MSN asks, who pays for the first date?
By Kris Frieswick, MSN Money
It was our first date. He was handsome, tall, educated, thoughtful and funny. He had a British accent and a great body. We sipped martinis and nibbled on perfectly seasoned tenderloin in a gourmet restaurant in downtown Boston. To say he was a catch would be an understatement. Yet the deal was not fully sealed until the dinner check came. He reached to pay it without hesitating.
Reader, I married him.
There was, of course, more to it than that. But one of the things that most attracted me to my husband was his boundless generosity when it came to me.
Me -- the feminist, the aggressive professional, the battler of gender inequality wherever it lurks.
Me -- the woman who thinks the man should pay for the first date.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
I must be a genius. A hypocritical genius.
One of my many sisters in this hypocrisy is Donna Spangler, a former model and author of "How to Get a Rich Man." She says she simply wouldn't go on a second date with a man who didn't pay for the first. "There's something about the strength of a man who pays," says Spangler. "If a guy doesn't pay for you, you're not being treated like you're special. . . . A woman shouldn't gravitate toward that kind of man."
The feminist in me cringes at those words, but, God help me, I agree with her. I have many devoutly feminist friends who agree as well. Some might say that our position on this matter is inconsistent with feminism, but I'm not ready to hand in my NOW card just yet.
Still, I have seen the enemy and she is me -- and Donna, and my friends, and every other woman who is appalled when asked to go Dutch on the first date.
Perhaps we can rationalize that our desire for a man to pay is the modern version of an age-old evolutionary urge. The female of any species gravitates toward a mate who can provide for her and any potential offspring, says Boyce Watkins, a finance professor at Syracuse University and author of "Financial Lovemaking 101."
Prehistorically, man provided food and shelter to show a woman he was interested. Millennia later, that dynamic is re-enacted at Italian restaurants every Saturday night.
"Paying for the first date is one way to show that there is an allocation of valuable resources to your significant other," says Watkins. "And let's face it, I don't care if you're a human or a bear in the woods, no female wants to mate with a wimp who can't provide."
No wonder men are perplexed by the modern woman. We're actually prehistoric hypocritical geniuses.
"A lot of men are confused by gender equality," says Watkins. "They hear a woman is equal to a man, but the minute you try to apply this to dating, you find she doesn't want to go out with you anymore."
It's not only men who are confused. Women can't seem to come to a consensus, either. Struggling to maintain a semblance of integrity, they come up with a compromise: Whoever invites pays.
"It's a host or hostess thing," says Jacqueline Mitchell, a writer for an alumni magazine at Tufts University in Boston. "If you ask someone to your house for dinner, you know you're footing the bill."
But there's just one tiny hitch.
"I'm never going to ask a man out for the first date." Mitchell admits. "It's not that I think it's wrong; I'm just too shy."
Fortunately, it seems, many men want to pay for the first date.
"Men don't want things to be too easy," says April Masini, a dating advice columnist and author of "Date Out of Your League" and other relationship books. "Men are hunters. When it comes to a relationship, the man needs to pursue the relationship. When it comes to romance, it's not the same as the boardroom."
Paying for dinner is a man's way of signaling that the date is romantic, as opposed to platonic, she says. If a woman offers to pay, men feel pursued, and the thrill of the hunt evaporates, making a second date unlikely.
Evolution is only partially to blame. We can point to the usual suspects -- TV, Mom and Dad, and "society," says Dr. Molly Barrow, a relationship expert, psychologist and author of "Matchlines." Thanks to brainwashing from this Terrible Trio, "most men feel that their job and their earning power equates with their self-worth," says Barrow. "Women do not equate their self-worth with their income. They
do equate their self-worth with how their partner treats them."
Put the two together, and guess who's paying for dinner?
"Giving stronger female role models to children will help us break out of this pattern," says Barrow. "Men will eventually disengage from the money equals power equals self-worth thing and as they do that, females will learn to define their own self-worth differently."
Fat chance, says writer Spangler.
"I don't care what the feminists say; a man is a man," she says. "He's got a sex drive and he doesn't value the girl that pays. There are some things that are true, whether you want them to be or not."
Story of my hypocritical life.
[I did recently have a few dates with a fellow feminist, and I did pay for the first date. She kind of ditched me, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't because I treated her to dinner.
Honestly ... I would feel a little uncomfortable going Dutch on the first date. It is just the way that I and billions of men have been conditioned.]