Anna David is the executive editor of The Fix, as well as being the author of Party Girl and Bought. Her newest book, Falling For Me, wherein she tries to follow the advice in Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, is due out October 11th. She tells us about some of her adventures in this column, Sex and the Sixties Girl
I realize that what I’m about to say would get me kicked out of any club for feminists but the former trend I most wish was still around is the one that involves men treating us on dates.
I know it’s not appropriate to admit such a thing. I get that oftentimes we make as much as, if not more than them so it doesn’t make sense that they should be stuck footing the bill. I get that as a woman, I should want to fend for myself and show that I don’t have to be dependent on anyone.
I still wish they’d pay.
It’s ironic that I’m writing these words, seeing as I’m the most compulsive wallet-reacher in existence. I’m essentially planning when I’m going to dig into my purse before the waiter has even brought the bill, and have been known to offer money at times when I’m wholly positive it won’t be accepted. The last thing I ever want to be is presumptuous.
But there’s one main reason I miss the old way of doing things—and when I say “miss” and “old way of doing things,” I’m really talking about a tradition that died long before I was born so I miss it in the same way I miss dressing up for flights or other things I only heard about but never really did myself: it got rid of a whole lot of awkward that now exists. Initial dates can be uncomfortable already; must we really add a financial negotiation to them?
When I committed to embracing all of Helen Gurley Brown’s recommendations in Sex and the Single Girl, I understood that I was going to have to modernize ideas that seemed the most dated. In other words, I took her concepts about paying on dates (“Never go Dutch treat,” say, and “A lady’s love should pay for all trips, most restaurant tabs and the liquor”) with as much of a grain of salt as I did her most famous dieting recommendation (“A tiny touch of anorexia nervosa is necessary to maintain an ideal weight”): as the rantings of a woman slightly out of touch.
Still, it made me long for a time when these things were a little more clearly defined.
Rest assured, I don’t think men should pay forever—just at first. The first two dates—or maybe the first three. Then a woman should start covering or at least some splitting up should occur. So all I’m advocating for, really, is a brief wooing period that involves actual wooing. Because here’s the thing about the bill: if it’s a first date, I’m going to offer to pay but judge the hell out of you if you actually take me up on it. I’ve had it happen and then felt sorry for the men for not understanding that I was actually testing them in a way, that their honest answer to what they surely assumed was a genuine question had docked them points.
When I’ve dated men who haven’t let me pay for anything, I’ve been delighted. I haven’t wanted to be delighted but the fact is that I have been. And it’s not about the money; it’s more that I’ve delighted in the feeling of being taken care of.
Conversely, when I’ve dated men who have said, when I offered to split the bill, “No, that’s all right, you can get the next one,” I’ve wilted a little—wanting to perpetuate the illusion that I’m being taken care of rather than receiving a reminder that we have an arrangement and the only reason I’m getting this treat is that I’m willing to get him back the next night.
Like I said, this isn’t about money—it’s about the fact that we’re at a bizarre time in history where these rules aren’t defined. I’ll never forget a first date when I lived in San Francisco and didn’t offer to split the bill (this was before my compulsivity about the issue had developed, though in retrospect it may have been why my compulsivity about the issue developed). The guy, as he was getting out his wallet, said, “So, is this how it’s going to be, then? I’m just going to pay for our meals?”
I swear to God he said this. And I don’t fault him for it, either. Or, I did fault him for it but I also understood it. We’re all a little confused by How Things Are Supposed to Work Today.
Part of me wishes we could just come to a consensus about this. I’d just sort of like to sit down with all the single guys and girls in America and talk it out; we could all explain our various feelings and issues and grievances when it comes to paying for dates and eventually decide on a standard that wouldn’t leave anyone feeling uncomfortable, guilty or presumptuous.
You guys up for it? Food and drinks on me.