Etiquette 101: Who Should Pay On a Date?

Leah Bourne

Signpost in blue sky with cloudsIt is 2013 and the two sexes still seem to be in complete confusion over who exactly is supposed to pay for a date. In a lot of ways it is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If a guy doesn’t offer to pay they aren’t deemed ungentlemanly. If they do pay, guys can be labeled patronizing. And its just as confusing on the other side of the aisle for women—it sure is nice to be taken out to dinner, but in the post-feminist era, shouldn’t we be going Dutch?
Keep in mind there are only three scenarios:
1. The guy is expected to pay.
2. The woman is expected to pay.
3. Both parties should split the bill down the center.
When the Guy Should Pay: It is still a rule of thumb that guys should make the first move on a first date to show interest, though both parties should be ready to pick up the bill (in other words ladies, act like you would pick up the bill). Going forward, if the guy instigates the date, he should probably pick up the tab. For special events, such as the woman’s anniversary, her birthday, holiday dinners, or even just to spontaneously celebrate her achievements—like being hired for a new job or getting into graduate school, for example—the guy should offer to pay.
When the Woman Should Pay: If the woman is the one that asked the guy out, she should pay. Most etiquette experts agree that by the third date, the woman should wholeheartedly at least be offering to pay (if the guy insists on paying, the woman should then pick up the movie tickets or something else). And on the guy’s birthday, and other special occasions, the woman should also pay.
When the Bill Should Be Split: By the time you have had “the talk” and you are a serious couple, it is perfectly alright to go Dutch (or at the very least have the conversation as to what works for you as a couple). Instead of splitting everything, we recommend taking turns paying for each other. When travel is involved—say heading to the country for the weekend—definitely assume that the cost will be split down the middle.
Keep in mind that who is supposed to pay in dating is unfortunately not a science, and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. If one person in the relationship does seem to be paying far more than the other, it is perfectly OK to have a frank discussion about finances if you are uncomfortable with the dynamic. Communication really is everything in this case.
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