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Modern Etiquette on Who Should Pay for a Date

by eharmony Editorial Team - November 22, 2023

You’re on a really nice date. The conversation is flowing freely, you’re making each other laugh, you’re tentatively flirting and eventually, it must end, and the bill arrives and now the tone changes a bit. Who should pay for a date? Will I come across as oblivious or ungenerous if I don’t offer? Should we just go Dutch?  But if this is your tenth date, you might also think how many dates should a guy pay for?

The answer has changed a lot in the modern cultural landscape so let’s take a look at just exactly what these shifts in roles mean and how they can positively affect your dating life. 

Some study data on how people see who should pay for a date

Who should pay the bill, the best equitable way to share the costs and how certain cultural roles have interacted with this notion is a persistent riddle as old as bills themselves. It can often feel like a very gendered issue, but in increasingly complex ways in modern society.

The fact of the matter is the question of who pays on the first date is also a concept of economics, not just roles. Inflation made dating much more expensive and changed the practicalities of who should pay for a date. This has given rise to a growing trend of infla-dating, where singles, particularly early on, opt for cheaper dates that don’t strain their budget. A recent eharmony member survey found 47% of respondents have rejected dates based purely on their own current financial situation1. The same survey also found 57% of respondents put ‘cooking together’ as their favorite budget-conscious date idea, followed by hikes.  It’s quite easy to have a fun and spontaneous date without really spending much at all.

The paradox of who should pay on a date

At the same time, your financial situation or how you express it can also have effects on your dating life. In looking into modern views on finances and who should pick up the bill on a first date, a separate eharmony survey found not being able to pay for a date as a red flag. The same study found that spending habits were the biggest bone of contention in relationship conflict at 35%2. So, it’s not always someone’s financial position that can keep people from finding love but rather how they approach their life and expenses that can scare off potential partners.

On the other hand, a study from the Thriving Center of Psychology also found finances to be a taboo topic on a first date, along with past trauma and sexual history3. It’s easy to see that this is a bit of a paradox. Singles on a date are keenly interested in whether you’d be a financially stable long-term partner but unable to broach the topic.

These are just a sample of the things going on in your head when you’re trying to establish chemistry and compatibility and who should pay for a date. People are just searching for the right person for them, so don’t overthink the economics of it too much.  

Outdated notions on dating etiquette on who pays and how it has evolved

So, let’s just put it out there, during heterosexual dates, men are often culturally expected to pay the bill here in the US. While there’s definitely something to be said about the gender wage gap4, people of all genders and sexualities now have better access to career opportunities, greater respect in their positions and can try to meet you halfway, even if it’s just simply as a gesture.

Because that’s what having a partner entails. It’s not about when should a woman start paying for dates, it’s about finding somebody willing to work alongside you in achieving your relationship and life goals while also giving them space to pursue their own passions and ambitions. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with couples who are fine with traditional modes of dating. Every couple is unique and has their own approach to intimacy, mutual respect and financial boundaries. But this is generally something one can simply infer by talking to them and seeing where their values lie before the date.

Female modernity and contemporary views on who will pay for a date

Many modern women can also feel actively unreceptive to you paying for their share of the date as it may undermine their sense of independence and agency in your interaction. So, you can offer to pay for a date if you’re the guy but never insist. In fact, 43% of female respondents in the Thriving Center of Psychology survey said they found traditional dating rules like men always paying, misogynistic. Over 75% of LGBTQ+ respondents felt the same5. Just the gesture itself and not being offended if they don’t take you up on it can already help endear you to your date. Once again, what people are often looking for from partners isn’t wealth but kindness in your interactions, and offering to pay can help put that across. 

Women can also sometimes take the lead in who should pay for a date, just because they’re the ones who did the inviting or perhaps suggested a pricey date while not considering your budget. Once again, this can be simply addressed with mindfulness on a date and getting a feel for what they think, regardless of your gender or sexuality. But also realize that footing the bill for a date doesn’t have to be about power or control, but rather just an act of generosity and expressing your growing feelings for a person.

So who should pay on a date in 2023?

Let’s explore the core question here, who should pick up the bill on a first date? The right answer is quite specific to you and your connection with the other person. Here are a few factors that may affect your decision to pay, whether it’s appropriate to pay and what it can mean for your interactions.

  • Who made the plans? That should have a big influence on who offers to pay. If a date invited you to a concert, you might be a bit put off if they ask you to reimburse them for the ticket. Obviously, this wouldn’t necessarily apply if you were just meeting for a coffee but regardless, it’s always a nice gesture to offer if you invited them.
  • How well did the date go? Not that there should be a performance expectation on a date just for you to offer to pay but if they spent the majority of the date looking at their phone, ignoring you and just talking about themselves, it may blunt your desire to grab the bill at the end of the date.
  • Just be spontaneous about it. Dates are about the experiences themselves and sometimes you had such a good time with the other person that dating etiquette who pays might not be an issue on your mind. If you believe it’s a growing connection, it will probably even out in the end. So sometimes you can offer to pay just for the fun of it and because the experience means more to you than the money.
  • What about just paying for the first date? You can still give in to that fashioned gallantry and perhaps pay the bill on your first date. It can be a really sweet and well-received gesture and might just be the tipping point that gets them to say yes to a second date.
  • If you both seem like the bill isn’t a big deal in dating and who should pick up the bill on a first date then just split it evenly. Don’t fret about who had what. Just pay half each. This can help set up a healthy pattern for future dates, where neither of you has any expectation of the other person to pay.

At the end of the day, it’s always a good idea to just feel a date out, get a notion of their expectations and see if they match yours.

A dressed up couple looking at each other through the sides of their eyes

Dutch date – how to approach bill sharing

A common practice in the modern dating scene is to go Dutch on the date. It’s just about splitting the bill based on who had what. We look at going Dutch on a date, how perspectives on it have evolved, its positive effects on growing relationships and how a Dutch date works.

It’s about who should pay for a date but about expressing mutual respect

While who should pay for a date can have wildly different views depending on your values, personality and cultural beliefs, it shouldn’t just be about the money but rather about whether you feel the experience was worth it for you, regardless of who picks it up.  But rather focus on building that connection than worrying about the bill. And as we showed, dates don’t have to involve any bill at all every time.

Find new dating experiences and let us connect you with relationship-minded singles with similar outlooks and dating values to yours while also looking at your personality, through our highly-personalized and data-driven Compatibility Matching System. Join eharmony today!

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