Who pays for dinner?

When you’re out on a date, who should get the bill?

A couple have just enjoyed a nice seafood dinner together, and the date is going swimmingly. Then the inevitable happens – someone has to pay. It’s time for the Cheque Dance:

He reaches for the bill, she does the fake reach.

He says: “I’ll get this…”

She says: “No, no – let me.”

He says: “No really, I insist.”

She smiles sweetly and bats her lashes at him in gratitude.

Sound familiar?

The politics of who pays for dinner has been a subject near and dear to my heart since my dating debut, but sadly it has become no less complex. In this tricky dating world of cheapskates, freeloading ladies and suave beasts expecting “dessert” after dinner, you’d think the rules would have evolved. So why do we still adhere to these old fashioned attitudes?

Some guys believe it’s a question of honour and etiquette for the man to pick up the cheque. This argument dates back to centuries of males acting as breadwinners, while women were confined to childbearing. The more two-dimensional responses claim this behaviour is just instinctual; that these are social constructs stemming from primordial human nature. The last I checked we had evolved from living in the Neanderthal era, when a caveman could simply bring a woman some meat, clunk her over the head with his club and drag her off to his lair.

However, society remains traditionalist: we reenact our dates as if torn from the pages of a classic romance novel, with the gallant man always picking up the tab. This logic is so ingrained in society today that men feel emasculated if they are unable to provide for a woman on a date.

Well it’s not the 1920s, gents. The work force is no longer predominately male and women can afford to pay their own way. Ladies don’t need to feel like they’re being bought or patronised. With the advent of second wave feminism in the 1970s, women began to question traditional courtship roles. It became a sign of empowerment for a woman to pay for herself. This is relevant today more than ever: if men and women are to be equals in a relationship, why shouldn’t this extend to the dinner table?

The fact is that in 2013, it’s no longer safe to assume that it’s the man who makes more money. So why do men still feel pressure to bear the financial brunt of the relationship?  What’s bad for the male ego should be measured against conforming to outdated gender norms, which is equally as bad for the male wallet. In this tough economic climate, men may have to start swallowing their pride when going out to dine.

In other words, both parties should be willing to spend a bit of coin, but the actual financial investment should be proportionate to what each individual earns. This should be determined by paycheck, not by gender. If one person (the richer) gets the movie tickets, the other (the poorer) can get the popcorn.  Because this system is indiscriminate in terms of gender, it can be applied to hetero and non-hetero couples alike.

And although I say it’s time for a little dating egalitarianism, this in no way means going Dutch. There’s nothing worse than someone who suggests splitting a bill down the middle, as if they’re about to whip out a calculator at the table. It is unromantic at best, awkward at worst, and always tacky. Rather than having to do money math on dates, take turns in treating each other. If the more financially flush person pays for dinner, the other can cover the cab. Or if you’re drinking at a bar, you can go round for round. This keeps the romance alive as well as respecting equality.

Now I’ve also known girls who will voluntarily play the Cheque Game at the end of a meal without a dime in their purse or a cent in the bank. They do this with the expectation that the man will always pay, and if he doesn’t he’s either cheap or ungentlemanly. This line of thinking belongs in the dinosaur age. Second wave feminists did not fight for independence and workplace equality just so women could twirl their hair, look away when the bill comes, and show him just how grateful she is later. Come on lady, your salad wasn’t that tasty.

Today, both parties should be contributing regularly to the cost of courtship, and at least offering to pay for things at an equal rate. It’s important that a woman makes a genuine offer to chip in, and I’m not talking just the Obligatory Wallet Reach. She should never just assume that the guy will step up to the plate. To me, that sounds like a con. Modern relationships should be equitable, and it’s time we saw young couples tweaking the rules of courtship in order to adapt to this.

Ultimately it all comes down to generosity, we’re all struggling students right? Those of us who are on Centrelink don’t get that much, those of us who aren’t work hard for our money, some of us are living at home, and despite being disparate in dollars, both people in the relationship should be equally generous and giving in spirit.

In 2013, chivalry can’t afford to be gendered anymore.

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