Ask LSD: Should a guy pay on a first date?

First dates are inherently awkward, but that magical moment when the check comes can be especially cringe-worthy. There are no rules. There’s no set protocol. Every guy and every situation is different. So before we regale you with our real life tales and experiences, here are our takes on this divisive issue (grab a drink and settle in, because this is a long one):

Should a guy pay on a first date?

S: I consider myself to be a modern, independent woman, but on a first date I think in general the guy should pick up the tab. I know that opinion doesn’t really scream ‘modern’ or ‘independent’, but hear me out. First and foremost, my date (presumably) asked me out, so I’m there on his invitation. And since he invited me, it’s a nice gesture, a show of generosity and courtesy, to pay for that initial round of drinks. If I do the asking in the future, I will 100% offer to throw down (and actually I always offer…I’ll get to this in a sec.)

Second, the vast majority of the time, I literally do all the work on these dates. And if you think it’s not work to keep a steady stream of conversation going with a strange dude, you obviously have not had the pleasure of experiencing online dating. I come up with most of the conversation topics, I ask follow up questions, I act interested when I couldn’t care less about NCAA brackets. Basically I keep the whole thing from being spectacularly boring. I can literally count on one hand the number of guys who contributed equally to the conversation and didn’t make me feel like I was working a part time job while being out with them. On a first date I’m gracious, friendly, funny, engaged, and interested, and I’m lucky to get three out of those fives things in return. So I’m thinking you can go ahead and spring for that Hoegaarden, sir. (Preach, S! Sometimes I literally feel like a working girl, minus the compliments from Richard Gere, given the immense effort I am making to not die of boredom.)

Finally, I am not one of those girls who never reaches for her wallet. After that first time, I expect to take turns paying for things 50/50, because we’re both adults and we’re both equals. You’re not setting some precedent by paying the first time around, you’re just showing that you have good manners.

L:  Not necessarily. I think the person who should offer to pay on the first date is the person who asked the other person out. In most cases, it’s the guy, but in some cases, it’s been me. And if I do the asking, I offer. That said, only one guy has ever taken me up on that offer. And then he offered to get the next round.

At the end of the day, I think whole routine of paying for the date is just about courtesy. If you picked the place and the activity, be a host and offer to treat. Please know I was on a horrific date last week (shameless teaser for future post) where we got frozen yogurt. The guy I was with actually told the cashier to ring us up separately. I was furious because 1) he ASKED me and 2) I think NOT offering is really rude. The objective of a date is to build some type of relationship with a person (even if it’s just for an evening), and I think part of that relationship involves taking care of them a little. And, anyone worth their salt, woman or man, will return the favor next time.

D:  So I don’t really have a lot to add here. I’ve been attending a document review for DAYS, and literally couldn’t bring myself to look at anything with words by the time I got home each night. I just made myself a sandwich and stared blankly at the tv for a few hours, then went to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat. So by the time I got in on this action, L and S had already said pretty much everything I would have. To sum up: 1) I appreciate it when the guy picks up the tab, but 2) I think whoever initiated the date should, at the very least, offer to pay.

What do you do on a date when the check comes?

S: I’m going to sound like a loon after my above answer, but I always offer to split it. Am I going to judge you if you take me up on my offer? Yes. Is it, in a sick way, a bit of a test? Correct. But it’s mostly just because I cannot physically go out somewhere and not offer to throw cash down, even if I fully expect someone else to pay. The example I give for this is, think back to when a friend’s parents were visiting in college and took you out to dinner. You would offer to contribute when the bill came, but you’d never expect to actually pay. Why? Because you weren’t an asshole. And I’m not either. It’s the polite thing to do. So has anyone actually taken me up on this super polite offer? Stay tuned…

L: Yup-I also offer to split it. To date, no one has ever let me. And, I am not going to lie, even with all the waxing poetic I am doing about being full-on OK with paying for things, I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I appreciate the free drink/meal/movie ticket. (I keep myself on a lean, mean budget, and every penny counts). But honestly, I don’t think I’d be offended if they took me up on it. There are just so many other offensive things men can do on dates, and I have to pick my battles.

D:  Just like L and S, I always reach for my wallet. S’s college analogy is perfect. I don’t actually want to pay for myself, but the polite thing to do is offer. As soon as he says “no, I got this”, I say thank you and put the wallet away. I’m certainly not going to put up a fight.

Have you ever split the bill on a first date?

S: Yes. This happened to me for the first time recently. Before that, every dude insisted on paying on the first date and some who I went out with multiple times insisted on paying for everything, always (one guy literally wouldn’t let me buy the popcorn at the movies). In general though, taking turns paying has worked out great.

Anyway, I was on a first date with K and we had just finished dinner. Yes, dinner. When K asked me out, he went right into making dinner plans by asking me if I liked sushi. After some back and forth, I broke my anti-meal rule and agreed. The date was not bad overall; he was smart and nice, but I was (per usual) carrying the conversation. Since he didn’t live in the city I had picked the place… inexpensive and also a BYO (side note… he brought not a bottle of wine but sake. Sake. If you think I didn’t shout “SAKE IT TO ME, BABY” at one point, you would be wrong. I know… how am I still single?)

Anyway, the bill came, K grabbed it, and I did my little ‘would you like to split it?’ song and dance. Except he looked up and said, ‘Sure’. My poker face is non-existent, especially three sakes deep, so I think I must have looked horrified. But what could I do? I offered, and I shouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t prepared for him to take me up on it. So I paid, silently judging K, said goodnight, and promptly called L for a gut check. Was I being completely ridiculous for being annoyed with this guy? I know I offered, but he was the one who asked me out and then basically insisted that we have dinner. Yes he brought booze (albeit really weird booze) but I was 100% the life of the party, per usual, and then I had to throw down for my rainbow roll. L said that if I liked him I should definitely still see him again , but other friends of mine were all:


The more I thought about it though, the more I realized I’d be a real asshole if I ditched this guy on a technicality. K was an otherwise nice, smart dude who drove into the city at rush hour to meet me. Also, to be fair to him, it’s not like he took the bill and obnoxiously said “You owe 24 bucks”. I actually think he would have just paid if I hadn’t offered (damn it). So I went out with him again. And the next time around, not only was the conversation much better, but he insisted on paying. I don’t know if his mom got wind that he let his date pay and slapped him, or if he just went along with my offer because he wasn’t sure what to do in that admittedly awkward moment. Either way, K actually turned out to be a really thoughtful, generous guy: on our third date he brought me flowers and cooked me an elaborate meal. So yes, in hindsight I feel stupid about having made the sushi incident a “thing”. PS I’m still seeing K… stay tuned. (I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that I was right. You’re welcome, S!) (You’re wise beyond your years, L.)

L: Only with one guy.  I bought round one of drinks and he bought round 2. (This is technically different from splitting, but since I still paid first, I’m still counting it.) And on our second date, he let me leave the tip. And this is the one guy I’m still seeing. (Please don’t get too excited by the term “seeing”, readers. It means we’ve gone out since then and I’m spending a lot of time analyzing his frequent text messages.)

But my point is, my interest in this guy has nothing to do with if he’s paid for things or not. I’m interested in him because he’s smart, funny, and has used many opportunities, besides picking up the bill, to demonstrate he’s a nice, courteous person. I’m also just grateful to have a date whose conversation isn’t 1) dull or 2) evidence of a severe social disability. If my date sucks, then I am furious that I invested time in the first place, and would be more furious if I invested money. So gentleman, show me a good time! That’s my bottom line.

D:  No. I have, thankfully, been out with gentlemen who always picked up the tab on the first date. Which is something I really appreciate – it’s nice to be treated like a lady on the first date. But unlike my quick “thank you” at the end of the first date, once we hit a second date I’m usually a little more insistent on splitting things, or at least picking up some portion of the tab. I am a grown ass woman with a job after all, I don’t expect every date to be a free meal or movie ticket. Like S said, we’re equals.

And lastly, I can’t help get all Leslie Knope on you guys and talk a little bit about the issue behind this issue, which in my mind, is gender equity and the male/female wage gap. Full time female workers make 77 cents on the dollar that every man makes. (Nerd out more on gender pay gaps here if you don’t believe me). This is a dating blog, so I am going to refrain from writing a white paper about how wrong this is. But I am going to say that I really hope, when I have a daughter, and she starts dating (Yikes!), that the guy expects her to pay on the first date. Because men will making 77 cents to women’s dollars. And we’ll be running the world. It will look something like this:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her PDA upon her departure in a military C-17 plane from Malta bound for Tripoli,  Libya

**I’d like to thank L for that beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful end to our discussion, especially after I posted a 3 minute Youtube clip featuring a character named Alotta Fagina.

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15 thoughts on “Ask LSD: Should a guy pay on a first date?

  1. L teased the subject of today’s post to me last night. I came here expecting latent sexism and was not disappointed.

    As far as I can tell, the general consensus is this: 1) Men and women are equal; 2) Splitting checks without asking is rude; 3) Both parties should offer to pay; 4) The man should end up paying the first time. And, the justification for this seems to be that you’re doing more work on the dates than the guy is. But I bet if you asked the guy, he would say the same thing. (Also, on maybe a more pedantic note, you can’t complain both that you have to do more of the work on a date and use that as a reason that the guy should pay.)

    Why, why, why shouldn’t checks be split? There’s literally no good reason for this other than a carryover from a time when men were expected to pay for everything because they had jobs and women took care of the home. Manners, you say? But manners not backed up by anything other than manners is an empty proposition.

    There’s intuitive appeal to the idea that whoever asks the person out on a date should pay. But, no surprise, there is still an expectation that the guy should do both the initial messaging and the asking out on the first date. So even that intuitively attractive position leads to a presumption that guys should pay on the first date.

    As with many things, the Europeans are way ahead of us on this: (see International Practices). Why is that position wrong?

    (D: Sorry about doc review….)

  2. Hi, R! We’ve been expecting you. We knew this post would be controversial and that you would be first in line to take us to task. I won’t speak for the other girls, but without getting too involved, here are some of my thoughts:

    1. We can absolutely complain that we have to do more work on the date! It’s a dating blog, not an academic paper, although certainly you’re treating it like one (which I actually totally appreciate–thank you for being such a loyal reader). We’re sharing our opinions based on real experiences. I’m sure our perception colors those experiences to a point, as it does for everyone. But I’m definitely not making up the fact that I’ve gotten many more one word answers to questions than I’ve given.
    2. When I said in my first paragraph that presumably the guy asked me out, I should have explained that better. I did not mean that it’s assumed the guy will always do the asking. Not at all. I absolutely, 100% message guys on okc, but to date for whatever reason it’s never progressed to me actually asking the guy out. That’s an embarrassing little stat come to think of it, and I’m not sure what that says about me and my dating skills haha, but it’s true. Every date I’ve been on thus far has been the result of being asked out, again, not because I refuse to do the asking but because the asking, thus far, has gotten me nowhere. If and when it does, and I invite someone out and they accept, I will be fully prepared to spring for that first round of drinks.
    3. That position is right! I’m always uncomfortable when I have to argue to pay after the first time around. That guy who wouldn’t let me buy popcorn, we literally were bickering in front of the cashier and it could not have been more awkward. I’m more of a fan of I’ll get this one, you get the next, but that’s a personal preference (to me it’s less awkward/less of a mood killer than handing each other change every time) but either way, that’s what I prefer to do after that initial outing. In my mind, we’re taking turns, it’s just a matter of who starts it off. It should be the (technical) host.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. R–I agree with 98% of your comment. But i’m gonna have to take you to task on the statement that the men we’re out with think they are doing as much work as us. Sometimes, sure, a guy holds his own in the conversation and when that happens I’m all like “OMG please marry me!” But unfortunately, most of the time, they really don’t. Unless “doing work” consists of asking me where to go, giving me one word answers, and staring at my chest.

  4. R – First, thank you for commiserating about the document review – they are the worst (which you clearly know).
    While I don’t disagree with you generally, I do have 2 things I’d like to say:
    1) It’s a little unfair of you to assume that I expect guys to always message me first and ask me out. I’ve sent my fair share of initial messages to guys. And I’ve even done the asking out. As it happens, guys generally ask me out before I ask them, but I have no qualms about doing the asking.
    2) It’s not really just a carryover from when men “had jobs and women took care of the home.” Yes, we’re out in the workforce and have careers, but as L pointed out at the end of the post, we still make less than men. Further, I don’t expect men to pay for everything. I’m not asking for a house, a car and to quit my job. I’m asking for a Jack and Ginger on the first date. That’s all. A nice gesture the first time we go out. After that, I’m 100% with you on splitting checks.

  5. L, S, and D:

    1) I should preface (and PS my previous comment) all of this by recognizing that you three represent a pretty progressive position on the matter; so congrats for that.

    2) Yeah, I have a tendency to expect consistency on even comedic blog posts. Maybe I should tone that down some.

    3) It’s not my position that any of you three expect men to ask you out (although the anecdotes posted so far seem to suggest that even if it’s not an explicit thought you have, it’s at least an implicit tendency). My position is that there’s an underlying presumption that the guy is going to be the initiator. This underlying presumption coupled with the seemingly innocuous suggestion that the asker should pay is what perpetuates the general problem.

    4) There’s a lot of ‘taking to task’ going on here. 🙂

    5) If we’re going to rely on a wage gap to justify men paying, we should at least be accurate about what that is. Even the article L links to says the adjusted number is something around 9%, at least some of which is based on women accepting lower starting salaries at the start of their career. There’s certainly some discrimination still around, but it accounts for a much, much smaller amount than the 77-cent figure implies. And, there is essentially no gap between young, unmarried men and women, presumably the group of people we’re talking about on the blog.

    6) I’ve still seen no reason why–even on the first date–the check shouldn’t be split.

    Keep on keeping on.

  6. Firstly, R, thank you for linking to the following: “Remarkably in Catalonia “going Dutch” is the rule among Catalans.” Fascinating stuff.

    (Also, I hope you guys are truly happy to have such devoted readership. Because this blog is awesome, and I am from a family of Irish Catholics where we show our love through fierce debate. So this is like my literal Thanksgiving, and I love it.)

    I do, however, disagree with the aversion to bill-splitting – at least for myself. I think it’s totally fair to assess courtesy by how people deal with a bill (I currently have a friend who shorts his share every time and it turns a lovely meal into a struggle to control the desire to stab him with chopsticks). But since dating is also about assessing larger values on minimal clues, I personally have always gone dutch because I don’t want to give any indication (however slight or symbolic) that I expect a financial imbalance later in the relationship. More than that, I don’t want a dude who wants a partner who he assumes makes less than he does/will contribute less to shared income/will not control the shared finances. I don’t want to get crazy – sometimes a beer is just a beer – but it’s not like you can ask the big, financial questions off the bat, so I don’t think it’s too crazy for a guy to take you up on your offers to split.

  7. All really great and fair points, E. I think the bottom line is, I assumed that my date allowing me to split the bill meant that he was ungenerous, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. So you’re right, who knows what (untrue) assumptions guys might be making about me and my financial independence/expectations of equality based on my actions. I definitely learned a lesson. I would be lying if I said it totally changed my opinion on this subject, because I still think the asker springing for those first drinks is a nice and appreciated gesture, but I certainly won’t jump to conclusions about my date so quickly if this happens again.

    Thank you guys so much for reading and commenting! All this blog attention makes us feel like (minor) celebrities!

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  14. There is a wage gap because there are very few women in mines, construction sites, roads, metal industries or where you have to be responsible for human lifes like plastic surgeons or plane pilots. There is no ‘glass floor’ ladies, so you are free to work on construction sites and building roads in winter 50 hours per week and minimise the gap 🙂

    • Hi there Lovel–Thanks for reading and for your interest in women’s rights.The debate on the wage gap is real, but the arguments you pose above are not compelling or accurate.

      1. Plastic surgeons are usually not responsible for people’s lives. Did you mean to say doctors? Or a different kind of surgeon perhaps?
      2. Women do work in many professions where are they responsible for people’s lives. Have you heard of nurses, the majority of whom are still women? Some people might say nurses are even more responsible for people’s lives than plastic surgeons.
      3. While part of the wage gap can be explained by the difference in common professions chosen by men and women, there is also lots of data out there about men and women being paid differently even when they are in the same field and positions. Check out this chart for an explanation of wage gaps within different industries.
      4. Building roads and doing construction are really important professions. Sadly, those are two fields that are not very highly compensated. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 814,470 construction workers employed throughout the United States earn a mean annual construction worker salary of $34,490, which is equivalent to an average hourly wage of $16.58. So, I wouldn’t exactly advise women to look there if they want high paying work.

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