This letter, posted over at Evan Katz's blog, sparked a huge debate about dating and money. The few men, including myself, all questioned the repeated theme amongst most of the women commenting, that men should do the heavy financial lifting while dating. Now, there is clearly some background differences at play in the discussion. Regional differences, for example. The women who have dated and/or live in the Southern U.S. are quite firm in the story that most of the men they date insist on paying for everything, not just in the beginning, but apparently for the whole relationship. It's also the case that some of these women are used to dating men who make a lot of money, and seem surprised when others question the old "men pay" standard, given that most women are working these days.
First, here's most of the letter in question:
Hello Evan. I recently started dating a girl. I really enjoy her company and she enjoys mine. We get along fine, we’re really into each other and we share many commonalities. There’s only one issue – money! I have absolutely no problems taking her out on dates and footing the bill 100% but we’ve been on about 5 dates and we’ve hung out with mutual friends on numerous occasions, but she never even offers to pay – not even a disingenuous offer. I understand that if we are happy, then money is a small price to pay, but I barely finished college and only make $40,000 a year. I cannot afford to spend $200 every weekend. I mean, even when we’re not on dates, she expects me to pay. I don’t know how she got this old fashioned mindset, but it’s really starting to bug me. Personally, I work just as hard as she does for my money and I don’t find it fair but at the same time, I find it too early in the relationship to bring it up. I just don’t want her getting the idea that I’m ok with it or that she can take advantage.
I don’t even expect her to pay half. If we go out to dinner, I’ll pay for the date and the dinner, but the least she could do is pay for our ice cream or maybe buy me a single drink? I want to have that feeling, like if we’re at a bar and my girl comes up to me and asks me what I want. It’s like she has my back. It’s not about the cash- it’s more about being appreciated and not taken advantage of. I do not know how to approach the situation.
Now, early on, the comments were mixed. Some of the women spoke of splitting the costs with boyfriends, or even offering to pay on first or second dates. However, as the comments kept rolling in, the message became loud and clear that the majority of women, on this particular blog anyway, think men should not only pay, but that any sort of questioning of that fact is simply resentment and a sign of cheapness.
I honestly don't get it.
And I have rarely experienced this in my own dating life. Which made me wonder if this was primarily a class-based and/or regionally-based issue. In other words, is being more successful financially, or being used to having a certain level of material wealth in their lives, driving what I see as a sense of entitlement in these comments? And/or is it the strength of the cultural norms in the South, or the expensive cost of living in cities like New York (where a fair number of commenters are also from), behind some of this talk?
Consider these examples.
I would prefer letting him pay for every date and I give back in different ways (there are so many creative ways to pay back what he spends on you, and it can include or exclude money or paying for something). You see, he will feel manly and like a sufficient provider and you will feel cherished and in a feedback loop it increases passion in relationship because the two of you are so polarized (feminine vs. masculine).
Monica, about twenty comments later says this:
equality does not mean symmetry. if they get married, when she is cooking or washing his clothes, she will not tell him, i made my dish and yours, now you must make the dessert. she will not say when she is washing his clothes, i washed the shirts, why don’t you wash the pants? when she has his baby she will not say, i am delivering the baby all by myself, you are so mean and ungrateful! the least he can do is pay the bill. without complaining.
This one from Leslie is rather choice in my view:
This topic has always bothered me. I’m a woman. When I say I want to be treated equally, I mean I want to be treated with equal respect, not “treated like a man.” I’m not going kill half the spiders, I’m not going to change half the tires, and I’m not going to pay for half the dates. If he wants me to pay or to offer, it turns me off completely. Not because I’m cheap or want to take advantage of him, but because it makes me feel devalued…like I’m just another person-a guy, a platonic friend, a random acquaintance-not a woman he desires and wants to take care of. And yes, I want to be taken care of. Not because I’m weak and can’t take care of myself but because, again, I feel desired when a man takes care of me. If he’s counting his money, it shows me he doesn’t think I’m worth everything he’s got, that nothing is too much to give up for me, and that’s how a woman wants to feel. It’s not about money, it’s about the dynamic between a man and woman. And “classic” does not mean “outdated.”
And this one from Selena is even better:
The guy who pays without allowing a moment of uncomfortableness is the one who’s most interested in most cases. The guy who wants to split (for equality) usually turns out to be Mr. Casual that hopes to be “entertained” at your house with your food and beverages.
Paying is what separates the men from the boys – at every income level.
As a man who has never had a lot of money, I've always found myself confused as to what to do with the whole "men should pay" narrative. My general answer has been to have the first date be a coffee or drink date. Or going for a walk. Or something else free or very low cost. But then you go out again, maybe for dinner, a movie, or whatnot, and the questions comes in my mind - what to do?
I readily admit that up until maybe four or five years ago, I would probably fall into the category of being "too frugal" or even "cheap" at times. It's been a process to move from that kind of place, to one of being more generous with my money, but also still careful enough to maintain a budget. So, some of my own quandary is driven by internal questions about lack and abundance.
However, over the past three and half years, I have been on numerous first dates, and plenty of second and third dates. And in there, I have paid for a fair amount of dinners, but have also had women pay either their share or even a few cover the whole bill. So, my experience is totally mixed. I can imagine this is fairly commonplace amongst men and women my age and younger.
But I still find myself influenced by, and/or resistant to that old narrative that men should be paying for dates because that's a major way to "show interest."
One of the comments I made over at Evan's blog was this:
I just find it so interesting how many women here seem to link level of care and interest with the frequency of times a man is willing to foot the bill. With all the other signs and signals a man could be giving within a relationship, somehow it seems to continually come back to spending habits of the man. Hmmm…
Perhaps this is what comes from living in a capitalist culture where money and stuff trumps most everything else.
I guess I just wonder how common this linking is between a man's spending and the perceived level of interest and care experienced by women. Perhaps it has negatively impacted my relationships in the past, and I didn't know it.