Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Money and Relationships- Part 2

We've all been in the situation. You've had a lovely (or maybe not so lovely) first date dinner and then the check arrives. You consider whether to offer, than whether to insist on paying, based on a number of factors, including what your mother taught you to do, how much money you have, how much your date presumably has, how enjoyable the experience was, how you want to be perceived by him for paying or not paying... what seems like a simple action can be a difficult decision fraught with issues of money, power and control.

In yesterday's post, I discussed Sunday's New York Times article on how the new wage gap (women earning more than men) has put women in new and uncomfortable positions in their relationships with less financially stable men. One question facing women was how to handle picking up the check. Most didn't want to rub in their spending power, while others felt used by men who always expected them to pay. And many women still hold on to the idea that a man should always pick up the check at the end of a date, regardless of how much money either person makes.


I think that before you even get to the point of paying, if you're going on a first (or second or third) date, you should be sure to pick a restaurant that's not particularly expensive, since it's likely that you're not sure of the other person's financial status. This way, neither of you has to bite the bullet and spend outside their budget just to give an impression that they're able to afford fancy dinners. In addition, at this early stage in the game, you never know if a date will be a disaster, and no one wants to spend a lot of money on a meal they can't enjoy.

Personally, I'm a big believer in splitting a check 50/50 on dates at every stage of a relationship. Unless it's a special occasion (a birthday, etc), I think the best way to avoid a sticky situation is to have each person pay for their portion of the meal. There's no denying that money is power, and feelings can get hurt if one person insists on paying when the implication is that they can afford it and the other cannot.

I'm also a big believer in the idea that if you give another person financial control (allowing them to pay for you), the expectation is that you will give something back to them in return. Paying for a meal is a gift, and if that gift comes regularly, unattached to special occasions, there are usually strings attached. The argument, "I paid for X and Y, so why can't we do what I want?" is not one that you never want to face. These situations can be avoided if each person covers their part of the check.

I know a lot of women are still tied to the idea that having a man pay on a date is chivalrous. But in my opinion, chivalry is tied to an era of female disempowerment. If you want to be viewed as an equal partner on all levels, you can't allow your partner to have the financial power. Paying for another person is not always the polite option, so let your date open doors for you, but pick up your half of the bill.

What's your opinion about who pays for what on a date? What do you take into consideration when deciding who should pay?

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think splitting the check is extremely tacky no matter what. Personally, I think whoever asks should pay for the first date. Since I prefer men who pursue -- that's always been the man in my case. The key, then, is not to be an expensive first date. After that, I prefer to take turns treating each other. Not "I paid last time, so you should pay this time," but just a natural, random-feeling back and forth. If it doesn't come naturally, then it's probably not a good match with the guy. And FWIW, I've made more money than my dates about half the time. In general, they've spent a higher percentage of their income on entertaining than the women (including me) that they've dated. From what they've told me, it's just the cost of having a social life. My now husband says he ate Lean Cuisines for lunch every day instead of going out with his coworkers just so he could afford nice dates.

Anonymous said...

Interesting question, since most of my dating was in college, where the question was less about "who makes more money" and more like "who's parents are giving you more money?" In the initial stages, I think taking turns with the check is a great way to handle it. That way, if one of you has more money than the other/wants to spend more on the date, when it's your "turn" you can go somewhere nicer since you know who'll be paying.

This worked for me and my now husband for years!!

Anonymous said...

The guy I'm currently seeing is a bit older than I am, and usually pays for dinner if we go out. He makes about twice what I do, and really loves to take me out, which I both like and dislike. I like it because I'm going to restaurants regularly that I can't afford on my own, and dislike it because I'm just not used to someone being so "nice". He expects nothing in return except for my glowing company. I know why he's doing it-- he's got those Southern manners, and his ex made about three times what he did, so he rarely felt like he was "treating" her, which to a guy who was brought up with that "chivalry" thing can be sort of emasculating, I imagine.

Cristina said...

Being a poor girl at a rich college, I don't feel bad about having the boys pay for food and movies until or unless they are my boyfriend, at which point we split or trade off who pays. But you are right, some guys definitely try to press their advantage or subconsciously think that I owe them something. If they press me though, I call them on it. If they are decent fellows, they feel ashamed about it. If they aren't, they stop seeing me (win, win). If a girl doesn't have a strong personality, I can definitely see how being monetarily weak can make you appear submissive.

Dana said...

It is a sticky situation. I think the guy should pay on the first date. I think it's an all around sign of courtesy that shows he appreciates being out with you even if you did the asking.

Me and my boyfriend, both being college students on a small budget, trade up paying fairly often. Splitting isn't my favorite option because I think it takes some of the feel away from being out on a date together. I usually pick up the movie if he picks up dinner, or we mutually decide before going out, which has never caused us any trouble.

It's a nice way to continuously show both people care about each other without giving one any power over the other.

ricanprincess said...

ok, so heres my problem. i make more than my guy, and he lives in new jersey and i live in ct. when we see eachother i go up there and spend money on the train and a cab or subway just to get to see him. now i expect him to pay because he knows i spend money just going to see him. like most of you said we always pick an inexpensive place to eat so that he can afford it. i feel that he should pay beacuse i have to pay to just go up there, what do you all think? am i right? he does not mind paying but if i want to go to a really nice place i have to pay, and that usually leaves me feeling like a sucker cause i paid and i know he feels bad cause i paid also. so what do you all think?

Anonymous said...

I find that it is easiest with a long-term partner to trade off in paying- rather than splitting the check each time. On the other hand, I am a vegetarian, so 99% of the time my meal is cheaper. My boyfriend also always wants the extras- the fancy drink, the dessert, the side dish, the chicken on top, whereas I am much more likely to order a dish and a drink and be done. Those days, we seem to split the check more often than not. Of course, I am arecent college grad and he is still in college, so most of our meals are pretty cheap (i.e. paying beforehand rather than afterwards) and its easy to split the check because we can each just pay for ourselves. I always feel bad for waiters when I want the check actually split because it is so much more work for them.

A man who always pays generally is a warning sign that 1. He doesn't take you seriously as person because he thinks you can't afford food yourself 2. He is controlling because you have to order in moderation, and can't decide that, hell, I am paying and I want the steak-covered lobster or 3. He wants sex, and views dinner as payment for such.
-Jen (I am such a fan, btw!)

Erika said...

All this talk reminds me why I'm glad to be married so I don't have to worry about it.

Kelly said...

I don't think there are many guys out there who NEVER expect anything in return for an expensive meal...they are men afterall.

However, I think splittin the check ALL the time is kinda tacky. Let the man buy you dinner. Then pony up and buy him drinks or dessert at the bar afterwords. Or pay for the movie tickets. Or buy dinner the next time. But always splitting the tab seems a bit juvenile.

Anonymous said...

The thing is, it can be taken as trampling on the guy's role as a man if you offer to pay and it can really hurt his feelings. We all know that there is a real problem with men not knowing their role in society anymore in a lot of cases, so be gentle with the poor guys.

In my marriage, I am the bread-winner and we knew it would be like that since we met. I asked him point blank if that was going to bother him and that he made sure he thought about it. He said he was fine with it, and he is. He is a stay at home dad who cooks, cleans, takes care of our son (special needs) and is redoing our apartment at the same time.

Of course we would love for the roles to be reversed but at the moment that is not possible. But the key thing here is, make sure he still feels like a man. Let him be the head of the household so we can all be happy, not just me.

ambika said...

I felt the way you did about disempowerment & feeling like there would be an overtone not of owing something but of there being unspoken resentment (the first boyfriend was a bit passive aggressive, which probably doesn't help with that impression.)

In an established relationship, however, that all goes out the window, especially with Southern boys (as someone earlier mentioned.) It's rare that I get to pay & I've come to accept that it doesn't mean anything more than flowers or chocolates to someone else. And given that I dislike flowers & chocolates but love eating out, that actually does make sense.

Lex said...

I've never really found this an issue. On the first date, I've always offered to split. If the guy who asked me out insists, I let him.

Now I'm in a long-term relationship, the partner who earns more pays more. The one who has more time does boring chores like grocery shopping etc, and with our jobs, this switches. We don't even think about it.

I also don't agree with the idea that men expect something because they pay.

I find that a really bleak view of men. I've found most men don't expect anything except an enjoyable evening and the possibility of another date.

Who are these depressing men you're going out with?

Annie said...

I always offer and depending on the situation, I'll be more adamant in my offer. For instance, in a first date, I'll still offer, but if I meet a lot of resistance, I'll give in and let him pay, but if I sense hesitation, I'll be more forceful bout splitting.

But one thing i've noticed in my past relationships, the more I pay, the more I'm taken for granted and the less I'm treated like "girlfriend" material.

cate said...

i'm on board with the whole take turns treating--the way my live-in bf and i handle it is by basically taking turns saying "my treat!"
however, i have dated those gentlemen of the southern and southern-style persuasion, and for all you ladies who might think it would be easy to simply insist on paying, these guys get REALLY offended. in most cases, i've found, they are not the ones who have any strings attached, it just absolutely violates their upbringing to have a lady pay.
now, you could always sit back and enjoy the ride, but i personally was uncomfortable with that, so i looked further back to what the rules were when men ALWAYS paid. it turned out that although a lady would never, ever insist upon paying on a dinner date, she always reciprocated the hospitality--either by inviting him to dinner in her home, or by pretending theater tickets had surfaced, and would he accompany her?
i don't think the subterfuge is necessary, but the same principles apply. with an ex-boyfriend who was from the south, i would surprise him with sports tickets, concert tickets, and the like--already paid for, so it was easy to say "no, no, my treat, please." i would also ensure that for every time he took me out to dinner, i would have him over to my place...sometimes i would cook, but a lot of the time i would order fabulous take out, plate it up, buy wine, and have a delicious (and not always inexpensive) meal. he appreciated my efforts in the relationship, i was able to not feel indebted to him, and our relationship proceeded smoothly (that part of it, at least!! lol).
i also think that this can be applied to other relationships. it's not always necessary to reciprocate in kind, it's just neccesary to reciprocate. so if your budget doesn't include expensive dinners out, then feel free to invite him in! get your local wine merchant to suggest cheap (8-10 dollars a bottle) wines, cook up a simple meal (pasta with butter and garlic and grilled/sauteed chicken (cut it up first if you're not the best cook so it doesn't get over/under done), a salad, and bread...anyone can do that!) and voila--you're back in the black, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Hi Meg, I love your blog here. My boyfriend and I are the same age and make similar salaries. However, when we go out, he pays about 75% of the time. This is PURELY due to the fact that, on a normal dinner date, I'll order one entree and a drink while he orders 2 appetizers, an entree, a dessert, and maybe 3-4 drinks. In which case, my portion of the bill is maybe 15% and there's really no point splitting it. If he didn't eat like a horse, I'm sure we'd be splitting the bill 50/50 or I'd be offering to pay more often.

lisa said...

Very thoughtful post, Meg.

I usually at least offer unless it's a special occasion (like the guy says it's his treat because it's my birthday). The other thing you can do instead of splitting the cheque and being very mathematical and precise about it is take turns treating each other. For example, if one of you makes more money than your partner, the person with the higher income can pay for dinner, and the person with the lower income can pick up the bill when you go to another place for dessert and drinks later.

I agree with some of the other comments about guys who get quite offended when you offer to pay your own way. My last boyfriend was from Mexico City and would always insist that it was the "Mexican way" to pay for everything. He paid for meals and tickets and cover charges when we went out, but when I visited him in Mexico, I'd foot the bill for my own transportation and our hotel rooms whereever we travelled. That way, I compromised between his male ego and my determination to not mooch off of him.

Anonymous said...

My boyfriend and I usually just pay for different things. For instance, I'll pay for dinner, and he'll pay for the movie and drive, so I don't have to spend gas money.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! I am a 54 year old women. This is what I've always done --paid for myself -- and what I taught my daughter to do. I always said "If you want to be treated equally, act equally." It holds true today. It will always hold true.

Katie said...

this has been an issue between my boyfriend and i, and we've had our issues but have managed to deal with it and not have it turn into a huge problem.

we've been together for a long time, since we were 16 (almost five years - scary, huh.) when we were first together we were kids, didn't work, and basically just got money from our parents. our parents still both support us and pay for our college education, which i think has helped. it's never been a case of "well you get handouts and i have to work my ass off." i'd say we're pretty comparable financially.
somewhere along the line, we started a pattern of him always paying. it wasn't even a conscious thing - sometimes his parents would give him money, so he'd use it to pay. when they didn't (most of the time) he'd still pay.

once we were older and started working, and using our own money to pay for things, this changed. it really upset me at first to have "money issues," because of my parent's divorce... i could remember so many arguments about money that i didn't even want to go there. once he explained to me exactly how much he was spending i felt pretty awful (might i add we go out a LOT.. coffee, lunch, dinner.. it's just what we do, even if it's not a "date.") we're a lot more careful now to switch off paying, which somehow just seems nicer, like you're treating the other person instead of having a business lunch. we'll split only if we go somewhere more expensive and don't want to pay a large amount.

sorry for the long schpeal.. i guess for me it's never really been about "power".. i think we're a solid enough couple that it doesn't affect us in that way. i think it is about being mindful of the other person and their bank account, even if it's easier to ignore it.

Alexandra said...

I think it varies so much from couple to couple and circumstances and personalities can make things wildly different.

Currently, I'm a starving student who literally makes no money and my boyfriend is a young successful prefessional. If we were only going out or doing fun things when I could afford to pay half the bill, we would never go anywhere. Also, he likes going out for good food and nice wine and wants to be able to enjoy those things. So, usually he pays - probably over 95% of the time( I may pick up the bill for an occasional brunch or a bottle of wine every now and then). I don't feel that there's any resentment on his part as he completely understands that I'm still in school and don't earn anything.Once I start working fulltime in January, I'll definitely be treating him out to dinner on a more "fair" basis and I don't think he'd in any way feel insulted by that. Once incomes get more in line with eachother than I think so will the shares we contribute to common entertainment expenses.

Anonymous said...

I think that by the time women are worried that paying for a meal will hurt a man's ego, we've taken gender roles a little too far. We have genetalia, we've developed social constructs about what that should entail, fine. pay for your damn food, or get treated by the *person* you're with, or treat the *person* you're with. stop focusing so much on gender!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about your comment regarding female disempowerment and chivalry -- How chivalrous is too chivalrous? I really like men who open doors for me, that sort of thing, and I think chivalry is just good manners, and not disempowering in any way.

Remi said...

My BF and I live in different towns, about 45 minutes apart. Our first date was in my town; at the end of dinner I grabbed the check and told him that he was my guest in my town at a restaurant that I chose, so as hostess I was paying, but he could pay when I came to see him. Since we visited back and forth about evenly, this worked out well. I never felt "indebted" and he never felt "emasculated."

Now that we have an established relationship we still trade back and forth, but we also figure in things like whose budget is a little tight this week and who has a little more fun money and can afford to treat the other.

Raven said...

This situation depends on so many variables, I don't think there's any rule.

I was never comfortable with a guy paying regularly until my current boyfriend. After establishing a solid relationship, I don't think picking up the check is of significant concern for either of us. Our relationship isn't about money, or power struggles. He seems to prefer paying (for whatever reason), and frankly I prefer to have more money for shoes and lipgloss. I realize this isn't a mature assertion of my power as an individual -- but I don't think I need to assert my power through money in this particular relationship.

Alyse said...

One commenter writes: "A man who always pays generally is a warning sign that 1. He doesn't take you seriously as person because he thinks you can't afford food yourself 2. He is controlling because you have to order in moderation, and can't decide that, hell, I am paying and I want the steak-covered lobster or 3. He wants sex, and views dinner as payment for such."

I think that is an unfortunately narrow view of the situation. Some men may be that way, but I generally find it's bad to make judgments about other people's relationships.

My boyfriend and I are both from the South. I'm out of school, working at a full-time job. He's almost done with his PhD and teaches classes but has been in school for the last 10 years (and has the student loans to prove it). However, we were both raised in the South and so he refuses to let me pay when we go out and I have learned not to offer because I know I will be told no, even though I make more money.

However, as another commenter mentioned, I try to make it up to him. I am a pretty good cook and so I try to cook him nice meals, or maybe do something as simple as making sure to always keep his favorite (and expensive) beer stocked in my fridge when he comes over.

I think it should be about finding a situation that makes both people comfortable and where no one feels like they're always saddled with the check and, conversely, no one feels like they are a leech.

kamo said...

I have another comment, after talking to my rather feminist friend about a similar issue - how can you reconcile this idea of the "opressive male" while dating? I think the answer, as raven pointed out, is that in a good relationship, its not about power struggles. You should respect eachother enough as individuals that its not about gender, so your life isn't governed by a series of "for the good of woman-kind" decisions. That would just drive everyone crazy. In the workplace these types of decisions might be necessary, but relationships should be more organic, less about proving something one way or the other.

MyStarbucks said...

What's this rubbish about disempowerment? Just because a woman makes none or little money does not mean she has no power. Hasn't anyone ever heard the phrase "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world"? Until men can have babies they will never have ultimate power. Why does income have to be the deciding factor of power????

Anonymous said...

mystarbucks: are infertile or childfree women powerless?

Anonymous said...

if we women continue taking this power issue too far we'll end up driving all the good guys away.some guys just love taking their girls out and never think about showing them who's got power. my BF and i are both at college and we're the same age.he takes me out whenever he can and he loves it.he lets me know when he's broke(we've been dating for almost 4 years) and when i can i take him out,usually for a movie.he initially felt uncomfortable about it but now he lets me take him out coz he realises that treating him means just as much to me.sometimes it just makes guys feel good to take their ladies out and they dont always have hidden motives.i personally enjoy being taken out by my BF and i never feel less powerful.i guess it depends on the kind of relationship you're in and who you are.

Anonymous said...

I believe in sharing costs, whether splitting the check or alternating. I think it's ridiculous for women to expect equal pay and then expect men to pay for dates, alimony, etc. Hypocritical. Women who automatically expect men to pay are jerks.

If a man was ever threatened by my expecting to share costs, I would've been glad to have been rid of him. I've never been interested in men, friends, etc., with fragile egos.

My husband's great -- raised by a strong woman, so he's not threatened by a woman with earning and buying power.

Anonymous said...

"i guess it depends on the kind of relationship you're in and who you are."

gotta love the oh-so-subtle superiority in this comment

Anonymous said...

I just luckily came across this blog by googling "my college boyfriend doesn't pay," so I'm hoping someone might still respond to this quandary of mine. I happen to have the opposite problem here-- my boyfriend of almost a year (and friend for longer than that) is really one of the best people I know. From the very beginning of our romantic relationship we started to pick up on the whole trade-off thing, and have talked about it multiple times since--not without some tension. I grew up in a family with money issues (dad so cheap my mom feels neglected, etc), and, as a college student in NYC with huge loans, have a lot of money related stress. I know he does too; his family lives further away than mine, and he is graduating this semester. I really don't want to stress him out, and I love the idea of treating each other at whim, but the thing is, I feel more and more like its me treating him all the time. Its hard to blame him because I'm sure at the beginning of our relationship (the first real one for both of us) I made a big fuss about not wanting to be appropriated or treated too much like the receiving end of an archaic, chivalrous, heterosexual couple stereotype (whew!). But now I'm just feeling kind of bad because every time we go to pay for anything I feel like its on me, and I passively burn up inside when he just waits for me to take out the debit card. Ironically, I often feel like the stereotypical girlfriend who wishes her boyfriend would read her mind-- can't he just know I wish he'd pay? And not say something like "man, I'm so worried about money" when he does pay? We have scuffled about it in the past and he's said "if you ever want me to pay, just ask," or-- you just remember the times you've paid, and not the times I have, but he rarely even offers, and if he does ask something like "do you just want me to pay for it?" its when we're at the cash register and I'm holding up the line as I fumble in the bottom of my bag for my wallet.

Anyway, I'm sorry for rambling on for so long but just had to get this out-- I'm too embarrassed to talk about it with anyone in person. But maybe should get over it.
So, wise women, can any of you offer some advice?

Anonymous said...

My advice is never to befriend or otherwise have a relationship with anyone who isn't as equally generous as you are. I say that with all good will and hope you will take it to heart. You are being taken advantage of, no matter what good qualities your boyfriend has. I'm in my 30s and have worked with and otherwise known lots of people. I grew up with limited money and have since made a good bit of my own. That said, I don't throw money around, because I've earned it all. But I am generous with people who are equally generous. What I've observed is that people who are tight with money are usually mean about other things that count in life. It's not that money counts for everything. But letting someone else pay all the time is a sign of meanness of spirit. If someone doesn't have money (I speak from experience), that's fine. You find things you can afford to treat the other person to. But then you also don't feed at the trough of someone's generosity. The fact that you resent this and went looking for advice is your answer: He's a clod. On most everything else, I think that you should be able to say what you want and not expect him or anyone else to read your mind. But in this case, it's not at all unreasonable to expect him to reciprocate without prompting. You deserve to be treated better. I don't know you, but I know that about you. I wish you well.

A said...

Thank you-- I really appreciate your thoughtful response, though it was difficult to read, since thinking of him of a "clod" is hard to stomach, since he is so absolutely wonderful and probably not even thinking about it most of the time. But-- I guess thats me trying to make excuses. I guess I should stop trying to treat him too. Ugh. Funny how something like money has this kind of effect on people.

Anonymous said...

Like many posters, I'm generally a fan of trading back and forth, but there are exceptions. There was a time as a college student when I was making next to nothing in workstudy, while my b/f was working full time half the year because his school had a co-op program. At that time, he would often insist on paying due to the discrepancy in our incomes. I never took advantage, and we certainly weren't extravagent, but I thought it was really sweet of him. Similarly, when I wanted to take him out for his birthday that year, he insisted that I do it at Boston Market. I found that touching.

I have always tried to reciprocate however it was appropriate, whether by going back an forth paying for things, or with home cooking, depending on whether that I could afford or all the person would let me do.

My current boyfriend and I are roughly financially equal, and we basically go back and forth. There are nuances to this, but I feel, and am pretty sure that he does as well, that we're very reciprocal. One way or the other, I think it all evens out. I think that it's very important, as well, to be sensitive to one another's financial circumstances. If one of us feels like we can't spend b/c things are tight that week, than we either keep things cheap, or the one of who wants to spend treats.

For our future, I'm adjusting to the idea that I'll probably become the breadwinner in our relationship. He's a carpenter, and I'm heading of to law school next year. I never thought I'd find myself in that dynamic, but I'm not so attached to my ideal that I'd ditch our relationship over it. It doesn't bother him, and I've been willing to reevaluate what's really important (like how irrelevant his earning potential is to his quality as a partner).