This question emerged organically, in a conversation with a male friend about our heterosexual dating expectations. I thought it’s always the man who pays on the first date. Period. A girl can offer tip if she’s feeling generous. The weight of this financial burden is alleviated by the inexpensiveness of the encounter — a cup of coffee or an ice cream or appetizers or two drinks max. My male friend thought this was “retrograde,” both in general and in relation to the dating scene he frequented 10 years ago. He doesn’t assume that anyone will pay for him, and he assumes that other adults feel the same — women included.
So I brought the question to Facebook, where brilliant friends (all of whom happen to be female and, because they hail from different parts of my life (PhD, MA, BA, high school, junior high school, elementary school), are mostly strangers to one another) shared their thoughts and built a fascinating dialogue. We discussed chivalry and wooing, the gender wage gap and gender norms, investment and obligation, politesse and evaluation metrics, hetero vs. GLBTQ cultural expectations…
I was hooked. This issue is too rich to abandon, I thought; it is the site for articulating and negotiating values around cultural norms, gender relations, romantic appropriateness, financial responsibility, and more.
So I set up an informal straw poll today and 39 people have weighed in thus far. My colleague Rhea and I might explore this in a more formal fashion later. But until that day comes, here is the initial, anonymous data. Please note, I modified the survey after receiving the first 36 responses by adding demographic questions (gender, sexual orientation, relationship status, age).
Most participants thought that the man should pay (assuming this was a heterosexual encounter), but also added interesting caveats. Here are some key quotes that represent the range (but not the frequency) of responses:
“Always the guy… ALWAYS!”
“It depends. As a female, I always offer to split. However, I’m more impressed by a man who declines and pays for the first date.”
“It depends on a range of scenarios, but I’ll just use the simplest ones. If the guy asked the girl out then he should pay. If she asked him out, they will probably go dutch.”
“The person who asked for the date, regardless of gender.”
“Split the bill. It shows both parties respect each other and if the relationship grows it sets the trend that they are both equal partners in it.”
A whole-hearted thank you to all who have participated! And it’s not too late to share your thoughts. The survey is still open!