Who Should Pay for the First Date?

Photo: garryknight

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.

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Guest's picture

Under no circumstances should the one inviting financially obligate the one accepting. This goes for even casual invitations. Footing the bill is a part and parcel of having the privilege of selecting the offered event.

Dutch is when both agree to attend together without the necessity of an invitation.

If it's an incompatible date, politely terminate it early regardless of the paying arrangements. Decline the gift of the event or what's left of it, not the money to pay for it, please.

Rearranging who pays midway in some vague hope it sends a *cough cough* signal is playing games. All it signals is a clear shortage of courage in the face of failed expectations.

Guest's picture

I was set up with a guy through a mutual friend and he called and asked if I wanted to meet at Panera. I was ok with the casual date because I really didn't know if we'd be interested in each other or not. We placed our orders at the counter and got down to the register to pay and I was in front so I pulled out my card (intending to pay for my half, or at least offer to do so) and he said "Oh, okay, you got this? Thanks!" It was less than $20, so obviously it wasn't a big deal, but I was put off that he so easily let the girl pay - and I didn't even offer. He was in college, so maybe money was tight, but considering it was such a cheap meal anyway, I was surprised. We didn't go out again, but it wasn't necessarily because of that - that just didn't help the situation.
On any first date, I always offered to pay at least half. Even if they declined, I'd offer to leave the tip. Most guys didn't let me pay anything, but I wanted to make sure they didn't think I was looking for a free meal.

Guest's picture

Call me traditional but I believe the male should always pay for the date regardless of who initiates it.

Guest's picture

I agree, if your date isn't on his best behavior and is being rude (like belching, ew!) I would pay for my own tab. You don't want to make someone think they have a shot at taking you out again by letting them pay for you even when you probably won't call them again, so just give them the cold shoulder and pay your own way for the rest of the date.

Guest's picture

I kind of can't believe you still bothered to go on the date after the belches - you are a much more forgiving soul than I am.

I'm not big on going dutch - I prefer taking turns from one date to the next. Big high five on the initiator assuming responsibility for the bill on a date, though.

Guest's picture

Women who go on first dates with men who insist on picking up the tab do not necessarily "have it made." Men who pay on the first date are not necessarily the more "decent men." Many women prefer to pay for themselves on the first date, to keep it equal and keep things from being gendered. If a man really wants to pay on the first date, they should offer it as an option as opposed to just assuming that's what the woman wants. People should be able to consent to the gender roles they're placed into, and having someone else assume you want them to pay for everything can feel infantalizing. Women can see this practice as exemplifying men in the provider role, which does not feel great to everyone.