Should a Guy Always Pay in a Relationship?

Cole Mayer
A couple, drinking wine outside at a restaurant, each pull out a credit card to pay for a date.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Imagine you are on a date. It’s been going pretty well, and the waiter brings the check. If this were a movie, brows would furrow, the camera would zoom in on eyes narrowing, as the guy reaches for his wallet and the gal reaches for her purse. Who is going to pay? It’s a classic Tarantino standoff. The guy wants to show he cares, that he values the date, and make sure that he’s sending the right message. But the gal also wants to send the right message, that she’s independent, not fixed in tradition, and is perfectly fine paying for herself. Who pays for dinner? The answer to this loaded question: It’s complicated.

Men Paying Is A Tradition

Instead of the action sequence above, it’s likely more along the lines of the Jordan Peele sweating gif. There’s traditions and etiquette to wade through, and it’s a stormy sea. Should you adhere to tradition? Is it better to let the old ways die?

The First Date

Men, for example, are typically expected to pay on the first date. It stems from men being the breadwinners in a family, and, in the 1950s and ‘60s, women made up less than 40 percent of the workforce. In 1960, women were making 61 percent of what men were. In short, women relied on men to take care of them. Now, despite the wage gap, women have jobs. Even the wage gap is starting to close, and an increasing number of wives make more than their husbands, earning the title of “breadwinner” for their family.

Yet, when Vice asked a group of 20-somethings in 2016 who should pay for dates, answers varied. Some thought men should pay on the first date, per tradition, and then split equally. Some always wanted the man to pay. Whoever invited the other out on the date should pay. One woman always insisted on paying, or paying half if the date didn’t go well. There is no consensus.

Paying Isn’t Selfless

Here’s something to think about: If the man keeps paying for everything, and uses his credit card, he could rack up rewards. Not only that, but assuming he pays his bills on time, he’ll be raising his credit score. By not paying for dates, you could be missing out on the benefits of using your credit card.

It’s All About Feminism and Masculinity

More so than traditions, the ideas of feminism and masculinity are determining who should pay. From a feminist perspective, the woman can decide what she wants. She has the power to pay, to show that she can pay and not rely on the man. Going halves, splitting the bill equally, can send the message that you are equals.

Social Norms and Risking Emasculation

The problem occurs when this comes up against social norms of masculinity. The man might expect to pay because that’s what his dad did. His dad paid for everything for his mom. Whether or not it’s a financial strain, he expects to pay. For him, it’s a “man” thing regardless of whether you want to pay or not. It’s an unstoppable force hitting an immovable object.

At the same time, if you, as a woman, insist on paying for whatever reason, and it causes the man to feel emasculated, is it your problem?

No, it’s not. As gender norms change, men will need to accept that sometimes women do want to pay, regardless of the man’s feelings. It’s important, of course, to make sure he knows you are not intentionally hurting his feelings, but that it’s important to you that you pay, whole or in part, and explain why. In short, it’s about managing expectations.

How to Set Payment Expectations

Talking About Money

It’s going to be much easier if ground rules are set. It may be hard to talk about money, but it can avoid complicating an otherwise good date. Paying for dates is, in essence, a type of currency, and the question is what is expected in return. Companionship? Sex? Paying for the next date? Maybe he just enjoys treating you occasionally, with no further expectations. It’s something that you’ll need to address, and it’s easier to do it before the date rather than as the waiter holds out a hand for payment, trying to think fast about the implications of who pays what, and why.

The next question is: who should pay for what? If the man pays for dinner, are you paying for the movie? Drinks? Snacks? In a casual setting, you could trade drink rounds.

Avoiding Resentment

Making sure you both understand who is paying for what can stop resentment from building. The man may resent paying every time, but think that’s what he has to do in order to buy affection, or out of some misplaced idea about tradition. You may resent a man who takes advantage of you offering to pay half by going deep into drinks or choosing an expensive restaurant.

If someone absolutely insists on paying, and you haven’t talked about it prior, it’s not worth the argument. Offer to pay next time, or go half. Then, when possible talk about who will pay for what going forward. It might be that, in 10 years, when you are married, it won’t matter who pays for what once you have a joint account.

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