Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mamma Knows Best??

Ah the 50s! Poodle skirts, jukeboxes, milk shakes with two straws ... boys and girls going on double dates, girls getting pinned and couples going "steady" ... When our parents were dating the world was truly a different place (I'll leave technology out of this one, we can all think of a hundred other ways). However, in our nostalgia for the innocence of these halcyon days we forget the marriages straight out of college and the lack of options and opportunities for women. Movies such as Far From Heaven and Revolutionary Road remind us that the happy homemaker was not always so happy. And forget the glass ceiling ... at that point in time it might as well have been on the moon. As a rousing tobacco advertisement used to tell us, we've come a long way, baby.

So when a woman now - in 2009 - has an expectation that the man should pay for everything on a first date there is a clear question to be asked: Is it fair to enter the new millennium with the old mores of yesteryear still in play?

I don't think there is a girl I know whose mother isn't showing signs of shock and disapproval when she hears her daughter's suitor let her pay for some aspect of a date (drinks, cab fare, movie tickets ... gum), or worse split the dinner bill. Yes, in the minds of these loving and proud moms, these men should know that their daughters are highly sought after and the cost of drinks and dinner is but a small price to pay for the privilege of their daughters' company. And so the daughters nod their heads in accordance, "Yes, a small price to pay." But if these women listen to their mothers, they may very well listen their way right out of a second date.

Many years ago I went on a first date with someone who told me that he had just passed his Series 7. Before dinner we had a drink at the bar and when the check came I quickly grabbed it announcing that it was my treat for his passing the exam. Dates later, this accountant mentioned to me that he really appreciated that I had paid for the drinks on our first date and that if the women he went out with didn't make such a gesture he didn't ask them out again. I listened in surprise and admitted that that was not my typical modus operandi and I had only made the "generous" offer because something worth celebrating had taken place in his world that day. Any other day sans accomplishment, and I would not have made the offer and perhaps that dinner would have been our first and last.

Before the women label the men who are willing to let them pay for anything as heals (and loyal readers, as always, we still need to make some critical distinctions - online date vs. "regular date", economic disparity between dates, and so on), let's consider things from the guy's point of view for a moment.

Men don't want to come across as cheapskates. Ok, that is a given. So if it's a matter of meeting for one or two drinks and the guy wants a second date, he is certainly going to want to pay to signal his interest. But when the night has a few components and there's an opportunity for the woman to pick up something small, I think many men (most men? come on men, time for you to weigh in here) will welcome it as a sign that the women has a real interest and is not just using them for their money or a free night out on the town. I suppose it's the equivalent of the 50s "will the woman lean over and unlock the car door?" test. As one dear male friend put it, a woman covering some token cost during the course of the evening signals to him that the girl is looking for a partnership, not a "sponsorship."

Ok, the distinctions. I personally think that in all fairness everyone should go into an online date expecting to split the bill. That being said, most online dates are meeting over coffee or drinks and if the guy is interested that is a small price to pay to secure a second date. So women, if he's trying to split it he's probably not interested, and if he lets you split it you should probably not be interested.* Oh my, did I just let my little angel-mother peering over my right shoulder type that?

Alright, maybe it's time to consider economics for a moment. Women still make only 75 cents to a man's dollar.** If a male doctor with a six-figure salary is meeting up with a teacher's aide, most people would say it's a no-brainer: the guy should pay even if there's no interest. It does get more complicated when you have two lawyers, let's say, making equivalent pay ... or, on the opposite end, when you have two struggling entrepreneurs making the equivalent lack of pay. Some men (and women?) may be scratching their heads asking what is the rationale in those scenarios for expecting the guy to pay? (We're still on online dates here).

And if it's not an online "blind" date, should the salary categories still come into play? In light of the current economic climate, you can find a laid off banker in NY as easily as a Starbucks these days. So here's one for you - what happens when an unemployed private equity gentleman goes out with a PR managing director lady-interest with a steady and solid paycheck? I have a feeling Dad might have something to say on this one ...

* It is important to reiterate so there is no misunderstanding here that the appreciated contribution I am addressing in this blog is a "token" payment - not the splitting of a lunch or dinner tab. To that end, I think men also realize there is a difference between the gesture (as farcical as it may sometimes be) by a woman in reaching for her wallet and politely offering to split the restaurant tab (expecting to be told "please, it is on me") and a woman insisting on paying for her share. Guys, if she's truly insisting on splitting the bill on the first date - especially one generated by the online dating world - she might as well be wearing a neon sign flashing "you're off the hotlist."

** This statistic is only a rough one as demographics come into play that create a plethora of variables too complex to address in this oh so simple Sunday at Noon blog.


  1. Here in D.C. we have what we call the 500 dollar a week millionaires. Esp. the females. They dress and drink like millionaires, so its really hard to figure out who earns what. The title helps but it can be deceiving. As a Marine Officer with almost 12 years of service the pay scale is close to 6 figures yet we dont look like we could even afford a latte somewhere in the Hamptons. In any case we always take the tab whether we make more or less than the girl. Its a plus if she offers, this means she wants a partner not a provider. The test is def. if she reaches over and unlocks the door. Even if she does not offer to pay. At the end of the day its the lad who should pay, iIts just propper etiquette.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Isaac. You make a very good point re: appearances and titles being deceiving. And I definitely appreciate the view from the guy's perspective.