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love out loud: who pays on the first date?

Some days ago, I was reading an article about truth in feminism (linked from Rachel Hills’ wonderful blog), and whether Hugo Schwyzer should be writing from a feminist perspective given his colourful past. It was a great piece and addressed feminism and egalitarianism in relationships, but it was pretty much the most trite point in it that inspired me to write this column.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes, ‘Women writers still can’t write about sex like Henry Miller. And for some reason people persist in publishing articles about who should pay the check on first dates.’

It occurred to me that I have actually read a lot of articles about who covers the first date bill, and have had a lot of conversations around it, but have never actually written a column on the subject. And I immediately thought to myself that this is because the answer is so apparent to me that I couldn’t possibly get a whole column out of it. But although the self-indulgent nature of a lot of my writing may indicate that my columns are created out of a relentless desire to talk about myself (partly true), they’re also written with the hope that they might provoke thought or offer some guidance. Upon reflection, it seemed that there may be some merit in writing about who should pay on the first date after all.

So here we are, friends.

I’ve been on a number of first dates. Generally they haven’t looked like first dates in the conventional sense, and I have no idea who paid for what. And this is a trend that’s continued throughout my relationships; I have no idea who paid for what. In thinking about it, the only imbalances (I think) were probably with my first boyfriend, Gene Wilder, because he owned his own gyprocking business and, well, I was in year 11. With Julio, however, I’ve been the breadwinner for all but a couple of months of our relationship and I’ve been pretty happy to cover the costs of us doing things that he might not have been able to afford. Otherwise I think costs have been pretty much split down the middle, usually in an “I’m going to buy us some sandwiches and will pay for them without asking you to pay me back” kind of way, rather than a “well, you had the pumpkin ravioli and two of the three slices of garlic bread, so you owe …” kind of way.

And that’s essentially the crux of why I thought the question of who pays was a bit of a non-issue: I don’t know that I’ve ever thought it merited much consideration. In fact, I think that it’s been all the articles and conversations around “who pays?” that have manifested the angst, rather than the issue really being cause for concern. The only times I’ve personally felt angsty about it have been times when the other person has kindly offered to pay, and I’ve felt obliged to weakly protest and rummage around for my wallet because I’ve read so many quotes from men in women’s magazines about finding it rude if a woman doesn’t at least do “the reach”. Sure, it’s different if someone just looks at you expectantly when a waiter brings around the bill, but putting on a performance so I don’t seem like I’m assuming someone will pay if they’ve just said that they will seems rather gratuitous. Similarly, if I offer to pay, whether I’m with a friend or a love interest, I’m doing it because I want to do something nice for them, and a simple ‘thank you’ is what I expect to receive in return, not have them put up a fight (and anyone who’s worked in hospitality will know how annoying it is to have multiple credit cards thrust into your hand and then have to wait for some pseudo-etiquette dance to finish).

So after all that, who should pay?

Well, I would argue that it doesn’t really matter. If a guy offers to pay on a first date, I don’t think that makes you anti-feminist to let him do so. I don’t think it sets a precedent for the rest of your dates/relationship that he will be in control, and I don’t think it means he is expecting sex because he shelled out $28 at Fasta Pasta (and if he is, then he’s obviously a dickhead and what luck that you found out on your first date!). There are far more important things to think about on a first date than whether you should pay, or whether they will (like whether you’re on a date with a dickhead), and it’s completely dependent on what you’re comfortable with. As long as you’re sensible, considerate, and one person isn’t taking advantage of the other, then it really shouldn’t matter who pays on the first date.

Choose for yourself, and break archaic tradition!

(Image credit: 1.)

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