Another post that stems from an incident in real life. This time the opinions in my circle of friends are divided and I’m not so sure myself either.
When going out on a date, the most popular locations in my experience are bars, coffeeshops and restaurants. They fill the brief of being public, yet offering a private space to have a conversation and thus get to know each other.
The only real downside is that they aren’t exactly free, which means that most of these dates will end with a bill, and two options. You can either split the bill or one of you can just dive in and invite the other. This choice is difficult enough with friends, as everyone already seems to have a different take on it depending on personal funds, family history and cultural values (in the words of a Lebanese friend: “If my dad knew I had you paying for my drink he’d smack me”). This isn’t simplified by the fact that in British culture it is taboo to talk about money. This means that both of you will hold strong believes over how it should be done, but general convention forbids you to speak about it.
So let’s make it even more complicated and add gender issues into this mix of variables!
Say, we have a girl and a boy* having dinner with each other at a previously arranged location. They eat, they drink, they get the bill.
Then comes the little dance where parties both pull out their wallet, rummage around for money and grab for the bill.
All of this has to be done with really exaggerated gestus, panto-style. In no way is it acceptable to just ask “Hey, would you pay for my dinner?” or “Let’s face it, I earn more than you and picked the restaurant, so I should pay”. Even the simple “So how should we do this?” is culturally discouraged. Instead, fully grown adults artfully slap hands that reach for the bill, clutch wallets and nod at waiters or even put more money on the table and push notes back in the direction of the other person with such pathos as if they were early colonialists haggling with the native tribes.
In most cases however it either results with the male part paying for everything, or more rarely with both chipping in. I have personally never paid for the other party on the first three dates, and a quick poll around my female friends reveals similar numbers (including the surprisingly popular “I’ve never paid for anything on a first date.”). Once a relationship is more settled, it happens more often that the female part pays, but in this early stage of courtship the classic image of the “male provider” persists.
Whether people are cool with this convention depends at least partially on their degree of feminist idealism. Some minority of my female friends are outraged at the thought of accepting dinner – and candidly ask what this dinner pays for. This thought is backed by the odd creepy guy that thinks that together with the dinner he bought himself company for the night. However, most guys seem to be more relaxed about the expectations they have from a dinner-date, and cite mostly “wanting to impress her” and “it’s the done thing” as reasons to pay for their date. This in turn leaves them vulnerable to girls who just want the free meal.
I’ve found myself in several situations recently where I was invited out, and although I liked the guy, I wasn’t interested in him romantically. I wasn’t too sure whether to accept the invitation, because yes, I did fancy free dinner and fun conversation, but no, I already knew it wasn’t going to lead to anything else. I also refer back to the lower left quadrant of my “accidental date” chart.
By far the best advice I have heard in this context was summed up into a single statement:
No-one pays for dinner if they just want to be friends.
This is exceptionally sound advice because it shows you how important it is to consider the other person’s intentions. And no, I shouldn’t accept an invitation from someone who’s more involved than I am. If I want to go out with them as friends, then we should behave like friends, and probably split the bill.
The verdict is still out for dates that I’m actually interested in. Should I just wait for that fourth date to “get even”, or accept from the start that there will be a financial imbalance?
*in my personal scenario. I’m fully aware and fine with the fact that right now, lots of boy-boy and girl-girl couples are getting a bill for their date. Not sure how they solve the problem, or what the convention is in this case. I’m sure however that in Britain it will involve a lot of miming.