A few nights ago I was in a gathering with some friends. Somehow this topic came up. A friend was recounting a story of years ago when he had been on a dinner date with a girl. He was saying how he hates it when the girl pretends like she wants to pay, slowly taking out her wallet and making a fake offer that she wants to pay or split the check, but all the while wanting the guy to pay for the bill. Apparently on that date, he had let her pay and she had then become sour-faced.
As I was hearing the story, I was feeling a mix of confusion and a bit of shame. I was thinking “Wait, what is so wrong with that? Isn’t it better to offer than not, even if you ultimately think the guy should pay for the first date?” I asked my friend, how he would have preferred it. That she just sat there and let him pay or to mean it and pay for their dinner? He said he thinks that it is the guy’s responsibility to pay for the date and so yes, he would have preferred it if she sat there and didn’t give this fake, lukewarm offer. And in return, she can buy him a nice thoughtful gift after their second date. It was interesting to me hearing this from a guy who I think of as a forward thinking person.
He went on to bring an analogy that made me realize how much gender roles are still alive for all of us. This friend lives in a nice cabin-like house surrounded by woods and he mentioned that if I am sitting here with my girl and a scary noise comes from outside, obviously I am the one getting up to check on it, not her. This got me asking him and the group about their opinions on gender roles. For example, whether cooking is the woman’s role, etc (which interestingly no one ever thinks, or at least would admit to)
As thoughts were circulating in my head of “what kind of person this makes me that I have also done the lukewarm offer in the past”, another friend mentioned how he hates it if the girl just sits there and doesn’t at least make an offer and that he wouldn’t let her pay for the first date but expects her to pay for the next thing they do together.
At that moment, I realized a couple of things:
1- Here is a group of relatively young, educated and as far as I know progressive men who totally differ in their views and feel very strongly about their opinions on this topic.
2- If even amongst my own circle, people can’t agree on this topic, then how can any one person be right?
3- There is no reason for me to feel guilt or shame about however I’ve been or decide to be about this topic as long as it is true to my own ethics and beliefs which seem to evolve all the time.
In my first relationship in my 20s, I was with a guy who was old-school and Iranian and very over-protective and considered it his role as a man to take care of me. And yet we were both around the same age and didn’t make much money and although he would get the bill most times especially when we were with groups of friends, but I remember a period when he was unemployed and I paid when we went out. Although I do remember he didn’t feel good about it.
Later as I became single and entered dating life in my late 20s and 30s, I always felt awkward just sitting there and letting the guy pick up the check without at least making an offer. And I guess, if I got honest with myself, the ideal way I saw it, is that I offer and he rejects my offer and pays for at least the first few dates and then after that, sometimes he lets me pay and other times (more times) he pays.
Throughout the years, I have met men (friends or dates) who get offended if the girl offers to pay and men who get offended if the girl doesn’t offer to pay or doesn’t pay equal times.
And so many conversations with girlfriends come to my mind.
One girlfriend (a doctor) told me that while on a second date, with the check sitting on the table and the guy (a lawyer) not having made an effort to pick it up, she straight up told him that she believes that the guy should pay for all dates (and this guy, who is now her husband, obliged from that point on)….. When I heard this I thought, wow, gutsy, good for her for voicing what she believes.
Some other tidbits of conversations around this topic that I remember are:
“A man wants to feel like a provider and when he pays for the date it makes him feel like he has taken care of the woman”
“If you feel like you are worthy, you will let the guy pay and spoil you and if you are insisting to pay, then you have issues around worthiness and you should work on it”
Another girlfriend said when she first met her husband, they talked about this issue and he told her, I’ll pay for big stuff and you pay for little stuff. Interestingly as they went in to the marriage, there were periods that she financially supported him.
And a recent conversation with a friend (also a doctor) who feels conflicted about wanting a guy who makes more money than her and pays for the dates and also feels guilty and ends up splitting the bill on most of her dates.
I still don’t know how I feel about this. But I know that as a woman who makes a doctor’s salary which may be higher than other jobs, and as someone who has been interested in dating not just doctors, but men from different walks of life and careers who may make less money than me, and living in an expensive city such as LA, I don’t see it as fair for the guy to have to pay for every date. I also, somehow feel that some of the guys I have dated in the past who didn’t let me pay for anything, had this expectation of me to be somewhat of a trophy girlfriend with my appearance or mannerism, etc. So I have been really leaning more towards having an equal and maybe a friendship – feel in dating, where perhaps we’d alternate paying for things.
Having said this, there still exists a part of me, maybe the conditioned part, maybe the evolutionary wired part, that does like it when once in a while the guy really takes charge and says “I am taking you out”, makes plans and pays for the date, especially the first date.
Reflecting on all of this, the thing that I am most sure about at this point in my life, is that there is no one recipe or hard rule that would apply to all relationships. I feel that with every person, there is a new opportunity to see how we would be as a duo. An analogy I heard that resonates with me is that a relationship is like a play doh/dough that slowly and together you play with and get to mold it in to the shape that works for both of you and perhaps if you stay together long term, the shape of this dough continually evolves as both people grow and keep making new agreements that are unique and work for the both of them.