Who picks up the check on a first date? In days past, this wasn’t even a question. The man was expected to. Problem solved.
Or was it?
Over the last half-century, things changed. No longer held back by society, women began working better jobs. They also started objecting to becoming objects to be bought with a nice dinner, by men whose expectations rose with the bill. Others (but not many) began to resent the very thought that a man takes such a “patriarchal” role that he would buy a woman a meal, like she was his daughter or something (keep in mind that this is a man she theoretically would want to go out with). So it becomes a political issue, although I think some people just feel better making everything political.
It actually gets more complex: there are women who will offer to split the check on the first date — and if the man agrees, she won’t see him again. Toss in a recession and the ensuing job issues, and you have a lot to think about.
So now, apparently, when the check comes, no one knows what to do anymore. But they should:
Did you ask her out? Good. Pay the check.
This is simple. You’re not paying the check because it’s your responsibility as a man. You’re not paying the check because you want to impress her, because you want to take her home or because it’s a tired vestige of a patriarchal society (blech). You’re paying the check because you asked her out. You’re a gracious and generous host. Really, there should be no why. Just pay the damn check already.
But what if she offers to split the check? You’re still paying, unless she insists. (“Insisting” doesn’t consist of mumbling, “are you sure?” “Insisting” is something like, “I can’t let you do that,” or, “I really would feel better if I paid half.”) Even then, if you’d like to see her again, tell her, “I’ll pay tonight, and you can get the next one.” Then make your next date right there and then. If you’re not so sure you want to see her again (and to me, her insisting on paying half is usually a bad sign), let her pay her half and go on her way.
Of course, this assumes you asked her out. If she asked you out, she gets to pay. If you’re just “hanging out,” it’s more complex: if dinner/lunch/drinks weren’t something you specifically mentioned you both would do, she probably should pay half.
But what if she asks you out and expects you to pay? That’s a dilemma. Usually if the check remains sitting on the table for any length of time, I gently make it clear that she’s expected to pay (“Since you asked me out tonight, let me take you out next time”). If she looks clearly uncomfortable with paying the check, I’ll offer to split, making sure she knows it’s an offer to help her. If I had a great time and am feeling generous, I’ll offer, “I know you asked me out, but let me get this.” It all depends on your assessment of her character and your desire to see her again.
Finally, there’s the income issue. Again, the answer is simple: go on dates where you can afford to pay. If you can’t afford to pay anything, start Googling “Free date ideas.”
Really, this is all governed by rules of simple etiquette. Politics shouldn’t enter into it. And if you don’t like it, you always have the option to not date.