I've had one tab open in my browser for half a month, and I've been meaning to write about it the whole time. A bit ago, the Seattle Times wrote an article entitled Is It a Date?
A month ago, I was going to agree with what I've seen in many modern day etiquette posts: the man should pay for the first date (or, at least, someone should pay for the first date -- maybe the person who did the asking?). That way, it's definitely clear that the encounter is a date, and it's clear in an unspoken "the first rule about dating is we don't talk about dating" kind of way.
Now, after a month of meeting new people via "internet dating," I'd say that clear communication is key. Interestingly, that's mentioned in the article -- but not quite in the way I intend.
Dating coach Evan Marc Katz, co-author of "Why You're Still Single," attributes part of the confusion to men and women not expressing their intentions. He says dating should be a simple matter: a social meeting between a man and woman, paid for by the man. If this evening goes well, there is an understanding that it can lead to a second date and is possibly a prelude to a long-term relationship, he says.
But Katz says nothing about expressly asking "is this a date?" And why not ask and clarify? Nothing ventured; nothing gained seems to be a good rule of thumb. If the person says "no," then the expectations for the event are clearly outlined. If the person says "yes, of course," then, again, the expectations are outlined. I've definitely clarified before meeting for coffee that "this is for hanging out -- let's see how being friends goes" or "this is a date in my mind." I've also had times where I didn't clarify, and I found myself maddeningly nervous when I didn't know what to expect or how to act.
And speaking of expectations, I found an interesting article about having a coffee date. Again, the article suggests that the man should foot the bill for the first date, even if the woman did the asking. A bit archaic, I think. I like Margaret Berry's approach:
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.
All this comes back to the need for clear communication. Is it a date? Is it not? Ask and find out. Once you know it's a date, then you can play the "who will pay" game (me? I like to cook dinner for people. No worries about payment there, and you can get reciprocal treatment in the form of a home cooked dinner made especially for you).
I think the bottom line is this: dating is nerve wracking. None of us know what we're doing. We all make big schlubs of ourselves a lot of the time. At least if you communicate and know what's going on, you end up being a little schlubby in an informed way.