Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Who pays?

This week, "Dear Jamy" received three questions. However, only one of them was about dating, so that's the one I'm answering. The ratio of "answering" to "pontificating" is rather small in this one, for which I don't apologize.

Dear Jamy,

I'm a 37 year old male and I'd love your advice on a dating problem that I've been having lately. It's about money. I'm a high school teacher and although I'm very happy with my salary, it's not unlimited. When I go out with a woman for the first date, we usually meet for a drink or for tea, and of course I pay. For the second date maybe we'll go out to dinner and of course I pay. Third date: who knows, something else, and though the woman usually offers to pay I don't feel comfortable letting her pay until at least the fourth date.

The thing is, if I'm not actually in a relationship with someone, I might be having these dates several times in a week, and it can get quite expensive. That's not the problem.

The problem is that -- I'm embarrassed to admit this -- I'm beginning to resent spending all this money, and it's making me hedge somewhat when I'm not sure if I want to try that second or third date. I guess I'll have to work through that myself. (Geez, I've been doing this for over ten years, you'd think I'd have worked through it by now.)

My question for you is: on which date would you feel comfortable paying? And also, have you ever been on any great dates -- with a guy you didn't know very well -- that didn't involve spending lots of money? Can you suggest any?

Thanks, Isaac

Dear Isaac,

[Aside: if you are going out on dates several times a week, you must be doing something right.]

I'll start with your first question: on which date would you feel comfortable paying?

I would feel comfortable paying on the first date. I have never ruled out a guy because he didn't pay for our first date. Thinking back to my old boyfriends, I can't recall in a single instance if the guy paid or if we split the bill on the first official date (sometimes I knew him as friend first). Who paid on the first date is something I may remark on at the time, but it's not something that sticks with me. Admittedly, it's rare for me to treat on the first date. However, if I asked the guy out, I will sincerely offer to pay. My guideline is, "asker pays." He will usually refuse to let me pay. I will not pick a fight about this.

Now, I don't mind, and I even like it a little, when the guy pays on the first date. Why? Because it's a signal to me that he is interested. Also, every one likes to be treated occasionally. Sometimes I'll pay for my friends or boyfriends, and sometimes they'll pay for me--but the default is going dutch.

On to your second question: what are some great, inexpensive dates? I've been on many and they are my favorite kind of first date. It makes me very uncomfortable if a man I don't know well spends a lot of money on me (more than $50 or so). The power imbalance is too extreme. I'd rather do something inexpensive while I'm getting to know him. In DC, there are many low-cost, fun, date options. Here are some ideas:
  • Museums-most of them are free in DC. In other towns you have to pay, it's probably not much, but there is usually one free night a week.
  • Art galleries. Most towns have an 'art night' when the galleries stay open late--you can hit several in one night and snack on the free wine and cheese. I've done this on my own many times and it's a lot of fun.
  • Ice skating--it's fun and relatively cheap. Combine with cocoa for a perfect date.
  • Taking a walk--through an interesting neighborhood after tea or coffee.
  • Movies--are they cheap enough? I belong to a few 'movie clubs' and get points when I go to those theaters--sometimes I'll get a free ticket. It makes movies more affordable.
  • Many museums have cheap or free screenings of interesting films. (When I first moved to NC, I drove to the NC Art Museum in Raleigh to catch a few Hitchcock films. I never really spent time in the museum. The films were free or $5, can't remember.)
  • The Library of Congress also has a 100% free mid-week movie series. It's best to call ahead and reserve a spot.
  • The Zoo--it's free here too. But probably cheap in most places and a fun date. (I used to hate the zoo, but I'm ok with it these days.)
  • Good ethnic food--some of the best food in the Greater DC area is found in dinky, out of the way places that are not very expensive.
  • Hiking--it's harder to swing mid-week, but a hike is a good date, though it takes a lot of time. And you can pack a lunch for her and she'll love it. (Not so good for relative strangers.)
  • Bike riding--see above.
  • Picnics--if it's a warm day, what about a picnic in a park?
  • Free concerts (DC):
    • National Gallery Sculpture Garden--in the summer there are free jazz concerts on Fridays (there is something similar at the Hirshhorn on Thursdays).
    • Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center: a free concert/performance every day of the week.
    • The Library of Congress: free concerts during the 'theatre' season (you have to get tickets in advance, and the small service charge makes them not 100% free, but I've yet to see a bad performance there).
  • Fringe theater: tickets are usually $15-20, which is a bargain compared to $60 for most mainstream theater. Small companies usually have 'pay-what-you-can' performances.
  • Regular theater: there is a half-price, day-of-show ticket place in DC and most other large cities. Not really cheap, but a good deal.
  • Bar activities: darts, pool, cheap beer
  • Dancing: at least one place I know of in DC has free Salsa lessons on Monday night.
If you're looking for low-cost dates, DC is probably one of the best places in the country to be. (If readers have other cheap/free date ideas in or out of DC, leave them in the comments and I'll add them to the list.)

I should add a caveat to my prior statements about my comfort with paying and my preference for inexpensive dates: I am particularly flexible in this regard. If you want to spend a lot of money on me, I can deal with that. If you want to split every time we go out, that's fine with me too. If all we ever do is go to the movies, I'll be quite content. If we go see bands now and then and watch movies at home the rest of the time, I'll still have fun. If we go hiking every weekend…well, that's not going to happen, but it would probably be ok. I really like going out to dinner, but I'm as happy at the hole-in-the-wall joint as the fancy place with the white tablecloths. I won't hold it against you if you don't pay all the time. I won't keep score and I won't think less of you. I just don't care.

Finally, there is the question you did not ask, but which I can't help addressing: why are you feeling resentment in the first place? You resent having to pay--when paying is completely your decision. Maybe your dates care if you pay and maybe they don't--but you haven't bothered to find out--because you care. You want to pay. But why? Why do you need to pay? I know you are not the only guy that feels this way, but what does it mean? I'll assume that you don't expect anything in return except the pleasure of her company--but if that company isn't a pleasure why are you going out on third and fourth dates?

(Aside: I dated a guy a few years ago who would rarely let me pay. It got old after a while. I explained that I wanted to pay at least some of the time because it would give me pleasure and put us on more equal terms. He seemed to understand, but he didn't made it easy for me. It's not why we broke up, but it was one of a dozen little things that annoyed me about him. There was another boyfriend with whom I paid most of the time--he had expensive habits and a small income. I liked being with him so I didn't mind--much--but it bothered him and he wanted me to stop paying all the time. We broke up for many, many other reasons.)

I've heard men and women say that men should pay because "it's not right for the woman to pay" or "men are supposed to pay." But why isn't it right? Why are men supposed to pay? I make as much or more money than most of the men I date--so it's not because he's richer. Is it just because he is a man?

If men are supposed to pay because they're men, then it's all a big power play. It's about men being in control and keeping women in a passive role. I don't like that one bit. This is not a battle I usually pick, but it seems that women are losing a lot of ground here in our effort to be seen as full human beings. And it's not a great situation for men either--see how they grow to resent it over a decade of dating?

I hope this was helpful, Isaac. I seem to have found it cathartic. Good luck to you!


Grateful for: learning from the questions.

Send me an email and I'll answer your question next Tuesday.

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