I used to agonize over my duty to pay on a date. Now, when I'm out with a new guy and our check arrives, my arms hang limply at my sides. I don't even pretend to read it.
It's outmoded. It's sexist. But it's also pragmatic.
There are many advantages to the slow decay of romantic conventions. But in the absence of conventions, our anxiety over how to behave and, crucially, what to expect, increases. We need cultural signals to put us at ease. And when we're serious about getting serious with someone, we need romantic barriers to deter anyone who isn't.
It's liberating, all the directions in which an evening can go, but it's also confusing. We can be friends, friends who make love, lovers who end up falling in love, or rapidly domesticated couples. We can have emotionally neutral sex, or emotionally charged sex. In the absence of strict moral guidelines, women are in need of unambiguous signals that tell us where we stand. Is this a date? Might we, perchance, be "dating"? For lack of a better gesture, paying on a date serves a vital function: It tells me if we have a shot at romance.
Sure, we can state our intentions verbally. But a gesture is romantic precisely because it's symbolic. Allusion and symbolism are far more erotic than an information session. When he offers to pay, he admits that this is a date in the traditional sense. When I accept, I'm admitting the same. Paying indicates baseline interest at best, and it isn't the only signal we have. It's just one of the most reliable at this particular juncture, as women ascend to equal status and we figure out what manners mean to us now.
Making him pay is a shallow test of sorts. If he has an issue shelling out $12.95 for my green curry, it's better that the necessity of paying such a prohibitive sum prevent him from asking me out again. Bottom line: I just made him decide how much he wants me. Answer: not much!
Better to know now. Because if he can't handle paying for my dinner, he can't handle my full range of expectations. And at this point, a $12.95 price tag indicates how much I expect.
In his post, my fellow vacillator makes some damning admissions. He admits to coughing up the cash so as not to ruin a good time. That just confirms that an interested man will pay.
An intelligent man recognizes that paying isn't quite fair, but a man who cares pays. When he puts his card down, he says: "I am willing to submit to this outmoded, sexist gesture just to make our date go well, because you're pretty interesting. And I want to see you again." Great. I wanted to want to see you again, too.
My resolve may seem harsh, but it makes me more sincere. I don't pull the credit-card feint anymore. I don't ask, "Are you sure?" when you reach for your wallet, because I'm sure. I've decided I'm paying (because I don't want you romantically), or I'm not (because I do). Either way, I won't ask you to decide for me.
(This post is a response to "Girls Can't Have It All Their Way -- They Have To Pay.")