Who Should Really Pay On A First Date?

There are plenty of opportunities for awkward moments on a first date thanks to all the rules about everything from whether you should hug when you first meet to the conversations you should avoid having (ie. don’t mention your ex). But is there anything more awkward than the who-is-going-to-pay-for-this dance?

Traditional gender roles dictate that the man is the one who initiates a date and therefore he’s also the one who pays. But the thing about traditional gender roles is they aren’t really that important anymore. Still, a 2017 survey by Money and SurveyMonkey found that 78% of respondents believed that the man should pay for the first date (in heterosexual pairs). So, even though gender roles have loosened up and shifted a lot over the last couple decades, expected dating dynamics are still on the old fashioned side in a lot of people’s minds.

As expectations continue to shift, when it comes to who should pay, the simple—yet somehow more complicated—answer is that there is no universal rule. Everyone is different and the only real secret is be flexible. Basically, you have to be able to go with the flow and make your move based on the situation and the person who is sitting across from you. That means you need to pay attention and be able to pick up on cues (verbal and non-verbal), which is just part of being a good date all around.

If you feel most comfortable always paying on the first date, go ahead and offer. But if she insists on paying for her half, it may be better to just let her. Why? Some women report that they prefer to pay for their half on a first date to avoid giving their date the wrong impression. Most women have had to deal with a guy who thinks paying on a date means he’s going to get something in return, and the best way to squash that is simply to just refuse to let him pay.

On the other hand, some women might use the offer to go dutch as a kind of test. And you really have no way of knowing which option she wants you to choose. Refuse to let her pay and she might think you’re too traditional. Take her up on her offer and she might think you’re cheap. It’s a toss up, but usually the type of woman you want is the one that is going to judge you based on the date as a whole—not just what happened when the cheque came. Besides, naturally being on the same page about this issue might actually be a sign of compatibility, so in the long run, it’s better to just be yourself about the whole thing.

There have been plenty of surveys done on the topic with results mixed. OKCupid reported that 32% of women would split the bill, and only 15% of men would consider the same. Another British survey done by dating app Badoo found that 65% of women aged 18-30 preferred to pick up the bill themselves. Opinion seems to be highly dependent on generational differences with younger millennials reportedly having no problem with the woman paying for half or all of the bill.

Many men report that although they have every intention of paying for a first date, they appreciate when a woman offers to split—and genuinely means it. Dating can get expensive and it’s nice to know the person you just treated to dinner is there because they want to be, not because the were getting a free meal out of it. Most (dating-savvy) women are aware of this and they want to contribute. That dynamic has grown with the rise of online dating as well because first dates are often seen as more a meet and greet and it only makes sense for both people to pay for themselves.

Overthinking about what it all means will only lead to a lot more stress than necessary. If she refuses to let you pay for her, that doesn’t mean she isn’t into you, so don’t worry about it so much. A date is either good or bad because of a combination of things so there’s no way you’ll blow an otherwise good night because you handled the bill the “wrong” way. And if she takes the bill that seriously, maybe she isn’t the right person for you anyway.

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