Ah, the "Golden Rule": the semi-biblical, elementary-school mantra was probably the first piece of advice I ever received. Is it overwrought? Sure. Is it fantastic advice nonetheless? Indeed. Treating others how you'd like to be treated is a no-brainer. I don't like when people shove me on the subway, so I don't shove people on the subway. We're all adults here. Which is why, in my opinion, "should you offer to pay on a date?" shouldn't be such a contested question.
Why? Well, let's apply the good old Golden Rule to the date scenario: do you like your date to offer to pay for drinks or dinner when the tab comes? Yes? Great, so offer to pay next time you are on a date and the check arrives. No? Are you a heterosexual male? Did someone teach you you always had to pay for your dates? Be honest! Do you really want to pay the whole check? At the end of the day, everyone wants more money in the bank, so what is paying for someone else really about? Whew. This already sounds like a lot to unpack.
Paying on a date can get complicated due to archaic gender roles, a substantial wage gap, and general confusion about what good etiquette looks like in 2018. Is chivalry equivalent to good etiquette, or is chivalry dead because women are independent powerhouses? It's tricky.
Let's start by acknowledging the fact that not all couples are heterosexual, and that for many people dating in the world, traditional gender roles that have historically suggested that a man pay for a woman do not apply. When we take those old-fashioned gender roles out of the equation, we can focus on another factor that is helpful in deciding who should pay for the date: who asked whom out?
If you asked your Tinder match out on a date to drinks, you should be prepared to pay. You should especially be prepared to pay if you picked the location. On a first date, there's not a whole lot you know about the stranger-but-hopefully-not-serial-killer you're going to sit beside for an hour or so. They might not want to spend $17 on a martini, so if you choose that type of cocktail bar, you should be able to foot the entire bill. It can feel empowering to cover a check on a date, no matter your gender.
OK, so what happens when your date offers to pay, or grabs the check first, even if you asked them out? YOU STILL OFFER TO PAY. An offer is a very polite gesture that says, "Hey stranger, I had fun (or not that much fun) and I'm happy to split this with you because I have good manners."
Your date can turn your offer down, so you don't need to foist your credit card on them, or sneakily slip it to the bartender. The Golden Rule of paying on a date is this: always offer to contribute, but be willing to take no for an answer.
That said, don't be afraid to let your date pay for the bill. I mean, let's be real — you'll save some money, which is a thing most of us all love. Plus, it's nice to be treated sometimes. Even if you asked your date out, even if you are a powerful woman with an extremely high salary, and even if you want to pay, it's OK to let you date cover a bill no matter their gender.
And for straight women: letting a man pay for you is not giving up your power. You don't owe them sex. You also don't need to assume that they are looking to have some sort of power or control over you — they may have just been raised to pay for their dates, and you should let them do that without giving them the third degree.
If you continue dating this person, you can switch off paying. I personally finding splitting checks a little gauche, even when with friends. I would much rather throw one card down and switch off paying with friends, or throw a card down and sort Venmo charges out later. Another great move you can use on a date that moves between locations is to take over the bill at the second spot. If your date bought dinner, you can buy after-dinner drinks.
For the heterosexual women out there: it's true that we make less than men, often carry babies for them, sometimes spend money on things like tampons and birth control and makeup that men don't typically buy, and [insert other injustice of the patriarchy here], and this might feel like a reason to say, "Whatever, men can pay."
Don't get me wrong, I get this. This even feels kind of fair to me, but I worry that it will only perpetuate the cycle of "man takes care of woman." Again, it's totally fine for your date to pay in the end, and it's totally OK to enjoy being taken care of. But no matter who asked, no matter your sexual orientation, and no matter your level of credit card debt, you should always offer to pay on a date. It's reflective of your character, it's polite, and it definitely fits with the Golden Rule.