Chivalry and Equality Went On A Date. Guess Who Paid?

who pays

Andrew Smiler wonders why changes in gender roles have had a minimal impact on dating.

Gender roles have changed dramatically over the last forty years or so. In 1970, men outnumbered women on college campuses two to one; today, women outnumber men by a several percentage points. Women have moved into a variety of jobs that weren’t open to them. They’re members of every branch of the US Military and can now participate in combat. They serve in high political office, holding a record 20 seats in the US Senate; Secretaries of State Albright, Rice, and Clinton, were 4th in line to the presidency (after the Vice-President and President Pro Tempore of the Senate).

Men’s roles have also changed. In 1970, about 2% of households were headed by a single-parent father; today, it’s about 8%. That’s coupled with a shift from dad as provider-disciplinarian to dad as someone who is involved and emotionally present for his children. The younger generations are also doing more housework than their fathers did, although parity has yet to be achieved. And fewer men than ever are working in “traditional” male jobs like manufacturing, especially after the recent “mancession.”

So with all this change, what’s happened to dating? Although it’s fashionable to talk about “hookup culture” and lament the end of dating, the research is clear that dating is still very common and that only a minority of teens and young adults participate in hookup culture.

A recently released study by Ana L. Jaramillo-Sierra and Katherine R. Allen from Virginia Tech, looked at one piece of dating: who pays. The article, will be published in the academic journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity.

Working with a few colleagues, and under the supervision of the Institutional Review Board (IRB), they offered students taking Human Sexuality courses extra credit for writing a one page essays in response to the question “how do you decide who pays for things such as movies, gas, dates, meals, trips, condoms/other contraceptives, and so forth, in a dating relationship?” The directions also asked how the length of relationship (e.g., first dates vs. long term), type of expense, and other issues effect the decision. There were other essay options for obtaining extra credit; thirty four young men aged 18 to 25 answered this question. All of the guys wrote about their experiences dating women, so I will too. The authors make no claims about how these issues might related to same-sex couples.

The study demonstrates that equality hasn’t reached the dating realm yet; at least, not when it comes to paying. To be sure, progress is being made. About half of the young men who answered this question said the couple should split costs more-or-less equally. Of course, this also means that half the young men believe they should be picking up most, if not all, of the costs.
Among the guys who thought she should pick up the check, several thought expenses should be split fifty-fifty. But several modern gentlemen expected to pay more than their girlfriends, even though they thought she should pick up the check regularly. Neither the guys nor the authors put a number on it, but I suspect these modern gentlemen would be comfortable paying sixty to seventy-five percent of the costs.

But equality also took another hit. Every guy in the study said that it was the dude’s responsibility to pay all costs for the first few dates. It didn’t matter what they expected for an established couple that recognized themselves as boyfriend-girlfriend, every guy said it was his job to foot the bill while “courting.” (I note that “all” is from the 29 guys who talked about differences between the initial stage and later stages; the other 5 guys only talked about established couples.)

The guys gave several reasons for paying for those first dates:

  • To impress the girl
  • To demonstrate they care (because one way to show caring is to provide for another person)
  • To act like a gentleman
  • To conform to social expectations

I have no problem with the first three of these, and I think they’d all work just fine in the other direction. The girl could pay in order to impress the guy, show him she cares, and still be a lady. It’s the last one that bothers me. Despite all the other changes in gender roles over the last forty years, why do we still expect the guy to pay for the first date?

We’ve seen greater public acknowledgement of women’s sexual desires, including the whole media frenzy over “cougars.” Similarly, most boys and men now understand that sex should be mutually pleasing and not just focused on his orgasm.

Yet we seem to have missed the equality puzzle piece that says girls and women can and should pay for first dates. Nor have we really said that girls can and should initiate first dates instead of just indicating that they’re interested and waiting for the guy to ask. We need to move from “Call Me Maybe” to “I’d like to take you on a date.”

Maybe that’s why we hear whispered horror stories about teenage girls throwing themselves—or at least their bodies—at teenage boys. Nobody has really talked to them about how to start a relationship or challenge the notion that “guys just want sex,” so they rely on gender stereotypes.

Then again, asking someone on a first date is one of the scariest things a teenage boy or young man can do. The risk of hearing “no” is huge: it means that you’re not good enough, not desirable enough. It’s a very different rejection than when trying out for a team, applying for a job, or the like. In those settings, a guy might not be the most skilled, might have a bad day, etc. and thus it’s easier to accept the no. When it comes to dating, that no is necessarily a rejection of the guy; it is explicitly about him. Given our general concern about girls’ self-esteem, maybe that’s why we haven’t pushed them to start asking boys out.

Of course, we’ll also need to teach boys what to do when a girl asks them out or insists on paying for those first dates. We all need to understand that it doesn’t mean she’s sexually aggressive, easy, or a slut, but rather that she’s just expressing her interest, trying to impress him, and perhaps trying to show that she cares. Boys and men will also need to understand that being asked out—and saying yes—doesn’t somehow threaten their masculinity or make them “whipped.”

Equality between men and women isn’t just about elevating women by increasing their access to education and professions or reducing the amount of unpaid housework and childcare they do. Creating a more equal society means that women will need to give up their privileged position as guests (vs. payers) in first dates (and later in the relationship) and will need to share decision making about their special day.

–Photo: Moriza / flickr

About Andrew Smiler

Andrew Smiler, PhD is a therapist, evaluator, author, and speaker residing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (USA). He is the author of “Challenging Casanova: Beyond the stereotype of promiscuous young male sexuality” and co-author, with Chris Kilmartin, of “The Masculine Self (5th edition)”. He is a past president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity and has taught at Wake Forest University and SUNY Oswego. Dr. Smiler's research focuses on definitions of masculinity. He also studies normative aspects of sexual development, such as age and perception of first kiss, first “serious” relationship, and first intercourse among 15-25 year olds. Follow him @AndrewSmiler.


  1. Carlton says:

    I think if your’e going to write an article about gender roles it would be nice to refer to women as women instead of girls.

  2. “But equality also took another hit. Every guy in the study said that it was the dude’s responsibility to pay all costs for the first few dates. It didn’t matter what they expected for an established couple that recognized themselves as boyfriend-girlfriend, every guy said it was his job to foot the bill while “courting.” ”

    From which I infer- there aren’t many 2nd dates for guys who don’t pony up on the first.

    “I’m not really this tall, I’m just sitting on my wallet”- maybe my all time favorite Playboy cartoon.

  3. I’m a woman, and i always insisted on paying atleast 40-50% of the time whenever I was with a guy – whether it was a date or a business meeting.

    What I found was that while I was coming from a place of pride & honor – a.k.a – “I earn well, I should contribute to this lunch / date.” – over a period of time the guys would begin to act like the “child” in the relationship… they’d either throw more tantrums for no sound reason, they would get crabby & disrespectful and they’d even begin to “expect a certain high standard” from me – like i should be a certain weight or have a certain dress style or wear atleast 5″ heels.

    It was quite confusing to me. For a long time I wondered if it was me – you know – if I was being to “mother-ish” in the whole pay for yourself thing. But after closely studying this routine for a few years, i’ve come to the conclusion that that wasn’t the problem at all.

    I think what really was happening was that I was coming of as “approval-seeking” or “appeasing” or “making up for some deficiency” – instead of actually communicating that I was happy to pay because I felt honor-bound to do so.

    I also think that guys face the same thing day in and day out. There are tons of great guys who are happy to pay the bill – but then some silly woman will disrespect them, act entitled & just generally presume that it is her right to make demands of their hard work. That’s why so many men today question why they should pay – when they are going to be disrespected anyway.

    The answer, as I have understood it, is that for each of us who believes in being responsible for ourselves, who works hard for an honest living & who genuinely wants to be with people whom we respect & who respect us… it is for us to also master the art of communicating our value with confidence & self respect.

    If we aren’t trying to appease our way into love – but someone else treats us like so – i say, take a step back, examine what you’re doing, and communicate in no uncertain terms that you expect a certain “standard” as well. If the other person is genuinely worth it, they’ll correct their attitude. If not, just make an exit. There is no point in putting up with this only to end up feeling jaded. Instead spend time mastering your communication (verbal & non-verbal) so that when you really do meet someone worth your time, there is unquestionable & irresistible attraction / love.

  4. I’ve paid for things before, mainly when its been my idea to go somewhere.
    Othertimes I wanted to go on date and girl was broke and she refused until she got paid, which just annoyed me lol.
    I don’t really care who pays, I’ve had girls pay for me too.

  5. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I’ve heard enough women complain about cheap Sierra-Club type gearhead yuppies to have ever in my life contemplated asking her to pay any portion. Even if I knew the woman just planned on having me because I was “hot,” I’ve always paid. I’ve always done a call or email the next day, though, too.

  6. I’ve never gone on a casual date assuming the guy would pay for me, actually- the only times I’ve made this assumption have been with my partner, and that’s because we share our finances- he simply tends to keep more cash on hand, but we share everything, and at times when I have more cash, I pay for him. I’ve never understood why it seems normal to some people for the man to pay for everything unless he’s specifically invited the woman to do something she cannot afford to do, and they’re both aware of this. Otherwise it seems like it’s expected that the man needs to buy her time, and why would you want to date someone who isn’t as happy to be there as you are?

  7. Chanelle (C.M.) says:

    I don’t think guys should HAVE to pay, but I do think it’s a very nice gesture and I would be unhappy if it wasn’t done on the first date. Honestly, splitting things 60-40 or 70-30 sounds okay to me. Are men paying for women’s birth control pills that she has to buy exactly every 28 days? What about the annual pap smears she needs because she’s sexually active with him? I doubt it. Women typically put a lot more effort/money (I know I’m stereotyping here) into getting ready for dates than men do – clothes, hair straighteners, perfume, makeup. When you factor all that, plus the fact that WOMEN ARE PAID LESS THAN MEN, into it men are probably the ones paying less even if they do pay for every date. I will note that when a man pays for dinner, I like to pay tip and, if we’re going to a movie after, I always offer to pay for my own ticket.

  8. I think this article overlooked a social expectation that has nothing to do with gender:
    The one who asks/invites, is the one who pays.

    I invite someone for coffee or dinner or whatever, and it will be my treat. If (s)he invites me, I expect him/her to pay. So I think it’s because men usually ask women out on dates, it’s logical that men usually pay. Now we could discuss why men usually are the ones asking. But that’s another story. It simply emphasizes there is more to conforming to social expectations, than the article implies.

    Another overlooked courtesy;
    Paying your fair share doesn’t mean equal share.

    Again; this hasn’t anything to do with gender, it has to do with financial means. I’ve paid more than friends while I already had a job and they were still in college. Many of us have in similar situations. Practically in the every day informal setting, it’s what makes the amount we each pay fair, even when it’s not equal.

    There is a gender issue to this, however. This article generously exaggerates the current state of equality. Especially financial equality does not exist yet. Women get paid less for the same jobs. And it’s not a small amount. No. Think 20% off your salary. Even 35% less when you’ve made it to the top.

    Another interesting fact that may also contribute; statistically the man is usually a few years older than the woman in relationships. So we could assume that’s usually the case while dating. Since people earn more money with age, that means the financial gap between two individuals on a date widens even more.

    Hence; when a man and a woman go on a date together, even without prior knowledge of their financial situations, odds are very good he’s got a better filled wallet than she does.

    There is a catch to this. Could this behavior stimulate a perpetuating cycle? Aren’t we emphasizing stereotypical views of men and women each time a man pays? We could be wondering if men make more money, because they’re expected to have more expenses than women. Yet though I could believe that is the reason why parents grant boys more allowances than they generally do girls, which is indeed setting a wrong example, I strongly doubt that is really the underlying cause for inequality of paid salary.

    The way things practically are in our daily lives, doesn’t mean it’s the way they should be. The question is; where and how do we solve inequality? And unlike the article tries to oversimplify, that doesn’t mean the inequality of paying for dates. It’s the bigger picture in which the female side of the scale is still off.

  9. Christina says:

    I’ve heard that men tend to fundamentally desire a challenge and to be protective; whereas women tend to desire being pursued and to be provided for. This makes evolutionary sense as a woman needs a mate dedicated to her and strong enough to protect her and her children from predators. Thus on some fundamental level the “man asking a woman out and paying for the bill” fulfills this desire.

    Since we are only a nano-second away in evolutionary terms from our hunter-gather ancestors, this desire is not going to be eradicated in the population. Other issues you raised, like women in the workforce, are just adaptations of the woman’s historical role of gathering food for the family. It is not a complete rewriting of our evolutionary biology, just an adaptation of it to our modern age.

    In the same way, a man is no longer required to kill a lion to prove his worth, but he still must show his ability to protect and provide on some fundamental level. Ergo – he asks the woman out and pays for the first few dates.

    • Women being unable to protect and provide for themselves and their children is social convention, not an evolutionary mandate. Stone Age women didn’t just sit around the fire, busily lactating. Hunter-gatherers get about 70% of their calories from gathering, and historically the rest comes primarily from small game and communal hunts.

  10. Equality/Women’s Lib/Feminism is killing chivalry.
    Men should pay for dinner, especially in long-term relationships, and decent, chivalrous, GENTLEMEN do! With short-term flings/hook-ups it doesn’t really matter who pays and I guess the type of women who are into this – and they attract a similar type of man – will be willing to pay their share of the dinner bill (and if she doesn’t she’s just a parasite and a free-loader, or perhaps she’s paying for dinner with sex, which would make him a smart man and her a dumb woman (unless she’s already showing signs of scurvy and protein-deficiency). You see, there’s nothing for them to lose and there’s nothing for them to gain, relationship-wise (meaning committed, loving, exclusive romantic relationship). There’s no-one to impress, there’s no investment of time, energy, emotions involved.

    I really would expect the guy to pay and in my eyes he would have a higher status than the guy who was willing to always go Dutch. Of course, if I invited a man to dinner, or we were celebrating his birthday I would WANT to pay. Knowing that the kind of guy I am attracted to is a guy who is traditional, chivalrous and expects to pay, I will refrain from making a scene or embarrassing him in the restaurant, so would at the beginning of the evening tell him that I am going to pay, or otherwise I would get up from the table after we have had our meal and I would go settle the bill with the waiter. I know many men who feel very uncomfortable not paying, or allowing a woman to pay her portion, so I would therefore be very sensitive and discreet about it.

    However, as someone who believes in long-term commitment and therefore investing emotionally and otherwise in a relationship I would constantly spoil my man in other ways, such as buying him clothing, books that he might like to read or some item that may assist him in his sporting or adventurous endeavours.

    I have never and will never subscribe to Feminism – it is as awful as all the other “isms” I despise. I am not grateful for what the Women’s Lib Movement has done for me because they have done nothing for me. These he-women are on a quest to emasculate men which they are slowly succeeding in (Metroman – WHAT EXACTLY is this species??). Some men are even now saying things like “I’m in touch with my feminine side”- that’s scary – as scary as the obnoxious women who slag guys off for holding the door open for them. These women have alienated and confused men and they are attempting to change the way men inherently are. Men are hard-wired a certain way, and there is nothing wrong with that – I love it, it is the way it ought to be, forever. Some men are as offensive as some women, and they deserve one another. Some men want women who are equal and therefore will pay, and that’s okay. They will find a women who is so bent on being equal to him that she has shed all or most of her femininity.

    Fortunately, the world is filled with different types. The Metroman and the Feminist can live their lives in confused equality.

    MANY women (maybe not too many in the US), want a man who IS their “superior”, the head of the household (even if she works), is decisive, knows exactly who he is, where he stands and what his role is in this world. For sure that is the only kind of man I can respect fully with regard to long-term, romantic involvement, which is the ONLY involvement which is good enough for me.

    • “I am not grateful for what the Women’s Lib Movement has done for me because they have done nothing for me.”

      You don’t vote, then? Thank God!

    • Lorenda, you are one powerful, insightful, wise woman.

      Apparently, you have become crystal clear on the true power and necessary balance that authentic femininity creates. Bravo! Men can grow and evolve in the presence of women like you!

      I’m meeting many women like you and it’s a joy.

    • Lorenda, since you can own property, drive a car, vote, sign a legal document, take birth control, get custody of children in a divorce etc etc “Women’s Lib” has done a lot for you. You do a huge disservice to women who came before, some of whom died for these rights you don’t even think about.

  11. My guide has always been, whomever asks for the date pays. That being said, if someone is taking me out to dinner, I will always pay for the valet, movie tickets, the drinks while we wait for our table, etc.
    But I agree with Chanelle above. We pay for the birth control (last boyfriend swore he’d chip in and I never saw it – probably why he’s an ex) and we get paid 80 cents on the dollar for doing the same work. So I stick to my, whomever asks, pays.

  12. 20 years ago, when I was dating, I gave the issue of who pays a great deal of thought. It seemed unfair for the man to bear all the burden of the expense. If I was dating someone, after a few dates I would offer ways that I could participate such as making him dinner or a picnic or buying tickets to an event we both wanted to see. When there are great income differences in a couple, that can be a factor, but it should be both people participating in a way that both agree is fair.

    On the other hand, I did experiment with going on first dates where either I paid or I gave a small gift to the man on our first date. This caused a really terrible shift. Suddenly, if I offered to pay, I wan’t a “good girl” I was an “easy girl”. The whole power dynamic changed. The men were offput by this unexpected change. They would suddenly become more sexually aggressive or angry. What was intended as a kind gesture of someone interested in them because a power struggle. I simply decided that it wasn’t a good tactic. I always brought enough to pay for us both on the first date, but my personal experience led me to believe that it was too soon for society in general to accept a woman paying for the first date. It is 20 years later, have things changed? Would a woman still be thought “easy” for offering to pay on the first date?

    I also think who wanted to ask first should factor in to who pays for a date. If a man is interested, but a woman hasn’t come to the same conclusion yet, then let him use the wine and dine as a way to let her know him as a good partner. Why pay to go out on a date you didn’t initiate with a person you don’t know and don’t have any feelings for yet?

  13. If a ask a man out I expect to pay. If he asks he pays. If we go on more dates I expect us to split, you would be surprised at how many men have issues with that but I don’t want to be accused of using a a man for money. And yes It would be awesome if men would ever consider tbat they benefit from women paying all expenses for birth control.

  14. If I invite, I pay. If he invites, he pays. Exceptions exist of course, but that’s my general rule. I also split the bill on occassion.


  1. […] to move from ‘Call Me Maybe‘ to ‘I’d like to take you on a date.’” -Andrew Smiler, July 10, […]

  2. […] out or aren’t good at reading the non-verbal signals women use to send interest instead of asking a guy out. Many of them get labeled as nice guys and compared to bad boys. As a result, these […]

  3. […] starting conversation the next day if “he” wants the relationship to continue. Hetrerosexual American guys assume they’ll pay for the first date, regardless of whether they endorse traditional or egalitarian gender […]

Speak Your Mind