The Point When I Realized I'd Rather Go Dutch Treat on Dates

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Couple having a romantic dinner at the restaurant
Every one of us has had "aha! moments." Epiphanies. Days when we reach a crossroads and realize that we have to make some changes. For the next two months, we're sharing moments like those in our Life Stage Lessons series: Real stories straight from the financial lives of our DailyFinance contributors about times when they realized they were due for a serious course correction. So read on, learn from our mistakes, and get inspired to improve your relationship with your money.

Last year, some girlfriends and I met up for a glass of wine and started discussing (what else?) men. I don't recall how it came up, but my friend Sarah quipped emphatically, "I don't do Dutch treat." She went on to state that if a man wants to court her and enjoy her company, he should treat her. I was quite surprised. How could it be that two professional women in their mid-40s with investments in real estate and stocks could have such polar-opposite views on this subject? (You may wonder: Is Sarah is from the South? No, she's from New Jersey.)

Don't Emasculate Your Date

I often write about the advice my mother gave me when I started dating. My mother urged me to behave like Sarah; she said if I offered to pay on a date, I would emasculate the man. My mother had already been divorced twice when she gave me that tip.

It made practical, economic sense to me that a man who had a higher income or more assets than I would be in the best position to pay for my meal. But as I progressed in my career (specifically when, at 26, I left a job in Washington, D.C., that paid $29,500 a year to become the youngest policy adviser to Oregon's governor, which paid $57,000 a year), most men my age made less than I did. My net worth was growing too, as I had already begun investing in the stock market and saving for retirement.

In my late 20s, I went through a phase where I dated older men -- much older men. In those cases I didn't feel uncomfortable at all when they treated me. They were more established and had more money. One 50-year-old man even took me on a weekend trip to Canada. We enjoyed spending hours in Ottawa's Canadian Military Museum and drinking lattes at Second Cup. But I was never serious about these men, and they weren't serious about me, either.

Equal in the Workplace and Equal in the Restaurant

By the time I was 31 and had moved to San Diego for a job, I was making $110,000 a year. That's when my mindset changed. If I want to be treated equally in the workplace, why would I want to be treated unequally at a restaurant? From then on, when a man offered to treat, I'd always pull out my wallet. And if he refused to split the bill, I'd tell him that the next time was on me. And I meant it.

Sarah's views aren't uncommon. In a 2013 research paper titled "Who Pays for Dates? Following versus Challenging Conventional Gender Norms," survey data shows that more than half of women claim they offer to help pay the bill when on a date -- but nearly half of those women secretly want men to reject their offers to pay. What really interested me in the survey was that nearly half of women were annoyed when men expected women to chip in.

I asked my husband how he handled the bill issue when he dated women prior to me. "If I knew she made less money than I did, I would offer to treat," Dan said. But he soon followed with, "It's hard to treat someone like an equal partner when you're the one always footing the bill."

My mother got to know Dan before she passed away. I'm sure she'd now agree that whatever I did financially in our relationship, it certainly didn't emasculate Dan the Man.
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