One day, someone will commission a study that finds that whomever asks for the date should pick up the check. Until that day, it seems that men and women alike still expect the guy to cover it. How is this not settled?
Two years ago, a study found that both men and women are still stubbornly devoted to the practice of the man picking up the check—even people who are raised in a more egalitarian environment. According to this study, 84 percent of men and 58 percent of women reported that men pay for most expenses. Nearly 60 percent of women offered to pay, but nearly 40 percent admitted they didn’t really mean it. 44 percent of women were bothered at the mere suggestion that they kick in a few bones towards that steak. And even after these couples had been together for a while, men still paid most of the time.
Today, the majority of us still take this view. A new NerdWallet survey of 1,000 people in relationships found that 77 percent still think a man should pay for a date. Only 19 percent believed the bill should be split. I hate to be all “come on, ladies,” but COME ON, LADIES. Never expect a man to pay for you. Especially at the beginning! You don’t even know if you like this mouth-breather yet!
I know all the arguments—and if he offers, fine. But if you offer, fine too, yes? Here’s the weird thing about paying for the check—in an otherwise meeting of the minds between two equal people, both likely employed, both likely autonomous grownups, it’s strange when women are pushing to achieve equality in all areas of life, only to observe this retrograde convention by default. Expecting the dude to pay brings with it an assumption of romantic intent that seems pointlessly complicated by money. Again, nothing wrong with letting a guy pay. But there’s also nothing wrong with the inverse. There’s also nothing wrong with splitting it. There’s also nothing wrong with taking turns.
What’s cool about splitting the check or taking turns is what it suggests, what it symbolizes: You’ve both shown up on equal footing to enjoy each other’s company; there are no expectations aside from getting to know each other and having a good time. I used to joke on dates that I wanted to split the check so as not to incur a sexual debt, and while I’d never do something I didn’t want to do on account of a few free beers, I wasn’t completely joking; too often, a man paying has in his mind given him the right to make a move. When one person pays, the balance of power between two people can become consciously or unconsciously destabilized, which is not a thing that most women (outside of a sub/dom scenario) want.
That said, maybe the confusion is a permanent fixture. For every person you ask about who should pay, you get a different answer. Over at Vogue last year, Patricia Garcia surveyed the staff and discovered that this stuff can be used to express a nuanced array of interest levels. Like, splitting the check means you’re not interested.
“That way, we both put in exactly the same into the date, and I don’t feel like I owe him something because he invited me to dinner,” a fashion editor told Garcia. “There are no misunderstandings.”
I’m in partial agreement here—you split the check so you don’t feel like you owe him something, sure. But it need not reflect how much you like him! One could make the argument that the more you like someone, the more you should split the check, setting the tone for a healthy give-and-take.
Other editors thought having to pay was a turnoff, and that the man should foot the bill as some kind of compensation for the various difficulties of being a woman. “A lot goes into getting ready for a date, so the least they could do is pay for dinner,” one told Garcia.
In the end, when you add up the blowout, the manicure, the wax, the new dress, and the lipstick, you might as well have paid for a five-course meal.
Another argument in favor of men paying hinges on the fact that they often still make more money—the “until men and women are equal, men can keep on paying for [insert thing here]” argument. I’ll admit, I’ve wondered about this, too: why not let a man cover it when you’re still hustling for fewer pennies on the dollar?
At the end of the day, though, dates are a lot of things, but they aren’t a compensation program for inequality. In fact, they can be the front lines for moving that shit forward—taking gender-based assumptions off the table is a very important move toward gender equality. The less we assume certain behaviors to be appropriate because “man” or “woman,” the more we move the conversation toward one of equals and individuals, not masked performers following a script.
And trust me, you don’t want those steps already laid out for you. He’ll pay for dinner, and six months from now, you’ll be doing his laundry. Sound good?
Image via Paramount