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Why Men Should Still Pay For the First Date

men pay for the first date
men pay for the first date

Should the man pay for a first date? This is one of the most controversial and commonly asked questions when it comes to dating etiquette.

I’m not going to talk about feminism or gender equality. I’m not going to compare income ratios or discuss the official roles of men and women in society. I’m not even going to talk about the dynamic of men as pursuers and women as those being pursued, as fascinating as all of that is.

For me, it all comes down to this: Men should offer to pay on first dates because it’s a nice thing to do.

That’s it. That’s my entire argument. It’s a polite gesture that also establishes that the meeting is a date. I feel this applies to all first dates, whether it’s with a friend you’ve known for a while or someone you’ve only just met in person after messaging with them online. It shouldn’t necessarily be expected or required that the man pay, but in my opinion, it is part of the dating ritual that they make the offer.

That said, while I think men should offer to pay, they shouldn’t insist on it if the woman truly wants to split the bill. If a woman is more comfortable paying her own way on a date, that needs to be respected. Some women feel it creates a sense of obligation or imbalance if the man pays.

I personally offer to split the bill or chip in even after a guy says that he’ll pay. Not with much insistence, I admit, but I want them to understand that I appreciate the gesture and that it was not implied. I make sure to thank them genuinely. And yes, I have gone out on a second date with someone who didn’t pay for the first. I don’t believe it is a requirement, although most guys do offer to pay, and they certainly get brownie points for it.

Now, not all men will offer to pay on first dates. That moment when the barista announces your total at a café or the check comes at a restaurant can be awkward if he doesn’t swoop right in with his credit card. In those instances, I always get my wallet out and am ready to pay for myself if they don’t. Despite my personal feeling that men should offer to pay, I never assume they will or want to make them feel pressured. They should pay because they want to, not because you’re looking at them funny.

As a twenty-something who’s been dating since I was in college, I know money can be an issue, especially for younger folks. My general rule of thumb is to keep things simple for the first couple of meetings. Even if the guy asks you to dinner and a movie, you can always request to meet for coffee if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of them paying that much for a date or if you don’t want to end up splitting the bill (which you might have to do, even if they’re the one who asked you).

Although there’s a lot of debate on this issue, the general consensus seems to be that the man should offer to pay for a first date, especially if he was the one who asked for it. Some women feel embarrassed or anti-feminist for wanting or even expecting the guy to pay, but I don’t think we should. It might be a tradition with a basis in outdated gender roles, but if you look at it simply from the perspective of it being a nice gesture, you can’t really go wrong.

Author profile

Alana Saltz is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She's been in the L.A. online dating scene for several years and has pretty much seen it all. To learn more about her, please visit her website at http://alanasaltz.com or follow her on Twitter @alanasaltz.

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19 Comments

  1. Wouldn’t it be equally nice for the woman to offer to pay? Especially if she suggested it, or if she is better employed than he is (which is statistically likely)?

    If it’s the nice thing to do, how come only men are expected to do it? Women aren’t nice?

    1. If we believe in equality in all things, the, yes, the woman could pay for the date. Society hasn’t caught up to this notion. I agree with you here actually, but I think it’s nothing to do with women being nice or not.

      1. Then in that case, the “entire argument” is not because it’s “nice” but because “it’s tradition!” or, perhaps better stated, “it’s cultural inertia!”

        Indeed, I don’t think it was the author’s intention to say that men are (or should be) nice and women are not (or shouldn’t be obligated to be) nice, but if her argument is men should pay 100% because “it’s nice,” does that not imply that, either: 1. we only expect men to be nice; women have no obligation, or 2. Women just aren’t nice.

  2. “Men should offer to pay on first dates because it’s a nice thing to do.”

    So what’s the reciprocal nice thing for a woman to do? I see two answers to this and I dislike both of them. The first is that a woman, just by showing up for the date, has done her “nice thing” and she shouldn’t be expected to do anything else.This is based in an economics of dating that argues women are always gatekeepers (for dates, sex, relationships) so any “yes” is a nice thing (because women have all the goodies and dole them out to the worthy). I reject that argument out of hand.

    The other answer is that a woman should be nice by protesting and offering to pay her half and that is in fact what the author says about her own dating practice later. So let me get this straight. For a man “nice” is taking 100% of the financial hit and for a woman nice is OFFERING to pay HER FAIR SHARE.

    Really? Seriously? And every single time? That’s just…I’m sorry, but that’s a stupid argument that seems designed to short circuit disagreement by its extreme vapidity. I mean, who can argue with NICE?

    1. You can’t. “Nice” is a subjective term and, as a society, we haven’t caught up with what gender roles really mean; this is a perfect example of that.

      That said, I still insist on paying for dates.

      1. Insisting is a ludicrous thing to do. The only people I know who do this are guys who “know” how everyone ought to behave. Ludicrous.

    2. Annalisa makes an excellent point, but she doesn’t take it quite far enough. What is the reciprocal nice thing to do? Annalisa has already demonstrated the arrogant option (“I’m nice just for putting up with you!”) and the entitled option (“I’m nice just for being willing to pay my own way!”) but she misses one option which is very important.

      The “reciprocal” “nice” option is to recognize that some man has made an investment of time and money on a woman, and the woman “owes” him something for his investment. And how would most men like to be repaid? Obviously in sexual gratification.

      I DON’T think that most men are this crass and transactional. There are lots of men who simply pay out of custom, and there are lots who would be just as happy to go dutch.

      BUT.

      Let’s be honest with ourselves, here. The author avoided going into gender politics, and I don’t blame her for wanting to avoid, as you can write books on the stuff. On the other hand, you just can’t separate culture from dating behaviors. And in a culture where we expect EVERYTHING ELSE to be treated equally, then it’s reasonable to think dating should be treated equally, and that if a man has to put more into one side of the equation, then doesn’t the woman owe him something back to balance everything out and make it equal? Isn’t that fair? And aren’t we obsessed with being fair?

      I will state, my own, personal experience as a woman, I have never wanted to feel I “owed” a man anything, so I have always opted to go dutch. It was NEVER because the man pressured me, or made me feel I would owe him. It was because I felt it was WRONG to take advantage of his generosity and not offer him something in return.

      Apparently, not everyone feels the same.

      1. You are a rare woman then. Your thoughts/opinions on this are very cogent and I really haven’t thought of this discussion in that manner. I’d actually love to see you write a response article here. =) (always an editor at heart)

        I honestly can’t help but to agree here. If all things were equal then people would go dutch. They just would. But there’s a stigma that “good men” always pay and that “just the way it is.”

        But happiness is predicated on ideals that were constructed by others. I wonder what might happen if I went against the grain and insisted on having the woman pay on my dates… I think if I took that route, I’d die a lonely bloke but at least I’d know I was trying to keep it equal. 😉

        1. Oh goodness, thank you. ^-^ I’m flattered. If you’re serious, there are a few other things I could say which I left out before, not wanting to got too wordy (or rhetorical) as a new comer to the site. I usually aim to lurk more before posting, but I couldn’t help myself on this one!

          Haha, that comes to the old maxim, “would you rather be right, or happy,” now doesn’t it?

          I would wager it would send a very clear message, but depending on the woman, what was “clear” would vary. For some women, you would “clearly” be a miserable cheap skate, and others might say you’re “clearly” very invested in women’s rights and equality!

        2. :”But happiness is predicated on ideals that were constructed by others. I wonder what might happen if I went against the grain and insisted on having the woman pay on my dates… I think if I took that route, I’d die a lonely bloke but at least I’d know I was trying to keep it equal”

          See this is why I hate the ‘men should pay because it’s nice/respectful/thoughtful/ whatever” meme. It takes what used to be a necessity–very few women had income and men had to prove they could live up to the expectations that they would be the sole wage earner–and turned it into a tyranny of manners despite the fact that it has far outlived its usefulness.

          How does a man offering or insisting on paying prove he’s nice? I would argue that a truly thoughtful man who supports equality would be willing to trust women enough NOT to assume that rejecting outmoded gender stereotypes would result in them dying “lonely blokes” and that only “rare women” have the integrity of their beliefs (that is, they believe in equality even when it disadvantages them).

          I would argue that what’s really respectful is for a man and a woman, even on a first date, to be able to talk openly and honestly about money and gender norms, without making multiple unsupported assumptions about each other solely based on who pays for what.

          I would argue that I want a great deal more than “nice” from a man and from a date. My bar is set way, WAY higher than “nice.” Nice is average, boring, nonthreatening, typical. Nice is never thinking seriously about masculinity, femininity, social norms or what that person want, really wants, out of a relationship.

          Nice? Please. I want a man who has examined his life and his ideology, who will not only respect but understand and challenge mine and who, at the end of the date, is more interested in me as a unique individual than in tired courtship rituals that magazines and movies keep recycling over and over.

          My happiness is not predicated on u examined social norms and I certainly wouldn’t date a man whose happiness was.

          1. Annalisa, thank you for this:
            “Nice is average, boring, nonthreatening, typical. Nice is never thinking seriously about masculinity, femininity, social norms or what that person want, really wants, out of a relationship.”

            THANK YOU! There’s nothing wrong with nice people. None. But “nice” for the sake of being nice is bullshit. Nice is safe. This is something I need to write about, actually.

            You also make an excellent point here, too. (wanna write for us, too?) Anyway, showing respect for someone else doesn’t come from paying someone’s way; it comes from having thoughtful conversation, LISTENING, and really making an effort; none of these have to do with paying for someone’s drinks/dinner/whatever.

          2. “wanna write for us”

            Actually, that would be fun. When I’m not ranting on line, I’m the director of Gender & Women’s Studies at Widener University (also an English professor, but that seemed somewhat less relevant) and I’m pursuing a Masters of Education in Human Sexuality.So I not only have many opinions on gender, sex, dating, etc, I actually have some scholarship to back those opinions up.

            Let me know what kind of things you’d like and guidelines and such.

  3. Annalisa, our guidelines are here: https://theurbandater.com/guest-post. Write what you want to write about; honestly, if it’s along the lines of this topic, fine; if you have something else, go for it. Just keep it relationship related, but if it deviates I know the editor and can make exceptions, even though is a bit of a prick. 😉

  4. Queer folk figured this out a long time ago: Whoever invites pays, or you trade off (drink rounds, one person buys movie if other person buys dinner, etc.). It’s really not that fucking complicated.

    1. “It’s really not that fucking complicated.” True and a good point to bring in the gay community on this one because you’re so right on the money there. Why should it be different for couples of different genders in the first place? It really is an antiquated notion.

      1. It is only an “antiquated notion” because a handful of disgruntled women and overly compliant men (i.e. feminists and their friends) have spent decades trying to separate our physical sex from our mental make-up.

        What they have succeeded in is in muddying the waters so much, and misleading many people so much, that many people aren’t even really sure anymore what they want, or what is “right” for them to want.

        The concept of “tabula rasa” is bullshit and has been pretty thoroughly debunked. By the same token, “nature” is not the end all, be all of who we are. We are partially defined by our natural circumstances (genetic info including sex) and partially by our nurturing circumstances (our family, community, and the wider culture).

        Men and women ARE different, both physically, and in our mental make up, and though we can debate the EXTENT and/or TYPE of the differences, if we can’t acknowledge this simple fact, we’re liable to spend a lot of time, at best, confused, and at worst, miserable.

        That being said, I think the current best practice is, as suggested, the person who invites pays, and I think that, much more often than not, that person will be the man. Still, that’s an entirely different rationale than mere cultural inertia.

          1. Yeah, you leave a witty rejoinder accusing me of a fallacy (in and of itself, a fallacy) instead of an actual argument! It’s all my fault for having a thoughtful post which unashamedly pointed to the people who fought and gained the most by confusing sex/gender norms!

  5. Alana,

    You’re better than this post. This post was so devoid of real analysis, willingness to self-criticize, and vulnerability that I can only assume you did not try.

    Your writing perpetuates indifference toward the men who have to constantly worry about how they will be perceived should they decide to pay or not pay, and you have refused to explore the ethical viability of women imposing and enforcing this expectation on men.

    When women (overtly or subtly) demand that men pay for dates, on what basis do they do so, how do they contextualize their own actions? These are good questions, no? Because while you (conveniently) may just see it as a nice thing to do. Many women see it as more than this, they do see it as rooted in gender politics, as rooted in the assumption that their time is worth more than a man’s time, or that “most men are paid more than most women” (false) so it’s some form of reparation, etc.

    How do men feel about women expecting them to always pay? How much internal pressure did the men who’ve taken you on dates feel to pay even if they didn’t want to, or who was afraid you’d look down on them? Who might have paid even when you insisted on paying because so many women pretend to want to split the bill as a “test?”

    You dare not ask these questions, because you don’t care, because compromising women’s moral power position in the interest of equity and reciprocity doesn’t look all that fun.

    From one writer to another, try again. Don’t be so cold.

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