Feminist dating etiquette

Rachel Kramer Bussel at the Village Voice takes on the question of hetero dating and who pays–is it sad that I really didn’t know this was still a dating issue? I thought at least with younger folks this wouldn’t really even be a question. (My boyfriend insists that I must live in an alternate universe.)
Apparently–and I really do feel kind of foolish admitting that I thought otherwise–it’s still considered pretty standard for the guy to pay for dates.

Most women claim the guy should pay, regardless of who asked whom out or who makes more money. Like it or not, the tradition’s a stubborn holdover from past eras when women couldn’t afford to go halfsies. Lauren Henderson, author of Jane Austen’s Guide to Dating (Hyperion, 2005), believes paying is a sign of respect. “Symbols are important, and a man who can’t buy a woman dinner on their first date is a man who will be emotionally deficient at making a woman feel cared about,” she elaborates. “Men need caretaking, but their need doesn’t express itself in having dinner bought for them. Men want their ego bolstered by feeling strong, capable, and necessary.”

(Puke.) I just don’t get it. Do guys agree with this? How does spending cash make someone feel necessary?
The only situations where someone has paid for my dates on a semi-regular basis has been when I was seeing someone who made significantly more money than I did and wanted to go places that I just couldn’t afford. But otherwise, I can’t really imagine not paying. It seems so weird. I also find it kind of insulting–I’m not a child, I can manage to feed and entertain myself.
I suppose it’s easier–as Bussel points out–when you’re actively dating someone and can just go by the I’ll-get-this-one, you-get-the-next-one way of paying.
Seems to me that even having to think about something like this kind of ruins the fun of dating.
Any thoughts?

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27 Comments

  1. Posted February 28, 2006 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    First, I’m really surprised to hear that come out of Lauren Henderson’s mouth. Oh, well…something is always surprising me about someone.
    It’s not just men paying for dates that is still in vogue–also, men asking for dates is still the standard. Hardly anything has changed. In a world in which Gwyneth Paltrow says she could never ask a man out because she doesn’t want to be “forward,” I have given up.
    What I want to know it: Where the hell are these kids’ parents? Isn’t anyone teaching them that institutionalized prostitution is not a good idea, or that these kinds of gender roles will haunt them the rest of their lives?

  2. Posted February 28, 2006 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I thought the rule was: Whoever invites, pays.

  3. Posted February 28, 2006 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    i must live in the same alternate universe as you, jessica, because i had no idea this was still an issue either.
    i am a grown woman and can pay my own way. i prefer to do so as well, because i don’t like to feel indebted to anyone, male *or* female.
    i’ve done a ton of online dating too and this has never been an issue. i’ve always thought it was assumed that y’all go dutch unless it’s a birthday or special occasion something.
    xoxo, jared

  4. sara
    Posted February 28, 2006 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Amber, that’s what Miss Manners says. I used to have a strict all-things-dutch policy, but it’s more relaxed now — if he invites, take out the wallet and offer twice…if he insists, let it go. If I invite, I insist.

  5. Earl
    Posted February 28, 2006 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    The fact that you didn’t know this speaks to how little you know about heterosexual males and dating in general.
    However, as a man, I really like it. It’s one of two simple litmus tests:
    (1) if I drive, unlock the passenger door first, and she doesn’t unlock my door for me
    -or-
    (2) after the first 3 dates, if she hasn’t pulled out her plastic and offered to pay at least once…
    then I drop her like a rock.

  6. Jessica
    Posted February 28, 2006 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Um, thanks Earl. I’ll be sure to pass that info on to my heterosexual boyfriend who I’ve dated for two years.

  7. Posted February 28, 2006 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I encountered this when I was internet dating, and I was also surprised that it was around. When I went out with women it wasn’t a problem, we went dutch. When I went out with men, however, there was all this posturing about buying me drinks that made me really uncomfortable. So I usually stuck around for a two-beer date: I let him get the first round and I got the second.

  8. margot
    Posted February 28, 2006 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    it’s quite a double edged sword… if you let him pay you are a prostitute (?) but if you don’t you’re emasculating him. i would hope that the people i date see both of us as more than just a stereotype or a virgin/whore…

  9. Posted February 28, 2006 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always had a whoever-asks-pays thing, at least for most outings. Even if I was just asking a buddy to go bowling, my wallet is out for the shoes. haggling over splitting can be down bowling.
    just drinks for a date, however, i’m definitely in the i’ll buy the first round, and then we alternate — i’m not into seeming like i’m trying to get someone drunk. that’s just creepy.
    if there’s financial considerations (i have a job, she’s a student) and it’s a place that would stretch a lower budget, i’m insisting, no questions (same for non-dates, as well).

  10. hedonist
    Posted February 28, 2006 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    My take on this: In Miss Manners’ world and my own, the “asker” pays.
    Money is energy, and when it comes to dating, largely symbolic, and it stands to reason that the more motivated the person, the more energy he/she will expend to achieve an objective. As for moi, I don’t have much cash on hand, but that’s because most of my disposable income is spent ratcheting-up the Cute-Meter, which in turn increases my “value” in the eyes of men. I also put an extraordinary amount of non-monetary energy into looking presentable for a date: hair, shaving makeup, choosing the right outfit, etc., something (most) men (almost) never do.
    So, having the guy who desires the pleasure of my company spring for the tab is a given; it doesn’t oblige me to a sexual put-out but evens the “energy score” (and as much as we hate to think we’re keeping score, on an energetic level at least, we are).
    That said, I ask a man out on a date, I’m payin’.

  11. Posted February 28, 2006 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I was in a relationship with a hardcore feminist guy when I first moved to NYC, and it was only when we broke up and I started going out on lots of dates here that I realized how much the “guy pays” thing was still in effect.
    At first it really, really pissed me off. I make a good salary and there is no need for anyone to pay for me. But a lot of guys who are otherwise quite cool and feminist really like to pay for a first date, and there didn’t seem to be much point in getting into a fistfight over it. So I’d just ask “how do you like to do this?” and if he wanted to pay for dinner, I’d get him a drink later if I liked him.

  12. Mandy G
    Posted February 28, 2006 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    I think that it’s really important to alternate doing these nice things for one another — opening doors, paying for meals, etc. — equally. Because it’s not like it’s infantilizing per se to have a door opened for you or a meal bought, it’s nice! So I do it back, because it should be a nice thing to do for my date, too — otherwise he wouldn’t do it for me (and if he balks, I know that he’s not doing it just to be nice).
    A lot of my college age friends, however, do neither of these things. It seems easy to say, “If he asks, he pays, and if I ask, I pay,” but if you never ask anyone on a date (which is how most of my friends roll), then it doesn’t really mean much, eh?

  13. Meredith
    Posted February 28, 2006 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Sara. My current boyfriend (dating for almost a year now) insists on paying for routine things, and he’s quite the liberal feminist. However, I pay when I ask, and I pay on some special occasions. He really does make more than I do, though–he’s actually making money off his scholarships at a state school, while I’m paying A LOT for my private university–so I don’t feel like a bad feminist, because he can afford it, and I honestly can’t a lot of the time.

  14. Posted February 28, 2006 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    On the first date, it seems best for guys to offer to pay. Not to insist, but since there are so many people who are great but traditional, there’s no reason to eliminate them from consideration before you even get to know them.
    On the other hand, “he who invites, pays” is a bad rule– since it further discourages women asking men– and there’s plenty of pressure without it. [Yes, he was specifically chosen for the reason Mandy G mentions above.]

  15. SleepyCoder
    Posted February 28, 2006 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    “We’re guys; we like to be needed. The woman who insists on paying half is essentially saying she doesn’t need a man, she needs fresh AA batteries.”
    Disturbing statement on so many levels. He equates a woman paying for her own meal to masturbation. So what is he thinking when he pays for a woman’s meal? Sorry dude. No woman “needs” a guy that equates getting her meal paid for to asking for sex.
    What I think: Pay for your own meal, if the guy can’t handle it, then dump him. Obviously his “manhood” wasn’t quite man enough to handle a woman with a little indepedence. Once you have an actual relationship, then do what feels right. Treating someone to dinner should be about wanting to do something nice for your date, not doing something out of obligation and societal pressure.

  16. Justin K.
    Posted February 28, 2006 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    I usually offer to pay on the first date, just seems like a nice gesture. The rule of thumb is probably to just not make a big deal out of it either way. If she insists on going Dutch or paying, i might resist mildly (“Naw, that’s OK, I can get it”) but if it’s important for her to chip in, then in she shall chip. Beyond the first couple dates, “I’ll get this one, you get the next” seems like the best policy.
    I should add that my girlfriend and I are both poor grad students, so it’s not like large sums of money are changing hands here.

  17. chuym
    Posted February 28, 2006 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    The asker pays thing is always good for the first few dates. My partner and I, with whom I share a bank account and make about the same as, do it as a, if the other pays, you have to put out. It works out well. Kind of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge at the idea put forward by M.G.
    She seems to enjoy paying. ;)
    That said, it was odd the first few years together figuring out how we wanted to aproch this sticky subject. Come to think of it, we went dutch for quite a while after the first few months.
    Also, I am wondering if anyone has thought of it as a common way of showing worth of the other by what can be considered the least communicative of the genders? When I was first dating I wanted to pay all the time because I sucked at giving complements (ok, talking at all).
    Sorry about the meandering…

  18. manda
    Posted March 1, 2006 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    When we were dating, my (now) husband paid for everything on the first date because he asked me out. After that, we alternated – he would pay for dinner and I would buy the movie tickets, etc. He might cover a little more if he got a bonus at work, and I did more when he missed a few weeks of work because he was caring for his sick father.
    It wasn’t even an issue for us, but a lot of his male friends were jealous when the saw me actually pay for stuff.

  19. JesusJonesSuperstar
    Posted March 1, 2006 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think paying for dates is at all romantic. yea, sure on a birthday, special occasion, etc. but, as a regular thing? no fucking way. Guys can be so spineless. so many of them complain about “having” to pay. Well, i am a guy and I refuse to be pimped on by a chick who is looking for free meals and to be “bought”.
    Somehow the feel of it is all wrong. what, a chick needs to be bribed with a nice “dinner” in order to spend time with me? right. If someone wants to step up and be with me they have to pick up their game and not be hanging back looking for a handout. If a chick offers to pay, i let her. Ill pay next time round, no big deal.
    Im am not interested in dating a mooch. I think if more guys wized up to this there would be alot more happy men and women in the dating world.
    Bottom line, that method does not work, it didn’t help me get laid back when i was dumb enough to think it was “what good guys did”. in fact, it does the opposite. those girls who want the guy to pay are usually the same girls who wnat to wait some rediculous amount of time before having sex, like the 4th date. Im just not cool with that, Last thing i want it to waste time around one of those chicks.
    On the other hand, being petty is not cool either. I am not one to go over the bill to make sure it is all completely 50/50, that is just stingy. each contribute and feel ok aobut it, but don’t obsess.
    If i am dating a chick, i prefer to alternate who pays back and forth.
    The reality i have seen is tho OPPOSITE of what all the bs about this says. wake up folks, if u want to make a girl feel special it does not require u try to buy her. that is just S A D.

  20. bear
    Posted March 2, 2006 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    While I think we are overthinking this, I will say that I often pay just to not have to worry about it. I hate going dutch because I usually get screwed on the bill anyway. I would rather just pay the whole thing and relax and not worry about it. Unless she asks me out, I usually pick up the check and have been known on several occasions to pick it up with guy friends and in groups. I promise it isn’t about showing off or trying to control someone, but about not having a lunch/dinner ruined by fighting over the check.

  21. Isabella
    Posted March 2, 2006 at 2:19 am | Permalink

    It’s hard not to overthink this issue- it’s big mishmash of feminism, traditional dating customs, relationships and widely varying etiquette advice.

  22. Posted March 2, 2006 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    This custom is still pretty much the norm — have you been living in and Afgan cave or something? Seriously, though, it’s a demeaning and irritating custom. I remember many years ago (about 10) when I was dating a woman who more or less refused to ever pay anything when we went out. At first I didn’t mind; we were both in college and I had a mucho dinero factory job that summer while she slaved away in retail. Come fall,however, and the tables turned. I was penniless, making $5.00 per hour for only a few hours a week and she was making about $6.50 working nearly full time. I though that our changed finances would lead to, say, more equitable date paying. I was wrong. She bitched and complained whenever I mentioned that I was broke nd couldn’t afford to go out. Well, we broke up after about a year. The next woman always offered to pay half; I married her.

  23. Linnaeus
    Posted March 2, 2006 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    The thing that strikes me when I read this discussion is that I’ve rarely known it *not* to be the case that the man pays on a hetero date until the two people have been dating for a while, at which point she begins to pick up the tab. Please note: I’m not making a normative statement here, but only describing what I’ve observed.
    Furthermore, it’s been my experience that, more often than not, when the woman paid, I didn’t get a second date. Of course, correlation doesn’t imply causation, and there could have been (and probably were) other reasons why she didn’t want to go out with me again. Dating, however, is not always conducive to thinking rationally, and I couldn’t help but notice the correlation. In addition, I’ve been on a couple of dates in which the woman insisted on paying her own way, and I didn’t get a second date in those situtations either. My guess there was that she decided early on that she wasn’t going to go out with me again, and paid so as to not feel any sort of obligation towards me (though I would not have felt she was obligated to me in any way if I had paid).
    So, the lesson I learned was that if we go dutch early on in the dating ritual, I shouldn’t expect to see her again.

  24. Not true
    Posted March 4, 2006 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    My goodness, you people live in a strange society. I wouldn’t want ANY relationship where money is an issue, life is an unknown quantity and no matter what safeguards one has in place, it can spin around on a dime.
    Here, whether you are with a potential lover or just a friend … whoever has the spare cash pays. If I want to go horesriding with a friend, but they can’t afford it on that occasion, I pay, and visa versa. No real discussion seems to take place, we just know … afterall isn’t that what friendship is all about.
    Same applies with family … whoever has the money for whatever, it just gets paid. Whilst my husband was alive, I paid for the house and the upkeep, and subsequently children … who cares, money is simply an abstract … living is what matters. Before I was married, if activities reqired money (most didn’t eg beach, picnic, engaging conversation, preliminary dates are usually avoidance of fucking either through lack of interest or moral attitudes etc) I always paid … I didn’t care, whatever made life easier for everyone … money cannot buy you happiness or friendship that lasts a lifetime.
    Although Linnaeus, I wholeheartedly concur with your reasoning if it’s pointed re “So, the lesson I learned was that if we go dutch early on in the dating ritual, I shouldn’t expect to see her again.”

  25. jrochest
    Posted March 4, 2006 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    When the hell did this change?
    I’m a woman. I pay for my own food and drink, unless the person who’s taking me out is a) celebrating my birthday b) repaying a favour or c) one of my two parents.
    This shit:
    We’re guys; we like to be needed. The woman who insists on paying half is essentially saying she doesn’t need a man, she needs fresh AA batteries.
    Is just shit. Behind this asshole attitude is the assumption that paying means he’s bought the right to fuck me. I’m not a hooker, and I’m not looking for a keeper. If I wanted to charge for sex, I’d ask for more than 20.00 worth of drinks. I don’t expect the guys I date to buy me clothes or pay for my car or rent me an apartment, either.

  26. Steve
    Posted May 15, 2006 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    Any man who feels emasculated by a woman splitting the date with him isn’t much of an individual if that’s something he gauges self worth by. I find it demeaning to both of the sexes when the man or woman or both feels that it’s the man’s role to pay.
    I just can’t believe people still have these attitudes in this day and age.
    Just got a mail back from a girl I recently had a date with. I bought the first round of drinks and we split the second. After two weeks of not replying she finally stated amongst other things “And feeling like I should pay for my drink was a bit of a turnoff.” Well I find her lack of independence a turn off too.
    There are lots of fabulous differences between men and women to be celebrated. Just let’s not get notions of economic exchange messed up in the whole matter. Especially in this society where people think when you pay for something you’re entitled to something in return.
    Btw I’m from the UK dating in LA.
    PS anyone who thinks men and women are equal should meet a Lakota elder woman… find me a guy as strong as that and I’ll believe you.

  27. SmokingDate
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    I think it is perfectly OK for the guy to pay on the first date, why not? Because otherwise you don’t feel in power anymore? I am pretty sure that if a guy on the first date says that the girl has to pay or double-dutch, that the girl will feel that the guy is a loser without money.
    So let the guy pay on your first date in the UK and all will be well!

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