of others' situations than to just assume that one person is going to provide for and take care of you. I know what it feels like to live paycheck to paycheck, and so I feel that offering to split the bill says 'I appreciate the gesture, but I can hold my own. Not because I want or need to, but because I have enough respect for you and enough confidence in myself to know that splitting dinner isn't going to determine the rest of my love life.'”
“I treat the first date as I plan to treat the rest of the relationship, should it turn into something more serious: a 50/50 egalitarian split. I’m lucky enough to have a career and enough money to support myself and have fun on the side. Plus, I feel no need to follow tradition for the sake of tradition. If it makes him feel emasculated to allow me to contribute financially to our evening, then his psychological security is frighteningly thin and he’s very likely not the sort of man I would want to date anyway.”
“On any date, be it the first or tenth, I'm always prepared to pay for my part of the bill. A majority of the time, the man insists on paying, so I don't reject the offer, but I'll make the point to pick up the check every now and then. I was taught to not depend financially on anybody.”
...or covering the whole tab themselves.
“I always pay, assume I will pay and am prepared to pay. When dating, especially when I have initiated, I assume the responsibility of paying as I have invited the date to be my guest. If I cannot cover the full tab, I make it clear and request we split the bill. Sadly, we still live in a culture where we expect favors from women when the man pays. I don't owe anyone anything, and I can take care of myself. If he initiated and invites me out, I will still be prepared to pay, but will ask up front, ‘How would you like to go about the bill?’”
“I usually go based on who asked for the date. If he did, I expect him to pay, but always bring money just in case. If I ask a guy out, I fully intend to pay. In this day and age, if you want to date someone or go out with them in any capacity, you can't expect them to have money to blow on a movie, putt putt or dinner. So if you're the person asking to go out, you should be the person expected to pay.”
“From my experience, there has been uneasiness from men when I offer to pay the bill at the end of the date. Whether he is just a friend or a date, the man always grabs the checkbook. When I offer to pay, they usually turn me down. But I have given myself a rule that if I choose the place, then I pay. If the man chooses the place, then he pays. I think it is more courteous, because if I choose an expensive place and the man didn't plan for the meals to be out of his budget, then I do not mind taking care of the bill. But when I pay, the man usually feels emasculated, because he cannot take care of me. I try to make it clear that we are both independent people with jobs who make decent money and it is no problem when I pay for the both of us, because I believe in equal treatment. After I state that, I don't think the guy really minds getting treated every once in a while.”
“The person who asks the other one out should pay for the first date. Then I think they should alternate, or decide who pays depending on who asks and makes the plans.”
Moral of the story: If you have a strong preference on paying or not paying on a first date, you do you. But if you're conflicted and leaning toward an egalitarian method of dating (hi!), it doesn't seem to be so off-base to go Dutch or cover a first date entirely. If nothing else, it's a good way to get unenlightened men interested in feminism.