Picking Up the Tab 

Basically the tradition of the male being expected to pick up the tab started way back in the 1920′s when dating became common because few women had high paying jobs or any jobs at all relative to their male counterparts. Nowadays, circumstances have changed, yet the tradition has been carried on by many. But should it?

Earlier this year, and Elle/MSNBC dating survey of 74,000 online readers found that:

  •  66% of men wanted women to chip in after a few dates.
  • 44% of women were bothered by being expected to help chip in.
  • 57% of women offer to pay (including the first date) – 34% were bothered if the man accepts, and 46% were bothered if he refuses.
  • 75% of men felt guilty when they let the woman pay, even if she has a higher income.
  • 66% of women try to keep their income secret from their dates.
  • 80% of men say they end up paying most date expenses. This despite the fact that a recent breakdown of census data showed that in all but three of the 150 biggest cities in the United States, young women age 30 and under are making more money than young men.

These findings illustrate a point that many men have known for years – we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Is it any wonder why guys obsess over this dilemma?

Q. Must a man insist on paying for dinner?
A. If there is income inequality, the more impecunious person pays when its pizza, the high roller pays when it’s sevruga and Pol Roger. (GQ, Glenn O’Brien, page 324, September 2006)

When discussing sexual harassment, I said that “when they feel like it, women want to be just like men; but when its profitable, they’d rather have the same delicate standards as their Victorian ancestors.” This is also quite true in the dating world, where women who were ardently discussing the pros and cons of sophisticated corporate structures instantly revert to “I’m just an old fashioned girl” when it comes time to pick up the check. Ideology aside, women almost universally pay less than their share of the expenses of a date.

Why is this? Occasionally, men will insist on paying, based on some outdated notions that a gentleman must always pay for his date. Not so. And in some cases the man insists on paying because his masculinity is threatened if he does not assume the role of economic provider. If, as a man, all you really have to offer is your paycheck, you’re not much of a man. And certainly not a gentleman.

Many men would be flattered if the woman would take it upon themselves to volunteer to pay for a few expenses. So why do women so rarely do this? Perhaps they’ve been raised with a princess complex by doting fathers, or their mothers have raised them to expect to be “cherished”, and this expectation, unfortunately, translates into voluntary economic dependence. Others would use a less charitable explanation, calling it simply manipulation by women, which they get away with, because they can. Sometimes things that don’t make sense get perpetuated just because no one has the courage to take a stand to change things. Or perhaps men just think they have a better shot of getting lucky if they pick up the tab. Sadly, even after years of feminism, they’re probably right.

Even women earning as much, or more, than the man they are dating will often expect the man to pick up the dinner check. Looking at this from a rational, economic point of view, this makes women appear to function, at best, as paid companions, and, at worse, as prostitutes. And if sex isn’t involved, one might say that it’s even worse than prostitution, as the price is paid without the corresponding benefit. If a man wants a prostitute, and a woman is willing to provide that sort of service, so be it. (See our section on prostitution.) But if a woman wants an equal partnership with a man, then she should pay for her share of the expenses. And if she chooses to have sex with her date, it should be because she expects to enjoy the sex, not because she is paying her share of the bill with her body.

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