Always awkward: Who pays on the first date?

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Answered by: Angela, An Expert in the Advice for Dating Category
Things are going great! She’s funny, he’s cute, she’s smart, he likes animals, she’s allergic to shellfish- just like him! They hit it off right away and already feel butterflies in the belly. But as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end; the restaurant is closing, and the waiter comes by with the check. “When you’re ready!” he chirps, but he hovers close by anyway. For the first time all night, things get uncomfortable, and they both look uncertainly at the white slip of paper on the table.



So, who pays on the first date? An age-old question that predates some of the most persistent questions in human history, such as “Now where did I put that thing?” and “What shall I do today?” Some suggest the man should pay for dinner, while others argue that whoever invited the other person should pay. There is a third school of thought that thinks each person should pay for their share (“going Dutch”), and a fourth, more inferior group thinks that neither person should pay and instead run as fast as their legs can carry them.

In my experience, it’s been a crapshoot. Sometimes he pays, sometimes I’ve paid, and sometimes we’ve split and then split. (Never have I ever dined-and-ditched, thank you very much!) When I’ve talked to my gal pals about it, a friend insisted that she never, ever paid the first few months she and her husband dated. “He’s lucky to be graced with my presence, of course he should pay!” she laughed. “Although, I did buy him a drink on our third date because it was his birthday.” Another friend of mine told me her husband said I had better not be paying for any of my dates; I laughed and cried, “Why of course not!” But it was a lie; the night before I bought a round for a guy who would later become my “official” boyfriend. Clearly my seasoned, married friends would have disapproved; but I liked the guy and wanted to do something nice for him.



As evidenced by my casual poll, most people would insist the man pays on the first date- a sweet but antiquated tradition; for instance, what happens if a woman invites a man out? It would be strange if the man picked up the check. And what happens when both people are the same gender? Following the sweet, antiquated rule, no one would ever pay and there would be chaos in the foodservice industry. Instead, couples should expressly state who pays on the first date: “Let me take you out tonight! Dinner, movie, drinks- the works!” or, “If you get dinner, I’ll get dessert,” or (if you’ve got the guts), “I’ll get dinner if you get breakfast.”

That last example reminds me of advice my aunt once gave me: always carry an extra $20 in your wallet in case you need to pony up for a short bill, or if you need cab fare home.

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