“If she doesn’t want to sleep with me after I’ve paid a lot for a first date, I’ll weigh up the likelihood of that being the case next time. If she’s simply ungrateful or disrespectful, I need to cut my losses and find another prospect.” These are the words of Ali, 29, who believes paying for a date entitles him to sex.
If a woman is not interested in a man sexually, then he says she shouldn’t accept dinner, drinks, or even a coffee from him. “Physically I’m not the kind of person who easily gets dates, and it’s been a while since I paid directly for sex, so flashing a credit card is about the only way I can get that kind of company,” he tells me.
The night before we speak he had taken a woman for dinner, and “100% felt” he deserved her time and attention after picking up the tab. “In the business world no one likes a corporate luncher,” he tells me over email. “I hope I never meet a girl who agrees to meet because they want some freebies.”
Many men would reject Ali’s transactional approach to dating, finding it embarrassing and disrespectful. But others recognise that for some men, payment for dinner and expectations of sex are linked.
When Chlo Matthews, a student paramedic from Hull, recently shared a text from a man she met on a night out, it quickly went viral. It read: “Could you transfer me for those drinks I bought you last nite since we didn’t go home togeva wasn’t really worth my time was it lol x”, and Matthews joked she would be retiring from nights out as a result.
Some were incredulous that any man would behave this way. But Matthews is not the first to share her experience of being billed after a date: Lucy Brown’s date reportedly requested £42.50 for her meal and drinks after she said she didn’t want to go on a second date; Lauren Crouch said she was asked to pay £3.50 for a coffee a man bought her; and Abby Fenton was asked to reimburse a man £6.50 after they didn’t sleep together on a night out in Sheffield.
Other women have had similar experiences. Kayleigh always arrives early for a date – not to make a good impression, but to make sure she buys the first round of drinks. She’ll text her date, take his order, and then wait.
It’s an approach the 27-year-old has adopted since one man tried to “guilt trip” her into inviting him home because he had paid the bill for their dinner. “When we finished eating, he snatched the bill as soon as it arrived and took it to the till to pay,” she says. “I tried to give him money, but he said: ‘Don’t worry about it, how about you just invite me back to yours instead?’.”
“I think a lot of it is rooted in insecurity - these men feel like they don’t have much more to offer than their ability to cover the bill..."”
When Kayleigh declined, the man responded: “So I’ve just wasted my money tonight then?” She is now on “red alert” if a man tries to pay for everything. “I wonder what he’s expecting in return,” she explains. “Some men seem to think sex should act as payment.”
But what’s driving this idea that a date is transactional – an exchange of goods (food, drinks, coffee) for whatever men expect from the woman (a second date, affection, attention, even sex)?
“I think a lot of men were brought up believing they should pay for everything,” suggests Kayleigh. “But that shouldn’t come with conditions attached. I think a lot of it is rooted in insecurity – these men feel like they don’t have much more to offer than their ability to cover the bill, and they believe that they should be compensated for it.”
Traditionally, it was men who paid for dates, and conventional notions of ‘chivalry’ in heterosexual dating have helped this idea to persist. But while this might once have made economic sense – when women were primarily doing non-salaried jobs (homemaking, raising children) or lower paid jobs – today women are on a more even financial footing. But this doesn’t always translate into women always paying their way.
Some researchers have suggested this is a case of individual women using the old-school gender dynamics to their financial advantage. David Frederick, a professor of psychology at Chapman University in California told HuffPost UK: “As social roles start to change, people often embrace the changes that make their lives easier, but resist the changes that make their lives more difficult.” This may be one arena where women (even subconsciously) resist gender changes more than men.
Data shows that men, however, often resist women wanting to pay. In a 2013 study of 17,000 people, researchers found that 58% of women still expected men to cover dating expenses in the first stages of courtship. But the number of men who felt the same was much higher - 84% of respondents. Four years later, a YouGov poll found 40% of men still thought splitting the bill on a first date wasn’t an option.
In 2018, a study showed more women than ever reaching for their purses, with 65% saying they now preferred to pay their way. But that still leaves a third who do not. Many said they didn’t want to “embarrass” the man in question: in May last year a female contestant on Channel 4′s ‘First Dates’ was accused of “emasculating” her date when she pushed back on his offer to pay. He told her to “shut up for once” before they eventually split the bill; he later told the cameras he didn’t want to go on a second date after the incident.
When I talk to women for this article, many report trying to pay but not being permitted to do so. Krista, 32, from Latvia, was in London for work when she went to the pub with a male colleague. She’s married, and was only interested in a professional friendship. He insisted on paying when they went to the bar, and later, without warning, bought her another drink before trying to kiss her. “I turned my head and pushed him away. Then, I grabbed my bag and left, shaking. I was shocked and felt uncomfortable leaving my apartment.”
“This is the perfect intersection of capitalism and patriarchy.."”
Amy, 31, was on a night out when a man approached her and asked to buy her a drink. She told him she had a boyfriend and wasn’t interested – but he bought the drink anyway. As she began to walk away, his friends criticised her for taking the drink and not talking to him for longer as a thank you.
Dr Emma Beckett, from the department of sociology at the University of Warwick, researches gendered capital. What we are seeing here is capitalism and patriarchy perfectly intertwined, she argues. “Boys and men are surrounded by influences that tell them they have to act and behave in certain ways in order to ‘be men’,” she says. “This not only puts men under pressure to act in a certain way, but it also gives many men an excuse to behave in ways they feel entitled to behave in.”
Will, 22, believes men who feel they deserve sex for payment are “shameful” but also acknowledges his own feelings of entitlement. “I’ve been the guy who has met a girl in a bar, got chatting, offered to buy a drink and as soon as they have a cocktail in their hand, they’ve danced off onto the dance floor to never be seen again,” he notes. “[I] Felt like a fool for a few minutes before I got over it.”
So while many men resent feeling like they have to pay, Beckett argues that some also choose to do so as a tool to exercise power and control over women. “Many men feel they have in effect, invested in that woman and therefore she should repay him in some way – usually with positive attention.”
It can also be hard for women to not buy into that narrative. I talk to Lynn, 57, who says she stopped dating because she felt so obliged to have sex with people who were picking up the tab, and it was eroding her self-worth.
A 2010 study ‘You Owe Me’ sought respondents’ views on a fictional date rape scenario. Male respondents believed that when a man had paid 100% for an expensive date, both characters (male and female) should have expected sexual intercourse. But when the costs of an inexpensive date were split, the perpetrator was assigned the most blame for the rape and no sexual expectations were warranted.
Even as society changes and dating appears transformed, Beckett argues that we are still likely to come up against the belief that an exchange of money entitles men to goods. “It all comes down to the man feeling entitled to exercise power and control over women, having ‘paid’ for this interaction. This often leads to a backlash if the woman does not ‘repay’ him with the positive attention he is expecting,” she says.
So while more people are choosing to split the costs of a date, there is still some way to go. As Kayleigh says: “I’d rather pay my own way and not feel like I owe anything to a stranger.”