A recent article in a friend’s online newsletter was a rant that the guy should always pay when on a date with a woman. That seems grossly unfair to me—if you both have money, taking turns seems more appropriate. This friend likes the “old fashioned way.” She has as much of a right to believe that’s best as I do to believe otherwise.
But there’s a bigger question here. How can we be effective in deciding when to pay and when to have another pay?
Another example is the current trend for kids to live with their folks for free, even if they are gainfully employed. Who benefits with that? From the outside, it looks like nobody. The kid is denied the chance to learn how to meet their own needs with their own resources. The parent continues to shell out for additional groceries, higher utility bills, etc. instead of being able enjoy things that meet their own discretionary needs.
Then there are the parents who insist on paying every time even though their adult kids are ready and willing to pick up the tab. Who wins there? Nobody. Again. The kids are left to be “dependents” long after they have matured beyond it.
And then there are friends. The poor money manager kind, especially. They can be quite comfortable with you footing the bill all the time because “you have more money.” Maybe that’s true, but it’s likely, at least in part, to be because they didn’t and don’t do good job of money management. If you want to do something expensive they can’t afford and want them along, open your wallet. But if every time you go to lunch, they choose a place beyond their own means and then expect you to pay, give it some thought. Being someone else’s sugar daddy is a dead-end.
What does paying say about the situation?
Treating someone else to something that costs money is a way to say “I love you.” So most of us find some situation where paying the bill is important. But it also says “I believe in you and value your competence” when you give the other person the chance to pay. And it can be saying “We’re friends, and we share the load—and it’s your turn this time.”
It’s not about dollars. It’s about power—who is going to be subordinate by being “taken care of”. The very old sometimes need to be “taken care of.” And the very young, certainly. But if you are taking care of everyone all the time, stop. You’re throwing things off balance big time.
We need to pay attention to the message we are sending when we choose to pay. Is it
- Treating a loved one to something special?
- Setting a good example for kids not yet old enough to have their own resources?
- Carrying out the responsibilities of a specific role—like caregiver or bookkeeper?
- Celebrating something that makes you feel prosperous with friends?
These are all legitimate.
OR is it
- Accepting doormat status and paying for someone else’s good time who should be paying for it themselves?
- Treating your grown kids as if they aren’t capable of paying when they reached that status long ago?
- Relying on old practices without confirming that’s how the one you expect to pay wants to do it?
Sometimes, having the other person pay is the most responsible, loving thing you can do. And sometimes it’s selfish, immature, and lazy.
As for who should pay on a date? Well, if all you are after is a nice dinner, then insisting he pay may be the way to go. (You may never see the guy again, but perhaps that’s your MO.) When I date, it’s to get to know a guy. I want to see what he’s like when he has the power and when I take it. If you can get in sync about who does when, you are well on the way to being good friends at a minimum. When you insist he is always the one to pay, you’ve lost the chance to learn many important things. What’s he’s like when someone else has the power? Is he comfortable with give and take? How does he handle his resources? Does he respect yours?
Come to think of it, that’s all stuff to look at when deciding if the kids or friends should pay, too.