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Sex + Relationships

How to Determine Who Should Pay on Your Next Date

So, what counts as a “date?” Is it going out to a nice dinner with your crush, going out for a walk, sitting and talking at a coffee shop? No matter the occasion, the real question is, “who should pay?”

This dilemma is nothing new. Whether the bill is $4 or $40, who’s expected to pay? Is it you—or your date? As trivial as it may sound, being comfortable enough to go out on a date is difficult enough without trying to figure out who’s responsible for handling the bill.

Her Campus talked with collegiettes and relationship experts to get their opinions on who should foot the bill. Their advice? Consider the relationship before one of you asks for the check and ask yourself these questions:

Who asked whom out?

Did that cutie who frequents the same coffee shop as you approach you for a date? Or did you work up the courage to suggest dinner and a movie to the girl or guy you’ve been eyeing? While somewhat antiquated ideas might suggest that guys should always be the one to pay for a date, in today’s dating sphere, it’s most courteous for the person who initiated and planned the date to be responsible for its cost.

“I think for the most part, when guys offer or want to pay for the date, it’s because we asked you out,” explains Dale Lavine, Her Campus’s resident Real Live College guy. “It just seems polite to cover the bill if we made the date, you think?”

Susanne M. Alexander, author of Creating Excellent Relationships: The Power of Character Choices, makes a similar point.

“Every date begins on an uncertain footing,” she says.“Will this be the beginning of a relationship, or will it be just this one time? Money doesn’t need to be connected to this. If the guy asked her out, then courtesy would say that he pays for them both. It works in reverse as well.”

Are you interested in pursuing a relationship?

No matter who pays, neither individual should ever feel obligated to owe the other person anything later on. But if you’re on a date with someone you just don’t see as more than a friend, it might be best to split the bill—just so you’re not leading him or her on.

“If you want to make sure that the guy [or girl] you’re with stays in the ‘friend’ column, and doesn’t feel led on, don’t let him [or her] pay,” suggests Dr. Carol Lieberman, author of Bad Girls. She explains that if he or she pays, that they may feel like there’s something there and hope for the relationship to develop further.

This isn’t to say that you should expect the other person pay if you’re interested in a relationship with him or her—but it’s certainly a chance to help define the future of the friendship or budding relationship without explicitly mentioning it.

Set your own expectations aside

You might have your own ideas for what should or shouldn’t happen on a first date, but know that your date might have other expectations! Especially if this is earlier on in a relationship, it’s important to be considerate of what is both comfortable and doable for all parties.

“When it comes to a traditional date between a guy and a girl, I believe that the guy should offer to pay for the date, but be open to letting the girl pay for herself if she wants to,” explains Devontae, a freshman at American University. “I think that overall, no matter if the date is between a guy and a guy, a guy and a girl, or a girl and a girl, they should make an arrangement that makes them both comfortable.”

Eyek Ntekim, a sophomore at American University, has a different opinion.

“Everyone should pay for themselves the first few dates,” says Eyek. “The more you get to know each other, things may change.”

We had guys weigh in, too—Jake, a freshman at American University, would prefer if a girl let him pay on their date. “It’s a courtesy thing. Is it old fashioned? Yeah. But its tradition,” he says.

Dale also shared his insight with us. He explains that he doesn’t mind footing the bill. “I don’t mind paying. I’ve noticed that a lot of women, especially these days, get kind of iffy about men paying for their date,” he says. “I’ve seen reasons like, ‘I don’t need a man to pay for my food’ and ‘He thinks that I’ll owe him something if he pays.’”

He sees a woman’s side of the argument, though. “If I’m out with a girl and she offers to split the bill, I won’t be offended,” he adds. “Maybe she didn’t feel the chemistry and she wouldn’t feel right about making someone pay for something that won’t lead to anything else.”  

Are you already dating?

So, it’s not a first date; but that doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily established a system between the two of you.

“Relationships are all about building skills. A vital practice for couples is to learn to be honest with each other and consult through what works best for both of them,” says Alexander. “Whenever we try to impose made-up ‘rules’ on a relationship about who ‘should’ do this or that, it seems to block the flow of a couple creating what works best for them.”

Say you’re on a date and your SO doesn’t offer to pay right away. This is where communication comes in! Though talking about money with someone who’s still somewhat new in your life can be awkward and uncomfortable, leaving things unsaid can cause unnecessary tension in the relationship. If your date has paid for the last few dinners, now might be the time for you to step up and offer to pay. If you’ve been paying for your recent dates and don’t feel like you’re in a position to pay again, suggest splitting the cost. If you’ve both been contributing equally up until this point but you’re on a date that your SO asked you out on that you’re not sure you can pay for, speak up.

“It’s okay to say, “Hey, I like you and I’d love to go out together, but I’m a bit strapped for funds at the moment,” says Alexander.

In the end—does it really matter who pays?

“We tend to add so much meaning and significance to money that doesn’t need to be in the way of a building relationship,” says Alexander.

And she’s right—money shouldn’t be the main focus. It’s okay to ask, “What works best for you?” when you’re out with your date. Don’t let money get in the way of having a blast!

Lillian contributed to the Her Campus website from 2015-2016 during her time at American University.
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