First dates are tricky things.. If it's one of these new-fangled internet dates, there's a hundred and one things that can go wrong before you even order your beverage. Unfortunately, this post isn't going to be a self-help guide for meeting that lucky someone (asif I'd have any idea how to write one of those!), it's about what happens at the end of a meal ... It's about the bill.
Picture this scene: I'm sat in my parents' living room, a busy place filled with 2 "grown-ups" (mum 'n' dad), 2 Chihuahuas, an old Cat named Baby, a 4-month-old baby named Isabella, me - the hero of the tale - and my younger sister - our nemesis. Somehow, during a brief respite from the noise of animals, baby and television, conversation picked up and moved into online dating. I was only half-paying attention, probably daydreaming about the peaceful serenity of my flat just 3 miles away, but suddenly felt my nonsense-senses tingling, and listened more carefully to the turn in the discussion. I listened in, just in time, to hear my sister opine the following ... "I think men should always pay for the bill on first dates. Women should be wined and dined, and treated properly". I honestly think if I hadn't been in the room she would have finished the sentence with "and treated like princesses", but she was now acutely aware of me listening in.
I then, of course, in an ill-advised move, offered my thoughts. If this were a panto, the crowd would be screaming "DON'T FEED THE TROLL!" at me, but I pressed on and pointed out that, were I on a date with someone who just assumed I'd pay for everything, I'd likely pay and then never contact them again. She was visibly shocked, as was I that people still thought her way. So, we both took it to social media. She openly asked all of her facebook followers, whereas I privately messaged a handful of friends. The contrast in responses is a good indicator of the differing friendship circles we walk in. Here's a small sampling of anonymous replies to her query of whether men should pay:
"Yes! This is why relationships aren't like how they used to be. No romancing etc! A proper gent should pay! x" - I assume that little x means that she thinks we should pay 10 times.
"Asking her for half must be so awks"
"If he wants her knickers off later then yes" - Stay classy, human.
"99% of females would say yes lol. If I was a female then I'd say yes, I mean who doesn't like being treated and spoiled?"
"A man would a boy wouldn't"
It was all pretty one-sided. In my query, I must admit that I phrased the situation slightly differently, by pointing out my opinion in the messages I sent, and then asked the question "am I flouting tradition in a bad way, or is she stuck in the past?". I can't ignore that there may be bias in how I chose the sample of friends to ask, but I really didn't want to have to deal with a flood of messages, Facebook is tiring enough. Here is a short-ish sample of some of the responses...
"Men shouldn't pay [just] because they are men. That's ridiculous and old fashioned. People should have the same expectations held up to them regardless of gender. As otherwise, we will stay stuck in a sexist society. To sum up, you are 100% correct in my opinion! :)"
"I'm with you on that, although I've not been on a date like that [in] quite some time. But even in the early days of me and [name deleted] I think we often split the bill"
"I think it depends on who asked who out, tbh. But I'd probably default to 50-50 as well, or just agree beforehand like civilised humans :) "
"[She's] completely stuck in the past."
"I always offered to split! I think unfortunately a lot of girls do expect a guy to pay on the first date: I know a lot of my friends will feed back from a date and say "yeah it was great, he was nice, funny, paid for everything"- like it's a key attribute they're looking for/pleased about, but I don't think that's right!"
Again, it was completely one-sided. These are interesting results, even if the methods were not at all scientific. For me, this is a crude indicator of a cultural split going on between old-fashioned, traditional values, and modern movements for equality in the younger generations (even if I am the slightly older sibling). Personally, I just don't see how one can place any expectation on a person based on their gender and not be a tad sexist.
There are, however, caveats and nuances to this problem that I feel obliged to comment on. Firstly, there's already a cultural expectation that the "man" must ask the "woman" out, and never the other way around. Annoying as it may be, this is the current state-of-play. So then, I have to agree to some extent that, were I to specifically ask someone if I could take them out to dinner, I'd obviously always offer to pay. I don't know their financial situation after all, and I've left them in an awkward position if they want to meet up but can't afford the place I choose to eat (because on first dates choosing a venue is also up to "the man" as well apparently. I'd be very interested to hear if and how these values transfer into same sex or trans relationships).
Speaking of finances, I don't think it's unreasonable that the person with the highest income should shoulder the majority of costs ... is anyone going to mention the gender pay gap? FINE. I'll mention it. As unpopular a topic as it may be, there is a gap between the average salary of men and women. The most-excellent John Green discussed this recently, and pointed out that the pay gap does shrink somewhat when you take cultural elements into account, such as the fact that more women than men choose to take lower income jobs in order to support a family, but the gap doesn't shrink to zero. There remains, no matter how you look at the data, an unassailable difference in how men and women are paid, which seems to stem from the fact that women are less likely to make a promotion than men, given the same job and same skill-set. As an aside, if you have 3 hours to delve into the world of gender bias and the endless research into this issue, look no further than here.
With these points in mind, should I just behave as if I make more money than my date? Hell no. Making assumptions like that only feeds into the inherent sexism that still exists in society. I can look at data and make conclusions about the pay of women on average, and try to subtly change the way people think in order to help nudge us towards better equality, but I'm not going to be making assumptions about this woman in front of me. She can probably tell by the retro paisley shirt I'm wearing that I'm not rich.
Reaching for the bill because I'm a man is considered chivalrous, but chivalry is just another way of saying you believe that women are helpless. If someone were to assume they should pay my bill for me, I'd feel both flattered by the offer and offended that they think I need a free dinner, so why would I assume that my date would feel differently? I would rather just live my life assuming that people, regardless of their gender, think along the same lines I do.
Luckily, none of my dates have had this must-pay expectation of me yet ... but that may have less to do with my choice in women, and more to do with me insisting we skip the meal and just get drunk.