I had been dating my boyfriend for a good two months when my mum asked, “Wait, he pays for you when you eat out, right?” I was pretty shocked. I tried explaining to my mum that that was DEFINITELY NOT OKAY and even got a bit riled up (sorry, Mum!). The thing is, I thought the idea that men pay on dates was looooooong gone. However, the more I talk about this topic with my friends, the more I realise that it is not a thing of the past.
The issue of who pays on the first date is a big one because it reflects old fashioned gender norms about money and dating – norms which need to go. Quick disclaimer from me: this article will discuss heterosexual relationships (due to experience). You can check out these cool articles which explore money and dating in queer relationships here and here.
So, the expectation that men pay on the first date comes from way back in the day when men were the ones that actually had a job and got paid for it - which meant they could actually pay for things. What a luxury! But now things are different. Now, men and women in general have the opportunity to earn a wage and spend their own money. These days, both women and men have cash to splash on the first date. Yet, we still haven’t upgraded our perception of who pays on the first date; we still follow silly ideas about dating and chivalry.
In a 2017 survey conducted by Money, 78% of respondents said they believe that the man should pay on the first date. I believe that we need to change this statistic. Money should not be a man's realm and something they deal with. As a first date sets the foundation of the relationship, it shouldn’t begin on an unequal footing of the girl expecting to be pampered and the guy feeling obliged to pay or feeling powerful and dominant when he does.
It’s also incredibly unfair for the men who take on this assumed burden of always forking out the cash on dates. My partner has a friend who always pays every time he and his girlfriend do anything. He hasn’t brought this topic up with his girlfriend because he would feel awkward and guilty if he didn’t fulfill the expectation to pay. The expectation that men pay on the first date is also damaging in that it is rooted in degrading and belittling beliefs about women. Women do not need to be babied or pampered or helped, thank you very much! A few of my friends have been in situations where they feel uncomfortable when a guy offers to pay. They think it creates an awkward and unequal power dynamic that makes them feel like they owe him something.
In my view, payment on dates should be shared equally. I remember the first date I went on in high school and feeling weird when the guy didn’t offer to pay. I thought it meant that things weren’t serious or that this was not a real date. But I swatted away that first thought and tried to retrain my brain. It can be hard to go against the flow and to resist patterns of behavior that you have seen in movies or in books or from watching other people around you, but that means it’s even more rewarding when you escape stereotypical roles (expecting the guy to ‘spoil’ you) and act in a way that is more equal and just. My partner and I have always shared equally on dates. It makes me feel good. It also makes money an easy topic to discuss. In the early days we had an ‘I’ll shout this, you shout that’ thing going. Now we share a debit card and put the same amount of money on it and use it when we are together (unless I forget to bring it!).
However, there is also a valid rebuttal against sharing equally on dates. You see, the gender wage gap (men in Australia get paid 13.9% more than women (WGEA, 2019)) means that going 50/50 on dates isn’t TRULY fair. But that's a convo for another day.
Some of my friends don’t share equally on first dates but instead go by the rule that whoever asks the other person on a date is the one who pays. On a surface level this method seems fair enough. If you initiate the date and choose the location/activity it makes sense that you pay. But in reality, this often just means the guy ends up paying. Women are more likely to wait for the guy to drive the conversation and ask them out. I’m guilty of this too. I’ve always been too shy to ask someone out. According to Merck in 2015, less than 10% of women make the first move!
It's also important to be conscious of socioeconomic statuses. If you’re a girl who expects someone to pay for you, you must be aware that the other person might not be in the same position as you financially. And if you initiated the date and picked a fancy location but believe the receipt should be shared equally, you must be aware that other people might not share your willingness to splurge.
The debate of who should pay on the first date is a sticky one. But the core of it really comes down to this: if you expect to go on a date with all expenses paid because of your gender, think again. Question cultural expectations. If you like offering to always pay, think about the consequences of your decision. Is it creating an unequal playing field? Is it making your date uncomfortable? Is it a burden for you?
In the future, let’s all try and talk openly about money with our partners and to question patterns of behavior that we both fall into because of our gender. Let’s make these changes so that we can make the world just that little bit fairer.
Dating can be fair and equitable - check out our tips on how you can get started!
Happy dating, friends!
Please note that we do not offer any personalised financial advice. We’re an educational initiative aimed at improving and building awareness around our money choices. Our articles provide general financial advice and are designed to equip young people with the basic skills, knowledge and attitudes to kickstart their personal finance journeys. We are not licensed financial professionals and do not advertise on behalf of financial providers and services. If you are looking for personalised financial advice, we strongly recommend that you speak to a licensed professional.