Who Should Pay For Dinner?

A post recently appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. And again. And again.

It’s gone viral.

My first reaction was that a mother making her 6 year old boy take her on dates that the boy pays for – so he can learn how to be a gentleman – is reminiscent of dads taking their daughters to father/daughter proms to teach the girls how to be ladylike. But that’s not what I want to focus on.

For context, the original post is below. (The picture is of her 6 year old son taking money out of his wallet, but in the screenshot I cut most it because I don’t want to post a picture of a child without the parent’s permission.)

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 9.56.35 AM

There’s a flip side of this coin. One could ask if she’s also teaching her son that a gentleman doesn’t associate with a woman who isn’t ladylike, and being ladylike includes a woman showing proper deference toward a man.

I’m not advocating that. Teaching children manners and respect can be done just as easily in an egalitarian context.

As such I disagree with the way she equates traditional gender roles with respect. Don Draper from Mad Men has impeccable manners and always picks up the check. But he doesn’t treat women with respect. Alan Alda might split the check with his date, or take turns paying, but he also treats women as equals.

This leads headlong into the debate about who should pay for a date. One way to avoid the issue is saying that the person who asks for the date should pay. But we’re still firmly entrenched in traditional gender roles because men are required to ask for dates while it’s merely optional for women. That is, both asking for and paying for dates are traditionalist expectations women have of men.

This is where we need to inject some honesty:

Most of us want equality when it’s to our advantage but may argue that it’s not really about equality when equality isn’t to our advantage. This is true whether the issue is paying for dinner or doing the dishes. It comes down to self-interest.

But from the perspective of dating, equality, and who picks up the check I want to offer a solution based on game theory. I don’t mean game in the sense of pick-up artists. I’m talking about the “study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.”

In a nutshell, the most effective strategy is to start by cooperating, but don’t just give away the store. If the other person doesn’t reciprocate, however, then walk away (but don’t seek revenge).

For a man, a cooperative move on the first date means picking up the check when it arrives and being prepared to pay for the whole thing.

At that point a woman could do a few different things. She could reciprocate his cooperation by offering to pay half, and if she does then he should accept. Or she could reciprocate by picking up the tab (or at least half of it) on the next date. The ball is in her court at that point, so on this second date he should wait to see what she does instead of taking the check right away.

But because she might not reciprocate, he should still be prepared to pay for the entire second date. If that happens he shouldn’t make a big deal out of it, but he will need to decide if he’s okay with this one-sided dynamic, or whether he wants to end things. If he chooses to go forward then he should acknowledge that that’s his choice.

Published by Dave DuBay

Dave is a Florida man. He blogs at https://fratresestoics.com. He's also at twitter.com/Dave_DuBay.

3 thoughts on “Who Should Pay For Dinner?

  1. As a woman, I think the suggestions you make here are wise and I wish someone had suggested them to me as a teenager. As a young woman, who wasn’t yet sure of herself, I often found myself feeling indebted to the guys who paid for dinner. I then had a much harder time saying “No” when things progressed later in the evening. I found myself trying to giggle and break the mood instead, without directly making my feelings known. That might sound weak to some, but it was the best solution I could come up with at the time, and not surprisingly it didn’t always work. I often found myself in uncomfortable situations. I know now it didn’t have to be that way.

    I hope I can teach my sons some of these strategies because the last thing I want is for the young women they take out to feel indebted to them. I want their dates to feel comfortable and justified being direct so my sons are always clear.


    1. The indebtedness theme runs deep, and it’s always been a problem. Of course, a true quid pro quo keeps the same context – paying for a date and paying for a date – rather than shifting context from picking up the check to sex (which for women is a double bind: “you owe me” “slut!”)

      Alternating who pays for dates already seems common, and maybe explaining it in terms of game theory will appeal to guys.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, I really like your writing. My partner and I like to “date” each other so I still think about this stuff. I think the “gentleman” and “lady” dynamic is an OK convention in that it calms nerves and lubricates the early dates, when you are first getting to know each other. People have a role: he opens the door for me, I smile and thank him, we both feel good since we know what we are supposed to do. However some people can follow these scripts perfectly and they’d still not be people you’d like or trust. I think there is too much emphasis on it as signalling deeper integrity – you’re right to point out that it doesn’t.

    If you see dating as the start of a real relationship then why set it up as a disney movie. It’s nice to show appreciation and respect for each other in more subtle and unconventional ways. Of course I still thank my partner for his “gentlemanly” gestures and I do those things for him too. When he’s carrying shopping bags I’ll hold the doors open for him etc. As for the indebtedness, it seems to apply to every human connection, maybe just is more pronounced in dating, as we have narrower ways to express give and take in the dating context.

    Liked by 1 person

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