In My Own Write: It’s about more than money

When a couple goes on a date, who picks up the tab?

Couple (photo credit: Reuters)
(photo credit: Reuters)
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 recently.
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 mind.
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 item.
Romance shrugged its shoulders and left silently by the back door.
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 those differences.
“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 incomes are...
“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 comes up.
“How to fairly split expenses in a relationship?” she asked, adding that things between the couple were “perfect in every other sense.”
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 men.
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.
Commented another man: “Your boyfriend is a hardnosed pragmatist when it comes to money – which is actually very good for a stable financial future.
Especially on his own.”
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 circumstances.
“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 bills.
“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.
Pillemer, who interviewed 1,000 older people about their experiences in marriage and found that the longand happily married ones thoroughly debunked the idea of equal shares.
“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 marriage.”
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 woman.
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 men.”
“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 forbid, war.”
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 about.”
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 time.
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.
Shouldn’t 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.
Rather than 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.
The 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 businesslike.
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 relationship.
I guess it’s all in the genes.