Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Who Pays Redux

In my book, there is a discussion of the thorny issue of who pays on a date.  Someone suggested to me recently that it is absolutely unfair and ridiculous for men to constantly buy dinners for women who have just as much, or more, expendable income than they.

"But it's symbolic," I argued. "It doesn't have to be a lot! Although I admit if  he takes her to an expensive restaurant, that could be impressive."

"Oho," said my esteemed colleague, as if I had just admitted to knowing how the murder was done.

"But it might not," I added and explained that many women are very uncomfortable with men who throw the cash around and suspect they might be trying to buy them. My mother only ever let me accept flowers, books, candy---and trinkets, I now recall.

I feel rather guilty now about the many dinners I ate at the expense of others, and now rather wish I hadn't, but had stayed in with a book or done more homework. My usual argument is that women spend a lot of money getting ready for a date with someone we really like, and if we were to spend all that AND pay for the dinner the guy asked us to, then we would end up paying more than him, for something that was his idea, and this would be crazy.

My revised thought is that "Whoever asks, pays" is a great rule, and doesn't really violate my earlier thoughts, since I don't think women should ask men out on dates. Women can, however, invite men to their parties, which of course the hostesses themselves have to finance.

That said, there is nothing wrong with saying, "Why don't I get this?" if a date should move from one venue to another. For example, if Mr Date has invited you out to dinner (which still happens occasionally, even in these decadent times) and you both decide to have coffee somewhere else, then you can proffer your little wallet at the cafe and squeak, "I'll get this."

This is how the conversation would go in Canada:

She: I'll get this.

He: Oh, no. Allow me.

She: No, no. You paid for dinner. Please let me get coffee.

He: Oh, but you don't have to. Really

She: But I'd like to. Honestly.

He: Well, thank you/No, I've got it.

N.B. If a guy rejects your third offer to pay for coffee, don't insist. Subside prettily and then go home and debate with your friends about whether or not Mr Date is an old-fashioned guy who loves to pay on dates or if he is a control freak and if you really like him and if actually not having to pay ever would be a massive relief or an erasure of your autonomy.

I should mention that this is how the conversation would go in Canada back when everybody seemed to have a lot more expendable income. It occurs to me that the explosion of "hanging out" and the rumoured death of dating may have to do with economics. I love to say "It's just coffee," but maybe it isn't "just coffee" when a cappuccino now costs £4 and everyone is poor.

Perhaps the message to get across is that dating is not about spending money but merely about symbolic courtship gestures. A single flower, for example, does not cost very much, but it is still an absolutely huge deal if a nice young man gives a nice young lady who likes him a single flower. To hold a Single woman's coat when she is struggling to get into it is now so rare as to constitute a gesture of personal interest. A valentine cut from red paper (very cheap at the dollar store) given at any time of the year would thrill anyone love-besotted.

I do not recommend homemade poetry, however, except for published poets. Men should stick to what they know when it comes to the homemade gift department, and very few men know how to write a poem. VERY FEW.

Meanwhile, since dates have to happen somewhere, I believe there are incredible deals to be had for students at dozens of houses of culture (e.g. the symphony) and I know that many museums (like in Edinburgh) are free. If I were an enterprising young man in Edinburgh, I would invite whichever pretty girl who caught my eye for coffee at the place on George IV Bridge that has half-price pastries after 3 PM and then suggest a visit to the nearby Royal Museum of Scotland, which is free.  The Royal Museum of Scotland has a dead Viking in the floor; surely every woman would love to see the Royal Museum of Scotland. Several times. But if she admits she was at the Museum yesterday, well, the deliciously creepy Black Greyfriars cemetery is even nearer.

Actually, a walk in Greyfriars is a rather good idea, especially if one enjoys being clutched by terrified women, e.g. at horror films. Whereas horror films are fake and expensive, Greyfriars is real and free.

Once upon a time, e.g. before the Second World War, dating was not called dating but "walking out." It took its name from what the date consisted of, which was going for a walk. The walk might end up at a tea shop, or it might not, but at any rate walking was free. The point then, as is the point now, was not the expense of the whole proceedings, but the symbolic gesture of asking a woman to go for a walk and the time shared together.


Anonymous said...


MaryJane said...

Of course the poor college students are a different story, and cappuccinos these days are extremely over-priced. But at the risk of sounding, well, I don't know exactly what, isn't it possible that a man who can't even take a woman for coffee is unlikely to be the kind of man who can provide well for a family (again, unless he is still in school, etc.)? I'm not talking 5 star dinners or anything. I think for girls who want to stay at home with children someday, a man paying is important and symbolic.

Just throwing it out there. Personally, I've always been impressed by dates that take more forethought and creativity than money, esp. if he actually figures out the kinds of things I like and goes out of his way to make sure we do them.

Seraphic said...

I suppose it is that exact thought that keeps many Catholic men from dating at all.

Most men under 25 cannot afford to keep a housewife and four children in comfort. Fortunately, no adult expects them to do so, and children come one at a time.

My father was a grad student when he married my mother, and they lived in an apartment. She worked. Then I was born, and she stopped working. Then my brother was born a year and a half later. Move to rental house. Two years later, Mum pregnant again. With financial help from relations plus mortgage, small house to put wife and children in. Meanwhile, this was in the 1970s, a boom time, when academic posts were so plentiful, you could get one with an M.A.

The 1980s were also a boom time. We are now in a bust time, and I think the biggest sorrow for young traditional men is that they want to be young traditional men when traditional middle-class life as G.K. Chesterton knew it is so expensive as to be almost impossible for most people.

My mother once broke up with a guy because she deemed him "financially irresponsible."

Thank you, Anon.

Seraphic said...

In Austria.

Seraphic said...

Oh, I should explain that the financial irresponsibility was that he bought stuff on credit.

Meanwhile, men seem to have a thing about dating, money, and women's expectations about men's money.

It's all so sad.

Seraphic said...

Me again. I keep thinking about this as I do other stuff.

Obviously a 30 year old man who cannot afford to take a woman he likes out for coffee and (perhaps) the next week to a chic and cheap place down by the university is not in a position to marry, either because he is too poor or because his priorities are not grown-up priorities yet. For example, if he chooses to spend his money on clubs instead of on coffee dates, then he is not thinking of settling down yet.

The thing is I get so many letters from readers, upset because they have never been taken out on a proper date. These readers are usually 25 and under. They think they aren't being asked out because there is something wrong with them--they are too fat or too plain or something. And I tell them again and again that the world has changed, and men their age simply cannot afford to take women out on dates every Friday night. Hanging out is cheaper, that's just the way it is.

Meanwhile, the slightest suspicion that girls will judge them on how much they spend on a date will stop a lot of guys from dating. Many guys--I am told--think it is pointless and therefore the best value for money is to go to a club, buy a girl a drink or two (£24) and accept her amorous invitations with alacrity.

That's sort of what we are dealing with here. Yes, on the one hand, we don't want to waste time on men who aren't grown-ups and may not be grown-ups for the forseeable future. On the other, the economy is really bad for college grads right now. Meanwhile, large numbers of men have always resorted to prostitutes when they didn't want to (or couldn't) marry, and the kind of women who are okay with one night stands are perceived as an infinitely better option.

If I were a guy, I would not want to date a girl who wanted to be a career housewife and not take any kind of paid job. That may sound harsh, but I simply do not think I could bear the economic burden of being a middle-class guy with a middle-class wife with middle-class expectations.

Bottom line: if you haven't been asked on a date for a long time, and yet men seem to like you and you are reasonably popular with people in general, IT'S NOT YOU. It's the economy and it may also be your trad Catholic subculture that idealizes a life few of us can afford.

Sarah said...

Hm... I think the man should pay for the first couple dates, even (maybe especially) if the girl asks him out, but after the second or third, the woman should at least *offer.*

Aside from being a nice gesture on the part of the guy to pay in the "courting" period, it maybe also provides a good social structure to help answer the ever-pressing question of "Is this a date?"

Once when I was 17 and had never been on a date before, a friend of mine who was both a coworker and a classmate at my college asked me if I wanted to meet to work on a class project and then get dinner. I said yes, the idea that he was asking me out never even crossing my mind. Then somewhere in the middle of dinner, something (I don't remember what now) tipped me off that this was a date, and I didn't mean for it to be a date. Maybe if I had realized it was a date, I still would have said yes, but since I hadn't had time to think about it, I was a little flustered. When the waiter came to clear our plates, I asked for the check to be split in two, hoping to send the message to my friend that I had not considered it a date, though he still insisted on paying for my drink.

I don't really know if that really helped to clarify anything, especially because I still never know if I should count that as my "first date," since in all other ways, it certainly looks like it was, in retrospect. But the story seemed relevant.

Anyway, once you're "in a relationship," i.e., past the courting point, I think dates should be shared.

Sarah said...

Oh, another reason I think that past a certain point, women should pay is that this sentence:

"I feel rather guilty now about the many dinners I ate at the expense of others, and now rather wish I hadn't, but had stayed in with a book or done more homework."

...seems to go against the "IT'S JUST COFFEE" mantra we use to keep us from stressing out over accepting dates from men we're not totally sure about, but maybe I like him, but then maybe not and what if I let him take me out, and what if he takes me out to a fancy restaurant, then I will just feel too guilty not to say yes to a second date, or return his phone calls but maybe I won't want to say yes to a second date, so maybe I just shouldn't go out with him at all if I'll just regret it later on and aaaahhhh!

I would feel better knowing that if the first date-- which he pays for-- goes well and I want to go on more dates with him, I will have the chance to reciprocate.

MaryJane said...

Seraphic, I guess I wasn't clear enough. I meant the over-30 crowd of men, not the young things still in college or graduate school or whatever.

I personally do not want to be a career housewife who never works for paid income, but I have several friends who are. They were married young (under 22), and have happily stayed home with their (growing number of) babies for the last decade, despite living on a shoestring budget from only one income. I suppose when the children all go to college, they will find some sort of work, although they themselves have certainly not figured out exactly what. Their husbands have never pressured them to take paid work, though they would support them in doing so.

Their husbands also did not make much money (at all) before marriage, and yet I know that these women never paid for a date. (Although of course they made dinner sometimes, etc.)

All I am trying to say is that no woman I know expects 5-star restaurants, but neither are they of the "going dutch" school on the first few dates. And if a man over 30 does not have the wherewithall to take a woman for coffee... well, as you said, he "is not in a position to marry, either because he is too poor or because his priorities are not grown-up priorities yet."

The under 25 crowd has a different set of concerns.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

all very good things - and I'm fine with a cheaper place for dinner, etc... I think also if a woman feels uncomfortable about always being paid for, she may be able to show her appreciation and "even up" a bit in ways that are appropriate. For example, I'd consider packing a nice picnic - more than sandwiches, or a baked good, or if I saw a book (normal priced - not $30+) I thought the fellow'd like maybe get it. Those are all affordable options that show appreciation and thoughtfulness without being "I'm paying my tab" as to disrespect someone's generosity. What do you think about that, Seraphic?

What the line about not writing poetry reminded me of was funny so I thought I'd share - in one of its earlier seasons, two characters on NCIS dated, and the young man was more serious than the woman, and he wrote her a poem... that included timed finger snaps. :-)


Seraphic said...

Sarah, actually, I was thinking of two or three boyfriends whom I went out with for years and then decided not to marry. I am not talking about "It's just coffee" or "It's just dinner" dates, or even dating for six months, but about actual relationships, relationships that went on too long because I wasn't grown-up enough to say "Enough." Sometimes the baddies are not guys who can't make up their minds, but me. Anyway, what a waste of money for poor them.

Meanwhile, I got an email of outrage from a Nice Catholic Boy bachelor at the idea that a man should be expected to pay for a date when the woman asks him out. It would be nice if, on top of flopping over like a puppy to our advances, the men we fancy would also pay for us, maybe to apologize for not having thought of it first, but...

Oh MaryJane, I hope I didn't sound like I was giving you a hard time. It's just that I recently had a conversation with a man about the expectations of women, and I have been trying to look at this from a male point of view, not to mention try to convince someone that young women do not go on dates just to free dinners.

I think it's marvelous when a man makes enough money so that his wife can concentrate on the kids and the house, and I much prefer the man-pays-for-everything scenario myself, unless the woman is making as much or more money then he is.

If it's not TMI, what sort of jobs are these husbands-of-housewives doing?

Seraphic said...

Nzie, good ideas, although I would be careful about non-food presents unless it was his birthday or some other festive day.

Anonymous said...


To answer your question "what sort of jobs are these husbands-of-housewives doing?" Doctors or businessmen.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I can see how the non-food would be iffy. If I had the budget though I'd probably get small gifts for friends when I saw small things that made me think of them, but I see how it could be problematic. Maybe being careful of the subject matter would be good, and keeping it inexpensive. For example, my current self-education theme is food (I don't have the budget to do everything, but I try to learn techniques, etc.), so when I found a little book called The Connoisseur's Guide to Meat on sale for $7 I got it (I don't really know cuts). I could see that as a gift for a fellow who likes to grill, etc., because it's small, relates to an interest, but isn't very personal/intense/emotional/etc.

I should also note that that would be total happenstance - a true "I saw this and thought of you" rather than an intentional "I wonder what sort of book I should get Mr. NCB now in the middle of June with no holidays or birthdays around..." That's a bit awkward I think.

sciencegirl said...

Totally off-topic: I see a lot of terrible, doggerel verse from women. They barely rhyme. They do not scan, even a little. They are always couplets. They call it "cute rhymes," and put the terrible poems on invitations and other announcements. The "cute rhymes" are often asking for money rather than gifts, but not always. In these cases, the rhyme is meant to ease the awkwardness of doing something we all know is a little rude. It does not work.

It pains me to read these bad poems. It worries me that women would ever try to write these "cute rhymes" for men.

Jam said...

I have no problem with splitting a check even on a first date. I also have no problem buying my own coffee. The initiative and interest to put something on the calendar is all I ask for (and it is in precious short supply, I can tell you). I think that is the trade off: paying the girl's way does a lot of "expressing interest" for you, and if you can't afford it, you maybe have to be a little clearer with the "I'd really like it if we spent more time together" etc.

When I was in college I was convinced that the guy paying for the food was the indisputable proof of a date. He could ask me out and pay my museum ticket but if I had to buy my own sandwich--!! Meanwhile a guy who went into the sold-out movie without me (I hung around and got let in by an usher who had pity on me) but who bought my dinner afterwards seemed like a proper boyfriend. Oh my, but I was pretty stupid then. Give me a man who's not afraid to show some unambiguous interest and I'll split checks until judgement day.

OntarioGal said...

On my first date (ever) with my now-husband, I offered to pay but he said he was getting it, to which I responded that I would pay the next time. He then said, 'oh, that means there will be a next time?' with a smile and I realized with embarrassment that I had shown my hand and assumed that he'd want another date. He had, however, to my surprise discussed how he couldn't wait for his parents to become grandparents over lunch, so neither of us was very smooth!

Alisha said...

But yes, I agree - whoever asks, pays. And if the man must be first, then he shouldn't be the only one bearing the burden financially. If one of the two has more expendable income, it's nice if they are generous, but then the other person should have the opportunity to show their generosity differently. Otherwise the relationship can become sugar mommy or daddyish (that trend is seriously on the rise - see below. I think it would be truly countercultural if Christians made a point of developing their relationships in such a way that had as little to do with money as possible...and be seriously committed to working to end ecomonic inequity. Then maybe the percentage of women seeking financial assistance via rich men (probably the same men who are in favour of defunding education) wouldn't be up 154% at NYU.

Alisha said...

Did my other comment go through? It was supposed to appear before the other one...

c'est la vie said...

Re the professions men with stay-at-home wives have, it's not limited to doctors and businessmen. Off the top of my head I know personally of several builders, an electrician, a house painter, three teachers, an infantry officer, a safety inspector at a power plant, a stonemason, a history professor, and a reviser, all with stay-at-home wives and several children. I don't think it's financially easy for all of them, but each couple has agreed to make financial sacrifices in order to care for their children as best as they can. Not everyone can afford this, true; but I have a lot of respect for people who do make these sacrifices for the sake of their children. Sometimes it means no going on holiday, sometimes it means one car, or no car, and taking the bus to get the groceries.

I think some people envision stay-at-home wives spending their days riding in expensive cars from appointments at the beauty parlour to lunch with their girlfriends and on to the art museum... but such is definitely not the case with the stay-at-home mothers of my acquaintance, whatever the pay grade of their husbands.

Just thought I'd throw that out there... and by the way I know of several Catholic young men who are anxious to find a girl who wouldn't mind staying home if and when children come. Those same boys have worked and studied hard to get good jobs that will enable them to support a household on a single income. That's worthy of admiration too, I think.

Beth said...

Dating can be tough on a guy's wallet, but I think that paying for the first few dates is a necessary symbolic gesture on the man's part. It definitely doesn't have to be expensive or fancy! It's really more that If a man doesn't pick up the tab, I tend to automatically assume that I've either misinterpreted his intentions, or that he feels rather 'eh' about me as a dating prospect.

Sarah said...

Oh, yeah, and pretty much all the Catholic women I know are stay at home moms, some of them young with only one or two kids, and some of them older with up to 12 children. Some of them have degrees and some of them are blue collar workers.

I don't necessarily know if I personally would be one, but it is still possible to raise a family on a single income for the time being.

Sarah said...

*some of their husbands, I mean, have degrees and some are blue collar workers.

Seraphic said...

Okay, so while hashing this out, we can probably come to an agreement that men should pay on dates because, at very least, it is generally men who invite the women, so the men are the hosts and the women are the guests.

And we can say that if a man can't afford to pay for a cafe date (or would rather spend the money on some other pleasure, like a video game), he is not yet marriage material. This is not to say, however, that he will never be marriage material, especially in the case of a man who is learning a trade or a profession and has little spending money not because he wastes his money on toys, but because he is a student or apprentice.

I am leaving out the whole issue of whether a lazy and penniless man with few prospects is ever husband material. I imagine there are women who would absolutely love a very decorative househusband with whom to have beautiful children, just as long as he stayed busy enough to keep cheerful and out of trouble.

Alisha said...

"And we can say that if a man can't afford to pay for a cafe date (or would rather spend the money on some other pleasure, like a video game), he is not yet marriage material. This is not to say, however, that he will never be marriage material, especially in the case of a man who is learning a trade or a profession and has little spending money not because he wastes his money on toys, but because he is a student or apprentice."

And what of the case of a man who simply will never make much money because of his profession, no matter how hard he works? What about personal holiness? A relationship with Jesus? Are these not way more important? If I were a boy and I knew women were all making judgments on my marriagability based on whether or not I paid for their coffee, I would be very hesitant to date. How is it any different than a man judging us by some other external - like whether or not we're really traditional enough if we wear pants? Why not find out about the person's heart? Sorry, but this makes me really sad.

Seraphic said...

Alisha, I gave a lot of consideration to the man's point of view, believe me. This post followed a very long and involved conversation with a man on the subject.

Don't forget that the majority of my readers want to marry and have children. This means that they expect to be economically dependent or interdependent on the fathers of their children, and that the children will be dependent on both of them.

We are not talking friendship or a soulful, if chaste, love affair: we are talking building a life together, and attitudes around money and work are going to be extremely important. Disputes over finances are one of the top causes of divorce.

As you will see if you read all the comments, I posited a situation where a woman might love to support a househusband, as long as he kept busy and out of trouble. I imagine many, many artists would fall into this category.

I was in a bohemian cafe yesterday with a friend, and I bought the first round of hot drinks & cake. It cost about £4.50 ($6 USD). If a man cannot save up £4.50 ($6 USD) from his weekly grocery money, then I just do not know what to say. Oh yes I do--this is a man who might not know how to budget or to give up an immediate good (the pleasure of a bottle of wine) for a value (the pleasure of buying a coffee for a woman he admires and sitting with her in a cafe for an hour).

It is very sad when a man with guitar dreams sells his guitar, cuts his hair and gets on with adult life---unless he has done so because he has fallen in love with a woman and now has new dreams.

MaryJane said...

I've missed such an interesting discussion being offline, and now my comments just got eaten. In short: I agree with c'est la vie re: husbands. Most couples I know who have a stay-at-home wife & mother make great financial sacrifices to do so. Their husbands might be in law or administration, but one salary is really not much these days with a parcel of children. Often they homeschool even though they would prefer private school, or they eat pasta many nights a week because meat is too expensive. Sometimes they only have one car. In short, they work hard to provide the basics for their children on one salary, but they are happy, for the time being, with this choice to have the mother at home.

(I have other friends who choose to work part-time and supplement their husbands' income. Obviously, everyone just does what works for their family and I am all in favor of that.)

healthily sanguine said...

Dates, to me, are more about the time spent than the money. There are plenty of ways to have perfectly lovely, inexpensive dates, which "count" just as well as the ones where a guy buys something for the girl. I am thinking along the lines of hikes or walks in scenic areas, free museum tours, other artistic/cultural things available--even liturgical events. The point is that the guy singles out the girl for one-on-one time.

But yeah . . . at some point, he's going to have to buy her dinner. :)

Alisha said...

I'm not saying it's completely unimportant...I recognize that I am in a different position here than most but I still think what I have to say is worth considering even for those who are seeking marriage.
Bottom line: I would hope someone would be willing to make that kind of sacrifice (paying for dinner or coffee) because it is a kind gesture but it just seems far less important to me than other things, that's all. I would appreciate it if someone paid for my coffee, but I would appreciate even more time spent praying together or talking or them showing an interest in my artistic pursuits, or seeing them help others less fortunate: all of those things show a willingness to sacrifice. I totally agree that money has to be part of a discussion about marriage - but I wouldn't use whether or not he bought my coffee as the marker for making a judgment about his spending habits even if I was looking for marriage. I'm sure there are plenty of men out there for whom it is nothing for them to buy a woman's coffee - perhaps they do it because they were brought up with that as a gentlemanly custom, or because they like to be in charge, or they are hoping to show interest etc. The gesture is not by any means meaningless - I just don't consider it to mean one thing, and even when I was dating, it was not very important to me - I appreciated it tremendously but I valued the sacrifice of my boyfriend's time and willingness to help bear my burdens.

Domestic Diva said...

My parents made big sacrifices so that my mom could stay home to raise us. My mom resented the employed-outside-the-home mothers who implied that she didn't work, that she drove from beauty parlor to expensive lunch every day. I KNOW that stay-at-home moms work hard and sacrifice much financially to do so.
My brother & sister both married people who espoused this point of view. The husbands have jobs in "business," but believe me, they make very little money. Part of the wives' work is to stretch the money a little farther with each baby. My brother's children all need speech therapy and they can't afford it. I really don't know what they will do. Both my sister & sister-in-law could get teaching jobs (they taught before they had children), but that would mean spending their entire paycheck on daycare...and that doesn't solve any financial problems.