Dear Level

A Man Should Never Feel Ashamed to Go Dutch on a Date

Men, we appreciate when you offer to pay, but I promise we’re not thinking about it

Photo: pixelheadphoto/Getty Images

So you’ve asked someone out on a date. It’s a dinner date, not too fancy. (You’re outside, hopefully.) You both order modestly. You get the special. One drink. No dessert. The bill comes and it’s placed in the center of the table.

What next? Do you:

  1. Take the bill and pay it. You asked the person out. So, naturally, it’s on you.
  2. Wait to see what the other person does. If they take it and pay, awesome.
  3. Before the bill comes, you’ve already asked to split the check.

I thought I had my mind made up on how this should play out. But I’m actually not sure where I stand these days.

Back when I was new to dating, I always expected my suitor to choose option 1. You asked for the pleasure of my company, and you got it (at a cost, of course!). I didn’t take into consideration how much money I made or what my date did for a living. I wouldn’t even do that slow-motion fake-out reach for the check, for the sake of appearances. I’d just beam at my date and flutter my eyelashes while he’d figured out which copy of the receipt to sign and which to keep.

And then I grew up.

As an adult, I’ve always offered to pay for the date — or at least my part of it — no matter who asked who out. And I’m firm about it; I don’t fake-offer just as the bill is being taken care of.

This is partly because I don’t think dating has to be a financial come-up. I’ve never had a problem stocking my fridge. I definitely don’t need a date to score some spaghetti carbonara. And honestly, I don’t want to feel beholden to anyone. (There was a time when having money spent on me left me feeling like I owed my date something. Whether it was a future date, a phone call, or… more. And of course, as we all know by now, whoever pays should not be expecting anything in return from their date.)

Yes, there have been a few times where a date made it clear that he preferred to pay and wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t lie, it feels chivalrous. But only if I can tell he actually wants to.

But if I’m brutally honest, I still have a trace of that patriarchal influence in me. Because even though I never expect anyone to pay for me, I kinda like it when he does.

For my first date with my current partner, he asked me out for dumplings. As always, I was ready to pay my share — and his, if necessary. Why not? But when the bill came, he was gentle but firm. I got it.

I hate to admit it. But I swooned.

Yes, there have been a few times where a date made it clear that he preferred to pay and wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t lie, it feels chivalrous. But only if I can tell he actually wants to.

A few years ago, I met a date at a local bar for a casual game-day dinner. After decades of being self-reliant and always prepared, I didn’t even think about who was paying the bill.

The waitress put the bill down, I picked it up, glanced at the total, pulled the cash out of my pocket, put it inside, and then handed it back to the waitress before dude could even reach for his wallet.

I looked up and my date had a strange look on his face.

“Is everything okay,” I asked.

“I asked you out, right?” he said.

“Yes…”

“So why would you do that?”

I looked around the bar top. Did I eat the last chicken finger?

“Why would I do what?”

“Pay for dinner. I don’t need you to do that. If I didn’t have the money to pay, I wouldn’t ask you out. “

“It’s really okay,” I said. “I don’t mind.”

“Clearly,” he said.

I never heard from him again.

How would I approach it now? No mystery, since it comes up every single week in Dear Level: It’s all about communication. Talk about who is coming out of pocket long before that clipboard and pen hit the table — and before the date even begins! When my daughter starts dating (meaning when she turns 25), I’m going to tell her to simply sort it out ahead of time. Offer to go halfsies from jump. If the person offers to foot the bill, take them up on it, say thank you, and enjoy their generosity. If not, make it clear that you’re down to contribute, maybe cover drinks and desserts.

Dating is expensive — and it’s also an investment in seeing if a relationship has promise. That’s the kind of cost we should all share.

Aliya S. King is an author, freelance writer and editor.

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