Who Should Pay for the First Date?
I’m married now, but when I was dating, I had anxiety over who should pay for the first date.
For women, it’s easy. I don’t mean to be sexist, but the guy generally picks up the tab in most cases; you ladies have it made if you’re dating decent men. (See also: From $5 to $30+, Date Ideas for Every Budget)
I’m gay, however, so when it’s two dudes meeting for drinks, dinner, and activities, that old-fashioned line of machismo-masked-as-chivalry tends to get blurred.
My Simple Rule: The Asker Pays
In my case, I adopted the rule early on that whoever asked the other on the date is the one who should pay. That’s not how it always went down, though. I dated a few stinkers (literally in one instance; more on that later) before I found my husband. But even today, I still use that rule when going on a date with my husband. If I ask him on the date, I’ll pick up the tab. If he’s inviting me out, I expect him to foot the bill.
Then there’s the grey area.
If we’re going out on a whim, with no specific plans in place, we go Dutch. I don’t mind. Every now and then, on these impromptu dates, one of us will pick up the entire bill just because we want to — and because that’s what married people do if they want married-people perks later in the night.
First Date Follies
If you’re not in a relationship though, dating isn’t so easy — especially the first one — and it definitely isn’t cheap.
While I stand by my statement that you should fork over the dough if you initiated the first date, there are some exceptions. Let’s take that stinker, for instance.
I went out on a date once with a dude in whom I was interested, but the date quickly went downhill after dinner. On our way to a local bookstore to sit on the terrace with dessert and a few magazines, this guy let out a huge belch without excusing himself. I brushed it off the first time, but then he did it again — again without excusing himself. That time I asked him if he was going to excuse himself to which replied that he would not and that he farts, too.
Um, not on my time.
At that point the date was over for me. Even though he asked me out and paid for the first half of the date, I decided to send him a message when we got to the bookstore by paying for my own dessert and magazines. I wasn’t about to accept more of his charity if he planned to be rude and disgusting for the rest of the night.
This example is where an exception to the rule of who pays applies. If you’re not feeling the date, you have a responsibility to let that person know — and there’s no better way to do that than by declining their offer to pay, or, on the other hand, requesting to split the bill if you’re the one expected to pay.
What I mean by the latter is if you’re not hitting it off with the person with whom you’re on a date for whatever reason, I don’t think you should have to pay their portion. You likely won’t see them after this, so there should be no embarrassment in asking them to go halfsies. At the very least, you won’t have to worry about them calling you ever again.
A First Date Shouldn't Bust Anybody's Budget
It’s worth noting that while first dates should be special, you should be wary of people who take advantage of the situation.
Some people just want a free meal, and if you feel like you’re getting the shaft it’s totally OK to flip the script and make them pay up. The first indication of this little game is when he or she orders the most expensive item on the menu and premium cocktails. Conversely, if you’ve been asked on the date, don’t be that guy or girl. Order something sensible and reasonably priced so your date doesn’t get the impression that you’re attracted only to his or her wallet.
Most importantly, be smart in planning the first date if you’re the one paying. You shouldn’t make reservations at the fanciest place in town if that’s not in your budget. While it’s tacky for the date to order the most expensive items on the menu, it’s something for which you should be prepared; if you can’t afford it, you shouldn’t be eating there. Same goes for activities — choose fun, budget-friendly activities in which to participate so you can somewhat gauge how much this date will cost.
The underlying perk in this strategy is that by setting a standard of budget dating in the beginning, your date won’t get the wrong impression. He or she will expect low-cost outings from the get-go, which will make those more extravagant dates unexpected and appreciated down the road.
Now it’s your turn to weigh in. What do you think about my take on first dates? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have a bad-date story to share? Let me know in the comments below.