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Fork out or fork off?

In an age of equality, men are still expected to cover date costs, but why?

First dates always have been, and always will be, awkward as shit. Unless you’ve been friends first, or are an incredibly confident individual, the first date presents a number of terrifying questions. What do I wear? What if it’s awkward? What if he smells weird? What if I smell weird? Who pays the bill?

A study last year by financial website NerdWallet, found that just under 80 per cent of both women and men would expect the man to pay the cheque on a first date. Not only this, 56 per cent of all the men surveyed, expected to foot the bill every time they go out with their partner. In an age of emergent gender equality, equal expectations, and level social roles, it appears this one tradition has been left behind.

The convention derives from a time when men worked and women didn’t. An era where women simply could not pay. Men paid because there was no alternative, rather than because they felt obliged to. Although now many women earn equal to or more than their partners, the expectation continues, and it shouldn’t.

Ultimately, it’s not fair. Why should men pay the bill? Particularly for students, when the idea of paying full price for your own meal is unnerving, never mind somebody else’s too. Particularly someone else’s who you may not actually get on with or who could potentially unmatch you on Tinder the moment they get home.

But sometimes life isn’t fair. It’s not fair that women have to pay tax on tampons and it’s not fair they get paid less than men in many professions. Unfortunately this is the system we have inherited and unless were prepared to lead instant cultural reform, for now do we just have to make the best of it?

The Channel 4 show ‘First Dates’ (a show on which strangers go on first dates) caused a Twitter storm a few weeks ago, when 38 year-old Marc suggested splitting the bill, after admitting on camera he didn’t like 30 year-old Elle and thus wasn’t prepared to pay for her. Fair enough. Elle however, thought otherwise. “Of course I’m giving it [the bill] to you. I never pay on dates. Why would I?” (She actually said that). He then interrogated her on their equality which subsequently resulted in her throwing £30 towards the £136 bill at him, and walking out. (She actually did that).

If you don’t like the person you are on a date with, you should not feel obliged to pay for them. Why should you? It can also can be incredibly weird and awkward having someone insist on paying for you, particularly if it’s expensive or if it’s clear pretty early on that it won’t go anywhere. On one date, I found myself ordering food I didn’t really like, or want, because it was cheap and thus I felt less awkward about him paying the bill when I knew he would insist. That way, when he does pay, you feel less awkward about your £9 salad than the £27 steak that you really fancied.

This is ridiculous on both behalf’s. It wasn’t fair on him, because he felt obliged to pay for a meal I didn’t enjoy and a date I wasn’t overly in to, and it wasn’t fair on me because I felt obliged to eat salad. Ultimately it was no fun for either of us.

On a first date, I’d always offer to split, or try to pay for what I’ve ordered if it was expensive. Usually this can be categorised into two scenarios. One; if I don’t like the person and wouldn’t like to see them again, I don’t want them to pay for our date. Morally that feels weird, emotionally I’d feel guilty, and I think it makes it a whole lot easier to say ‘no thank you’ if they ask to see you again. Two; If I like them, and want to go out again, then I offer as a reflection of the kind of person I think I am, and the kind of relationship I’m interested in.

An argument given by some women who believe that men should pay, is that they spend equal amounts if not more on date-preparation. Getting their hair dyed, their nails done and hair waxed, not to mention a new outfit. They suggest this maintenance must continue throughout all succeeding dates. This is sad. Of course I’d make an effort for a date, you want to feel comfortable and confident, but you shouldn’t need to go to extreme beauty lengths. If it’s the right person, they’ll like you regardless. Moustache and all.

What about gay or lesbian dates? When your sex becomes irrelevant, and there is no social expectation? Steven Petrow, who writes the LGBT advice column for The Washington Post simply suggests “you invite, you pay.” Yet still, does this mean one can only ask another out if they know they can afford to pay for the entirety of it? Does this mean if you are too shy to ever ask for a second, third, seventieth date, that you will never pay? I think this logic too is flawed in perhaps more ways than one.

Perhaps it goes a little deeper than not wanting to foot the bill because you’re a man, or a woman. I think it’s about something more than that. Rather I think it is about who you’re on a date with. When you meet someone you like, someone you really get along with, you will want to pay the bill, regardless of your sex, because it was worth it. The resentment doesn’t come from feeling obliged to pay the bill because you’re a man, or from eating a salad because you’re a woman but rather because you aren’t enjoying the company.

When you go on a date with someone you like, you really, really like, the financial outcome has little importance. In this case, I think people are more comfortable and happy to take turns, because you know you want to see each other again. Splitting the bill, or taking turns to pay particularly, signifies more of a commitment. You pay now, and I’ll pay next time, means you hope there will be a next time, and a next time, and a next time. We’re no longer going on dates but instead were dating each other, and this saves money, and saves gender inequality and most importantly saves everyone from unnecessary salad.

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