Who picks up the check? Daters face a dilemma when the bill arrives

| Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A recent date became awkward when a woman refused to let Patrick Sweeny pay for her meal. She argued with the Uptown resident and even talked to the manager, to stop him from treating.

That's not how it should be, Sweeny says. And there was no second date for this woman. “I always pay,” says Sweeny, 21, a Duquesne University student. “It's just respectful that way.”

Some traditional practices of chivalry still die hard.

Though dating roles have evolved, most women still prefer the man to pay for dates, at least at the beginning of a relationship, according to a recent study presented at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting. Authors of the study — “Who Pays for Dates? Following Versus Challenging Conventional Gender Norms” — surveyed more than 17,000 unmarried heterosexual men and women. Of the respondents, 84 percent of men and 58 percent of women said men pay for most dating expenses, even when the relationship is established rather than beginning. Of the men, 25 percent say they still pay for dates every time.

“They think this is their responsibility,” says study co-author Rosanna Hertz, professor of sociology at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. “This shows that they are gentlemen and good providers.”

Who is paying for dates at first establishes the tone for the relationship, Hertz says: “The date becomes kind of this litmus test for the future.”

Part of the issue of who pays is who does the asking, Hertz says. Also, if a woman makes more money — about 28 percent of women become the household breadwinners, Hertz says — a couple's relationship may be more egalitarian financially.

“This is something that we need to openly discuss more frequently, so it comes as less of an assumption that it's a man's job to pick up the tab.”

Of the women who participated in the study, about a quarter of them pay part of the dating bills from the very beginning. Some 57 percent offer to help pay the tab, but 39 percent confess that they hope their dates will turn down the offer; 44 percent of women said they were put off when men expect them to contribute.

Though traditional norms about paying for dates still dominate beliefs, nearly two-thirds of men in the study say they believe women should contribute, at least at some point. And men seem to resent falling into a perpetual meal-ticket role: If a woman hasn't offered to pay after dating for a while — maybe 3 to 6 months — 44 percent of men say they would break up with her because she may come across as a golddigger.

“Most don't expect to pay 50-50. They just don't want to be out with a princess who won't pay for anything,” Hertz says.

“I think that the men really feel this tension,” she says. “It's not like women are necessarily paying 50-50, but the vast majority said they would like women to open up their pocketbook and at least offer.”

One issue that came up in the study is expectations of physical intimacy. While some women expect chivalry from the beginning of a relationship, for other women, a man's paying produces power dynamics — and one-third of women say that when they pay their own way on a date, they feel less pressure to sleep with a man, Hertz says.

The professor says she was surprised by the results of the study that emphasized traditional norms, in the modern world.

“I would have expected more women to be paying from the very start,” she says.

A sample group of the youngest adults expressed mostly the traditional view of paying for dates: It's the man's responsibility.

“If the guy doesn't pay, it's not a date,” Jordan Saltzman, 19, says. She grew up in Squirrel Hill and now attends Duquesne.

Krisalyn Sorey, 18, once went to a sushi restaurant with a new guy — and was shocked when the bill came, and she paid for her own meal. It was confusing and disappointing, the Uptown resident and Duquesne student says.

Burke Atalay, a Duquesne student from conservative Turkey, says he would not let his girlfriend pay for a date.

“I pay all the time,” Atalay, 20, says.

Jessie Miller, though, says she is “pretty equal,” though she would expect the man to pay at first. After dating someone for several months, she'll want to start paying more of the expenses, says the Duquesne student who lives in Uptown.

Some men — like Taylor DiBart, 21, of the South Side — always will consider paying their responsibility. He has been with his girlfriend, Mikayla Pasterick, for 7 years and 5 months, and he still pays for just about everything — even the rent on their apartment. But DiBart's girlfriend always asks whether she can chip in for the expenses, and he says no.

Some women — like Erin Connelly of Millvale — view dates largely as a 50-50 outing.

“I'm OK with splitting it,” says Connelly, 30. However, 99 percent of men she's dated have refused her offer.

“I wouldn't want to pay for every single meal, and I wouldn't expect someone to pay for my meal,” she says.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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