Why we still care who pays for the first date

A dating scene in <i>Frances Ha</i>

A dating scene in Frances Ha

My friend Lily*, blonde, leggy, gorgeous, is the sort of woman that men chase down the street to get her phone number. This really happened after she locked eyes with a handsome gentleman in a meaningful ‘missed connections’ kind of way while out strolling one weekend. They made plans for a date. We were all dead with envy that none of us had experienced this deeply romantic/ideal memoir material kind of moment. The Big Date arrived and he not only took her to a decidedly average pasta joint, but readily accepted her half-hearted offer to go Dutch.

“He let me pay half which my traditional side balked at. Though obviously as a bra burning femmo, I was conflicted” she texted later about the date and we moaned back and forth, only half-seriously about how to date “as a feminist” and how Germaine and Naomi would surely have been giving us a transcontinental tut-tutting if they could hear us.

“Dinner tab chivalry”, as Jezebel coined it, remains stuck in feminism’s (bony, humourless) craw. But it kind of makes sense. Women are making their own money, but still not as much as men. Women ask men out (I know right!) but still there remain blogs on why women shouldn’t do such bold and vampish things, and what rules they should abide by, and how they can “enchant” a man. Women can be alpha, but we still need books that tell us to “lean in” and to “take a seat at the table”, and to not be afraid of being too bossy, or too much. Most of all, women are still expected to play nice. So when a gentleman wants to pay for our plate of ragu (actually scratch that, nobody would order that on a first date) this niceness, or fear of not being nice imbues that plate of average pasta with more angst than it should. So whether you let a gentleman pay for your very specific martini, throw it in his face if he offers to or split the cost of it down the middle, it’s interesting that it’s still something we think about. As Laura Beck wrote in Jezebel, the whole “guys should pay for dinner” convention has been more resistant to ideological change than other vestiges of our peculiar form of patriarchal culture.”

We're talking about it again because a study was published last week based on the findings of psychologist David Frederick of Chapman University in California. Frederick found that little has changed, reaching for the wallet wise, since your grandpa took your grandma out for a soda and a swing dance.

Frederick and his team trawled through data from more than 17,000 people to see how changing gender norms have impacted on dating. Curiously, as the study reports “Consistent with conventional norms, most men (84 percent) and women (58 percent) reported that men pay for most expenses, even after dating for a while. Over half (57 percent) of women claim they offer to help pay, but many women (39 percent) confessed they hope men would reject their offers to pay, and 44 percent of women were bothered when men expected women to help pay.”

The survey also found that 76 per cent of the men felt bad about pocketing payments from possible partners. This seems to say a lot about how we put a monetary value on feelings, and how obligation is a stubborn old thing.

While crying personal choice is certainly a thorn in modern feminism's side (insert any story here on pole dancing, brazilian waxing, ‘opting out’ being a SAHM and botox) it, and our own experiences shape how we feel about the dinner tab 'debate'. And that is surely OK.

If a dude can't can't handle you insisting on paying your way, he's not right for you. If you equate him splitting the bill with him thinking you're not marriage material then you need to look within (and maybe stop sizing men up for marriage on the first date and just enjoy yourself). If you asked them out you should probably pay. Some people are stingy, some are generous, and money doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. It's OK to go on a cheap date and heck, to be a cheap date too if you fancy it. 

Besides, if you've been courting a while and you like each other and have a good balance in your relationship then things tend, and should, to even out anyway. Everybody likes to be treated, and sometimes it's OK to simply revel in it. Just to be clear, you should never take someone to an average restaurant. And besides all that, remember always that money can’t buy you love.

*Lily is not her real. But trust me, she is a total fox.

 

56 comments

  • Women should pay for the first date because men will be paying for the rest of thier lives

    Commenter
    UltiSmokin
    Location
    Thirlmere
    Date and time
    August 19, 2013, 7:54AM
    • I've never had this problem sadly enough - my first longterm boyfriend was a massive scab (no job no car -sigh-). He was a lovely guy but couldn't pay for anything and it simply wore me down by the end.
      My current partner and I split everything fairly down the middle - he's currently studying and I'm working however so I pay more than he does. But he's studying to be a lawyer and the wages he's looking at for graduate positions are double mine - so I've told him I expect him to pay me back with expensive dinners and jewelry when the time comes :P

      Commenter
      Lauren
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 19, 2013, 8:42AM
      • ....you're currently splitting everything down the middle but you expect him to pay you back when he becomes a lawyer after graduation? wow.

        a few reality checks for you:

        1) he will have a crap load of HECS that needs to be paid off
        2) lawyers don't start to earn a lot of money for years in the industry (they usually need to become partner first)
        3) doesn't what you just said kind of go against everything feminism is about? so much for equality.

        Commenter
        Adrian
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        August 19, 2013, 10:51AM
      • Or he will just trade you in for a younger model when he has graduated, happens all the time and I am pretty sure he will not pay you back for looking after him whilst he studied.

        Commenter
        Trent Cooper
        Location
        CBD
        Date and time
        August 19, 2013, 12:16PM
    • So glad someone wrote this it is the source of debate often amongst my friends. I can't understand how any feminist can be ok with expecting a man to pay for a date! You can't have your cake and eat it too, either we want to level the playing field or we don't and you can't pick and choose.

      Commenter
      V
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 19, 2013, 9:04AM
      • As a male, this is certainly a confusing issue. If we offer to pay, then we are dismissive of a female's ability to provide. If we accept going dutch, then we're not being romantic enough. If we allow the female to pay, then we're being cheapskates.

        Now it appears that if the female asks to split the bill, she's hoping that we insist on paying. If we don't, then it's a strike to feminism.

        Dating is such tough work, it's amazing that anyone gets any enjoyment out of it. Whatever happened to the days of just saying "I like you", and if it's reciprocated, then you are together.

        Commenter
        DeeK
        Date and time
        August 19, 2013, 12:02PM
      • Except we don't have a level playing field... so if we did that we wouldn't get any cake at all.

        Commenter
        Ch
        Date and time
        August 19, 2013, 12:03PM
      • I agree but sady a lot of women seem to cherry which aspects of feminism they wish to adopt
        bit od a double standard if you ask me

        Commenter
        Ken
        Date and time
        August 19, 2013, 12:14PM
      • They can have their cake, eat it AND you'll pay for it...

        Commenter
        M
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        August 19, 2013, 12:28PM
      • And I can also never understand how any "feminist" can expect her father to pay for her wedding.

        Commenter
        coops90
        Location
        melbourne
        Date and time
        August 19, 2013, 1:50PM

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