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One Hint: Guess Who's Paying for Dinner?

July 6, 2006 By:
Adina Matusow, JE Feature
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You just finished a meal or a few drinks after a great first date. The server comes over with the check and places the bill in front of the guy. He picks it up. Do you: a) reach for your wallet and insist on splitting it; b) make a half-hearted attempt to take out your wallet and offer to pay, but assume he won't accept; or c) not even offer because you think it's the man's responsibility to pay.

Most women I know would pick response No. 2. But why?

Why is it so important to a girl that the guy pay on the first date? Just because he picks up the tab doesn't mean he's a good person; it doesn't mean he's right for you; and it certainly doesn't mean that he will pay for the second date. So why do we care so much? Why would a guy's refusal to pay on the first date take away so many points?

My dad told me that if a guy doesn't pay on a first date, then he's not worth my time. But why does the male action of paying on a first date indicate anything about his worth? It doesn't, although it's still part of our testing system.

When a man pays, is it his chivalrous duty and romantic responsibility to sweep me off my feet? Wrong. I've gone on plenty of dates in which the guy paid, and that was the extent of his chivalry. In some cases, it's like he didn't even know the concept existed. Paying the bill does not imply that he will be opening car doors or pulling out chairs -- and it certainly doesn't suggest romance.

How can you take romantic gestures seriously when you've just met? Romance comes with at least a few more dates, when you actually start to have feelings for each other. Only then can a man truly sweep me off my feet.

Keep It Simple?

If a man takes me to an expensive restaurant, it implies his financial status, or it at least shows that he's not cheap. On a first date, you're both on your best behavior, and along with that goes the man paying and not accepting a woman's offer. That doesn't make him special; it just means his parents taught him well.

The real reason a man may be willing to pay is that he's simply playing the expected part. He foots the bill because it's somewhat ingrained in both of our heads that that's how it's supposed to be. A man shelling out cash has been a societal norm for centuries. It's not a coincidence that the server places the bill in front of the guy. In fact, once upon a time, some elegant restaurants didn't even list the price on the women's menu because there was no question that the man would pay.

The role of provider has shifted over the last few decades, but the pattern of who pays on a first date has remained. Many strong, independent women embrace this element of dating because -- despite how wrong it might be -- why not reap the benefits of an already sexist society by clinging to the one part of dating that is effortless?

We expect the guy to pay -- and he does. But if it's inevitable that everything down the road becomes more complicated, especially when it comes to money, then why not keep it simple on the first date?

Some people say that whoever makes the invitation should pay, but this policy makes no sense. I can't think of too many men my girlfriends and I actually asked out. But what happens when you meet online, and you mutually agree to go out and no one really asks?

My friend took his now girlfriend out for a first date, and said, "Look, I am taking you out because I want you to feel special. Everything is on me, so don't even try to pay. However, in the future, you are more than welcome to take me out and treat me."

By making this statement, he got rid of the expected anxiety. Another positive about his statement is that he obviously likes her because he said he wants her to take him out in the future. Basically, by making this statement, he eliminated all confusion, and showed her that he really appreciated her worth.

Maybe that's what it's about. A man simply wants the woman to feel special, and he wants her to appreciate him. However, how can she value him if she has no desire to ever see him again? If you have no intention of going out with him again and you've racked up an expensive tab, is it right for the woman to let the man splurge? It's better that you split it; after all, fair is fair, and it also hints that you're not interested in a second date.

The question is not whether or not it's all right for the man to pay. The question is why have we come to expect it? While I believe in women's rights and consider myself a feminist, I admit that it's hard to get rid of the expectation of a guy paying on the first date. Despite the fact that his spending money has no hidden meaning, I still believe that it's the chivalrous thing to do.

After all, getting doted upon really is a good way to make someone feel special. 

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