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Check, please: Who pays on the first date?

Posted by Karyn Polewaczyk  February 20, 2013 02:50 PM

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A few weeks ago, I met a guy at a concert, and agreed to meet him for drinks several days later. It wasn’t the best date I’d ever been on—we didn’t have much in common aside from our mutual admiration of the musician we’d seen, and it became obvious early on that the chemistry was minimal, if existent at all—but disappointments are part of the dating game, and I chalked it up to experience. When I hinted that I was tired and would probably head home, he flagged down the bartender—and after surveying the tab, slowly peeled off a number of singles to cover the exact amount of his drink before sliding the check presenter my way. To say that I was shocked would be an overstatement (if I were writing a novel about my life, I’d describe my reaction as having “recoiled in horror”), but I was considerably annoyed. Because in my book, the guy pays for the first date—even when it’s something casual—and especially since he was the one who did the asking. (I’m speaking from a heterosexual viewpoint, here.) It’s not so much about the money as it is a manners thing: a guy paying for a first date is one of the few elements of tradition still standing amidst today’s thinly-veiled definition of modern romance. I won’t even do “the reach”—that is, a pretend dive for my wallet that so many women feel compelled to perform once the bill arrives—on a first date (though, as evidenced above, I did so out of necessity on this particular occasion, plus the tip he’d neglected to leave). I will, however, alternate financial responsibility for the tab several dates in, or if a guy’s sprung for a nice meal on dates one or two, I’ll cover post-dinner cocktails—and so on. My rules aren’t hard and fast as much as they are intuitive, and regardless of what my expectations are, I always arrive prepared to pay my way.

I replayed the evening for my girlfriends—some did hilariously recoil in horror—and most etiquette books I own carefully glazed over matters of the heart. So, I checked with the world’s foremost expert on everything, Google, to see if there was any other evidence to support my opinion. The results were somewhat ambivalent, if skewed in my favor:

LearnVest, a financial website geared toward women, said that it’s a matter of looks, where the more attractive a woman is, the more likely the date would be paid for by her companion—but then again, someone’s perceived level of attractiveness is subjective.

AskMen said a guy should always pay for the first date, except if the woman did the asking; then, she should pay. (I ran this theory by a guy friend, who shook his head and said that he’d insist on paying even if a woman asked him out.)

•A 2008 study conducted by NBC (which, admittedly, is kind of old in Internet years) netted a mixed bag of gender roles and confusion, leaving the reader without a definite conclusion

First dates are nerve-wracking enough; throw economics into the mix, and thing can get really messy. Still, I remain convinced that tradition has its place here, and that guys should pay for first dates. I'll turn the spotlight to you, readers. Do you favor conventional rules when it comes to paying for first dates, or have you kissed tradition goodbye? Does the type of date affect who pays for what? Was my reaction warranted, or are my expectations totally dated (and perhaps too high)?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Karyn Polewaczyk lives and writes in Boston, and believes that heading out into that good night, like any adventure, begins with the first step. Let's Go Out is a conversation about dating and nightlife in our notoriously chilly city, with first-hand tips from the trenches. Karyn's writing, which focuses largely on women's lifestyle topics, has appeared in the Weekly Dig, Jezebel, xoJane, Northshore Magazine and More.com, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @KarynPolewaczyk.

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