The Payment Dilemma

I’m a terrible first date.  It’s been one first-dating snafu after another.  All those taboo topics?  Kids? Politics? Religion? Sex?  Oh yah, I’ve broached them all.  Someone really needs to put a muzzle on me.  The words flow from my mouth and I try to reel them back in but they’re slippery little things and always seem to get away…

Perhaps the most repeated offense I make is the topic I don’t bring up.  I don’t offer to pay on the first date.  If you gasped and covered your mouth, you’re not alone.  Everyone (and I do mean everyone) tells me this is incredibly rude and Not The Way To Do Things.

99% of my acquaintances state a guy should pay for the first date.  This marks him not just as a man, but a gentleman.  Apparently it also tells you he’s not cheap, really does have a job, etc. and etc.   If that 99% of my acquaintances says that a guy should pay, then that means while a girl can offer, she should never pay.  Guys tell me this.  Girls tell me this.

So if I shouldn’t pay, and a guy isn’t going to allow me to pay, then why must I offer? Why is this?  Why must this be?

I tried to come up with several reasons behind it.  Perhaps the offer is supposed to tell the man she’s considerate.  Maybe it tells him she doesn’t expect things.  Or that she’s financially conscious during these hard economic times .  I get it.  Kind of.  But not really.

Hear me out.

If 99% of people think that a guy should always pay and the girl shouldn’t… then doesn’t the offer by the girl count as insincere? “I’m offering to pay and I really would do it but then I know you won’t really let me and you shouldn’t let me!”  There seems to be no point to checking off that box.  It makes it seem like the date is a  game show.  Offer to pay and you advance to the next round!  The reality is I just feel terribly fake when I ask because I know what the outcome will be.

This is, of course, remedied when I’ve made it through to date #2  and I’ve paid for that second meal.  If I can’t split a dinner the first time around, then let me pay for the second so I can show I’m considerate and I’m not taking advantage of the situation. This is acceptable, right?

Can I get a yay?

Or should I file this under things I shouldn’t overanalyze at 1:30 AM on my holiday break?

Or maybe just a “quit being a dumbass and offer to pay?”

– Kate

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50 thoughts on “The Payment Dilemma

  1. I think you need to offer to pay just for the gesture. Though I feel a tad awkward when the guys pays for me on the first date. Conversely, it feels awkward going dutch on the first date.

    I know some guys like the take the wallets out and feel like “the man” by paying for the first date.

    99% of the time, if you offer to pay, you won’t be paying. Well, going by my stats and I’ve had a horrible amount of first dates!

    • I also feel awkward! The fact that men are supposed to pay is something that I’m not 100% comfortable with. I definitely fall into the category of the woman that feels that I don’t need a guy to pay for things and I’d feel better if things were more evenly split. However, I’m told that in the South this is just not the way men do things and I should just follow the protocol.

      • Guys should pay for many reasons. One, to show they appreciate your time. Two, to show they’re not broke, which is important if you want a serious partnership. Three, because it’s a bit gallant and traditional. Four, because you lose respect for a man and he loses his own self respect if he cannot be taking the lead.

        • Couldn’t agree with more with your last bit you said there! Lost respect for a guy who couldn’t get his way to the front of a bar and failed to buy drinks. It was up to me to be the “man”.

      • What I really hate is a guy presuming that it’s his job to pay. A little part of me likes that little bit at the end of a date where you “bicker” about who’s paying. A lot of the times I end up with the guy saying, “we’ll split it next time” … which i’m more than happy with.

        Though… if i dont see a second date in the future, I’m just happy I didn’t fork out for the first!

  2. Entirely reasonable. I’m a firm believer that on the first date he better be opening doors, using his best manners with the waitstaff, and PAYING for the meal. Oh and you best believe I’ll be trying to see if he left a good tip. Bad tipping is a dealbreaker. I used to offer to pay until a couple guys took me up on the offer and was all WTF MATE I SHOULD NEVER PAY FOR A FIRST DATE. Yea, lots of people complain that it’s stupid to want equality and then at random times be treated like a lady instead of an equal but I don’t care. Some guys have had problems with this. You know who didn’t? My fiance. Who still pays for all of our dates unless I ORIGINALLY offered to take him out. And even then he often chooses to pay. He has the mentality that he wants to take care of his woman which translates to paying for going out. He has no problem with the fact that I assumed on our first date he would pay because he always assumed that’s what HE should do. He even brought me presents. Date win.

    • I was reading something about who pays being based on the one that initiates the date. I think this is a good idea. It would also seem to be a good idea to pay if you’re taking someone out to celebrate something (ie. birthday, new job, kick-ass presentation at work, new house).

      Ooooo. He brought you presents? I’ve yet to receive any presents on a first date… what is your secret? 🙂

      • I can see what you mean as I just had a conversation about this the other day. Even after the long conversation I don’t know how I stand about the balance of it. In an ideal world I’d prefer an equality. At the same time, I can appreciate a gentlemanly gesture. As a guy, do you find it hard to find the balance? Do guys think about this as much as I do?

        • I think about it alot. I’m still single and I’ve never had a girlfriend so I’m not really used to doing gentlemanly gestures for a woman. I can perform them if need be, but I don’t know how she would feel about them. When women wish for “equality”, I simply don’t know what exactly they mean by that. Is it total equality or is it just equality in the workforce and other societal conventions?

          I have a friend who has a girlfriend and he never opens car doors for her. She’s perfectly fine with that. I don’t know what some other girls would feel on the issue. To be honest, it’s a real pain in the ass to open a car door for a woman who is perfectly capable of doing it herself. It wastes time, it’s awkward, and I feel in many ways it’s unnecessary. Women are delicate, not invalid.

          I would be perfectly fine with opening a door/holding open a door for a woman. After all, I do it all the time. We’re both going to the same place and I figure “why not”. I’ve never gone on a dinner date with a female but I wouldn’t mind paying for the first date. I would however mind paying for EVERY SINGLE DATE there after. I’m just like “really, you can’t pitch in just once? not even take one third of the bill?” It sort of blows my mind how women want to be financially independent and say they are not attracted to wealth but at the same time expect for a man to buy them everything.

          I have seen lots of my friends get ruined financially and emotionally by females, which makes me very wary to even get into a relationship. I’m pretty unstable as it is financially and emotionally and I don’t need a woman that expects me to buy her everything and cater to her every emotional firestorm when I can’t even get my shit together.

          Sorry to go into semi-rant mode here but I felt it had to be said. Maybe there’s girls out there that aren’t solipsistic money miners but from what I’ve seen out of the women in my age bracket and a little bit beyond, I seriously doubt it.

          • I find this really surprising as a female. I think its fair to say that your blog is on the feminist side but without being preachy. i couldn’t even consider not offering, but maybe its an English/American thing. all the people i know always go halfsies on paying, especially on a first date. i mean what if you don’t intend to see him again then it’s like stealing. i hate owing people money and so dont think i could outright let someone pay for me, even if they insist. the only way i would let them is if it was agreed i would get them a drink in the pub. also if i were (like apparently 99%) assuming the guy would pay i would feel too guilty about ordering anything but the cheapest meal.
            i think if women want equal pay they should pay equal
            (i’m genuinely surprised this mentality still exists, but maybe i’m more progressive than i thought)

            • Do you happen to live up north? As I’m in the south, I’ve noticed that people tend to be more traditional. I have this feeling that if I didn’t live in TX I would be able to offer on a first date and it would be accepted.

              Luckily, I’ve gone out on a lot of dates that turned into second dates so I haven’t had to address the terrible first date thing. Yet. There will come a day, I’m sure of it! At that point, you can bet I’ll be bickering at the end of the meal to get to pay. But so far, picking up the second date is going well.

          • No, I understand what you’re saying! BUT, I do think your friends need to step back and think about the women with whom they get involved! If someone is expecting you to buy them things and to cater to everything well… yah… definitely not worth it. At least IMHO. I really don’t see this type of thing often. I guess it’s the circle they run in?

  3. Love your blog! While I will challenge you all on your definition of spinster*, I agree with you on this. I don’t get it. Never have. I’ve been told over and over that it’s just a dance you have to play. Offer to pay, but let him do it. Even if the grocery bag only weighs 10 pounds, let him carry it. Even if you know how to re-wire a lamp, ask him to do it for you. Sigh. Why is it thus? The fact that this confuses me is probably the reason that I am still single.

    * If you all are in your twenties, you are too young! I’m thirty nine, never married with no kids and spend most of my free time baking, sewing, knitting and crocheting – I’M a spinster. I say you have to be at least 35 to qualify 😉

    • Thank you, Jayne!

      We are the historical romance reading types and in historical romance authors you’re decidedly on the shelf by 23 (just the fact that there was an “on the shelf” mentality is sad). Since we’re in our late 20s, we thought it would be fun to play into that! 😉 You would fit in so well with us. We bake, we sew, and I want to learn to knit!

      If I learn any secrets of how to get out of the dating ritual, I’ll let you know. It really is SO frustrating. I can open my own dang pickle jar!

  4. The way I see it the person who invited the other for a date or a drink is the one that you would expect to be paying for the outing as you have agreed to join them and they have initiated it. It is almost as if you’re their ‘guest’ and it is their responsibility to look after you. That’s when it is more of a formal thing. The sex of the person in this case I think is irrelevant.

    • I like this! I hadn’t quite thought of it in the ‘guest’ way but it makes perfect sense and then does take out the gender variable. I’ve been googling some first date etiquette stuff this morning and this is actually something that was also mentioned in a number of places. It seems to be the most logical approach.

  5. To be honest, I am part of the 1 % that doesn’t believe the guy always has to pay. I am all for splitting. Gets rid of a whole bunch of problems: I don’t come across as needy (which I’m not), old-fashioned, inconsiderate, cheap or just a whore (yeah, women have done things for less than a warm meal). No questions about me being independent, about who pays the next time around, what if the next meal is cheaper or more expensive… You get the idea.
    If, however, you firmly believe in the guy pays up, then I totally agree. You shouldn’t have to offer. Unless of course, he is in the 1 % too. Could it really be that all of your recent dates were in the 1 %? That would explain a lot!

    • Sandra, you are voicing the way I truly feel! It would make me feel much better if we could just split things up front. I’m a pretty progressive and independent type of woman and it does make me feel awkward to let a guy pay. I guess I just do it because that’s the way it seems to go down here in the South. Somehow I feel this would be different if I were still up North, like the splitting of the check would be more acceptable. Not sure. I can’t speak from experience on that one. But the one time I really tried to pay on a first date (it was several years ago) it practically turned into a fight about who would do it. ::sigh:: It definitely turned me off to the wanting to offer since it turned into such an awkward experience. Maybe I need to seek out the 1% as their views on things would generally be more closely aligned with mine…

      • If someone really insists, I say one of two things. One, I’ll say your company is well worth it. Two, I’ll say I’d be happy for you to take me out some time in the future, so as to secure a second date if that is what is watned. If she doesn’t no big deal, just the cost of dinner.

  6. Oh no! You have suddenly made me have the same problem! I’ve actually never heard of the girl offering to pay on the first date. It strikes me as definitely insincere. If I offer to pay and the guy takes me up on the offer… I’m not going to go on a second date with the cheapster. But then, doesn’t that make me a bitch? I mean I OFFERED TO PAY. AGH. As if my world weren’t already complicated enough.

    I’m gonna stick to my guns. I will not offer to pay, on the basis that offering would emasculate him. See? I’m really just being nice. Maybe I’ll ask for a coffee or ice cream after our movie (which will of course be independent and foreign) and offer to pay then. At which point things will be going so well he wouldn’t dare let me… but it’s not a deal breaker if he does. Haha.

    Sorry for the long comment. This was my way of giving you a “yay”.

    • Oh yes, see that’s a whole other date thing – the extension of the date to drinks/dessert if you’re having a good time! At first I didn’t even know of this concept and now that I do it stresses me out. But it’s also a prime opportunity to even out the situation so I should keep that in mind…

      I’d still rather split the whole thing up front but since I feel a little bit forced into the ritual then I will heartily accept a “yay” on my non-offer! 😉

  7. I’m old-fashioned enough to believe the man should always pay, but the female can pitch in here and there. The world has changed, it’s true, but some things should NEVER be effected by the passage of time.

    • I have a hard time finding the balance between the equality I desire and the old fashioned sensibilities which I can also appreciate. As it comes to paying, I’d prefer the equality but as I’ve mentioned in a couple responses, I do appreciate the gesture of other things. My heart always melts a little when I get flowers (it’s been a very, very long time since I got any) or when someone does something thoughtful as it tells me they were listening closely.

  8. I give you a yay! guys should pay. I usually offer but when they let me pay it does make me look at them poorly. And it’s obvious that if they can’t accept your being opininated or don’t like you talking about your opinions and certain topics it would never work out anyway.

    • True! The last date I went on (was fabulous) and the guy even answered my questions about a girl not taking a guy’s last name. Oh yah, I brought that up on a first date. 😉

  9. Kate, I love this post. SO much. This is one of those situations when my strident feminist comes out, forcefully – “Why do you have to pay? I have money! Let’s split it! Oh please, oh please, oh please, can we split it?”

    In all honesty, I love a free meal (who doesn’t?) and do appreciate chivalry (people, in general, should just be considerate of each other), but I think it’s best to prepare a guy for what he’s in for. If I don’t sincerely offer to split the check on the first date, when do I start insisting on gender equality? If things progress, we might be in trouble – I won’t take his last name, I don’t like to automatically be the one who doesn’t drive, and if he ever calls me “baby,” I may turn into a banshee. It just seems disingenuous to go along with traditional gender roles on a first date. I won’t press the issue hard, but I would really be most comfortable splitting it in half. Besides, what if the date sucks? I don’t want to feel guilty about that Duck a l’Orange I ordered…

    • re: the splitting the bill the first go-around… I know, right?! Tho there was that one time I really tried and it turned into an awkward back-and-forth thing so I just… don’t offer and plan to split the next check. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve had a situation where I haven’t had the opportunity to pick up the tab on the second date… Ack! Now I have to think about how to handle this if I go on a really terrible first date!

      The last date handled my question about his opinion about women taking a guy’s last name rather well. I was impressed!

  10. Apparently, I’m doing it wrong too…I never offer to pay…now that being said, the last date I went on, he paid for dinner (and I didn’t offer to pay), but I did pay for the fro-yo dessert later that evening…so maybe that makes it ok…

    • It does! If the guy is allowed to pay for dinner then we should be allowed to pay for dessert. And ooooo ::wiggles eyebrows:: dessert later that evening, eh? Sounds like it was a good date! Go you!

  11. Why don’t you pay and see how you feel? I believe that the inviter should pay for the invitee. But why not mix it up? Even better, pay without them knowing.

  12. I think it is ok for you to offer. There is no reason for you not to.

    As for a bad first date where everything went wrong. Well my last first date didn’t go so well either, and we have been married eleven and a half years now

    • Wow, 11.5 years! That’s awesome!

      Tonight’s date consisted of three inappropriate early date conversations and one ahi nacho that somehow exploded all over my hand. I swear, I can never get it right… 😉

  13. Yeah, on the first date guys pay. The reason you offer is because it signals whether or not your a gold digger. At some point, if you date a lot, and its clear your a grown up with a career capable of paying for things, you’ll need to start picking up your part of the tab. This is true no matter how much the guy makes or how generous he is. If he pays for the first 10 dates and you contribute nothing he is probably a desperate loser and this is quasi prostitution.

    Now, an exception can be made if you don’t make a lot of money. If you some 23 year old teacher making shit and I make six figures we aren’t going to downshift my lifestyle just so you can feel like your contributing. Go make a difference in those kids live and I’ll support it. But if your a corporate sell out making some scratch like everyone else and can carry your own weight do so.

    I really hate when I have to give a girl the money talk. Usually, after X dates when I feel its time, I will start to leave checks out there a long time waiting for the girl to finally decide to contribute. If she doesn’t take the hint I will actually tell her how the whole money thing is going to go, and if it gets to that she has lost a lot of points.

    • Ha! Can you imagine the look on the guy’s face if I suggested it? “Hey, uh, whadaya say we sneak out of here before the waitress comes back? I’m sure she won’t mind. I do it all the time.” ::deer in headlights look::

  14. This is a thorny issue. I like the comment above as it takes the issue and tackles it purely from the problem solving perspective. Unfortunately skipping out creates another problem. I have been on first dates too. It is just as difficult doing what is right if you are a man. Let’s take the sex out of a financial question. How is it decided by two women or two men on a first date? I suspect there would be less of a problem. I just can’t escape the dominacy connotation. As a woman you are sending an important message when you offer to pay. As a man you have to acknowledge that message when it is proferred, note it, and offer in return to go with convention on the first date. This would be a good time to have a discussion about “equality and rights and mutual expectations”. What better way to start a relationship? Terrific topic. Terrific post.

    • Yah, see, that’s my issue. I’m supposed to offer to show something but then my offer isn’t actually taken up. I’d like to be able to offer (it would be genuine, I would prefer to and feel better about splitting the check) on the first date and it be accepted but I don’t like that I’m generally not allowed to pay but I have to show I’d be willing to. That’s what feels insincere or false or something. Do I make any sense? Still, I think if there were to be two women or two men they’d either split it or the one who asked the other on the date would pay. This was suggested earlier and I like it!

  15. I tend to do the “reach for my purse” trick when the bill comes. This way, I’m offering, but not outright. I have no problems with paying for my meal, especially if the date isn’t going anywhere. This gives them the signal that I’m willing to pay, and then they can accept, or not. It’s not as awkward as the “oh, can I pay?” or the “let me pay half” methods, and you’re still showing you’re not a total slouch.

  16. I was once part of the 99% but now I am a firm believer in going Dutch until actually in a relationship. There will be PLENTY of ways to tell if man is a gentleman aside from his paying. Let’s face it. of A) spouse, B) other relative, C) complete stranger, C is where the first date fits best. As much as I love a free dinner, I love the idea of setting clear boundaries more. If he’s not paying, he has nothing to expect but good company. Full disclosure, I’ve yet to try this because I have not been on a first date since I changed my position, but I am curious to see how it will work. I plan on declaring “separate checks” to the waitstaff when initially addressed. How he handles this will be telling.

    Your blog is amazing. Keep it up ladies!

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