Don’t Call Me Sugar

The woman scolding her partner while they are on a date

Years ago, I went out with a woman three times in a couple of weeks. Even though I was making $30,000 as a customer service representative at JDate, I’d paid for everything, including two $75 meals and a dozen bagels one Sunday morning when she’d forgotten her wallet. Generously, she offered to pick up our fourth date.

She called me at work the next day to tell me that she heard of a play that sounded like fun. She said she was busy 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 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?!”

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 egalitarian behavior.

This is a quandary, all right, and there is no one right answer. As a guy who’s been on far too many dates, I’ve heard all the stories from both sides and every angle. But since logic doesn’t seem to get much play in this realm, I’m gonna give it some face time.


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.

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.

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 and treat you like the princess you undoubtedly are. But there’s a big difference between being cheap and being poor. Cheap means the guy asks his date 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 to be. You may not be our sugar mamas, but please don’t take it for granted that we’re your ATM’s, okay?

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  1. 1
    Esther Kustanowitz

    I’m extremely uncomfortable with the whole money dynamic in dating, especially since I have no money myself, and lots of the guys I go out with don’t have much either, but I have to say that who pays is one of the strongest indicators that we have that someone likes us–some friends even use the “why don’t we split the check” question to indicate that they’re not all that interested…

    I wish someone would just pass a law or something. Violators will be ticketed.

    1. 1.1

      Who pays for the ticket?

  2. 2

    If its any consolation to the gentlemen out there, women in the dating world have a lot of hidden costs that enable us to spend that evening with you. You like us to look beautiful for you – and well, precious few of us ladies can be that beautiful au naturelle. Instead, we spend ridiculous sums of money to look fantastic for you – hair, clothes, make up, nails (I’ve been shocked at how important manicured nails are to men – really), the way our skin feels, the way we smell. That all costs and I suspect if we were to tally those costs up and compare them to the expenditures on us for a date, we may find out that dating is an overall financial loss for us women:-) And for us single moms, add in the babysitter which in my area is $10/hour. It is not uncommon for me to have paid $40 for a babysitter to be the beneficiary of a $6 glass of wine.

    1. 2.1

      Are you crazy? Woman cloths are cheaper and u can do you own nails. Granted he knows you are paying for a babbysitting then it be obvious your date know where to compensate. You sewm to have entitlement issues, thus why you are a singlw mother.

      1. 2.1.1
        faded jade

        Thank you Bobby.   I really get tired of women counting the cost of their grooming as part of the cost of the date.   As if we would walk around in rags,   hairy legs,   and a bad hair cut and not so much as a hint of lip gloss unless there was some man to impress.     And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.   I get complimented by strangers on a regular basis on my wardrobe and hairstyle.   Can you say “consignment store” and “beauty school?”     Today a co-worker complimented my skirt.   My $1.00 garage sale skirt.    Of course I want a man to notice my efforts to show a nice appearance, but I take pride in my appearance weather I have a date or not.   And I’m not going broke either.

    2. 2.2

      Many, if not most, women like to get their hair done and put on makeup regardless of whether or not they’re going on a date, so don’t give me that. You have a good point with the babysitter, though.

  3. 3

    Maybe its a generational thing (I’m only 25), but my experiences are very different to the ones you outlined. On early dates, I always approach it with the attitude that I’m happy to pay for everything, and as a consequence I’ll always put my card down at the end of a meal, pay for her entrance etc. However, my date normally responds by giving me payment for half the bill, and it would seem more then a tad patronising to start a ‘but i insist’ argument in the middle of a restaraunt. Do women expect you to refuse their offer of paying half?

  4. 4

    “Do women expect you to refuse their offer of paying half?”

    Oh, yes, Anonymous. Very much so. What you call “patronising”, most women would call “cheap”. Continue to split the bill at your own risk, my friend…

    1. 4.1

      What you call “patronising”, most women would call “cheap”.

      Disagree completely. It can be a bit patronizing if he argues about it. I’m a grown ass woman. Not a dependant. That said, I don’t judge guys negatively  if they refuse to split, because I understand that “chivalry” can still dictate dating etiquette and expectations for some women and men.

      But “Chivalry” in the traditional sense  should die.

      Anonymous better describes my dating experiences, especially with younger guys.   Dutch is accepted and money does not communicate anything about either individuals perceived success or failure of the date.

      On dates, the money should not speak.  Money  should be mute and leave the actual communication to our  talky parts  and body language.


      1. 4.1.1
        Evan Marc Katz

        You are an outlier. The majority of people (men and women) believe men should pay. Thus, advising them to do so to avoid alienating 3/4 of women is common sense advice, and not something that you can “disagree” with. You can disagree for yourself; you can’t disagree that this is wise counsel.

        1. Katie

          The majority of people (men and women) believe men should pay.

          I acknowledge this is slightly common, if antiquated,  thinking. And I agree that it’s in  an individuals  best interest to be aware of it’s prevalence  and avoid judging a date too quickly based off the antiquated dating etiquette that they’ve absorbed.

          But from Anonymous’s scenario…

          I’ll always put my card down at the end of a meal, pay for her entrance etc. However, my date normally responds by giving me payment for half the bill, and it would seem more then a tad patronising to start a ‘but i insist’ argument in the middle of a restaraunt. Do women expect you to refuse their offer of paying half?

          I recognize this situation he’s describing, and I feel completely that these girls are being sincere!

          Like Anon suggests, maybe it’s a generational thing. I’m 30, and I notice the put-that-card-away-little-lady  reflex most among older guys, 40+.

          Not hating on 40+ guys. I know they mean well.

  5. 5

    Good grief. What is all this? Isn’t everyone making it really complicated? If you’re going on that many dates, don’t you sort of find out about each other a bit? You know, if you’re skint you tell them, and you do something you can both afford.

    Or … and this, in my books, is only good manners: you GO DUTCH. If a man insists on paying for dinner, then great. If you’ve insisted on paying for dinner and she hasn’t returned the favour, but has thanked you a lot and tried to insist on paying herself, then – fine. That’s your choice.

    And as for the comment about ‘hidden costs’. I really, really don’t get this. If I choose to have a manicure (we don’t do that much in the UK – we’re heathens, remember), or have my hair cut, or buy a new pair of shoes, THAT’S MY CHOICE. And the day I ever dress ‘for a man’ will be the day I give up.

    I’m a bit fat, got rubbish hair, smoke, shout, swear, argue, have a manicure about twice a year, am a stranger to waxing unless I’m on a promise, and think it’s polite to go dutch if you’ve just met someone – you’re both in it together. I also occasionally get taken out for dinner by lovely men, and dress up and look as lovely as I can (not bad on a good day) because it makes me feel good, and more confident. But that’s my choice.

    If there’s something I make an effort with when I’m on a date, it’s them: listen to them, have fun, be interesting, talk about stuff, find out about them. Whether or not I’ve got a manicure is hardly the point. And if it were, I’d no more want to be with that person that I would want to fly to the moon on the back of a pig.

    Great blog by the way. Things are different over here, you know. Do let me know if you need a nice, scruffy, ironic British perspective on the lovely world of internet dating …

    All best wishes


    1. 5.1

      +1, you lovely lady!


    2. 5.2

      Datingmonkey,I am a woman and agree with everything you say. I’m am also from the UK, I think there is a cultural difference.

  6. 6

    Congrats on the publication of the new book! You ever going to post again?

  7. 7

    Datingmonkey is the most sensible person I have ever read.

  8. 8

    Oh, and I don’t agree with a prior post where what you spend to maintain yourself or hire a babysitter is in any way a standard for why men pay. That is YOUR choice and you pay for what you can. Then I am not one that feels my nails have to be done to eat at Red Lobster or attend a darkened smokey venue for great music. I don’t believe any of those reasons are justification or rationalization for why the man pays for a date. If a man is worried about my nails being painted as opposed to how deep and beautiful my eyes are or how “fixed” my hair is as opposed to how funny I am……he ain’t worth any of it anyway!

  9. 9

    This has been a quandry for me just now dating for the first time ever. I have had 2 very long term marriages. I was always under the impression that men pay for the dates. I am always careful to not cost them too much. I don’t get the most expensive item on a menu and I don’t have more than one drink and never dessert. If I hear of a good event, I suggest. If the guy doesn’t run to get tickets or whatever, I may go alone or offer to treat them. I have dated 8 men in the past year. All but 1 paid for everything. I have asked men I know about this. It’s conclusive that most men feel they should be the ones to pay. I made the mistake of making sure everything was fairly equal while dating my second husband. Then I got promotions and made more. I also had 2 little kids and he had none. What the marriage developed into was his expecting me to financially foot the bill so he could do whatever he wanted. He left me because I could not back him a business he wanted to try. He is on his next victim now. So I had a date with a very handsome fellow on Match. He was a professional, chiropractor, massage therapist, accupuncturist. He lived in a historical part of town and owned 4 lots of property. He loved to wine and dine and see plays and kept hinting about traveling. One night, late, we had been out at a city event and he decides he is hungry.It’s late and I am not. So he asks if we go to a restaurant, can I pick up the tab. Without hesitation I said NO. He looked perturbed. What would happen is, I would agree and he would order appetizer, entree, bottle of wine…..and all I want is water. SO no way. I made my point known. I told him the fellow pays and I treat on occassion but that’s how I date. He attended my formal office party, had a terrific time, I had fun and we get back to my home for tea and he says, “OK, I want you to know that when I date a woman I EXPECT her to at least cover her expenses on the date. That’s how I am, it’s equality. ” I told him, then it wasn’t a date. Be very careful in how generous you are with a man until you’ve really established the relationship. I have had the unfortunate experience of their being a motive to a man wanting a woman to pay for things. I am a very liberal woman, but traditional at the same time. I believe it’s a standard everyone has to at least discuss and make a choice on. I believe if a man is interested enough in you, that it’s his pleasure to pay for the date. I never set high expectations or complain that I am not in some high class restaurant. I am always grateful and make sure to always thank them for wherever and whatever a man pays for.

  10. 10

    Um… How about listening to your date. The first two weeks or so should be on the guy – closer to a week if the dating is more frequent, a little longer if you both are taking your time. But here’s the deal, don’t come right out and bluntly ask about their finances, but rather check out the other persons profession and lifestyle. Their car and house or apartment should let you really narrow down your potential mates economic ability. Ladies, if you insist on steak and he’s a grad student with two menial jobs, well then your radar is off. If the fellow is a newly minted partner in his firm, then he needs to act like it. I’ve had great dates in fancy steakhouses and divey hot dog stands (and fancy hot dog stands too) and its about the person you’re dating. And ladies, here’s a way to start sharing the cost of dinner now that you’re sharing the workplace – offer to pay the tip somewhere around the fifth date (so long as the service was good). I have even on occasion asked (with the excuse of not having any small bills) if the lady wouldn’t mind helping out with the tip. This allows us guys to get a little window of how generous our potential partner is, and everyone should be a good tipper regardless. Its a low cost, non-insulting way to help out, and eases the woman into helping out if the two incomes are comparable (or if the lady makes more.)

    Just a tip, if you’ll pardon the expression.

  11. 11

    I consider myself a modern woman, but I still feel most comfortable when the man pays for the first few dates, say the first 2 or 3 times you see each other (unless I ask him out, at which time I expect to pay the entire check). From that point on, if both people are working professionals, I think it best to alternate on picking up the whole check, rather than going dutch. It is a demonstration that both people are “invested” in the relationship, and that you are taking care of each other.

    The reason why I am most comfortable with letting the man pay the first few times is that there is such a strong sociological precedent for men needing to be “chivalrous” or “the provider” or “in charge,” and I have gotten the feeling from a few men that if woman is too insistent on paying, that we take that feeling away from them. I do think it is almost always appropriate to offer to contribute, in case his financial situation may be prohibitive. But come on, if he is not able to pay for 2 drinks or dinner or whatever he asked you to join him for, maybe he should have saved up enough cash before he asked you out?

  12. 12

    I used to pay my own way. Always. Period. Until I was sure of our relationship and then allowed a man to pay for things. I did not want to feel obligated or beholden in any way.

    However, it does seem that there is some sociological precedent for men to provide, and I wonder how many men I’ve offended by insisting on paying for myself.

    Then there’s wages. Men usually do make more. One beau I had made over three times my wage, and he always paid. And was glad to. Sometimes I got the tip, or coffee after dinner.

    Dating is thorny and there is much to be excused or overlooked in this area at the start. I’d say generally the man can expect to pay initially.

    When transitioning from dating to a couple, now is the time to have very frank conversations over money and how to pay for dining and entertainment. I’m all for a percentage based on income.

    Money is a crazy topic. There’s a book, “Your Money and Your Man,” by Washington Post Money Columnist Michelle Singletary and though I’ve only read her columns, I recommend it. It’s amazing to me that I have friend going through divorces and break-ups that still do not know much about their finances as a couple. Wow.


  13. 13

    Yet another example of how it’s a miracle that two people manage to make to marriage.

  14. 14

    I have a simple rule. If two people can’t effortlessly negotiate who’s going to pay for what without acrimony, any putative romantic relationship between them is bound to fail. If you feel like she’s taking you for granted, say so. If you’re already out $50 bucks getting your hair done to impress this guy and don’t want to drop another $25 for a mediocre dinner so he can feel equal, say so. Chances are if the girl doesn’t care if you feel taken for granted or the guy read too many PUA books and refuses to treat anyone ever, you don’t want to see this person ever again and it’s best to find out now.

  15. 15

    It’s all very well to say it’s only fair to split the bill, but there is this expectation from women that a guy should pay for the first date, especially if he’s asked her out, and I think there’s a very good reason for it. And it does have something to do with the chase, or how much value he places on her, or as Evan puts it, she is trying to assess the effort he is willing to make for her before she allows her feelings to get involved. I am not suggesting that she plays games, but that, also, as Evan puts it, a man reveals himself in his efforts. If he hasn’t had to fetch you, and he’s only paid for his own meal, what effort has he really made? My point is, it’s important for a guy to want to win you over, otherwise I think you are setting yourself up for heartbreak down the line.

    I have a simple rule, I always offer to split the bill but if the guy doesn’t pay for at least the first date, I won’t see him again. After date 3 or 4 I have no problem going halves on everything and as the relationship progresses would insist on putting in my equal share financially. But I think, at the beginning, it’s important for the dynamic that the guy wants to win you over and one of the ways they do that is by paying.

  16. 16

    All I can say is: if the guy does not have a lot of money, why does he take a woman to the expensive restaurant???? Why pretend, hey I am rich, why setting such high standards? what are you going to do on the next date? another expensive restaurant??? No wonder after few dates a guy thinks we should split a bill!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Be inventive, buy sandwiches, take us to the park, take a blanket, take the money pressure off the table. WE do not want a man who only takes us to the restaurants, well some women do care ha ha, like gold diggers. And then while you get to know each other take her for a dinner and then you know you like her so paying for her will not be a big deal, by this time you would like to impress her!!! And soon you will start spending some time in her house etc… and she might cook for you both, and BELIEVE me she will not ask you to pay for the ingredients. I myself always offer to pay and if the guy takes money from me on the first date no matter if this is a coffee, or a dinner I don’t go on the second one! Period!

  17. 17


  18. 18

    You think you have it bad?   My wife insists that I pay the entire bill for the entire party, no matter how many people are there.   Luckily I can afford it but just see what happens if I don’t get the whole entire thing.   Makes every other man look like a cheap wuss.   But costs a lot of money.
    If someone else manages to get the bill by getting there before me, I am in trouble.
    Gold digger?   Not really, just normal expectations from how she was raised (not American)

  19. 19

    I realize this is probably an old post an mine being the last comment probably no one will read.   Here is my take on the matter.   When I first started dating my ex-husbad he paid on the first date.   There after he explained that he didn’t have much money and that still wanted to go on dates.   I was in college and had a part-time, he had a job, a badly paid job but a job.   I started picking up the bill.   First we split then he just would say “hey I’m hungry let’s go grab something to eat” I’d mistake it for a date and there we went, guess who paid?   I was young and very stupid.   Our relationship was defined backwards and now my friends say to me it was obvious I was his sugar mommy.   I supported him for years and even when he himself went through college and made a decent salary and we had a mortgage and two kids he still expected me to pay for everything while he lavishly spent his money.   Now I’m divorced, with a bad taste in my mouth but I have also understood that I made the mistake of marrying someone who was not a good provider.   And how is a man going to show that he’s a provider?   By paying on the dates.   I think however, that the man has to establish the boundaries of the date he can afford to the woman, and if she wants an upgrade then she’ll have to help pay for it.   So I don’t mind dating a guy who makes half the money I make, so long as he’s not thinking of going to and expensive restaurant for every date, if all he can afford is Subway then I rather go to Subway and feel provided for than to force either of us into a hardship because we want Houstons.   A relationship is not about having someone to go to nice places, I think it’s about having someone to go somewhere…I don’t mind a homemade dinner of PB&J sandwiches as long as the company is good.

  20. 20

    my boyfriend pays and i,ve learned to let him. On one occasion we actually had an audience as we wrestled each other to get to the card machine. i finally gave up after I got my card in but he kept pressing cancel. I thought he would screw up my card. His response? ” I win! I always win!” Must be a man thing.
    i do cook him the occasional meal but I can,t pretend it,s equivalent cash value. He doesn’t like it when I try to match him. He says a gift or a treat is just that and I take away from it by trying to pay him back.
    i suggest things to do that don,t cost much and I won,t be suggesting any Michelin star restaurants. which is a shame as I would like to go but only if we would share the cost.
    i read you and I hear you.

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