The arrival of the bill can interrupt the flow of even the most mutually enjoyable first date. Together, you and your date—someone you barely know––have to navigate how to handle this tricky, often unspoken joint decision of who pays for a date.
Sometimes, the check sits on the table for ages, feeling like an increasing intrusion into a your conversation and begs for resolution. It would be easy if there were a universally accepted way to handle the bill. But it’s more confusing than that.
The first few dates are a unique part of any relationship. While they might influence the tone for the future, this stage is all about courtship. It’s about wooing, getting to know one another and deciding if you like each other enough to continue learning about each other.
How you choose to take care of the check should reflect that you’re in a courtship phase. Because you know so little about each other, each little thing you do carries more weight than it will later on when it’s just a small piece of a bigger picture. At this stage, your date is likely to perceive how you handle the bill as emblematic of your generosity in other areas of life.
It’s too early to make assumptions about who makes a higher salary or how finances will likely be shared should you enter into a long-term relationship. While many women look more favorably on a man who pays for a date, few actually want to be continually “taken care of” by a man.
The question of who pays is basically left up to the opinions and life experiences of each dater, which can be a recipe for confusion and misunderstanding. People often ask themselves the following questions:
- Should I go along with traditional etiquette, which states that the person who does the inviting should pay?
- Should the man always treat?
- Should we split the tab in order to keep things balanced?
The simple answer is that the person who does the inviting should pay. Since the man is usually the traditional pursuer who asks the woman out, he should offer to pay. It’s a romantic gesture, which signals that he values her and is willing to be generous towards her.
However, once the man picks up the check, a wise woman will signal her generosity by indicating that she’s amenable to paying her share. She’ll go through her purse, pull out her wallet and ask how he wishes to proceed.
Guys—if you’re interested in her, thank her and decline her offer. Take the opportunity to flirtatiously tell her that the pleasure of her company makes it impossible for you to consider such a thing. You could indicate that you want to see her again by telling her that you’ll let her pay “next time.”
What if the first date was a big flop? A woman should insist on paying her share if she has decided that she doesn’t want to see him again. By not accepting his generosity, she sends the message that she is holding back. A man should consider that this most likely conveys the woman’s indifference toward him.
Once you’ve gotten past the first few dates, it’s time to shift to a more modern perspective. Even though you’re probably still in courtship mode, you’re likely starting to set a rhythm together. By this time, both of you should demonstrate your willingness to be a potential partner by offering to reciprocate.
If you’re a woman, plan to treat a guy to a post-dinner drink, bring him cookies or wine when you meet, or invite him to a home-cooked meal by the fourth date. Otherwise, he may get the idea that you want to be taken care of.
As you move into a relationship, your ability to negotiate who pays is a good way to forecast how well you’ll be able to handle the number one issue that drives couples apart: money!