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Guess Who’s Paying for Dinner?

By Frances Johnson

Thanks to a fancy new job and, more to the point, a fancy new salary, for the first time in my adult life I am not worried about money.

This means I can buy plane tickets to see my friends get married, and I can give people presents just because, and I can pay off my student loan and eat out with my friends and start a 401(k) and actually have a savings account and live in something other than a constant state of anxiety about how far my money can stretch.

It also means that, for the first time in my adult life, it is a very real possibility that I make more money than some of the guys I go out with.

But, I still expect them to pay for me.

And this is a problem.

This is a problem because, on a very basic level, it seems unfair. This is also a problem because, in most everything else, I am pretty adamant about doing things myself. That’s the enlightened, 21st century way, is it not? I can check my own oil and change a tire and operate power tools and carry heavy boxes, thank you very much.

But when it comes to dating I am still stuck in an old paradigm. I won’t take his last name, but he better buy my dinner. And I am not totally sure why.

The advent of what we know as “dating” is not too far in the past, and its emergence had everything to do with money. As life moved from farms to cities, wage work became the order of the day and women suddenly lost the upper hand. Gone were the days when a nice young man visited the family homestead and either won the approval or disdain of a young lady’s family. Instead, these were the days of men with money to burn and women with no comparable financial assets.

Today, of course, the game has shifted once again. Today both men and women go to college, work, make money. But the dating game remains largely unchanged. Generally speaking, men still do the asking, the paying, the proposing. It’s not that I couldn’t ask out a guy, or buy his movie ticket, but I don’t want to. And I don’t feel like I should have to. Even as I say out loud that it should be a more even split, I expect, or maybe more accurately hope, that a guy will step up to the plate and take the lead.

So why is it that dating hasn’t shifted into the new paradigm of parity and equality where so many other things now exist? And what I really mean by that question is, Why am I comfortable keeping dating in the old paradigm, when I am uncomfortable leaving anything else there?

Is it ingrained socialization or unfair expectation? Does it reflect some personal insecurity and need to be pursued and loved? Is it about the frail male ego? Or is it more about the frail female ego? Could it mean that (gasp!) I am not as forward-thinking and progressive as I think I am?

Do old-fashioned ideas about dating simply fall into the category of things we know we should change but haven’t gotten around to yet? Or do they fall into the category of things that we make a big deal out of when they’re really not?

I just don’t know. But, in all honesty, I also can’t foresee that I am going to change my mind about this any time soon, even if I am in the wrong. (So there.)

It reminds me of the long-term internal struggle I have had over my great love of James Bond movies. As a self-identifying feminist and, frankly, as a generally self-respecting woman, feminist or not, I know I shouldn’t love them. But I do. And it is not my intention to stop loving them any time soon.

I feel the same way about the dating paradigm. But I am also open to hearing the arguments against my old-fashioned ways. Maybe over dinner? Your treat.

About Frances Johnson


31 thoughts on “Guess Who’s Paying for Dinner?”

  1. I understand your dilemma. It’s a common one. I resolve it two ways. First of all, I catalog it as a form of hosting. If I invite someone to dinner at my house, I buy the food and prepare the meal and even tidy up the livingroom ahead of time. It is an expression of my respect and my friendship to do those things as the host. Going out to dinner or to a movie etc. falls into the same category. I invite means I provide the means for the food or entertainment.
    Now, if my friend wants to offer to help by providing some of the food or paying for some of the tickets, I may or may not accept, depending on my financial and time constraints or upon the particular feelings of my guest. But I certainly don’t expect my guest to get all worked up about whether he or she is paying for or some or all of the resources. And my opinion about the value or capabilities of my guest is never influenced by whether or not he or she does. That would be silly. My invitation was a gift and if he or she accepts it graciously, that’s pleasant for our relationship.
    If you think about your dilemma as a manifestation of machismo or a threat to your status, or traditional role plays, or the validity of your feminism card, you’ll run into difficulties. But in my opinion, it’s not about roles, it’s about hosting and generosity, both of which are universally applicable to both men and women.
    Secondly, as paying for someone’s dinner is an act of generosity and, I believe, brings blessings to the giver, why would I want to make a big deal about it, insist upon paying, and deprive my host of the attendant blessings? Receiving graciously can be a gift in itself.
    Finally, there’s no right or wrong about who asks whom. If you want to ask, ask. If you prefer to be asked, that’s fine too. It’s mostly a matter of personality and no one should be ashamed of having preferences that happen to be the traditional ones any more than anyone should feel awkward about having ones that became more common after 1968. Either way is fine. You don’t have to explain or make excuses for either one.

  2. I think there ought to be complete parity as to who does the asking. But I'm a little old fashioned about the paying thing as well. If I were to ask a woman out on a date, my preference would be to pay for the evening (at least early in the relationship). I suppose my rationale would be that if said woman insisted on going dutch, I would take that as a very visible signal that she wanted to make a clear demarcation that we were there as friends only and not as a couple. It's basically being thrust into the friend zone.

    If that social cue were to change it would be fine with me, but as long as it exists I think the preference expressed in the OP will continue apace.

  3. I may be criticized for this point of view, but I think there is something divine in this pattern and in such expectations. For all that I am grateful for many equal opportunities for women to be educated and have the chance to work if they choose and/or need to, but I think in terms of relationships, there is still something about having a man take the lead…because in a very real sense in my mind, that is what he is expected to do in a marriage and family relationship. Presiding to me means being proactive in creating a safe, loving place for a wife and children. I think that begins in the dating relationship. Being a provider (as a divinely-defined primary role for a man) folds into this, too, imo.

    As a single woman, I came to realize that the guys who needed me to take the lead really needed far too much convincing that I was worth dating. That, imo, is not a good way to go into a marriage. A woman deserves to be wanted and cared for, cherished. And simple things like being willing to pay, imo, can show such willingness. I also think a woman deserves to feel safe financially as well going into a relationship. Even though I could make more than my husband does were I to work (and I was in the black and he wasn't when we married), I'm eternally grateful that I have the choice not to work and stay home with my kids because he's a good provider. (Of course, anything unforeseen can happen, and that is why it's wonderful and important for both men and women to be educated and prepared, but I think there is something to be said about a man going into a relationship being willing to 'provide' even with the dating process.)

    Also, I think a woman should be able to *let* a man lead…not because she can't do things or pay or take care of herself, but because she *chooses* to be taken care of at some level. (I liked this post on that topic.)

  4. I was married in 1978, as a fairly recent convert, and it never occurred to me that men should pay for everything. To me it was all about hosting. If a man asked me on a date, of course I graciously let him pay. If I asked him, then I took care of things, and I'm grateful that my husband-to-be never insisted or felt threatened.

    "That, imo, is not a good way to go into a marriage."

    I don't think this at all reflected negatively on our future relationship. He is a great provider. However, we take turns coming up with ideas for dates as we did while courting before marriage. Since equal partners is the ideal LDS marriage, why not be equal partners in this as well?

    "A woman deserves to be wanted and cared for, cherished."

    And so does a man, not to be treated as a meal ticket. Omigosh, I think it would be so rude to put all the burden on him.

    "And simple things like being willing to pay, imo, can show such willingness."

    I agree, but it goes both ways. I wouldn't want a man who is never willing to pay. But I wouldn't want a man who won't let me pay when it is my invitation. I want an equal partner.

    And I wouldn't be surprised if a man who is expected to pay for everything when dating may fear he ends up with a woman who feels entitled to literally stay home, get her nails done, go shopping, chat to friends on the phone, etc. while he works hard. In my book, she is NOT entitled to a life of leisure. A parent at home should be working every bit as hard as the parent who earns money, just at different tasks.

  5. "I suppose my rationale would be that if said woman insisted on going dutch, I would take that as a very visible signal that she wanted to make a clear demarcation that we were there as friends only…"

    I think that makes sense. My husband and I have a rule that when we go out with people of the opposite gender, we generally do each pay our own way (unless it is something like taking an employee out to thank them).

    I never went dutch with a date, only alternated asking and paying.

    I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around how it would work to have the man always paying, but alternate asking. "Would you like to go to the 5 Browns concert with me? You'll pay, right?"

  6. I'm with Kathryn. If you also have old-fashioned ideas of waiting for the man to ask you on a date, then he should certainly pay. If you ask him? Well, liberated honey, you are on your own.

    What I find the most refreshing is that you aren't just hanging out indefinitely with one another, watching movies, making out and hoping that some mimbo will get off his duff, stop playing video games and propose. If you are GOING OUT then there is enormous hope for the future. 😉

  7. "If you ask him? Well, liberated honey, you are on your own."

    LIBERATED HONEY? Surely you could be more condescending if you tried?

    Look, I am NOT a feminist. It just strikes me as human decency to not always be the passive one, expecting the man to do all the work and pay all the cost of the relationship. I had four brothers, and I treated my dates the way I would like them to be treated. I wasn't raised in Utah nor in the church, so I didn't know the rules that y'all seem to assume.

    No wonder that some men see sexual contact as the payoff for their monetary expense and emotional toll of doing the asking.

  8. I'm with the person who said that whoever invites should pay. That just makes sense. But if the relationship becomes more serious, why not pay if you can afford it? When I was dating my now husband I had a real job – I had already finished college and was working in my field – while he was still going to school. I didn't mind paying at all and often offered. I knew he was under a lot of stress financially. Then of course when we got engaged I felt like everything was ours to share. And sharing my money didn't bother me at all. I wasn't buying him a car, just dinner.

  9. I really don't think this is a question with only one answer. Whether or not a man should pay depends on the man, the date, the culture, your personal preference, your age, who did the inviting, and how long you've been dating. Dating is all about getting to know the other person and working out how you fit together, and figuring out who pays for what is part of that. If you can't work out such a simple thing to your satisfaction with a guy, it's probably a good sign you're not going to do well in the long term.

  10. I think it's kind of ridiculous to expect him to pay and then not take his last name.

    I do, however, agree that the man should pay. I believe in letting a man take care of his woman. It fulfills something in both sexes, I think.

  11. I went out with a guy once who not only never let me pay for dinner, but didn't even allow me to open a single door. Car door included. When we were getting out of the car especially. That was thoughtful, nice, and even made me feel special. However, it was overwhelming and made me fear for me independence. If it wasn't my responsibility to pay or open a car door to let myself out, what would he potentially trust me with if we were to get married? It didn't work out for other reasons (he's a workaholic and I wanted to marry somebody who'd actually come home and be a partner) but that was something that I still think about.

    I like feeling taken care of, but also like feeling like i can do things too. I like having doors opened for me, but it's nice to reciprocate for my husband. I like dinner being paid for by my husband, but he loves it when I take care of the check. Even though it's the money that he brings in. 🙂

  12. Is it ingrained socialization or unfair expectation? Does it reflect some personal insecurity and need to be pursued and loved? Is it about the frail male ego? Or is it more about the frail female ego? Could it mean that (gasp!) I am not as forward-thinking and progressive as I think I am?

    It just strikes me as human decency to not always be the passive one

    What I find interesting is that reasons like this are negative. I am not convinced this is a negative, or at least that it has to be.

    BTW, I don't want to be misunderstood as thinking it's always bad for a woman to pay. Sure, if she invites, it makes sense for her to pay. But as I read what the prophets say about dating, they still put responsibility on the man's shoulders to lead out in the dating and courtship process. The Proclamation reinforces gender roles in a marriage relationship as well. All of that leaves me wondering if there isn't more than just cultural forces or ego issues coming int play here.

    But I also agree with Katie that it's not a pat either/or answer. Every partnership will have its own dance, its own balance.

  13. I have a hard time with this one, since I like to think of myself as willing to shoulder the same responsibilities of the person I'm dating. I like opening my own doors, inviting guys to things, what have you. The guy I'm currently dating, though, knows that if he ever asked me to pay for dinner, I'd flip, because I'd feel like I was being taken advantage of. I'm kind of in the same situation where I know I can afford more than he can, and he knows it too, but we both still feel like he can't possibly ask me to pay, which I really respect.

    I don't have an answer as to why this hasn't changed in our dating culture but other things have (like why I'm okay with opening my own door), but I feel like as society and culture are now, he couldn't ask me to pay and leave me feeling good about it.

    I guess this comment was just a roundabout way of saying, I have no idea why things are the way things are, and they are kind of unfair, but until the paradigm shifts, I'll need to be in a relationship where the guy pays for me, or else, being the passive person that I am, I'll feel like I'm being taken advantage of.

    Also, my additional comment is that things can differ between different people in different relationships. I know people who, once they have gotten "serious" enough, start splitting the bill, which is something I think I would be okay with. On a first date, though, I guess society still dictates that the boy pay (unless the girl has asked, which I'm cool with), and if he didn't pay, I'd feel uncomfortable (in spite of the nonconformist that I am…drat).

  14. "But as I read what the prophets say about dating, they still put responsibility on the man’s shoulders to lead out in the dating and courtship process. The Proclamation reinforces gender roles in a marriage relationship as well."

    For starters, could you please give an example of when the prophets have said that men should pay for the date? Given that the prophet speaks to the world, and there are different cultural traditions around the world, I wonder.

    If you want to disagree with me, fine. Please don't portray me as ignoring prophetic counsel. I was unaware of any such prophetic counsel when I was single and dating in the '70s. I was very aware of counsel not to date until 16, not to be sexually intimate, etc. I followed that. I would have not bought concert/play tickets and invited men if I had any clue it was against prophetic counsel. Virtually all the men I invited were returned missionaries and not one of them told me I was wrong to do it.

    And the Proclamation on the Family says NOTHING about men paying for dates. It says NOTHING about gender roles between husbands and wives. It only addresses the gender role of MOTHERS AND FATHERS, and says that FATHERS should provide for their families. This says nothing at all about how things should be done before children arrive or after they leave. The notion that a wife is entitled to be supported for life is a remnant of 1950s USAmerican mentality, nothing I find in gospel teachings.

    What the proclamation does say is, "Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other…" To me, the idea of sharing the burden of dating is far more consistent with this ideal that the model of the male being expected to initiate, perform and pay while the woman selfishly accepts and enjoys.

  15. If you start exclusively dating and sharing your life and being engaged and then married then it very quickly doesn't matter who pays. Your finances are his finances.
    However, it the beginning it shouldn't matter because a woman generally has to spend more money and time to get ready for a date. A woman might spend a lot of money on a dress (or not if she finds it cheap) and a man might spend a lot of money on a date (or not if he plans something cheap or free). A woman might spend a lot of money on getting her hair cut and highlighted, makeup, etc.
    I think that there are signals that you give by getting "ready" for a date and with most women's hairstyles vs. men's you have to take longer than the man to portray the look that gives the signal that you think the date is something special enough to get dressed up for.
    I didn't date enough to feel too guilty. My relationship with my husband moved quickly enough that it no longer mattered because we ate almost every meal together and who knew whether it was a date anymore, we were just always together if we weren't at school or work.
    I guess I have a problem with NOT dressing up for dates because it is a rare but wonderful thing when I do get to dress up for a date. I think I (women) should get credit for it and time is money. My husband can take a quick shower and throw on new clothes. On rare occasions I manage to act single it is a time consuming process to take the extra shower, shave my legs, style my hair without taking shortcuts, do my makeup, pick out a cute outfit, etc.

    Also, traditionally, the girl was expected to invite the boy over for dinner at times or claim that she "had tickets" to an event and invite him to that event. This is how traditional ettiquette made things a little more equal.

  16. I guess I just thought that most couples once they were dating exclusively and spending most of their time together started taking turns paying for stuff (or some sort of balance) if their finances were equal. Perhaps if my future husband had had more money than me he would have kept on paying for every date. Money stuff was never something that caused tension or was measured me vs. him. We both tried to be generous and fair and considerate and wise. And practical. We took turns buying groceries since his roommate stole food and my fiancee always ate at my place anyway. Like I said, why would it matter. When you marry you marry the other person's net worth and therefore their entire profit/loss and income and expenses history that totals to their current net worth anyway.

  17. I go to dinner in a client relationship a gazillion times more often than in a dating relationship. It's a weird blend of business and social relations, calling for all kinds of spur-of-the-moment adaptations. I watch for signals as to whether the man expects to open restaurant doors or not, hanging back slightly so he can if he wants to but perfectly willing to take the door myself without missing a beat. Car doors, both getting in and getting out, are my responsibility — that level of courtesy seems too personal for a business relationship. Because such dinners usually come at the beginning or ending of a project, clients seem to consider paying for dinner an extension of paying for the project, and clients, both men and women, always reach for the check without hesitation.

    On the other hand, with a few very long term clients with whom I go to dinner several times a year, it seems more natural for me to reach for the check at least every third time, and even though there is occasionally a minor tug-of-war, clients do let me pay. It's as if by that time we're operating as friends rather than client/hireling — expecting the client to pay all the time at that stage would be too personal, more suggestive of dating than business.

    Not that I have ever worked out that reasoning with any client, but these "rules" feel right and seem to work.

  18. Kathy's right–whoever invites should pay, although I had a guy pay for movie tickets when I expected to cover them. It was an awkward situation where we were standing in line and chatting, and when we got to the window, he happened to get there first, and had to make a decision to either let me push past him, or pay for the tickets. He paid for both of them, and when I protested, he told me I could buy the popcorn.

    I honestly don't remember how things worked when I was dating my husband, which shows that I was concentrating on being with him rather than the money issue. And the times when I do remember money being the central focus of the date were some of the worst and most awkward memories, which might mean that if money is what you're thinking about, you might have bigger problems 🙂

  19. Frances: May I suggest a very simple and obvious explanation for your attachment to this particular social norm: It operates to your economic advantage. From the point of view of feminist theory your reaction is inconsistent and puzzling. From the point of view of economic theory it makes perfect sense. Of course, the economic explanation can be rather hard on our ideological self-image. Occam's Razor can be nasty that way.

    (For the record: from a cost-benefit perspective, it makes perfect sense for any single guy to pay for dinner with Frances. She's a very cool person.)

  20. If you want to disagree with me, fine. Please don’t portray me as ignoring prophetic counsel.

    Naismith, I am sorry you read my comment in that way. That wasn't what I was trying to say, though.

    I am sharing my own thoughts on what I have heard. Prophets haven't come right out and said, 'men should pay" (and I never said they did). And if you read all of my comments, you will see that I'm not drawing a line that definitively, either. They have talked about men taking the initiative in dating and courtship, and I have mulled here on how I could see how things like paying for dates (generally speaking) could tie into that.

    I also don't think that such an approach means that women are passive moochers. But if you disagree, then fine.

    But please, please don't make this a personal thing about you and your life and your comments. There is no need to be on the defensive here. There is no need to justify your life and your decisions to me or anyone else. You do and have done what feels right for you and that is enough for God. It surely is none of my business what you choose to do, and I did not intend to presume that it was.

    Again, I'm sorry if my comments came across as calling you or anyone to repentance. Please read my comments not as prescriptive, but as reflective. I see discussions like this as opportunities to mull and discuss and chew on things that may not have clear, pat answers.

  21. I also don’t think that such an approach means that women are passive moochers. But if you disagree, then fine.

    And that came across stronger than I want it to. I do disagree with the idea, though, that a woman HAS to help pay in order to not be considered "selfish."

    That said, I would expect in any relationship where there is interest both ways that both might take some initiative along the way to doing things together.

    But let me make sure that it's clear that I have NEVER said that a woman paying is somehow against prophetic counsel.

  22. I fall into this category where it could be possible that I make the same or more per year as the guys I'm dating, yet I find it chivalrous for a man to ask me out AND to pay for the date-and I don't believe chivalry is dead even though sometimes it seems to be. I also don't start paying for dates until our 3-4th date and I feel comfortable enough to ask him out (I'm old-fashioned that way I guess).

  23. The notion that a wife is entitled to be supported for life is a remnant of 1950s USAmerican mentality, nothing I find in gospel teachings.

    I think I should clarify my thoughts on this as well. I do not for a second believe that a woman should passively sit back and expect that she will have guaranteed support through her husband for life. I also don't want to be misunderstood as somehow saying that our prophets teach that. In fact, I hear them reminding us that life has its twists and turns and that we as women need to be prepared through education and/or training to be able to provide if need be.

    But that doesn't, in my mind, take away from the fact that 1) providing is still primarily a man's role, and 2) it is a blessing for a woman to have a choice whether or not to work because her income is not a necessity for the family's financial survival.

    That doesn't mean a woman never should or could or will work even if the money isn't a necessity, either.

    But my thought is that given the choice, a woman in dating mode looking for a spouse ought to consider whether her potential mate cares about being a good provider. (Again, that is not the same as naively expecting to never have to work, or not prayerfully and wisely preparing for the future herself, or never working herself…)

    …Or never paying for a date. 🙂

  24. Sorry for not reading all the comments, just wanted to stop in to quickly mention that I didn't take his last name, but ended up getting my name legally changed a few years after the marriage ceremony.

    You may reconsider not taking his last name. I did. And I don't regret it for a minute. (It doesn't change who I am as a person, or how successful I am, or others' perceptions of me–I don't think. It simply makes things easier when a last name is shared.)

  25. Here's what I think, Frances:

    The old dating paradigm is still around because women, overall, still make less money than men. (75 cents on the dollar, they say!) So when we let men pick up the check, we are acknowledging that reality. (Dare I say reinforcing that reality?) This is why it can feel a little bit icky to let the man pay, but also a little bit fair.

    In practice, I've found that when I first start going on dates with someone, I offer to pay sometimes, and accept the gift other times. Overall, I accept more than I end up paying (Shall we say $1 for every 75 cents that I contribute?) and for some weird reason this just feels "right."

  26. Like most everyone else, I agree that when dating turns into a steady relationship, both the man and the woman should alternate paying for dates.

    As for casual dating . . .today's hangout culture gives guys such easy access to girls. I think paying for a date is one of the ways in which a guy invests himself and shows that he is truly interested. That being said, however, the best dates are often the ones in which the cost is low but creativity is high.


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