A man and a woman go out on a first date and each of them has two glasses of wine. Things are going well when the check arrives. "I think we should split this," the man says to the woman.
He's thinking he's in the right. He doesn't want his date to get the impression he's trying to buy her, or patronize her or take advantage of her in any way. Women want to be equals, right?
She's thinking: "What a turnoff."
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The two never see each other again.
The moment of paying the bill on a first date can be rife with pressure for both parties. And while tradition holds that the man pays, now that women want to be treated as equals and are more financially independent, the issue has become muddied.
All of which begs the question, are times changing or are we stuck in a rut of tradition?
A recent poll by dating experts at Match.com showed that nearly 60% of daters agree that the guy should pay for the first date. "A man picking up the bill in the beginning of a relationship is a tradition that's still firmly intact," says Carrie Coghill Kuntz, a financial advisor and author of "The Newlywed's Guide to Investing & Personal Finance". To underscore this sentiment, Match.com also reports that nearly 23% of women agree that paying for a date is the bare minimum that a man can do in a dating situation.
But what if who pays the bill on a first date isn't just a matter of chivalry or tradition, but a portent of financial compatibility? Shannon Fox, author of "Last One Down the Aisle Wins", hints that this just might be the case. "Whether it's to be taken care of financially or to be a 50/50 partner, a woman should know what she wants when it comes to money," Fox says. Either is fine, she stresses, adding that the important thing is knowing where you stand and being comfortable with that.
So why is the question of who pays on the first date so important?
"It's so much bigger than the first date," says Fox. "Paying the bill on the first date can be seen as a litmus test." If you're looking for a partner to take care of you financially and your date wants to split the bill, he might not merit a second date with you, she says. On the other hand, if you see yourself as financial equals and he insists on paying, or acts offended if you offer, then you will likely not see eye-to-eye on money issues further into your relationship. (Thinking about getting married? Read Say "I Do" To Financial Compatibility.)
"Money affects the dynamics of a relationship," says Coghill-Kuntz. "In a dating situation, you never want to think that money matters, but the truth is, it can."
If you go on a first date and the guy wants to split the check, it can be seen as a turnoff to a woman. But by the same token, if the same couple goes on several dates and the woman never tries to pay or split the check, he will be turned off as well. "It's a minefield for daters," adds Fox.
Luckily, once a couple has gotten past those first awkward dates, most couples adopt comfortable patterns of he-pays, she-pays that have more to do with financial comfort or salary level than traditional roles.
However, the tension won't necessarily end there. "People with more financial resources will have bigger ideas of what is fun or acceptable while dating. So if I'm always asking my date to take trips every weekend and I'm paying for it, because I can, it might become a problem if he's only taking me to play mini-golf," says Coghill-Kuntz.
In her book "Why Him? Why Her?", renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher writes about the importance of discovering a potential mate's core values before embarking on a relationship. It's a matter of like-finding-like in what anthropologists call "assortative mating" or "fitness matching."
Coghill-Kuntz and Fox agree that an individual's attitude about money is a core value, which is why who pays the bill on the first date and in early stages of dating can be so telling. And it might also be a portent of your financial future.
"If he offers to pay all of the time but always pays with a credit card, that might raise a separate set of red flags, says Coghill-Kuntz. And if his credit card is declined? Graciously pay the check and propose a toast to fiscal responsibility. (If you've been wondering about how your partner's credit could affect you down the line, see Will marrying someone with a bad credit score affect my credit?)
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