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The Complications Behind Who Pays the Bill

How many conversations have you overheard or had yourself where one friend is complaining to another that the man didn’t pay on the first date? She says the check came and she reached for her wallet like she always does, waiting for him to politely interject, “No, I got it.” At which point she would respond with her carefully rehearsed surprise and gratitude. Except the polite interjection never came.

The responses range from, “He actually let me split the bill with him,” to “He Venmo charged me after,” and “Ugh, chivalry is so dead, am I right?” And they’re often drenched in judgement, resentment, and an unspoken statement that another date is off the table.

And while plenty of grandmas, mainstream television shows, and traditional dating columns wholeheartedly agree with these reactions, I find it most uncomfortable when these words are coming out of intelligent, independent, hardworking females mouths, who not only consider themselves feminists with a capital F but also believe — and preach — that we all should be feminists. All, including that person sitting across the table, nervously asking you questions while trying to make enough eye contact but not too much.

It’s the dawn of 2018. If the future is female, shouldn’t we be acting like it?  

The answer, like many answers to questions regarding gender equality, is complicated. Yes, those of us demanding equal rights need to take a step back to consider the antiquated dating traditions passed down to us: Man dotes on Woman; Woman is meek and vulnerable and needs Man to take care of her; Man leads conversation and Woman follows; Man pays and Woman accepts that she now owes him something, giving the reigns of power over to him.

And yes, this may mean leveling out those gender roles by saying goodbye to complimentary meals and agreeing to split the tab. It may also mean flipping those roles upside down entirely and picking up the full bill — without any resentment.

But, what if it doesn’t?

Even though it’s 2018 and more of us than ever are determined to make the future female — men and women are not yet equal. This inequality means a whole lot of things today. (Examples? The government controlling women’s decisions about their health and their bodies; the persistence of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workforce; partially paid maternity leave not being legally guaranteed, etc.) But most pertinent to the topic is hand is the fact that women still make 78 cents to the dollar compared to men.

So it may feel wrong to consider yourself a card-carrying Feminist and assume that the man will pay for your date. But it’s also wrong that the man sitting across from you is three-times more likely to hold a senior role at the office, is making 20 percent more than you for the same amount of work, and is generally being charged up to 58 percent less for everything from clothing to deodorant to office supplies. 

Now, I’m not preaching that two wrongs make a right or suggesting to fight fire with fire. Rather, there is no predetermined answer when it comes to deciding who pays the bill. If you’re dating a worthy candidate, the hope is that you and your romantic partner can navigate this tricky topic openly, kindly, and compassionately — thereby breaking yourselves free of antiquated norms and doing, instead, what fits into both of your realities and comfort zones. That’s one great step in the right direction.