Who Pays For The First Date?

A few years ago, I went out with a woman three times in a couple of weeks. We had great chemistry, and despite the fact that I was a customer service representative at JDate pulling in barely $30K, I’d paid for everything. First date was $60. Second date was $90. The third date was brunch the morning after the second date. She’d ordered a dozen bagels and then realized she’d forgotten her wallet. No big deal. An innocent mistake. She generously offered to pick up our next date.

She called me at work the following day to tell me of a play that sounded like fun. She said she was busy at work and asked if I could find out if there were tickets available. No problem. I called the theater and learned there were only six left. What’s a guy to do? No big deal, I bought a pair of tickets and figured she’d pick up dinner before we went out.

After our $40 meal, she put down her credit card and went to the bathroom. When she came back, she noticed that I didn’t put in my credit card to pick up or split the check. Upon which she glared at me and said, with a ton of venom and not a shred of irony: “What am I, your sugar mama?!”

Being generous, especially to someone you care about, is an incredible feeling – right up there, I’m told, with having everything paid for by someone else.

Yeah, being a guy isn’t always the most rewarding thing in the world. But what are you gonna do? I’ve stopped wondering about what’s “fair” and have decided to embrace the system I’ve inherited. In this system, a guy pays unquestionably, and if a woman offers to pay, he is supposed to say no. At least on the first few dates. Or as long as she’s being courted. Or maybe always. It depends on the woman. We can never know unless we let down our guard and allow her to pick up a check. And by then, it’s often too late to justify your behavior.

This is a quandary all right and there is no one right answer. Until now. As your friendly neighborhood single dating coach, I’m going to give you the definitive rulebook on how to negotiate this tricky territory, once and for all….

WHAT PEOPLE SAY:

HER: He should WANT to pay for me.

Yes, and, generally, that is the case. Being generous, especially to someone you care about, is an incredible feeling – right up there, I’m told, with having everything paid for by someone else. The one time I forgot my wallet on a date, she gracefully picked up the check and told me not to worry. This was both extremely classy, and extremely appreciated.

HIM: She EXPECTS me to pay for everything.

Yes, and that’s the precedent that was established way before you were born. Don’t fight it, just do it with a smile, ’cause if you don’t, you ain’t getting another date.

HER: He SHOULD pay, especially at the beginning.

This logic is a little dicier. Why should a man pay? Because it’s chivalrous? Consider that chivalry started at a time when men worked and women didn’t. Women, literally, could NOT pay. Thus, men picking up the check sprung out of necessity, not out of kindness. It has since been codified into a gentleman’s code, which is considered in very poor taste to question. I’m not questioning, but see how angry you are that I’m even bringing it up?

HIM: But SHE asked me out.

So what? If etiquette says that you pay for the first date, and she expects you to pay for the first date, and you can afford to pay for the first date, then pay for the damn first date.

HER: It doesn’t matter what he makes. A gentleman always pays. It indicates how he feels about me.

If you offer to split, and he lets you split (or even pick up) the check, he has done absolutely nothing wrong.

If a guy makes a ton of money, I can assure you, it’s his absolute joy and pleasure to spring for every last drink and spa treatment. But there’s a big difference between being cheap and being poor. Cheap means the guy asks the woman to pay for the fish when he ordered the less expensive chicken. Poor means that the guy has trouble making rent if he has to pay for five dates in a month. Put yourself in his position: it’s hard to blame him for wanting to alternate checks.

My solution is, not surprisingly, an equivocation. Let’s all try to understand one another.

Guys, be as generous as possible, not only because she expects you to, but because it’s genuinely rewarding to “be the guy” and make life easier on her.

Women, be sympathetic to the grad student or schoolteacher that doesn’t have the means to be as chivalrous as he’d like. You may not be our sugar mamas, but please don’t take it for granted that we’re your ATM’s, okay?

Postscript: A version of this article was written five years ago. Since that time, I find myself in a much greater position to be generous. I remain sympathetic to men who can’t blindly pick up every single check.

My slightly revised position for who pays on a first date is this:

He grabs the check immediately.

She does the “fake reach.”

He waves her off and insists on paying.

She thanks him for his generosity.

End of scene.

Presuming the man can safely afford it, this script should play out on every date during the courting phase.

HOWEVER:

You, as a man, can’t get mad if she doesn’t make the offer to split. If you offer to take her out, expect to pay for the whole thing, and be pleasantly surprised if you don’t have to.

You, as a woman, can’t get mad if he accepts your reach. If you offer to split, and he lets you split (or even pick up) the check, he has done absolutely nothing wrong. It’s not a game or a test, unless you treat it like one.

One final, overriding note for men: It doesn’t matter if it’s coffee or dinner, whether you make more or she makes more, whether you asked her out or she asked you out. You can never go wrong by paying.

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Comments:

  1. 121
    Ruby

    Michael #123
     
    Have you been reading David D’Angelo? Sounds like you were trying his “cocky and funny” bit by asking your date to buy you coffee to “compensate” for your long drive. For the record, I generally think his advice only works for young guys who aren’t looking for a serious relationship. He doesn’t even recommend buying dinner on the first date.

  2. 122
    Ruby

    For those who don’t know, David D’Angelo is a dating advisor for men.

  3. 123
    starthrower68

    @ Joe #121,

    I’m not sure what you meant by sending that link – I’m not taking offense, but I was married for 12 years.

  4. 124
    Selena

    @Michael #123

    In the scenario you presented I would also buy you that coffee for your drive home. Basically because I would feel guilted into doing so. After you left though, I’d feel that I was subtly manipulated.  It would color how I thought/felt about you and going out with you again.

    Are you still dating the woman who passed your “test”?

  5. 125
    SS

    Michael… yes, my guy is a smart one, but I didn’t give the full story of the date.
     
    He drove four hours from a different state to see me. Paid for his own gas, food and hotel and never asked me for a dime. And after the $10 picnic lunch, he bought dinner and coffee for both of us the next day at a place where entrees were a little bit more. We probably spent about $40.
     
    I didn’t pay a cent the whole weekend, and he probably spent about $200 in total… for basically two dates.

  6. 126
    Joe

    @ Starthrower68 (#128):

    That was just a response to your comment in #114 asking why Michael hasn’t been snapped up yet.

  7. 127
    Michael17

    Well, I am going to admit that I am here to learn about dating too. I’ve made all the mistakes too, including going overboard for a girl I just met. There’s a few things that we as guys have to balance:
     
    (1) Dates, including the first meet has to be “special” in some sense. I really agree with EMK in that it is tougher for chemistry to happen at Starbucks or the Chili’s bar for the first meet, because “everyone” does that.
     
    (2) Being “generous”. The masculine energy is to provide, the feminine energy is to be receptive. I get that.
     
    (3) All the while being “smart”. I just don’t subscribe to the philosophy on here that women are princesses who should be put on a pedestal. Even though, yes, I agree with masculine/feminine energy. I really feel that spending too much on an early date is a horrible idea, not only because it doesn’t work, but also because it sets a bad precedent. Many a man has gotten burned that way.
    I have no problem spending money on a woman, but it is only for a woman I know is truly into me.
    I also feel that first meets from the Internet are a special case. I’m a believer that both the guy and the girl need to put some skin in the game in that case, so to speak. I might buy the first round but she’s buying the second. I mean, who invited who, really? A girl that I approached “in real life” and invited out though–I wouldn’t feel that way as much. Then I would feel that it is on me to pay.
     
    Let me tell you a story. I once drove across a couple of states to meet with a girl whom I made contact with over the Internet. I paid for gas, the hotel room, and the date–which I planned, and I didn’t mention it. She was really nice too, and she bought me coffee–she insisted. That said, I still made a point to keep the cost of dinner down. Why–I mean, it pales in comparison to the traveling costs. Well, because the thing that made the weekend special was that I made a point to see her, and went through all this effort. That’s enough, and that better be enough. I was not going to start things off wrong by spending a lot of money on dinner. Our presence (and that I cared enough to come up with something creative) is enough to keep us entertained, and I didn’t want to distract from that.

  8. 128
    Michael17

    I want to emphasize that I view that drive to see the girl as a POSITIVE experience. *I* was the one who made the decision to drive down and see her, to get a hotel, to plan the date. I am glad I did all of this, even though things didn’t work out. She seems to be a quality person, and I learned a lot.
     
    What is interesting is that I don’t even view these costs (drive, hotel) as being money spent on her though. I only see the money spent on the date itself. THAT I made a point to keep down. (I can’t really justify why I make this distinction, but I still make it.)

    Well, yes I can justify why. I give the girl the gift of my presence. In this case it took a certain amount of trouble, but hey. In return, the girl gives to me the gift of HER presence. THAT’S ENOUGH. I am not going to muddy things up with a fancy dinner or anything like that.

  9. 129
    jacinta

    To Kurt: Absolutely agree, it´s something I have often thought about, that really men are the ones who are choosing if women take such a passive role. I recently decided to speak to a cute guy I saw in the street and I was the one who suggested that we should go for a drink (it was a cheap bar and it only cost 5 euros) but still he paid. Either way, the “rules” need to be broken sometimes for a woman to get what she wants!!

  10. 130
    Eric M.

    Per true feminism, they should go dutch or split 50/50.  Expecting the man to pay on the first date or any other simply because he’s the man and/or he did the gender role asking is gender inequality, which is only OK if you aren’t a feminist.

  11. 131
    Jane

    Evan , just dealing with this issue after an internet contact became a first date.
    It began by him asking me to meet in a town 60 mins from me and 90 mins from him , for “late lunch”.
     The first date was a diner lunch and Loooong dessert. I (seriously) left my wallet on the car seat .He paid .He walked me to the car and , feeling embarrassed that I didnt have my wallet at the restaurant, I offered half the money. He took it.
    Now I feel a bit yiiik . does .he lack generosity? He should have declined my offer, not taken my 35 dollars. It cost me $95 to have my hair coloured before meeting and $20 fir the manicure, $105 for the new top I wore. I drove to meet him. I wish he had wanted to spoil me . I feel short changed !!
    And now I dont know how much his desire to date again may be financially driven?????
     
    I agree its best to not go there at all. Let him ask for the  first date and pay for it and I will spend my money on looking HOT for him.
     
    DEAL?

  12. 132
    Saint Stephen

    @Jane (#136)
    He’s just a date, he doesn’t own you and you aren’t his girlfriend – so you can’t say you will spend your money looking “hot for him.”

    Yes you can say you spent $95 in coloring your hair, $20 for your manicure and $105 on your new top but you seem to be forgetting they all belong to you – hence you shouldn’t anticipate him giving you a nice treat just to get even with the expenses.

    You can as well decide after 5 dates that you don’t want to see him anymore and he won’t be able to lay claims on any of the stuff you bought to beautify yourself, neither can he ask you to reimburse him for half the entire cost of what he’d spent during those five dates duration.

    Sorry, just felt you needed to view it objectively, not from a woman’s perspective. 

  13. 133
    Ron Diggity

    If women are equal they should pay 50/50 – otherwise is basically legal prostitution (at best) or freeloading (at worst).  Also, the “who ever asks out” thought is specious considering men do the large % of asking out.

    Evan, I realize you make your living pandering to the female dating demographic, but I think this advice just enables some of the entitlement mentality that ultimately retards women from finding that right guy for them

  14. 134
    Rochelle

    I think men should *want* to pay for the first date, rather than feel like because It’s expected”… for the entire courtship phase as a matter of fact. It’s accordance with the whole masculine/feminine dynamic, men liking to win women over, etc…Plus most of the time is IS the man who asked her out on a first date. What is a woman saying about her worth when she accepts a date that was HIS idea, then insists to pay? A man who is smart enough yet not cheap, doesn’t go overboard with how much he spends on the first date but doesn’t take you to a fastfood joint.

    I’ve yet to encounter a man who didn’t want to pay for me on a first date and even some of my male friends enjoy paying for me when we go out..which to me says a lot of men out there, despite “feminism”, still want to take on that chivalrous role, which I really like. I always remember to show appreciation to thank them for the meal and their restaurant choice. And there have been times I offered to pay my share after a few dates and the man always seemed a bit turned off by my offering, as if it was an aggressive move. I even had a couple accept me paying my share and they didn’t seem to like it, as if they didn’t know what hit them and that they would feel emasculated having me pay half… So now I won’t unless a relationship has been established. I prefer to go along with what turned out better in my experience rather than continuing to insist in paying the name of “feminism”

    1. 134.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Men should want to pick up the check for a stranger that they might not like, who might not like them, who will not want to go out again 50% of the time? Consider how you would feel if you had to ask out and pay for men on every date – even the jerks, the liars, the slobs, the perverts, and the players. You still want to pay for these guys, Rochelle?

  15. 135
    Rochelle

    No that statement was made more under the assumption that he asked her out, enjoyed the first date, at least wants to see her again. Not a woman who made the night unpleasant for him. In the former case, I wasn’t seeing why he should see it more like a chore, rather than wanting to show her his generosity. And admittedly bias since in the past, I only have received negative reactions from offering to pay during courtship.

  16. 136
    Goldie

    I get what Rochelle is saying — in my neck of woods, it seems to weird men out when a woman tries to pay her way on a first date — it’s like they find it insulting. A male friend of mine once told me, If a woman splits the bill on her first date with me, there won’t be a second! This is why I kept my first dates nice and cheap. I believe I’ve brought at least four different guys to the same local coffee shop last year! Also, they still like it when you do the reach. They just always say “no, I’ll take care of it”, but they seem to receive it well nonetheless. What can I say… I’m in the Midwest. We are behind the times.

  17. 137
    Rochelle

    Goldie, I live on the east coast so I guess it can happen anywhere :-) Some of my experience with men who were put off by my offering weren’t on the first date. But maybe I should try the reach some time, instead of whatever it is I said when I offered in the past, lol. I ended up speaking to my brother about this because I was confused by their reactions… And he says he wouldn’t want a woman to pay during the courtship either, as he wants to impress her. But he appreciates when she offers to go dutch after a relationship has been established. With dates in general I’m not so fussy about how much money is spent unless I see a guy is making it a habit to want on go on coffee dates and is just being cheap, it would definitely make me question his interest level. other than that, I appreciate the experience more than anything. One of my most fun dates was getting lost in New York City and traveling in the subway all over Brooklyn since the trains were running on a different route that weekend. We didn’t go anywhere we were supposed to go and I still had a great time.

    Anyway my experience has been really similar to what SS mentioned at @122, ” always being accommodating and settling for the least amount of effort because I didn’t want to be seen as a “princess,” I ended up finding the worst men and getting, well, little effort.

    When I started setting a few more standards, shocker of all shockers, I met more men who really enjoyed taking a woman out on a nice (and nice doesn’t equal expensive) date and didn’t hold a penny-pinching mentality.” Same thing here. :-)

  18. 138
    Karl R

    Rochelle said: (#141)
    “I wasn’t seeing why he should see it more like a chore, rather than wanting to show her his generosity.”

    If I want to be generous, I’ll give to my church, the American Red Cross, the International Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity.

    You don’t want to know my opinion of a woman who judges my generosity based upon what I spend on her.

    Paying for a first date is an act of enlightened self interest (if I like her) or a cost of doing business (if I don’t).

    Even in an established relationship, I still see it as an act of self-interest. My disposable income dwarfs my fiancée’s. I like going on nice dates (periodically). I don’t want our dates to be limited by her financial restrictions. Therefore, I pay for most of the dates (and all of the expensive ones).

    Rochelle said: (#139)
    “I’ve yet to encounter a man who didn’t want to pay for me on a first date and even some of my male friends enjoy paying for me when we go out..”

    That reminds me of something my dance instructor said to me on Monday:
    “I’ve never paid for sex … but I’ve spent a small fortune trying to get it for free.”

    Your entire post (#139) is trying to romanticize an inequality. Men don’t see it in that way. I recommend that men pay for dates (at least initially), but that’s a purely pragmatic recommendation.

  19. 139
    Rooster

    Some interesting points here as a whole but Karl really nails the issues.  It’s really quite illogical to equate “generosity” with such a forced/pressured scenerio (i.e. if you aren’t “generous”, you are “cut off at the pass” so to speak).  Probably the most insidious part of the “man should always pay” argument is that it’s cloaked under the notion of potential and/or romantic love. 

    Frankly, a far better case could be made equating dating to prostitution than romance.  It’s no wonder so many marriages and relationships fail when women come into these situation with entitlement mindset and men operate out of fear and insecurity

  20. 140
    keepingitrealistheonlyway

    This is quite interesting. The American culture on a whole is quite interesting; fussing about things most other cultures generally understand innately.
     
    A guy generally asks a woman out on a first date and generally pays. It is gentlemen like. If a man is just looking to get laid or not looking for something serious, it makes sense to go dutch.
     
    The funniest thing is the cheapest man I ever went out with was a braggart. I never mentioned finances and he bragged about his $5,000/month Empire State Building loft. Truth is I could have cared less. He was successful and nagged me into seeing his apartment on our first date. I acquiesced (though I texted all his info to my mom and bestie). He had made food from the night before and offered me some but I was was very reluctant to accept. For all I know he could have slipped something into the food and furthermore I am picky about who I eat from.
     
    Long story short, we went to my favorite pizza parlor. Would you believe, as I was ordering, he said “oh, I am not going to get anything.” So I was a bit annoyed but paid for my food. THE MOMENT I PAID FOR MY FOOD he IMMEDIATELY “GOT HUNGRY” and ordered and paid for his own food. What a jerk!! So you can brag about your expensive apartment you nagged me into seeing that I didn’t ask about but you couldn’t pay for a $8 pizza meal? If I was a gold-digger clearly I would not agree to go to some homely pizza parlor especially knowing you live in a $5k a month apartment! Unbelievable!!
     
    It was then I understood why he said his longest relationship was only 4months long! No woman likes a cheapskate and bragging about your expensive possessions while being reluctant to shell out a measly $8 and lying says a lot about your character. I was in so much shock I didn’t do what I would have done in my full senses which would be to walk out or saying, “IT’s TOGETHER and HE’S PAYING for IT!” Unbelievable. Run away from any man that harps on money too much before meeting!! Always a bad sign!! 

  21. 141
    hunter

    @keepingitrealistheonlyway #146
    ..Men act strange on the first date….even moreso, if you were looking sexy, and he hasn’nt seduced a woman in a long time…

  22. 142
    keepingitrealistheonlyway

    @147 perhaps..I bet he reels them in but for the life of him cannot keep em. His loss ;-)

  23. 143
    hunter

    @ 148
    …that is what it sounds like….I agree with you..it is his loss……

  24. 144
    Kat

    Im single and Im 27 and i went on a date where i had to pay for my drinks so i dont think its only divorcee, thats how it works now days.

    I went to a coffee date today with a guy i met online and i had to pay for my drink, i didnt know i had to play so it took me by surprise when he said that to the cashier that it was separated bills. Honestly, i dont know how to take this because the date wasnt great, he didnt talk much and there were no kiss at the end.

  25. 145
    Henriette

    I’m taking a hiatus from dating for the foreseeable future but I still have my thoughts on this subject. 
     
    Ladies: for those who believe that doing our hair and our nails and buying date clothes is somehow an expense that men should consider when figuring out whether or not to pay, are you telling me that you wouldn’t dye your hair if you didn’t go on dates?  Honestly: would you  wander around in outdated fashions and with scruffy nails if it weren’t for these men, the dates with whom you seem to imply are the ONLY reason to spend money on looking good?  Sure, if I’m excited about a fellow I might purchase a new dress to wear on that date, but I can assure you that if I never see that man again, the cost of the pretty dress will get amortized over the course of many, many wears.  Why should he be made to feel responsible for my choice to buy a new item?
     
    Also, I often have a hard time “getting a read” on a first date.   If a guy implies that I should/ lets me pay my own way, I get the impression that he wants to be platonic buddies.  If a guy insists on paying, it gives me the sense that he’s interested in this possibly becoming a romance.   I generally “let” a man pay for the first few date and then, once I have a sense of “where his head is at,” insist on picking up the tab for something fairly major, like a meal or theatre tickets bc I feel that lets him know that his romantic interest is reciprocated.   Maybe I’ve been doing this all wrong and should’ve just been sitting back and receiving for months on end but I think it’s a helpful example to show the guys reading that some women don’t want him to pay bc of any gold-digging or princess tendencies, but rather to help us determine if we’re on “date track” or “friendship track.” 

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