How do you decide who pays? It seems like a huge dilemma to me. For example, it’d be nice to have the guy pay all the time; hell, I’d love to have a flush bank account because I never paid for going out or getting drinks or anything. However, I feel massively guilty whenever I go out and the guy pays for everything.
Part of this stems from my general independence. “I’m not a charity case, dammit!” I like being able to take care of myself, and it’s hard to avoid the feeling that he’s paying because you can’t if you’re never allowed to pay. (side note: same thing goes for holding doors. I love it when guys hold doors open for me . . . if they’ll also let me hold the door too. I’ve definitely been in a few races to the shop door before.)
warning: really long post -- I have a lot of thoughts on this topic
I also feel a responsibility for paying from my start to relationships. In a reversal from most teenagers I know, I started working for a real paycheck two years before I was even kissed. I had a sweet bank account when I started dating, but my boyfriend hadn’t even had a real job yet (despite the fact that he was a year older than me, which is warning sign number one). We lived an hour apart, so it wasn’t real convenient to go to his place or mine most of the time, especially since there was a boat ride in between. Even when I did go to his place, it cost me $15 or so to drive my car onto the island, since he didn’t drive. Therefore, we went out a lot in Seattle, which is not the cheapest city ever for frugal daters. We found plenty of things to do, but there was definitely paying go on, and I was definitely the payer all the time. He paid for dinner on the night he broke up with me, and that's about the only time I remember being treated.
Based on all this, and probably many more little variables that I don’t even recognize, I feel weird when the guy treats constantly. However, there are more compounding factors. I can’t stand it when I pay all the time, especially if the guy obviously has something to spend. When a guy never brings me flowers but also has some new gadget, magazine, movie, whathave, I feel disenfranchised. There’s got to be balance. Now, where is the balance point?
I’d argue that the balance point has to do with several factors:
- salary levels
- tastes of each partner
- personal feelings
Starting with the most obvious, so probably in reverse order here, the personal feelings. If the guy loves to pay and is capable of it, and if that’s okay with the girl, I’m all for it. Not usually my bag, but that’s okay. I do have some guy friends who pay when we go out all the time, and most of the time I just deal with it. They like it, they can afford it, and I don't want to ruffle feathers. Some guys are just like that.
Tastes of each partner also factors into things. I dated a guy who loved to go out to eat, but I prefer home cooked meals much of the time (okay, so, going out is fine once or twice a week, although I can’t afford that at all now, but every night?). We went dutch for a little while, but it was hard on my wallet; I mean, I was living in the dorms at the time. Free dinner nightly or pay $15? Easy. Finally, it got to the point that either he had to pay to eat in the dorms (happened maybe twice), he had to buy groceries so we could cook at his apartment, or he had to pay for the dinners out. I just couldn't afford to keep going out. In the end, we didn’t go out quite as much, and he paid almost all of the time. I was alright with that, since it was nothing I would normally do. Similarly, if you’re into anything remotely cost-intensive that occurs often and isn’t exactly something your partner would do on his/her own, buck up and pay for the pleasure of company.
Finally, salary levels, which is arguably the most important point here. I once read about a couple that solved their drastic salary discrepancies in a great way. At the beginning of the week, they each put money into a wallet. I’d like to say that the woman – a power executive – put in much more money than her artist lover. Regardless, she didn’t put in an extravagant amount. Then, they forced themselves to stick to the wallet budget for the entire week. Whomever was holding the wallet was the one who would pay. I think they went out for occasional really fancy stuff that she would pay for, but for the most part, they held to the budget. Supposedly, it reduced a lot of the dating stress. Obviously, this would only work in a committed type relationship, so it’s not suited to the casual dating I’ve been doing recently.
To relate salary levels to casual dating is inherently awkward. I would never ask how much a guy has when we go on a date, just like I would never ask my friends (exception: best friend). Even when a friend just invites me out for dinner, I always make sure I have my wallet and cash on hand. If someone treats me, I try to reciprocate. Sometimes, my reciprocation is on a different level; for example, I’ve made cookies or dinner for someone who treated me to a night out when I couldn’t afford to reciprocate on an equal level. Massage trading for dinner also works if you’re really comfortable with the person :-)
I do find that reciprocation tends to work well if a friend and I go out often to places that bring the bill. I dislike being that customer who always asks for the bill to be split, because I invariably forget when ordering. My buddy Steve and I usually go out for dinner and a movie when we get together (nice to know I always have a movie date, even if it is just friends). We’ll typically split things in a variety of fashions. Most of the time, it works out just about even. Last time, he paid for dinner and drinks after the movie, and I paid for the movie and parking. It actually worked out to be exactly even. It’s kind of fun to take turns, too, because you get the great feeling of doing something nice for someone.
A final note: I love the etiquette writings of Margaret Mason, and she covered paying for dates in this concise paragraph:
2. If you asked, you pay.
If the date was your idea, it is also your financial responsibility. Ladies, I don’t care what your mother told you about it being the man’s job to pay. She also told you that you were never supposed to ask a man out, so you do the math.
In ambiguous situations, the gentleman traditionally pays. The lady is expected to share expenses by offering to cook meals or pack a picnic. She’s also supposed to express enthusiastic interest in free or inexpensive activities, and find ‘extra tickets’ to concerts and events she’d especially like to attend.
With that said, I end (for now) my treatise on payment. Please do let me know your thoughts; I’m always willing to refine my viewpoint. This argument is in no way closed.