Back in the day, I went out with this guy who refused to take me to dinner on our first date.
We’d met at a bar a few weeks before, late-night chatted on the phone a couple of times and then finally he’d asked me to meet him at a Smithsonian after work. Apparently there was going to be a nearly sold-out lecture on volcanoes in outerspace that he just couldn’t miss. My “good story to tell the girls later” button flashed bright red.
After said lecture, which was as wildly inappropriate for a first date as one would imagine, we walked through DC’s version of Times Square in pursuit of what I assumed would be food. Because, hello, date. It was dinnertime, past 8 o’clock, and my stomach roared angrily as we passed one cheesy tourist trap after another.
“Oh, tapas! I love tapas!” I shouted cheerily as we strolled by an al fresco pan-Latino joint. He grunted and kept it moving.
Over the next five blocks, we lapped watering hole after watering hole on the long walk back to the metro and all the while I didn’t get why he kept shooting down every single one of my suggestions. What is this guy? An asshole or something?
How I usually dress for dates.
Once we finally got to the train station — me hot, tired, and starving, him not — I just blurted out, “What is your problem?”
“What do you mean?” he asked so sweet and innocent I almost forgot how damn hungry I was.
“Um, I’m friggin’ starving. I don’t know what you’re trying to do right now. But I’m going to go get something to eat.” Clearly I hadn’t forgotten entirely.
“Yeah, well, I have some chicken breasts and frozen vegetables at the house,” he answered meekly. “You’re welcome to that.”
What? I was so taken aback that I laughed, which in retrospect was a real jerk move. But come on, I hardly knew this dude. There was no way this Olivia Benson groupie was going back to his killer kitchen where unsuspecting first dates got deep-fried and I told him as much.
No, no, no, he explained. He’d been on a budget — a tight one — and taking dames to dinner just didn’t compute.
I was shocked and, more importantly, touched by his honesty. So much so that we continued to date despite me not being that kind of girl. The kind that doesn’t demand some good ole fashioned courting from the giddy up. I expect doors to be opened, men to walk on the “outside” down the sidewalk, and dinners (at least the first few) to be paid for.
I know I know. This is so heteronormative. So detrimental to the fights against binary gender roles. So completely archaic and outdated. But so what?
According to a new study “Who Pays for Dates? Following versus Challenging Conventional Gender Norms” most people still hold some conventional views about who should foot the bill.
“Men (84 percent) and women (58 percent) reported that men pay for most expenses, even after dating for a while. Over half (57 percent) of women claim they offer to help pay, but many women (39 percent) confessed they hope men would reject their offers to pay, and 44 percent of women were bothered when men expected women to help pay. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of men believed that women should contribute to dating expenses, and many feel strongly about that: Nearly half of men (44 percent) said they would stop dating a woman who never pays. A large majority of men (76 percent), however, reported feeling guilty accepting women’s money.”
What’s most interesting here is how conflicted and confused and utterly contrary everyone seems to be. Women will “offer” to pay but secretly hope that offer will be rejected. Men say they’d stop dating a woman who never paid (so would I) but then confess to feeling guilty about accepting a girl’s debit card. It’s a rhythmless two-step we all seem to be doing with no dance teachers in sight.
For me, it’s about combating the “no date” dating culture that’s cropped up around hooking up and not taking names. Don’t get me wrong, if all you want is a Midori Sour and ride on the skin bus, then go ahead and treat yo’ self. But I’ve found during my unintentional field research on the subject that a good litmus test of whether or not something is a thing is if someone’s willing to plunk down the first of five easy payments. That sounded gross, but I’m being for real.
Usually if I pay for dinner, especially if it’s the very first dinner out with a potentially romantic partner, it’s because I want to leave as soon as possible. Not that I can’t leave if someone else pays, but if I’m paying then I’m the one flagging down the waiter and twisting around in my seat for my coat. Bad sign.
But when someone else is paying then I’m surrendering my time in a way that says, “What’s next.” All that logic, of course, is Helena specific and has been thrown out the window more than once.
Case in point: The Volcanoes Guy. I should have known it wouldn’t work out. Not because he didn’t have the scratch for a proper first date (whether it be dinner or a damn ice cream cone) but because in the end it said something more about how he valued me and my time.
Another week or more went by before we actually sat down for a meal that he paid for. This only after he explained — in detail — about how he never takes women to dinner at the onset because he didn’t want to waste his time and money on someone he was just iffy about, which, of course, made sense but in the douchiest way possible. That same brand of bravado-slash-stinginess bleed out onto the rest of our interaction until there was nothing but red correction marks over the whole thing.
So yeah, I was never in it for the free meal, but I was interested in being treated like I deserved it. Why you might ask? Why do you deserve anything? Because I said so. And if I don’t say so then who will?
Maybe if I’d been the one doing the pursuing I would’ve taken him out for dinner, but that’s not how this particular chase went down. Perhaps therein lies the line? Whoever does the picking up should also pick up the check? I’m not sure there can be any overarching rules besides the ones we make for ourselves, but I am sure that once you’ve made them, you should stick to them.