If I were a waitress, one of my worst fears would have to be getting caught in an awkward hand-race as both parties reached for the check after I'd delivered it. Awkward as that would be, I'd secretly high-five them in my head for both offering to foot the bill. It seems so simple that I don't understand why deciding who should pay on the first date is an age-old ritual we still can't seem to get right.
Gone are the days (thankfully!) when people argued that the guy should always pay on the first date. I think we can all agree that antiquated gender norms like these don't resonate well with more recent efforts to promote gender equality, diversity, and nonconformity. There might not even be a guy on your first date because #LoveIsLove and we're here for all of it.
More than a kick in the shin for the patriarchy, removing gender roles from this debate actually highlights a much more relevant issue — relationship power dynamics.
For example, I always offer to pay or at least split the bill on a first date because I never want to feel indebted to someone I've just met. While their willingness to pay is a nice gesture, I prefer to keep things neutral by reciprocating the offer. I'm not the only woman who feels this way, either. I spoke to Karen, a 23-year-old college senior studying global affairs and international relations, about why she prefers to split the bill on a first date.
I think both people should pay on a first date. My logic is if my date doesn't really know me yet, why should they have to pay for my dinner? Plus, if the date doesn't go well, at least I won't feel like I owe them anything. It sets the standard for both the future of the relationship and future dates.
She's right. Having your date pay for your meal (or round of laser tag) puts you in an incredibly awkward position if you don't have a good time and would prefer not to see them again. Ideally, your incompatibility is a perfectly justifiable reason for turning down a second date but what if your date makes you feel guilty about this? Do you owe them a second chance just because they sponsored that second cup of coffee after dessert? I say no, which is why I prefer to avoid this situation altogether.
Assuming your date isn't actually vindictive (and I'd like to think most people aren't), there are other ways around this. Karen's partner Dan, a 21-year-old college junior studying software engineering, has an entirely different plan of action when dating someone new.
I think it doesn't really matter who pays since just because one person pays on the first date doesn't mean they'll pay on all the other dates. Why not take turns?
I can get behind this idea because its based on the same premises of equality and mutual responsibility as mine and Karen's.
For me, I think the getting-to-know-someone process is a lot of give and take and back and forth. So going in with that notion of keeping things even and taking turns in paying or planning the dates is important to me.
He explains that he rarely decides whether or not there'll be a second date while still on the first date, so feeling like you owe the other person or vice versa shouldn't even be a consideration. Ideally, no one goes into a first date expecting it to be the last so his theory makes a lot of sense.
Regardless of which approach to paying for the first date your prefer, you should know that it has very little to do with gender roles or even who did the asking. For example, if someone asks you out on a date and you agree, don't assume that they should automatically pay for everything. You're not doing them a favor by being there and TBH, this logic wouldn't make you all that different from the person who feels entitled to a second date just because they paid for the first.
The best way to decide who pays on the first date is to prioritize a sense of equality. Maybe that means you split the bill or maybe it means you let them get this one while agreeing to cover the next. Either way, both parties should be visibly and verbally comfortable with the arrangement — no collateral or interest rates needed.
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