Who picks up the tab can be the most important and telling moment of the date when it comes to shedding light on what the future holds for the two of you as a couple. Sometimes, picking up the check is a way of sending a strong message, especially at the beginning of the relationship, when every nuance gets a play-by-play analysis with your girlfriends. Sometimes, it's simply a reflection of not knowing what to do. Either way, who pays for the date often sets the tone of the relationship.

This social situation didn't always exist. Back in the day when your mother was dating, there was no question about who would pay for the date. Now, with the women's movement and more job equality, dating roles seem unclear to many people, and mixed messages abound. Much of that is a result of women not knowing what they want, leaving each to decide if she wants to feel like she is being courted and wooed or insulted if she doesn't feel "equal."

Here are three things to consider about messages you and your dates are sending to each other:
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1. Chivalry is not dead. Men are pursuers — and taking a woman out on a date is part of the package. If a man is interested in you, he will want to take care of you by paying for you. If you accept his pursuit, you are sending him a message that you like him and are pleased with his chivalrous conduct. If you offer to pay out of politeness — and he says "no" — and you accept that, he will feel appreciated but still able to feel he is courting you. However, if you decline and insist on paying your own way, he will most likely feel rejected, not to mention embarrassed by the rejection.

2. If a man does not offer to pay, or if he asks you for money for your "half," most likely he's not all that interested in you. Men who are in pursuit of permanency want to impress you. If they don't make the attempt, consider it a red flag. And watch out for the guy who keeps making you pay for the dates. There are always legitimate excuses, such as he forgot his cash card, he left his wallet at home, etc., but after one mishap, it could be a sign that you may be more interested in him than he is in you.

3. If you offer to pay and he accepts, the message is not as clear cut. If your date has attempted to be chivalrous and then you offer to pay, he may not know what to do — he may say "yes" to try to please you, or he may accept because he wants you to pay.

Buyer beware — if you start off the relationship paying often because you make a lot of money and want to be in control, you may resent it down the road. That's why it is so important to know why you offer to pay, if you do.

Some women offer to pick up the check because they feel guilty if a man spends money on them, don't want to feel "obligated," or want to test their dates to see if they'll accept as a way of measuring affection. Still others feel undeserving of being treated. Whatever the reason for offering to pick up the tab, if you don't mean it, don't offer. Live with your discomfort. Otherwise, you may toss aside a great guy based on his money behavior that was brought about by your actions, not his real desires and motivations.

Visit Debbie Magids, Ph.D. at www.drdebbiemagids.com.