When a man pays for me, I feel like he’s saying to the world:
“She’s with ME. I’ll handle this. I’ll protect her”
– From an Internet dating forum
Casting my mind back to my early years in ’60s London, I recall a lanky young
man inviting me out to The Coffee Cup in Hampstead High St. – a cozy
establishment that I saw was still flourishing when I visited Britain
We took our seats and settled down, after which he opened the
menu and said: “I see coffee’s gone up.”
To this pronouncement, my
18-year-old self reacted with dismay and silent contempt. This is how you launch
a conversation with a girl you presumably wish to impress? I asked him in my
Eighteen-year-olds can be pretty harsh judges, and the possibility
that he might not have much money, or was simply being gauche, didn’t enter into
it. I could have paid for my own coffee, but neither of us expected it. The
message I took from this aspiring suitor was: You’d better order the cheapest
Romance shrugged its shoulders and left silently by the back
THE FACT that I recall the incident after all these years is
significant because to me – and, I think, to many of us, male as well as female
– the question of who picks up the bill on a date has often been a complex one.
And it has always been about far more than money.
At its most fundamental
level, it’s about differences between the sexes that even a posse of dedicated
feminists would find hard to erase, women’s gains in political, social and
financial equality notwithstanding.
It’s about the ways in which men look
after women, and the very different ways in which women look after men. And
about how ultimately counterproductive it is for either sex to try to iron out
“He makes more [money] but wants us to pay equally,”
wrote 24- year-old “Anonymous” in October 2011 to a human relations website
about her relationship with her current boyfriend, 25, whom she had been dating
for two months.
She went into some detail about how he had initially paid
for almost everything such as dinners and movies, but then “he made it clear
that he thought a relationship should be 50-50.
“He is making enough that
he could theoretically support a family on his income,” Anonymous continued. “I
completely agree that he shouldn’t be expected to pay for everything, but I
guess I don’t think 50-50 is completely fair either, given how disparate our
“I wouldn’t want to date someone who expected me to foot
the bill every time, either... yet I can’t stop being somewhat bothered when it
“How to fairly split expenses in a relationship?” she asked,
adding that things between the couple were “perfect in every other
WHAT I found fascinating was not so much this young woman’s
quandary, but the responses it elicited on the site, many of them from
One guy (ages were not posted, unfortunately, but I would assume
they were in the 20-45 range) pointed out that the terms in which the problem
was being discussed “take out the emotional side of being in a relationship. Is
it a relationship or business deal?” he asked, pointedly.
another man: “Your boyfriend is a hardnosed pragmatist when it comes to money –
which is actually very good for a stable financial future.
I liked that one.
A third man came closer to the heart
of the matter when he took up the issue of what’s “fair” in such
“What counts as ‘fair,’” he wrote, “varies greatly from
person to person and couple to couple. My household works like this: I earn all
the money. My wife stays home and takes care of our daughter. I have an
automatic transfer of $200 a week set up to go into her account. I pay all the
“I consider this fair enough. Actually, ‘fair’ isn’t a concept
that I really care about here. I consider this good because everyone is happy,
and I value a happy family a lot more than I value ‘fair.’” That view recalled a
September 2012 piece in The Huffington Post called “The Myth of the 50-50
Marriage” by Cornell University Professor Karl A.
interviewed 1,000 older people about their experiences in marriage and found
that the longand happily married ones thoroughly debunked the idea of equal
“What couples must avoid is keeping score.... This kind of
economic attitude works with a vending machine: If I put in my dollar, I will
get a candy bar of equal value... this definitely does not work in
It doesn’t really work in dating either, which is why
“Anonymous,” while paying lip service to the concept of financial fairness,
doesn’t understand why she is “somewhat bothered” every time the question of
paying the bill comes up.
When her boyfriend insists on “equality,” she
subconsciously feels short-changed, and she is right. Because he is betraying
his basic masculine nature, upsetting the natural balance between a man and a
MEN’S NEED to protect women is atavistic. It’s built into their
genes, if often buried beneath the modern confusion regarding gender roles. Men
protect women using their physical strength. They want to do things for them and
help them out.
“I have no problem with a man walking on my outside on the
pavement, keeping his sword arm free,” wrote Sandra Parsons in Britain’s Daily
Mail in December 2010 in a piece called “Actually, we women do want men to be
“Every modern woman [no matter how strong and independent]... still
wants, indeed expects, her man to step up and protect her and their children
from danger, whether from a strange noise in the middle of the night or, God
Commented one man in response to “Anonymous” on the human
relations website: “If you’re a man, you do things like hold doors open for
women and pull out chairs.
That’s what being chivalrous is all
It’s also about paying for a meal out, or a movie. Not
necessarily every time – a woman may choose to surprise her man by producing a
couple of theater tickets – but, if he can afford it, most of the
SO DOES equality come into the picture? We are, after all, not in
Victorian or Edwardian England, but well into the 21st century, with most
Western women working and many earning impressive salaries.
they be “paying their way” on a date? They shouldn’t. Or, at least, not in hard
currency. Nor, lest I be misunderstood, with their bodies.
The way we
women “pay our way” in relationships is by doing what is fundamental to our
natures and built into our genes: Being there for our men, showing appreciation
for what they do for us, and creating a caring environment.
picking up the tab in a restaurant, a woman can reciprocate by treating her
boyfriend to a home-cooked meal, perhaps featuring a favorite dish.
way to a man’s heart may not always be through his stomach; but I doubt if it is
ever by paying for his meal.
The watchword in a happy relationship isn’t
so much “equal” as “complementary.”
WHEN MY husband and I married a year
and a half ago, we were far from the situation of a young couple starting out
with very little and looking to build their financial future together. Long
accustomed to managing our own lives, we kept our separate bank accounts and set
up a joint one to cover household expenses. All fair and equal, and rather
But one of the things that makes me feel “special” is that
whenever we go out together to a meal or a movie, or any other occasion, he
always pays for us both out of his own funds. I didn’t ask for this; it’s just
how it is.
It may be a small thing in the context of the big picture, but
being looked after in this gallant manner makes me feel cared for in the
I guess it’s all in the genes.