So You’re On a Date. Who Pays?

Researchers delve into the complex world of who actually pays—and whom men and women think should pay—on date night.
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Couple wine date

You’re on the third date, and things with your new guy are going well. The food was delicious, and the wine revved up both conversation and chemistry between you two. But then the check arrives, interrupting your amorous gazes. Awkwardness descends.

Like a gentleman, your guy paid for the first two dates, and it seems time that you offered to pitch in. But if you’re being honest with yourself, do you really want to pay your fair-and-square share of that $125 bill, plus tip? The independent feminist within you insists, “Yes!” while the one who appreciates a little chivalry—and has a big credit card bill that’s due—admits, “Not really.”

Feeling a bit guilty, you reach for your purse, purposefully moving in a slow, exaggerated motion. The trick works: Your guy spots you and waves you off. “It’s okay, I got this,” he says, plunking down his Amex.

Whew! Saved by the beau—at least until the next date.

In today’s dating landscape, there is no map guiding who covers what. Money, even more so than sex, is an awkward topic to discuss with a significant other, especially a relatively new one. That dreaded subject usually doesn’t enter the conversation until the inevitable—the bill—lands on the table, and even then is masked by politeness and insincerity. Yet for some men and women, this moment can make or break their decision about whether to bring a date home or see them again.

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To figure out how couples today traverse the sticky decision of who pays for what, researchers posted a survey on NBCNews.com soliciting voluntary information, which they reported at a meeting of the American Sociological Association. Around 17,000 straight, unmarried participants between the ages of 18 to 65 filled out the survey, which drilled them on both their beliefs regarding who should pay for dates and their habits when it comes time to sort out the dinner bill. Depending on their gender, participants ranked how strongly they agreed with statements such as “After the first few dates, women should help pay expenses” or “It bothers me when men expect me to help pay for dates.”

From the data, a complicated minefield of modern chivalry emerged. Most men (84 percent) reported that they usually paid for dates, yet only 58 percent of women said that their guys were usually picking up the tab (what’s with the disconnect?). Only 7 percent of men say they always pay for dates and like it that way.

The majority, however, fell somewhere in the middle, happy to cover the first few dates but hoping the woman would step up and share the cost as things got more serious. “It’s very clear that most men are not looking to split things 50-50,” says Janet Lever, Ph.D., a sociologist at California State University, Los Angeles. “What they’re looking for is not to feel taken advantage of.”

Adds co-researcher David Frederick, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University: “The reason that men are expecting more financial contributions from women during dating has to do with the dramatic changes in gender roles we’ve seen over the past 50 years. Now that half the work force is made up of women, [dating] norms are changing.”

Some ladies, however, are not quite ready to embrace that perfect equality when it comes to pitching in on dates. While nearly 60 percent of the women said they offer to help pay on dates, nearly 40 percent admitted that they secretly hope that their guy shoots down their offer. Forty-four percent went so far as to say they were bothered when a man expected them to kick in some cash, but around the same number said they didn’t like it when men turned down their proposal to contribute to the bill. “Women in our study said they’re resentful when a man accepts their money, but they’re also resentful when the man refuses the money,” Lever says. “Those poor men—what can they do with that?”


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