To pay or not to pay, that is the question

By Mara Shapiro

Hearing the word “first date” can stir up a slew of emotions. Not only is it the first time two people are meeting, but it’s the first time in a romantic setting.  There’s a reason why Blink-182 infamously entitled one of their most popular tracks, “First Date” and sang about the pressures it can create.  

“Huffington Post,” recently published an article about the controversies of paying for first dates. In heterosexual relationships, some women expect men to pay for the first date, and others feel uncomfortable and prefer splitting the bill. This issue is relevant in today’s dating culture at Illinois. 

Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and African-American Studies, Karen Flynn, does not believe that paying for first dates should still be an issue in modern times. 

“I’m surprised that it’s a controversy in the first place. I was under the impression that women and men had challenged ideas about masculinity and femininity and gender roles about who paid,” Flynn said. “I was surprised that women are still invested in this kind of chivalry.”

However, the issue of paying is still prevalent for college kids. For some, it’s just traditional for the man to pay for the first date. 

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Sophomore in LAS Kanishk Patel said he believes that the man should pay for the first date.

“It’s common courtesy in my own life, and how I was raised and it’s chivalry,” Patel explained. “It’s an unsung rule of dating. You do it for the first date just for courtesy and to be a gentleman.”

Andrew Cheline, junior in LAS, said he also believes men should pay for the first date.

“I’ve always seen that and it’s basically how it’s always been. You have a nice dinner and have a good time, after that it’s free game,” Cheline said. 

Mike Gonzalez, junior in Engineering, said he sees how women might get offended if a guy insists on paying, but says he was brought up to see that paying was the right thing to do when it comes to first dates.

“If I offered to pay, the date could get offended because it would seem like I’m implying that they can’t pay for their own meal,” Gonzalez said. “But especially if I’m inviting them out, I feel obligated to cover the cost.” 

On the other hand, Jett Wang, sophomore in Engineering, said she thinks men and women should look at each other as equals when they go out on dates.

“I don’t think anyone is obligated to pay based on gender,” she explained. “By asking men to pay for them, women are kind of putting themselves in weaker situation where they need to be paid for, so lowering their own status.”

As for a woman’s perspective, Lavine Luo, sophomore in FAA, said allowing the man to pay for the date could signify that the woman is romantically interested and wants to keep going on more dates. 

“If I let the guy pay, that means I’m appreciating them, but if I insist on paying my bill personally, that usually means we are keeping this relationship as friends and not in a romantic way,” she said. 

Patel said that first dates are, in general, awkward situations, and it can be hard to tell what makes the other person comfortable versus uncomfortable. 

“You’re trying to get to know the person. At the same time you’re basically blindfolded and playing chess in the park,” he said. “You want to make the right moves. It’s hard to make sure your moves are the right ones. If you ask the girl, ‘Do you want the chicken salad for the appetizer?’ What if she’s a vegetarian?”

The issue of who should pay for the first date is arguably a heteronormative issue.  Corvon Brooks, junior in AHS, who is open with his homosexuality, said he believes that on the first date, both he and his date should pay for their own meals. 

“Once you start to date and go on more dates, we can figure out who pays,” Brooks said. “If he’s always paying for me, then he doesn’t think I’m able to pay for myself.” 

Flynn explained that this pressure for men to pay on the first dates goes beyond simply footing a dinner bill. It brings up issues of class, race and masculinity.

“If working class people are dating that would be different than myself who is middle class. The practical issue is what if you could only go to McDonalds?” she said. “We imagine a nice restaurant and wine and a nice meal. Class is imbued in this dating. Who has the resources to pay?”

Debating over who should pay on the first date shows little progression in the dating world, Flynn said. 

“If we are having this conversation, there’s still a lot of work to be done about gender roles and race and class,” she said. “I’m hoping that couples will make choices that are not always influenced by gender.”

Flynn explained that her father told her to always bring her own money when she went on dates. She feels that having the man pay could lead to uncomfortable expectations.

“When I was dating, if a young man continued to pay for you, then there was some sexual expectation,” she said. “It mirrors sex work: ten dates and then some kind of expectation.”

Flynn’s thoughts are similar to women currently dating.

“If men pay for the first date it’s kind of a pressure. I would think that I owe him something,” said Alice Chen, junior in Engineering. 

However, Patel said that women should not feel that they owe the man if he offers to pay.

“It’s just being a gentleman at the end of the day,” he said. “I personally wouldn’t expect anything in return.” 

Overall, Flynn said she believes there is more to dating than simply having the man pay for the first date. 

“Does it make a young man less of a man if he can’t pay? We should think about values,” she said. “Is someone paying a particular type of value? Or should we look at someone being thoughtful or caring instead?” 

Chen, who is currently in a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend of nine months, said she believes trust and communication are key in a relationship’s chances for success. Cheline also stressed the importance of communication.

“Once there’s a lack in communication, it will stop working. If you’re not able to at least talk to them, then there’s nothing there,” he said. 

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Jett Wang as a male. The article should have identified Jett Wang as a female. The Daily Illini regrets the error.