"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
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.