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One single guy wonders: Why must men always pay for dates? Can’t women pick up the tab sometimes?

By Steve Friedman

he ordered the pasta with truffle oil. Of course she ordered the pasta with truffle oil. First date, fancy restaurant. And, of course, I am paying. I’m the guy. Which leads me to a few questions. Questions like: Why? What’s wrong with my date springing for her own pasta with truffle oil every once in a while?

A female lawyer I know — who earns close to a quarter million dollars a year and still insists men she sees pay for meals — explained it to me. “I want to know they value me,” she says. “It makes me feel like he’s a man, and I’m a woman.”

Which seems exceedingly odd, considering that some of the men she dates are out-of-work actors, struggling artists, and a filmmaker who lives with his parents.
“A woman wants to feel like she’s appreciated. And if she has to pay, she doesn’t feel that way.”
I remind her of that. I tell her that to me, picking up (or not picking up) the tab does not determine one’s womanliness or manliness. Maybe I use the phrase, “You’re killing these poor bastards.”

“You don’t understand,” she tells me. “A woman wants to feel like she’s appreciated. And if she has to pay, she doesn’t feel that way.”

She’s right. I don’t understand. I mean, aren’t kindness and solicitousness and missing the Knicks/Hornets to see the ballet with her evidence of my appreciation? Shouldn’t we try to be a little equal here?

No, say a shocking number of my peers, women and men. Even in a day and age where men and women often earn equal salaries, many still adhere to the “he pays” model of dating.

“It might seem like a brave new world,” a male friend tells me. “But in fact, we are controlled by impulses and cravings as old as sex itself. Way back when, only the alpha caveman who brought back some brontosaurus ribs could expect any action that evening. The cave women roasted the ribs and raised the cave babies; the cave guys spent their days chasing the mighty beasts.”

Well, yes, but isn’t this the 21st century?

“To you, maybe,” he says. “But to women, they’re still looking for the guy who brings home the stegosaurus chops.”

I have to admit, even ignoring the more insane points of my friend’s dinosaur-centric theory of courting, there is something simple and comforting to the Money-Man style of dating. It’s particularly comforting to the woman who wants a husband who’ll buy the multi-million-dollar home and take care of Trey and Muffy’s private-school tuition. And it’s comforting to the guy who wants to do that, too. But what about the population that isn’t so certain about what they want in a mate, or even a date, beyond fun and romance and some laughs and maybe, just maybe, a soul connection and life partner? What about me?

I’ll tell you about me: I pay. I pay for the first date, and the second, and even the third. It’s an archaic and senseless custom, especially if she makes more in a month than I do in a good year. But that’s okay. As archaic and senseless customs go, it’s not as bad as stoning adulterers to death, or tip jars at Starbucks.
Unless one of us is making infinitely more than the other, we take turns treating. Neither one of us is keeping score.

Besides, it’s not like I pay forever. For the men and women comfortable with that — and there are many — I salute you. For me and truffle girl, if we’re still seeing each other after three or four dates, we’re usually comfortable enough to talk about things. About our goals, our hopes and dreams, our families and our jobs and what we want from life. Also, about money. And after that, unless one of us is making infinitely more than the other, we take turns treating. I spring for dinner, she buys tickets to the opera. She cooks lamb, I make cookies. Neither one of us is keeping score, but we’re both doing our best to be generous. There doesn’t need to be a tense summit conference or a comparison of tax returns; most of the time, the situation arises naturally.

And when it doesn’t? There have been times when I have convened the summit conference. I mention my deep affection, my enormous respect, my hopes for a continued flowering of the nice thing we share. (I don’t say, “Hey, Honey, let’s go Dutch on this.” That’s just tacky). Then I tell her I can’t afford to pay for both of us all the time, and might we consider a way to keep our wonderful romance going without my having to move to a flea-bag hotel?

One or two women have balked, and they’re buying their own noodles now. But the vast majority have been happy to discuss things. Afterwards, we might dine out at less pricey places, spend more time renting movies and ordering takeout. A couple times, women have admitted that they’ve been wanting to pay, but felt weird about offering. In all cases, the result has been more communication, a greater comfort level, a deeper connection. And those are things that money can’t buy.

Steve Friedman is the author of seven books, including Lost on Treasure Island: A Memoir of Longing, Love, and Lousy Choices in New York City. More information at Stevefriedman.net.

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