Ahh the world of modern dating. A digital nightmare of copy-paste one liners and personal brand curation. Where the person you match on Tinder could become the love of your life or someone you never talk to again after they try to sell you their homemade protein supplements. Where a screenshot of your earnest attempts at getting to know someone could go viral on Twitter because you cringed it up a bit. Where you could come across someone with the word ‘influencer’ in their bio. If you manage to navigate this romantic assault course and emerge unscathed you might find yourself with that most terrifying of prospects: a first date.
I’ve found myself wondering whether suggesting we split the bill is progressive or cheap
In the heterosexual scene that I inhabit, first dates come with enough gender expectations to fill a critical theory book. If you happen to be a man, such as myself, there is a cultural weight upon your wallet that says you should plan and pay for everything. Before a date, I’ve found myself wondering whether suggesting we split the bill is progressive or cheap. Not that initiating a bill-split makes me a feminist hero, but it seems a logical way of going about things. Expecting the man to pay on principle feels like an archaism, transplanted from the ancient world of ‘courting.’ If I really want to be a true gentleman, I should foot the bill, then cover a shallow puddle with my dinner jacket for my belle to cross before challenging a rival suitor to a duel at ten paces.
Even though I’m in a relationship and don’t have to worry about paying for all of my girlfriend’s meals because we have long-since established she’s not an 18th century mistress, I still have a slight pang of guilt whenever I say we’re paying separately, as if I’m transgressing some social etiquette. These attitudes pervade so deeply I was once condemned by a tram conductor because I wasn’t paying the fare of my friend who happened to be a woman. Imagine being called out as a cheap bastard by a man bellowing your crimes before an entire congregation of tram-goers over a 60 pence fare. This is the plight men must face every day.
we have long-since established my girlfriend’s not an 18th century mistress
Having men pay for everything is an old tradition, and a good rule of thumb is that traditions should be ignored as they tend to come from a place of conservativism. These gendered traditions are present at every stage of a relationship, from making the first move to proposing, the man is expected to be the active partner. Relationships shouldn’t be held to these gendered standards of chivalry. You could abide by these rules and still have a miserable relationship; a bouquet of flowers from The Man every year doesn’t make up for a lifetime of emotional neglect.
I’ve seen the argument made that, because men are statistically more likely to be earning more than women, it’s only fair to make the man pay. Something of a patriarchy tax. Yet offering to pay for everything under the assumption you’re more financially successful because of your gender seems patronising, particularly if it’s a first date. Plus, this idea doesn’t apply to everyone. My girlfriend and I are both students and so it’s pretty difficult to have income discrepancies when you don’t have an income.
it’s pretty difficult to have income discrepancies when you don’t have an income
All in all, who pays for what is down to the individuals in the relationship. The variety of financial situations a couple could be in make it impossible to prescribe an umbrella rule to date etiquette. There certainly doesn’t appear to be a logical reason behind expecting the man to pay on principle. It’s a hangover from a time when men were from Mars and women were from Venus, and men were breadwinners and women were homemakers, and men drank beer and women drank wine, and all that oppositional shite that frames humans as far simpler than they are. Anyway, my point is, that tram conductor shouldn’t have yelled at me.