Recently, over at Brute Reason, there was a post about how feminism isn’t about who picks up the check after dinner. She makes some great points in the piece, and it’s well worth reading. That said, there is still the matter of who is expected to pay for a date.
The traditional proscription is that “the man pays.” This, as you may have gathered, has several problems with it (many covered as well in the aforementioned Brute Reason piece). For one thing, it’s quite a heteronormative thing, to assert that not only is there a man, but that “the man” is a position within a relationship.
Even if you overlook the implications of the statement, it becomes useless for couples who don’t fit into the monogamous, heterosexual paradigm. What if the people in question are a lesbian couple? There’s no man in that scenario to pay for their date. How about two gay men? Then we’ve got two men. Are they supposed to pay for the other, for their own share, or do they both pay the full amount of the bill (quite a good deal for the venue in which they are dating)? Carrying on, what if a non-monogamous group is going out on a date together? There might be many men, or no men. Oh, it’s so confusing.
Now, statistically, we’re probably dealing with a heterosexual couple. Frankly, though, that doesn’t clear up the problem. If the male partner in a heterosexual pair is expected to pay for every single date, that’s going to create quite a disparity. On the one hand, it might make his female partner feel uncomfortable, being treated to dinner/a movie/an outing every time they’re together, since lots of people feel that they owe reciprocity to people who have given them things. In most cases, this just means that you give a gift in return, or help that person out. In a scenario in which only a man can pay for a date, though, reciprocity must come in another form, which can be attention, affection, or, most notoriously, sex. So, to summarize, insisting that every single date must be paid for by the male half of a heterosexual couple can lead to his female companion feel pressured to act on feelings she doesn’t really have out of duty.
Another problem with “the man pays” command is that it burdens men. Want to spend time with that nice young woman again? I hope you’ve got $40 to spare. Over the course of maybe a year and a half relationship, that can really add up. In an age in which it was a safe assumption that men had money and women didn’t, I suppose that kind of works out, but when both partners are likely on similar footing, this seems needlessly burdensome.
Up until this point, we’ve been assuming the best of intentions, but this whole “the man pays” thing does open the door to potential exploitation on both sides. Harkening back to the trouble of women feeling pressured, there is good reason for their apprehension. There are plenty of men out there who would not hesitate to claim that they are owed a woman’s affection because they have paid for dinner. On the other side of the coin, I imagine that there are plenty of women who will continue to see a man as long as he is still buying her things, but who are effectively just using him.
So, what is to be done about this? Clearly, someone has to be paying for all these dinners, coffees, movies, rounds of mini-golf, etc. You could always, you know, talk about it, which is, I know, a scary concept for a lot of people. It’s your partner’s birthday? Offer to take them out to dinner. Has your partner had a rough day? You can pay. When the situations are reversed, they can cover the bill. Make twice as much money as your partner? Pay for dinner twice as often as they do. What I’m trying to stress here is that one size fits all declarations about dating aren’t especially useful, except for one: Do what works best for your situation.