I was on a date with a guy I’d met online. While I prefer a cup of coffee or a walk for a first meeting, this guy said, “I’d like to take you out to dinner.”
I knew from the moment I met him that we were not a match, but we muddled through the meal. When the check came, I didn’t so much as make a move toward my wallet. He paid the check what appeared to be reluctantly.
I could imagine him afterward complaining to his friends.
“She should have at least offered! She should have at least done the reach.”
He may think so, but I have some pretty firm rules on such matters. If you want a girl to “at least offer” to pay, be careful with your words. “I’d like to take you to dinner” means that you are paying.
I’m sure the whole paying thing is stressful on the man, for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is the stress on the wallet. But the politics surrounding who pays can be surprisingly stressful on the woman. Sometimes it’s not clear if you should “at least offer” or if that would be an insult. I do do the reach in these situations, but I feel very awkward about it, as if I am moving in slow motion and the wallet has become a gigantic, Dali-esque thing dominating the room.
I think I’ve gotten better about this post divorce. Even if chemistry appears to be evident, if the arrangements were made by mutual agreement, I confidently pull out my wallet with every intention of paying my share. The guy’s reaction is telling. If he picks up the check and says, “Your half was 17 dollars,” clearly he’s not interested. Even after feminism, no man in my age range would dream of letting a woman pay on a first date if he wanted to see her again. Frankly, most men wouldn’t let a woman pay either way unless he wanted to send a clear signal that romance had never been part of the picture.
Even when the guy’s already declared in some way that he’s paying, there can still be some awkwardness depending on how he’s made this declaration. If he simply picks up the check and starts fishing for his wallet, mumbling, “I’ve got this,” I still feel inept, as if I should have pushed harder. I prefer it when the man puts the kibosh on my cash immediately and firmly. As soon as the check arrives, he says, “My treat,” or some such thing that says he wishes to pay, whether or not the chemistry was there. I remember my ex used these words on our first date and I liked it. That was 20 years ago, in case you’re wondering whether women make note of and remember such things…
The cleverest way of dealing with the check, though, happened with a guy named Rick who I met for a walk. After walking for a while, he determined he was hungry and asked if I wanted to have some dinner. I knew I wasn’t interested in the guy, and I think he knew I wasn’t interested in him, but I was hungry and it was dinner time, so I said sure. Definitely a muddy situation in terms of paying.
Before the check came, I had to use the ladies’ room. When I returned, the check had come and gone. When I told a friend about this—one who is not comfortable with people treating—she said I should have said something or offered to pay. But why? Clearly he had called for the check as soon as I left the table and intentionally completed the transaction just so I wouldn’t feel obliged to offer. Why ruin a beautiful thing?
While dinner can cause confusion, I have strong feelings on who pays for coffee dates. Logically, it’s a Dutch treat situation; such meetings are almost always by mutual agreement. But the beauty of a coffee date is it’s cheap; in the off chance that the date will go well, I think the guy should always offer to pay. (There’s an easy way to do this, too: he puts his body slightly ahead of hers—you’re generally standing at a counter—and says, “What can I get you?”) Because for the cost—what, three dollars?—he’s buying a first impression.
Why does it matter, if it doesn’t work out? I can report to you the men who didn’t pay for my coffee. And that’s not a good way to be remembered.