On today's SoS roundtable discussion, I am joined by two of our writers, Lena and Eve, to discuss the never-ending question: Should guys pay? We each represent a different decade and life stage (read more about Lena and Eve here). We welcome your thoughts on the topic in the comments below.
Anna: I think this is a divisive topic, even amongst women. Do you think guys should pay?
Eve: Oh. they should pay, alright. :) just kidding.
Anna: Haha…I guess we should specify when and just what we’re talking about them paying for. And why we might make the argument that they should pay (with the implication and criticism being that we wouldn’t be paying).
Eve: I think we can look at this from a number of different angles. For me, I think about myself and consider that it is nice when the gentleman pays for a date but not necessarily required. I think I subscribe to the (New) Southern perspective that whomever invites pays. I have paid for many dates. Maybe I should have paid for fewer.
Anna: I think everyone has their own rules and justifications either way -- both men and women. Some argue that men should pay at least during the initial courtship phase, in part because there is some biological inclination to woo and court. And that them paying is not an indication that we’re not capable, but that that is part of the mating dance.
Lena: I know this might sound contentious, but I more or less come from the school of thought that it’s not really a date unless he is paying for it (at least the first couple of times). Since he is usually the one who initiates the date/asks me out.
Eve: I agree, more or less, with all of that. I do think a date feels like less of a date when at least one party isn’t paying for the other. If I invite a person out, and I pay, I am thinking it’s a date. I expect the same in return. If I am trying to help a friend figure out if they have been asked on a date, I ask if the guy paid.
Anna: I definitely agree that it feels too platonic when you go dutch. And I also don’t like being told that I owe them something or will be expected to “get the next one” if they pay. That’s the same as going dutch and makes me think, “Oh, he just wants to be friends.”
Eve: Yes! I hate that. The tit for tat. I think this is a contentious issue because of its implications around sex and feminism. I think we all like to think of ourselves as feminists, but we want the man to pay and be chivalrous and open the door and treat us extra special. It is part of a dance, as you said, and it is ingrained, deeply, in our collective feminine sense of self worth. Right or wrong. It just is.
Anna: Agreed. I don’t see chivalry and feminism at odds in the slightest. Rather, they are complementary.
Lena: I'm not sure how close/far you guys are to this, but as far as Millennials and people in their early twenties (or even late twenties), I've noticed a lot of both guys and girls saying that going Dutch is "the norm."
Eve: That works for me! I have a relative who used to say that in her 20s, she dated for food. It was something we laughed at.
Anna: Well, that’s the other accusation -- that we’re dating for a free meal. I once (almost) went on a second date with a guy: he asked me out and suggested we meet at 8pm on a Friday, then asked me to choose a spot. I chose a place that had cocktails and small bites, moderately priced. His response to my suggestion? “Oh, I plan to have eaten already.” “Really?” “Yeah, I find that a lot of women just try to milk you for a free meal. So I’d rather just have a drink and walk around.” This was a 38 year old man who works in finance and owns his own brownstone apartment. I replied, “I can assure you I can buy my own dinner. Goodbye.”
Eve: That’s nuts. I am sure he is a 38 year old man who works in finance and is still single for a reason. I have heard stories like that before. I think when you are in your 20s, it’s a little different than being a professional. Like my relative, I definitely dated for food a few times. Ultimately though, I hardly found it worthwhile. The dates were always boring, tedious, terrible in some way. It really isn’t a free meal, is what I am saying.
Anna: Totally. Nothing in a dating capacity is “free.” And another reason that approach is so counter-productive is that (good) relationships are built on trust and generosity. Being suspicious and wanting tit for tat is the opposite.
Eve: You said it. These issues may present themselves this way early on -- dating, buying meals, etc., but later these same issues will surface in a much more serious way if it gets past that first “dutch” date.
The thing is, it could be argued that the reason it is still “expected” or whatever to have the man pay even in this age of more mainstream feminist ideals is that 1. possibly the woman has more to lose in the dating field and 2. women are not treated as equal yet -- in the workplace or with respect to age or body issues, so there is maybe some unspoken agreement taking place where the man paying for a date is an acknowledgement of that. IDK. Maybe farfetched, but maybe not.
Lena: Eve, totally agree in regards to equality etc. I have also heard the argument from some ladies that essentially goes, “Well, women have to invest much more time/money/effort in “looking good (enough),” whereas men only have to pick up the tab on the first couple dates, anyway. Perhaps a gross oversimplification, but curious about both your thoughts.
Anna: I think it’s an “economics” issue that’s not really about finances at all. It’s about power and biological preferences. It’s not about whether we can pay -- it’s about that fact that we want to be courted and they want to court. And if the relationship happens, we’ll both be contributing in various ways. Everything is not 50/50 all the time in a relationship. It’s about the sum of the parts and the flow of the give and take.
Eve: Anna, absolutely, economy is the correct word. There is a currency exchange in relationships that we are talking about here. Lena, I find that argument to be very interesting in that it is certainly valid to a degree, but also certainly is predicated on the assumption that the man is looking good for cheaper and for longer. I also think this is a weird way in which we put men down. As though they don’t have as much to offer as we do, so they deserve to pay. In a way, this mirrors what I said earlier, but in a slightly different way.
Anna, relationships are certainly not split down the middle. Each party contributes something of value. The trouble arises when value is not perceived equally by both parties.
Anna: Yes, I think perhaps it’s a way for us to validate our own (sometimes resentful) efforts to maintain physically and look “perfect.” But that sets up a dangerous formula: “You should pay monetarily because I try really hard to look pretty for you.”
Lena: Anna, I think “sometimes resentful validation” is correct, and what I mentioned earlier is more a one-liner when certain men comment about how “girls never really have to pay.” I think it’s also worth noting two unique/different positions where I am coming from, as a 20-something and also a culturally different perspective. I agree with most everything you ladies have said, but I’ve found that the two aforementioned positions tend to play a determining role in the question of “who should pay.”
Anna: Maybe it’s just that I have superior male friends, but I look at the relationships that many of my guy friends are in or have been in and they are matching (or exceeding) their female partners in non-monetary contributions, as well. And yet I know I’ve been in relationships where the guy might pick up the bill, but hasn’t actively contributed to the relationship in other ways that I wanted/needed (needless to say, those didn’t last, regardless of the depth of his pocketbook). It’s really person- and relationship-specific.
Eve: Definitely. I wonder how this dynamic plays out in same sex relationships.
Anna: Agreed -- would love to have someone in a same sex relationship weigh in in the comments.
Lena: As far as I’ve seen with this, I think it tends to go more 50/50, though butch/femme or the pursuer/the pursued also plays a role. IMHO a lot of the “who should pay question,” as we’ve all agreed so far, is determined by gender roles, so when you remove that, you get rid of a lot of the gendered expectations, too.
Anna: Lena -- when I think about when I dated in my 20s, I don’t think I had a very different perspective. So I do think that, as you note, it is more of a generational difference. That Millennials have a different perspective about gender equality and dating -- and I’m not sure it’s for the best. I hear a lot of disgruntled 20-something daters with unmet expectations, very confused about their roles.
Eve: I did treat it differently in my 20s, but that was all to do with $. I had none. I agree with Anna, though, about the Millennial perspective. It could be (doesn’t have to be but could) damaging. There is a lack of romance and gravity around relationships, maybe. It all seems disappointingly casual.
Lena: Re: Millennials and dating -- as a Millennial, I think dating as a general occurrence is disappointingly casual (at least in NYC). What is interesting, though, is when I say I am “old fashioned,” a lot of people understand (part of this) to be that I appreciate chivalry, and for lack of a better way to say this, but abide by certain gender dynamics in dating. Which then brings us right back to the feminism question. It’s rough.
Eve: Lena! lol. that’s sad, but funny and true.
Lena: The struggle is real...
Anna: Disappointingly casual, indeed. And not to beat a dead dating horse, but I’ve been out with extremely wealthy guys (like aforementioned date-walker) who were super anal about splitting down to the last dollar, and I’ve been out with grad students with no money (and no family money to support them) who insisted on paying, despite their economic hardship (and my protests to try to pay in those moments). I respect and appreciate that gesture so much -- not because of the actual $$, but because of what it says about their character.
Eve: Yes. I have had poor boys pay for things and take me on lovely dates and rich men ask me to leave the tip. I know what you mean.
Anna: Ah, the old “get the tip!” Classy. Some of the not-so-wealthy daters get creative and, again, that is also appreciated. It’s being on the preemptive defense that’s very unattractive.
Eve: Yes. completely. I think it is interesting how little the subject of a man expecting sex in exchange for paying has come up here. I know for me it is almost a non-issue in the sense that I would never entertain such an absurd idea for a second.
Lena: I agree with you 100%. I’d never entertain this for a second -- I’ve always said, if I agreed to have dinner with you, I agreed to have dinner with you and that’s it. But you know what though? More than one (self-proclaimed Millennial feminist, if that makes any difference) has told me that if a guy buys you a drink or a meal, especially if it costs more, he kind of sort of has a right to “expect something in return.”
Anna, speaking of “being on the preemptive defense” though, I find myself often times on the preemptive defense when I go on dates with guys, because, like I said, I am an old fashioned Millennial (or just a Millennial living in the US that does not seem to share popular American Millennial views on dating/sex) -- I often find myself on the defensive because I sense that a lot of guys expect more than just my company when they ask me out to dinner, and it makes me uncomfortable/shut down any suggestion of anything more if I sense it coming.
Anna: What might he be expecting exactly? Your gratitude and respect? Then ok. And a lack of chivalry is not a turn-on, so….let’s just say NOT paying is not really great foreplay.
Lena: (I’m referring to “hey I paid for dinner, sleep with me”)
Eve: Right, Lena. So lame. I think that lousy perspective is ultimately an acknowledgement of the economy Anna mentioned earlier but, unfortunately, in this scenario, the “feminist” doesn’t believe in the value of what the woman has to offer in the dynamic if it isn’t financial. Odd how a contemporary ideology can fall short of what might otherwise be considered an archaic point of view. And yes, Anna, well said.
Anna: Lena -- to your point: I think one main issue here is that we don’t have aligned expectations and we don’t all date for the same purpose. One woman might indeed date for a meal. One guy might date in the hopes of getting laid (and those two might be a great fit). For others, they date with the hope of meeting someone with whom they can connect and have a longterm relationship -- and so paying for dinner is but a small gesture on a hopefully long road of companionship and mutual exchange. That may sound trite, but that’s my thought process and personal approach.
Lena: Anna, absolutely. Makes me think of OKCupid’s “I’m looking for…” field in profiles. Except even with that it’s hard to filter out who’s really looking for what. And say one is looking to date for longterm companionship -- even within that, there seems to be a lot of variance in what that constitutes, and when/how quickly certain physical aspects progress.
Eve: I agree, Anna. And I would add that everyone who is dating is trying to get something. I don’t fault a man for wanting to get laid, only for expecting that it is his right because he paid for dinner. The date is just an early moment in a relationship (or a late moment, depending on the longevity of the thing) but certainly it is a window into how men and women feel about the opposite sex, as well as about each other individually.
Anna: And about themselves. What I think is funny is that the assumption is that women are NOT trying to get laid. That we’re trying not to “give in” and the guy is trying to trick us. What if we BOTH want to get laid and assume we’ll both make compromises / try to impress / engage in a dance to find our way there together on mutually-beneficial terms?
Eve: Now THAT is archaic. Of course women want to get laid!
Anna: And yet, many women -- not just men -- speak of dating and sex as something women “give up” and that he “got you to do.” Rather than, “Yeah, I scored!” Own it, women. And allow yourselves to enjoy it. But perhaps that’s a topic for another discussion….
Lena: I believe that’s what Tinder is for...also, for the free meal seekers/unapologetically mercenary daters, I believe there is a dedicated platform called “Seeking Arrangement.” There’s also another dating service by the same guys called “Carrot dating,” where guys say something like, “I’ll buy you a tank of gas if you go on a date with me,” and apparently this has been gaining some traction in Boston. No judgement to any of the above, and obviously these are slightly more extreme examples, but what I’m saying here is that there doesn’t seem to be an issue really in either party being upfront about what they are looking for.
Eve: I do want to just mention that there is a totally mercenary fraction of the population that sees a date as a cold exchange. I have seen this and I tend to forget about it because it is not part of my world, but there are many women who value men first and foremost because of their money and their ability to provide, not just a livelihood, but luxury. And, the men involved in these types of exchanges seem to value women primarily for their appearances and sex appeal. It happens. That’s how we end up with The Bachelor.
Anna: And I think, in some ways, that match-up works even better than what we’re talking about -- because their expectations are aligned. Ah, The Bachelor. My favorite guilty pleasure/train wreck.
Lena: So this is one point where I would like to bring in the factor of culture. For the sake of simplification, I’ve found that within my more Chinese/Asian circles, it is often easier/less awkward because the guy will pay, period. A lot of my platonic guy friends will even pay for dinner -- and I’ll offer, but usually they refuse and it’s appreciated (and not really about the money, I like to think I pull my weight in my friendships, too). Within American circles, it’s a whole different story.
I realize I just complicated this whole talk by a factor of ten, maybe this is for another discussion...
Anna: Yes, I think that’s why there are lots of articles arguing for people to date and marry within their cultures. Aligned expectations / values.
Eve: Mmm. interesting… I think that could be a weird justification for xenophobia. Also, I think it is weird when a man can’t accept a woman paying.
Lena: Eve, not really that a man can’t accept a woman paying. Say, within an American context, I’d find that strange, too, but given another culture -- Chinese for instance, we would have to factor in a lot more about that cultural context.
Anna, to your point of dating and marrying within one’s own culture, that’s a tougher one for “third culture” people (comme moi).
Eve: Lena, I see what you are saying. I meant that more as an aside. Like, also, that is a weird thing that also happens.
Anna: Ha, yes. Definitely could be classic xenophobia justification. I think my two big take-aways are 1) it’s rarely really about the money and 2) try to be transparent in your goals and expectations -- while keeping a thinly veiled allure, of course… which may be harder than it sounds. I guess that’s why the problem persists.
Lena: Good summary, especially about goals/expectations. I think the challenge these days is with the shifting expectations, especially within American culture, so perhaps we are still all trying to figure out what exactly “modern dating” constitutes.
Anna: And what the rules are.
Eve: Yes. good summary. I also would add that, like with any good business negotiation, go in knowing what you want and be prepared to walk away :)