Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Check, please.

Recently at one of my very engaging dinner parties the brilliant and only slightly wine-addled brains of three young feminists tackled the pressing issue of how best to carve a FreshDirect chicken. And then after we solved that one, discussion came around to another favorite chestnut: on one of these mythological "dates" that I keep hearing about, between a man and a woman say, who pays the bill? (Feel free to take a powder on this one, lesbians.)

This question was in my mind ever since I read in this advice in the New York Magazine Urban Etiquette Handbook:

Who pays the bill on a date? The asker pays, unless the woman does the
asking—then the man should pay. If the check’s on the table and her suitor
hasn’t moved for it, a woman should allow him a one-bathroom-trip grace period.
If it’s still there when she comes back, she should split the bill but is
entirely free to silently ruminate about what a cheap jerk he is.

I mean, nicely played Em & Lo, or whoever was responsible for this gem, I think we all enjoy a little well-written snark while we're waiting for the Q Train, but surely no one actually feels this way, do they?

Well, since my dinner guest were both Smithies, conversation soon turned to the excerpt of Courtney Sullivan's forthcoming book that ran in the Smith Alumnae Quarterly recently. Sullivan '03, my own class year, provides her tips on finding a suitable partner (say, is a 25-year old qualified to write this book?):

Admit that money matters. In our battle for independence, many of us have grown
increasingly confused about the role money plays in romantic relationships.
Attention fellow feminists: I do not believe that a woman should pay on the
first date, or the second, or the third. It is important to establish from the
beginning that you want a partner who is financially stable (as you are), who
can support himself (as you do), and who has the courtesy to treat you well
(just as you’d treat him). Financial security is a key part of a successful
marriage, so do yourself a favor and only seek out someone who meets your
monetary standards from the start.

So, what's going on, here? Am I the only feminist who believes saying "I wanted to be treated as an equal" is implicitly followed by "and I will treat you like an equal"? Has Sullivan allowed for this in what she's written and I'm not seeing it? Is a man's willingness to pick up the check indicative of his financial "stability"? I'd definately argue the opposite. I think we've all been out with plenty of men and women who charge up expenseive dinners and entertainment costs on a credit card they can't pay off. If a guy takes you out for the tasting menu at Nobu does it mean he's fincially responsible or that he'll be paying it off for six months because he felt the need to impress you?

Also, this not not allow for temporary income disparities. If you're a working woman, and he's a law student who has taken on big debt and is strapped at the time but will have greater earning potential later, should he be crossed off the list because he doesn't have the big bucks now? And is this for real? What if it's a permanent income gap? Let's say the woman is a stock analyst and the man is a public school teache. Does he still have to pick up the check or walk the plank?

Look, it's nice to be taken out to dinner. I think that's something most men and women can agree on. And I abhor ugly squabbling over the check- if someone wants to treat me, man or woman, I think the thing to do is graciously accept. But that also means that the next time we go out, I expect to pick up the tab.

I suppose you could take the tongue out of the cheek and argue that the person who makes the invitation pays, but then some women don't believe in asking men out (kind of like not believing in the internet, if you ask me). Those same women probably find themselves on the "fainting couch" being revived by "smelling salts".

Of course, all of this is a moot point as it's been donkey's years since my last (premeditated) date. People could actually be paying the check with intergalactic space wampum these days and I wouldn't have a clue.


MCMCMCLY said...

Space wampum is virtually worthless these days. Like the Discover Card of Intergalactic commerce. Try gold-pressed latinum instead.

lebrookski said...

wow...courtney is actually a good friend of mine and i've known about this book thing for awhile now...haven't actually had a chance to read an excerpt before now. doesn't actually sound like what she described to me about a year ago...

color me perplexed.

Joshua said...

I always pay on the first date, no questions asked. And usually the girl/woman is like "ok, but I got next" if there is one. And then everyone is happy and progressive and stuff.

JLG said...

I totally believe that the persons that asks should expect to pay...and if a woman doesn't believe in asking a man out then she should be prepared when no one asks her out.
I was asked out to dinner by this guy this one time and when the bill came, he was like "how about we both throw in half?" Total disbelief...I had the money on me...I also believe that even if you don't EXPECT to pay, you should have money on you I threw in and afterwards he tried to put the moves on me. I was so turned off, I made a pretty lame excuse to leave and meet friends at a party. No regrets on that one as it turns out!
Hey and whatever happened to cute nice dates that don't involve beaucoup bucks? I would be totally blown away by a surprise picnic and feeding ducks or something like that...

policate said...

When my husband and I were dating, we alternated or he paid for dinner and I paid for entertainment (movie & snacks). When we were living together I bought the groceries and cooked and he paid for "dates" (dinner, movie, treats). Now that we're married who the heck cares, it all comes out of the same pot!

Cupcake said...

I think splitting the bill is gauche, I'm more of a fan of the "I'll buy the movie ticket, you buy the popcorn" school of thought.

If I'm at dinner and someone asks to split the bill, I would assume that there is not going to be a second date and the gentleman (ahem) is trying to recoup some of his investment.

That being said, I have offered to split the check if a date has gone so horribly wrong and/or creepy (thanks, Internet dating!) that I could not stand to feel in any way indebted that person. If I'm out with a guy I like and I offer to chip in, it might also be an indication that I am trying to make it clear that we're just friends and that this was not in fact a "real" date. Hmm. I guess there are some mixed signals there.

claire said...

wow. i always split the bill with my boyfriend if we're eating at a restaurant. and if we're getting delivery, we usually alternate who has to answer the door and pay.

of course, he is a nanny and doesn't get paid very much.

i've only been with one guy who insisted on paying, and he was a total douchebag who was very much into having money (and spending it so other people could see how much he had). I would rather split the bill or alternate. I don't like feeling that I owe something for my food.

Queenie said...

So, Cupcake, I was, indeed a women's studies minor, and while I believe that the practice of the man paying for the date is rooted in some oppression-gender-role-money-is-a-mans-thing something or other... my realization of this fact has not caught up to the fact that splitting a bill FEELS like it's a friendly dinner and makes me not want to make out. At least it becomes one in that moment, whether it should feel that way or not. As time goes on, even after romantic chemistry may have been established, the formal-ish dinner situation is still a delicate social environment where even the most progressive of dudes may feel like a chump letting a lass foot the bill. Soooo I try to pay for the extras in between - perhaps the movie tickets, the take out, the burgers for the grille. It all evens out that way, but homeboy doesn't feel like the waitstaff at Chez Frances thinks he's my BEEEEE-ATCH.
Over and out.

bbrug said...


I've tried for half an hour to reply thoughtfully to this in under 2,000 words, none of them dirty, but I can't do it. So let me just register my basic response: I always assume that we're going dutch, and we almost always do.

And that bit about giving the man a "one-bathroom-trip grace period" to pay the bill? Unspeakably trashy.

bbrug said...

BREAKING: Did you hear the one about the guy who tried to bully a woman into paying for her dinner after she offered to split and he insisted on paying? Amazing.

acaligurl said...

well.. out here in cali EVERY date i have been on has always been paid for.(if someone was special enough i would make a nice dinner and/or bake) if i even slightly offered my date was offended. in fact if i had been on a date and was asked to pay i would probably never go out with that guy again!
(and yes there were plenty of second dates!!) i am happily married now and ya my husband wined and dined me every time.
hmmmmm glad i'm in cali. :)

Cupcake said...

India, if that story is true, it is totally outrageous.