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:

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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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