I am bad at dates. Really bad. From start to finish I am awkward, abrupt, and, well, sweaty. But the climax of awkwardness (the only kind I reach) is always when the bill arrives. I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to men trying to pay the check. I insist, gently but firmly, that we split it. Simple, right? Wrong. I'm shocked by the amount of times I get a sardonic "yeah, right" smile in return. As my insistence that I genuinely want to pay my share becomes less gentle and more firm the atmosphere can become profoundly uncomfortable. I end up feeling patronised, but also like I can't be annoyed; I know that many times he'll have been on dates where both parties expect him to get the check. But it's rare that both people are on the same page when it comes to money in the early stages of dating. A recent study of 17,000 participants by Chapman University showed that there is very little consensus when it comes to the check. Some women do expect to be paid for; some pretend they don't mind splitting it but will be furious if they actually have to fork out; and some definitely don't want to be paid for and if you keep trying will shout, "Stop trying to buy my time - I'm not a prostitute!", until eventually she buys the entire bar an ill-fated round of jaeger bombs just to prove she can (and to think I never got a second date). Meanwhile, as the study says, some men will happily pay for a meal, while others pay but will hate you forever (or at least resent it). So basically, as soon the check hits the table, good luck.
Since paying the bill is such a social quagmire, why don't we clear things up once and for all? In the beginning, there is no reason for men to pick up the entire check. None. Later on in a relationship, a mutually agreed distribution of labor may mean that one person is making more or all of the income and compromises are made, but when a relationship is developing there is no logic for it. Yes, it's an unfortunate truth that the pay gap still exists and I may be making much less than the man I'm out with, but that doesn't mean I would order something I couldn't pay for. I mean, the prices are right there on the menu. You wouldn't stand around in a shop with a pair of shoes you wanted, doe-eyed and blinking, until someone agreed to pay for them, right? Well, that disingenuous "no-really-let-me-get-this-but-no-really-I'm-not-going-to" check dance looks equally ridiculous. It also makes life unbearable for those of us who really mean it when we say we want to split the check. As for the male perspective: some men say it makes them uncomfortable, but if a woman being able to pay her way makes you feel genuinely uncomfortable, then, well, I think you need to have a long, hard look at why. To be fair, I don't think this is normally the case. I think a lot of men feel a little uncomfortable and it's for the same reason some women still think men should be the ones laying down their card - the seemingly innocuous argument of "tradition". I've heard countless times, from both sexes: "It's nice, it's tradition!" or "He's just old fashioned; I like that!". But why would you to uphold a tradition that's rooted in inequality? It's not like men picking up the check comes from some adorable ancient ritual - it's simply a hangover from a time women couldn't own property, or when rich men gave other rich men huge sums of money to take those pesky financial black holes called females off their hands. How sweet. Can someone explain to me why we would want to commemorate this? Since when is inequality something we're nostalgic for?
Early dates are always going to be a little uncomfortable, even for those of you less clammy than myself. We don't need any extra social obstacles, so going forward let's just all agree: we'll split the check.