The following is a guest post by Colleen Kong-Savage, a graphic artist in New York City. She writes and illustrates at Konga Line: Children Are Beastly.
I am on the dating scene again after sadly breaking up with my boyfriend of two years. But lemons into lemonade, and rainclouds into silver lining, I am looking at the situation as an opportunity to write this here essay and ask, On a date, should women still expect men to pick up the tab?
When we first met, my ex-boyfriend paid whenever we went out, but after a month we were splitting the bill and taking turns paying. I confess, I had to adjust my mindset when we made the change. Before my ex-boyfriend, I was in a 13-year marriage, in which I was completely supported by my partner.
In that relationship, I had worked in my ex-husband’s company until he suggested I quit to pursue a career in art while he supported me. What a gift! Truth be told, I suspect he was just tired of having a lowly graphic designer (that would be me) brawling with him in front of his other employees. My ex-husband always paid on dates because my own work paid me a piddle.
WHAT DO I THINK?
I relish the efficacy of online dating versus floating about in a bar. The activity of filtering through profiles has the curious flavor of voyeurism and processing job applications. For the most part, I like dating, meeting interesting men with interesting stories over drinks or a good meal. If I’m lucky, my date even asks me questions, which leads to two-way conversation. Hopefully we are at a restaurant, where I can feed the cuisine to my face without destroying my appeal. Hopefully he can too. Then it is time to wrap up, and there is that slightly awkward moment of settling the bill.
I admit it: as a woman, I believe in equality among the sexes and that expecting the man to pay is wrong, but secretly I do prefer the man to do so. As a matter of fact, every time I ask my date if we can split the bill, the old-fashioned side of me wishes the idealist within would just shut her big flapping trap.
For this post, I surveyed a bunch of friends, mostly a politically left-leaning bunch, to see what they thought of the tradition of the man picking up the tab on a date. Is it gentlemanly? Is it outdated in this age where the average Josie works alongside the average Joe (albeit at 78% of his pay rate)? Is it unfair and out-and-out sexism? Are other women as conflicted in their opinions as I am? Here are some thoughts…
A CASE FOR THE MAN TO PAY
Sweep a Woman Off Her Feet Or At Least Make a Good Impression
Jake, a director for packaging comps, agrees with his wife. “On the FIRST date, the man must pay or give the lasting impression that he is cheap for whatever reason. After the first date, anything goes—splits, pay the tip, whatever. I will say, when my wife and I dated I paid, always, happily.”
Most men expect to pay on the first date. There is an inherently romantic element to the gesture. To have a date take you out feels very different from when your buddies take you out. Of my seven first dates, only two agreed to split the bill. And one of those splitters had turned our coffee date into a work meeting when he whipped out his laptop to show me different programs he thought I’d find useful in my work as an illustrator. Useful information, but computers are a mood-killer.
Keri, an opera singer, says she always offers to split, but like me, is pleased if the man gallantly declines her offer. “I try not to let the ‘splitter’s’ choice impact my impression of him, but unfortunately it does.” I get that. However, what if we stop seeing the male splitter in a vaguely negative light, and simply grant bonus points to the fellow who picks up the check. I find generosity attractive in a man (or anybody for that matter). The ability to give is a strength, and the desire to give is a kindness.
Pick Me a Breadwinner
Some individuals seek a provider, someone who will be the breadwinner while they manages the home and mind the children (I hazard a guess that the homemaker-hopefuls are mostly women). Some individuals are simply in search of “life-sponsors,” as a friend put it. And some individuals are happy to support someone they find worthwhile.
Only a minority of people list income in their dating profiles. I find the detail so crass, like looking at a stranger’s underwear. But there are people who want to know because they are looking for a wealthy provider (being the beneficiary of one of those providers I cannot judge others who want the same)… or avoiding a mate who will bleed them financially dry.
In some ways men like sugar-mamas as much as women like sugar-daddies. However, if you look at the statistics on dating sites, there’s a subtle difference in the money-attraction. Women think, the richer the guy, the more desirable he is. Versus men thinking, I do desire a rich woman, but if she’s not rich then it doesn’t make a difference whether she earns $20K or $80K, according to ayi.com.
A man paying for dates is a basic signal that he is open to that traditional model of a husband supporting the wife or future family, which is the kind of mate many women seek.
A CASE AGAINST TRADITION
Because It’s Just Not Fair
A few friends believe unequivocally that the man should pay for the first few dates, regardless of income level. This bias doesn’t sit well with me. At the very least there should be exceptions. If you remove gender from the issue of who’s paying for the date—as would be required if you are gay—you are left with these following arguments against one individual carrying all the responsibility to foot the bills.
Whose big idea was this?
First of all, who asked who out? Marketing consultant Kathy says, “If the woman asks the guy out, she should pay or split—yes, I’ve done that. It’s bolder, faster, smarter.”
The Fatter Wallet
“We want him to pay,” comments Muna, a philanthropist. “But he does not want to anymore, understandable given the current economic situation.”
It makes more sense that the person with the greater income picks up the tab more often than the one with less income. David, a game designer, writes, “ The women I’ve dated since 2011 have all been financially more secure than me. I believe it has to do with profession—artists are more unstable.” David habitually picked up the tab on the first date, but the rest of the time he and his dates would take turns or go dutch. “Now my girlfriend and I have a shared account for hanging out,” and both individuals contribute roughly the same percentage of their income to the date-fund.
“I don’t like uneven power dynamics on dates,” says Lily, a graphic artist. “So I’ve always split the checks with people at first, whether the person was the opposite gender of me or not.”
Money is a power. Money calls the shots. Even if the payer is not a bully, the recipient feels an obligation to repay the act of generosity.
In my twenties, I was an artist’s model. One artist I worked for had designs on me. He took me out for meals, to museums, invited me into his figure-drawing group for free, and use of his studio. Because I was a grad student without much cashflow, I naively accepted his material generosity. What I didn’t realize was how emotionally exhausting it was to feel obligated to grant my friendship, loyalty, and company to an employer, 25 years my senior, married, and who kept hoping to get intimate.
On the flip side, the payer has to worry about being manipulated and used. Is she really interested in me? Or is she using me as a free meal ticket? “Beware the cheap person, on both sides of the table. The clues are often right there if you have the eyes to see them,” says Jeff, former marine and university administrator.
“Man pays on the first date,” declares Dan, massage therapist and artist. “If a woman pays then it’s not a date.”
One man I met online drove into New York City from 70 miles away just to have a date with me. I had initially hesitated to accept because who drives 70 miles for a first date with no guarantees? But considering his history of going to extremes to accomplish some amazing feats, he pointed out that a 75-minute car trip was not a big deal. Unfortunately the chemistry wasn’t there. I wanted to be the one to treat because he had schlepped in from way beyond the borders of the five boroughs just to meet me. Yet he insisted on paying, deftly snatching the bill and sending the waitress off with his credit card. Chivalry is alive and well.
I showed him Grand Central Station, careful not to be flirtatious. I had a really good time… with a friend. He was baffled and bitterly disappointed when I told him I wasn’t feeling it. Perhaps it would not have made a difference if I had been the one to treat, but in allowing him to pay, but I felt like I was leading him on.
Our society expects men to make more money than their female counterparts. We even pay men more than women in the same jobs. We are moving towards an age where gender roles are interchangeable, but we are not there yet. When I go to a PTA meeting, 90% of the parents in attendance on a weekday morning are female because their male counterparts are tied up with work, being the main breadwinner of the family.
I imagine the idea of having someone treat you to a lovely night out on a regular basis would be as appealing to a man as it is to a woman. However, despite our enlightened states of mind, we still bow to society’s expectations. Male egos are tied more closely to their paychecks than are female egos. For example, we know intellectually that in marriage, it should not matter who brings in the majority of the income, but some men admit feeling emasculated they must rely on their female partner’s income when economics change. Whereas I don’t hear that same self-esteem issue coming from women who rely on their male partner’s income—or at least women don’t feel it as intensely.
In the end, what is the purpose of the date? You are meeting someone you hope to know better and hope to like. Or you are doing something special with someone you care for. On the question of who picks up the check, my friend Susan sums it up best, “My opinion remains that it is up to the individuals. If two people can’t figure that out between themselves, they’re doomed when real hurdles arise.”
Readers, should a man continue to pay for the check in 2015? When do you think it’ll start being the norm for women to start paying most of the time? What is your mindset paying the check before going on a date? Should both parties at least offer to pay? Thanks Colleen for writing this post!
Happy Mother’s Day mom and to all the moms out there!