You are meeting for the first time. You’ve connected via an Internet dating site, her photo says she’s pretty, he has proven that he can write and is funny, the atmosphere crackles with possibilities. All that remains is to check out the chemistry, right?
Any experienced Internet dater knows that the first meeting is crucial, a make-or-break event loaded with possibilities and risk. So after the first look-over, after he and she pass the “Do they look like their photo?”quiz and each feel a tingle of electricity, the next – and crucial – test comes up: who pays?
It might come fast, at the Starbuck’s cash register, or it may wait the whole length of a fancy dinner, but when it comes time to pay, everyone is watching.
Men know they are expected to foot the bill. While guys may recognize the benefit of paying (he is seen as generous, manly, cavalier, etc., and she may be more willing sexually because of it), many also resent it. But women want to feel valued and taken care of, and a guy’s willingness to pay symbolizes that. Women rationalize that they spend much more on appearing attractive and well-dressed than men do. You can see a collision coming, can’t you?
It’s hard to imagine this sort of dilemma a hundred years ago, or even fifty. A man’s ability – and willingness—to pay for a date was fundamental to the process. Dating was and is a sorting process, and women have always assessed a man’s financial ability and generosity by what he was willing and able to pay for when they were courting. Women brought attractiveness, housewifely skills, and (hopefully) sexual willingness as their part of the bargain. Women didn’t work at all back then, particularly after marriage and children, or were paid much less than men. My parents (who met on the job) were married in 1947, and Mom didn’t work after that because Dad didn’t want her to, because that was a statement about his ability as a man, even though they started out in a tiny apartment and I didn’t come along for two years.
Now many women’s earnings are equal to or greater than their male counterparts. That earning power increases her value in the mate market, but also changes the traditional deal in the dating dance. Another knotty dilemma is that women are out-educating men. More women than men are getting post high school education in practically every field. Add to it vast numbers of minority men in prison, the increased acceptability for gay men to be out, proud, and not in the heterosexual mate pool (it’s hard to get accurate figures, but probably more men than women identify as gay), then add women’s longevity compared with men, and you’ve got a mate market that is increasingly out of balance. Young (under 35) attractive women have an increased value (desired by men of all ages), as do older men who have more and more numerical advantage as they age, whether they are well-heeled or not.
If you are looking for either of those groups (pretty young women or older men), you can expect that they will be much more sensitive to the “Who pays?” issue. Each group knows that they are in demand, and will be looking to get the best deal possible. Finances are part of the bargain. The young pretty women, ready to trade their good looks and child-bearing ability, are looking for men who can support them and a growing family. The older available man may have been through one or more expensive divorces, may or may not be financially prepared for retirement, and probably is looking for a woman who will not be a financial burden.
Guys (young or older) looking for the stunning young ladies: you’ll improve your chances by getting your finances in order, putting aside money for dating, and paying up for these ladies’ company. Older women (over 35, and with the pressure increasing as the age go up) looking for “good husband” material: you, too, should get your finances in order (debt down, net worth up, retirement plans in place) and be ready to share dating expenses. Women can’t change the calendar even with the best plastic surgery, and youth is a valued commodity, but they can add to their value by being in good financial shape.
How do you smoothly handle the “Who pays?” dance?
First, guys: Know that you are expected to pay and be prepared. Your willingness to pay – particularly on the first date—and comfort with the process will be keenly observed by your date.
For sure, guys, if it is “just coffee,” PAY! You will never get another chance to play your role so cheaply. But if the coffee date goes well and another date is scheduled, be prepared to foot the bill the second time as well. Women know that coffee is cheap and will be watching for how a bigger expense is handled. Just do it.
But women, beware: while the man will know that he is expected to pay, and that you are watching what he does closely, he will be watching you, too.
He may really want and expect to pay, but for sure, he wants you to know that he has and to appreciate his gift. He will be sensitive to how you have contributed to the bill’s total: Did you order the most expensive items on the menu, and every course? Expensive drinks or water? Or did you respect his wallet and go for a mid-or low-priced entrée, skipping appetizers and expensive add-on’s?
Ladies, you really have the hardest part to play. Like in ballroom dancing, you have to intuit your partner’s intent and then do your part with grace and aplomb. You need to signal that you realize times have changed and that you are willing to step up and share the costs of the “getting to know you” process. At the same time, you need to preserve the guy’s pride and sensitivity. He needs to be allowed to “man up” and play the traditional male role in romance if he wants to.
Here’s a suggested map for the delicate interchange:
Guys, signal quickly that you are prepared to pay and want to do so.
Women, if the man signals his intent to pay, thank him graciously and let him do so without a protest or struggle. Then let him know that you intend to treat if the two of you should meet again.
If the man has forgotten or does not know how to signal intent to pay, then ladies, step to the front. Say: “How would you like to handle the check?” and proceed by following his lead.
Now, this scenario holds IF you want to see the other again or want to preserve the option to do so.
If first glance says “No way do I EVER want to see this person again,” then you can signal the other person by:
Men: Pay for your own coffee, a small one, and let her pay for her own. Or if it is a meal, ask for separate checks.
Women: Insist on paying your own bill and do not allow the man to pay. If he gets difficult, don’t order anything.
Your date will get the message. Men will not feel that they have to pays for something they do not want. And women will not feel that they “owe” anything.
Contact Kathryn by phone at 850.878.7779, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org