I wish there was a magic wand I could wave that could clear this up for everyone. I so vividly remember being on dates when I lived in New York (I used to go on a lot of dates) and feel nervous any time the bill came. Do I offer to pay? When? Will he be insulted if I do? Does he want me to insist and wrestle this bill to the ground?
Like most money etiquette questions, it's a mine field, and like most people, I have my own opinions about dating and money etiquette. Being raised in the south, it's sort of de rigueur that the guy should pay, no matter what and it's something I've come to expect.
Talking with a guy friend over dinner the other night, he felt differently and made a remark that if women want to be treated as equals, they should pay their own way.
...Okay, that's a valid point.
Then he followed it up by saying that any woman who expects a guy to pay or dates a guy exclusively for dinner dates is a "prostitute."
Okay, not a valid point.
Abusing the Custom
"Dating for dinner" became popular in the 30's and 40's when women first entered the workforce, got paid much, much less than men and still had to pay for households on their own. Me and my girlfriends in NYC used to joke about it, but I like to think we never wasted anyone's time we weren't interested in just to get a meal. Dating is painful. Going on a date with someone you're not interested in is probably the most excruciating way to waste time. Seriously. It's like picking off your own fingernails. Why would anyone subject themselves to that?
But there are a lot of people out there giving dating a bad name.
Back in 2011 Business Insider published a piece on a young woman, also living in NYC, who dated guys specifically to get around $1200 worth of dinner each month. There are a lot of things wrong with that article (like her budget and priorities, and the fact that she was tracking her dates' spending like it was income) but biggest of all was how she's giving other women a bad name.
More recently in Aziz Ansari's new Netflix show, Master of None, (which I highly, highly recommend), his character goes on a date with a girl who orders THREE entrees.
Tongue-in-cheek jokes aside, I can see how men, if the women depicted above represent even a small margin of datable women, that their reaction is to immediately think they should go dutch on dates. Not because they're coming from a place of fairness and equality, but because they don't want to get played.
Some women like to argue that men should pay for the first date because most of them are just out for a casual hook up anyway, and in essence they're wasting the more relationship-minded woman's time. Like, he doesn't want to date you seriously, but you should get free dinner as a consolation prize?
Aren't these two attitudes EXCELLENT moods to set for a first date?
Who Should Pay on a First Date? A Quick And Easy Way to Decide
To figure out who should pay on a first date, I'm going to look at the etiquette of same-sex couples. The person who pays on the first date should be the one who did the asking. (I double checked this with gay friends of mine.) Emotions and intentions aside, someone asking you to dinner is an invitation. You should accept because you want to, and they should pay because they want to. Kind of like giving a gift.
Guys, if a lady is awesome and empowered enough to ask you out, I think she should pay and you should let her. My buddy Martin also recommends doing a lower cost first date to both relieve the pressure and save your wallet in this post.
And if a guy asks, I think he should pay, and I don't think it's wrong for women in that situation to have the expectation that he's going to at the end of the night. At the very least, it shows he has a generous spirit, which is important when seeking out a potential partner. Please, accept that I'm a strong woman who can pay her own way, but pay for my dinner anyway because you asked, obviously like me, and want to impress.
With that said, I think a guy should really only pay on the first date and then the couple can take turns, which sets the tone for a more financially equitable relationship than say, making him pay for the first 3-5 dates.
And yes, being a guy who wants to date women is expensive. But if we're comparing apples to apples, being a woman is just as expensive. We pay more for beauty treatments, clothes, hair care and healthcare. Because society demands it and also because we're a beauty obsessed culture. Guys can get away with paying less for things and perhaps this comes out in the wash within our dating customs.
Just something for you to think about.
What Should You Do When Someone Pays
Say thank you. What are you, an animal?
And for pete's sake, ladies, don't sleep with a guy (or give any sexual favors) just because you feel obligated to because he "bought you something." That's a) wrong and b) just perpetuates the myth to the skeezier guys out there who think they should expect women to go down just because their AmEx did.
If you feel like returning the favor, please do it by paying for the date the next time.
What do you think? Who should pay on a first date?