The two most awkward moments of a first date: the "will we or won't we" anticipation leading up to a good night kiss and that uncomfortable pause when the check arrives. Although gender roles are shifting, many people still cling to tradition on the latter. In fact, more than three-quarters of respondents, both male and female, in a 2014 NerdWallet poll said men should pay for the first date. Still, some gray areas remain.
"Who pays for a date, especially if it's a first-date meet and greet, is a confusing situation for everyone," says Wendy Newman, dating expert and author of the forthcoming book, "121 First Dates: How to Succeed at Online Dating, Fall in Love, and Live Happily Ever After (Really!)." "Many men want to treat and provide. Some men want women to take advantage of that whole women's lib thing we fought so damned hard for over the last several decades. Some women expect to pay, while others feel diminished or less special if they aren't treated to the date. It's a conundrum."
Much of this is generational. "Younger daters are more equitable, sharing the cost more or talking about who is paying for what," says Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist in Southern California and author of the forthcoming book "Dr. Romance's Guide to Dating in the Digital Age." "Older daters are more traditional, with the man paying more often, although even older women are more likely to offer to pay than traditionally."
However, those in the gay or lesbian dating scenes don't struggle as much with these concerns. "Since there is less gender-enforced expectation for one or the other to pay, gay or lesbian daters tend to share the responsibility by either splitting the check or by both at least offering to pay," says Trish McDermott, dating adviser at LGBT online dating site OneGoodLove.com.
To help navigate the question of who pays, we talked to several experts and compiled these general guidelines.
Keep early dates low-key. Suggesting low-cost activities such as outdoor concerts or festivals for a first date relieves financial pressure, especially on guys who might be concerned about making less than their date or may not have the means for a lavish night on the town. "Some of the best first dates are the most simple, low-cost activities," say Brenden Dilley, a Phoenix-based life coach. "If a man or woman suggests one of these, don't take it as the other person being cheap or not taking you seriously – perhaps they just want an opportunity to spend more quality time with you and decide if there is a match."
Coffee or drinks rather than dinner and a movie are popular choices among online daters, who would rather not commit to a long evening with someone they're meeting for the first time. "Online dating brought us first dates that were more of an interview elimination round than a leisurely opportunity to get to know someone better," McDermott says. "Still, women largely expect men to pay, even $2.49 for a cup of coffee."
Afterward, if there's mutual interest, you can always suggest another activity to extend the date and reciprocate the other person's generosity. If the man paid for dinner and the date is going well, Dilley says you can continue it by suggesting, "Let's grab some dessert, my treat!" "This removes the ambiguity and awkwardness once you arrive at the next location and shows good manners," she says.
When in doubt, offer to chip in. Many dating experts feel that the person who initiated the date should pay. They also believe that if one person is not interested in future dates, he or she should pay their own share. Others say the one with greater financial means should pick up a larger portion of the tab for dates if you decide to continue seeing each other or that daters getting to know each other should alternate paying.
If you're uncertain, offering to pay shows good manners. Instead of the "fake purse grab," as she calls it, Newman recommends that women ask, "May I help?" Now the ball is in the other person's court. "He can say, 'Oh no, I got this,'" she explains. "Or, 'Yeah, please get the tip. It's $15.' Or, 'Your half is $30.'"
Letting a man pick up the check shouldn't imply any obligations on the woman's part, but it should be met with appreciation. Newman suggests "thanking him for the meal, the ambience, the company or any combination of the three."
But don't haggle. Focusing too much on who pays could ruin an otherwise romantic moment, so don't belabor the point. "It's not a social commentary on your place in life or the role you will be expected to play in the relationship, should there be a relationship," McDermott says. "It's simply an opportunity for one single person to let another single person demonstrate their generous character."
Dilley agrees, adding that for daters interested in "a legitimate connection, the focal point shouldn't be how much the other person is spending; rather, it should be how much time they're allocating to get to know you."
Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report
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