I was having a conversation with my coworkers the other day about dating and I surprised myself by expressing my firm belief that men should always pick up the bill on a date.
Ooo, really? Do I really think that?
Yes! I do.
Now, I consider myself to be a pretty liberal, enlightened woman. But when it comes to dates of the first or second or anything prior to “we’re officially going out” kind, I have this visceral belief that the man should pay. It seems so old fashioned. It flies in the face of my beliefs about equality and fairness. And after a couple has had THE CONVERSATION and agreed that they’re Going Out I definitely think the bill should be split or that the woman should pay at least half of the time. But before that? When two people are testing the waters and seeing how things go? That check is all yours, bro.
So why do I believe this? Where does this subconscious sense of the rightness of certain things come from?
My theory is that it boils down to hundreds if not thousands of years worth of men needing to prove that they can provide for a woman’s needs. From time immemorial, since before our monkey ancestors dropped down out of the trees, the male of the species has had to compete with other males to prove that their genes are more worthy of being passes on through the female of their choice than the next monkey’s. The female sense of what is attractive has developed on an instinctual level based on which male can keep us and our children alive the longest. If a male could fight off the other males, make lots of babies with us, and make sure that we would all be well-fed and safe then he was in like Flint.
As mankind got a little more sophisticated the form that these things took may have changed, but for all intents and purposes the message was the same. In the Middle Ages noble men were often not allowed to marry until their fathers had died, handing over their lands and titles to the eldest son. Mothers wanted their daughters to marry the richest and most titled lords. Why? Because they could fight off the other males, make lots of babies, and make sure that the women were well-fed and safe. Those men who couldn’t offer the promise of a home and an income were out of luck in the marriage department.
Time passed, society progressed. The Industrial Revolution happened and suddenly the demographics of the mechanized world changed. People moved out of the country and towards the cities. Men didn’t have to have a title or estates to catch the eye of the ladies. But they still had to have means. A job at least. There’s a reason most heroes in Regency and Victorian romance novels are dukes or lords or have money, by the end of the novel if not at the beginning. These are our idealized versions of masculinity. They are handsome, faithful, and wealthy. They can fight off the other males, make lots of babies, and keep the heroine well-fed and safe.
I’m not just talking about money here, in case you were about to accuse me of that. Yeah, you know you were. Money is merely a symptom of something much more important. Ambition. Motivation. Purpose. Money is a side-effect of someone with passion who cares about making their life and the lives of the people they love better. I’m not talking about millions of dollars here, I’m talking about the desire to stand on your own two feet without asking for help from your parents or the government or anyone at all.
So. Here we are again on our date. Nothing turns me on more than a man who is motivated to demonstrate to me that he is thoughtful, independent, and confident. What better way to convey that message than by taking me out and showing me a good time? It doesn’t have to be dinner at Le Bec-Fin. I would be equally if not more impressed if he took me to Sonic for onion rings. Why? Because I like Sonic onion rings. The point is that he is taking the initiative, proving that he is capable of organizing and executing a plan. He is proving that he will not end up sprawled on my couch in a wife-beater with a beer demanding that I make him a sandwich while he watches the game. He is proving that I am not his mother, that I will not end up taking care of him.
Paying on a date is not about a guy impressing me with the size of his wallet, it’s about him showing me that he can fight off the other males, make lots of babies, and keep me well-fed and safe. It’s about him demonstrating that he is mature enough to take a position of authority and to be sensitive to the needs of those around him. Me, yes, but let me tell you, you can tell A LOT about a man by how he treats the wait staff and even the other patrons at a restaurant.
We live in a new, modern society that, for the first time in all of human history, doesn’t place outward, public rites of passage on young men to enable them to search for a mate. There are no rules of inheritance or etiquette that slow down the mating process to ensure that the right decisions are being made and that couples will be able to handle the inevitable stresses of relationships. Maybe that’s why so many relationships fail so spectacularly these days. This one last vestige of the complex social order of days gone by, men paying on a date, sometimes feels like the only rational demonstration of practicality before emotions take over and make everyone lose their heads.