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Love Magazine

Who Pays on a First Date?

A first date is like a blueprint for how you want your relationship to be. Likewise, figuring out how to split your finances is good practice for learning how to negotiate money as a couple.

who should pay on the first date?
Consider the factors associated with paying on a first date.

There are many factors to take into consideration when deciding who should pay on a first date. Here are a few to get you thinking before that first romantic rendezvous.

Who Asked?

One of the factors associated with paying on a first date is who did the asking out. Since inviting someone “out” on a date implies that you will be leaving the house and spending money, it is only logical that the one extending the invitation is paying. After all, if there was no date, there might not be any money spent out in the first place.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The idea that the person who asked for the date is responsible for paying does give the inviter an upper hand when it comes to the scope of the date. Since it was also their idea, they are in charge of choosing the chosen restaurant or any activities afterwards.

While most traditional dates involve a restaurant, modern day dating has become so casual that it’s no longer necessary to be taken out for a “fine dining” experience.

If you’re the brave one who did the asking, use your upper hand to plan a low-cost date such as a picnic, or change that dinner date into a coffee date. If the only thing holding you back from dating is worrying about money, remove all of the old conventions associated with dating and try exchanging money for thoughtfulness.

Plus: The unique nature of it will help you stick out among their potentially many dates. And if there’s anything more exciting than a first date, I promise you it’s a second.

couple having a picnic on their first date
It might be better to plan a low-cost date and focus on having fun!

How Well Did it Go?

Let’s be honest for a second. Was it a crummy date? Did you know within 5 minutes of meeting that they were only interested in a free meal? Do you ever care about seeing this person again?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, chances are you’re less than enthusiastic about paying—even if you’re the one who did the asking. Since dating is a kindness as much as it is an exploration of potential love, you are under no obligation to fork out the money if your date ends up to be a shameless gold-digger.

This situation is perhaps one of the easiest to justify in terms of who pays. Since you won’t be inviting them about again, throw any nuanced responses you may have given about the bill and straight up suggest that you each pay your half.

Or even play dumb and see if they will be the ones to pick up the tab. While they may be shocked, it’s also one of the easiest flat out ways to let someone know that the date isn’t going well. Especially if the goal is to get the hell out of dodge afterwards.

Don’t worry about trying to save face or seem generous—they certainly won’t remember you on their future journey of bad dates. Just make the call, accept that this romance is a dead end, and move out of there with money saved in your back pocket.

What Did the Date Entail?

Another thing to keep in mind is the cost of the date. No one is going to mind you paying for a hot dog and a movie, but if you’re taking someone out to a nice meal on top of the Empire State Building that’s a whole other matter.

Some people can feel extremely uncomfortable when large amounts of money are spent on them, romantic date or not. The best thing in this scenario would be to offer to split the bill, in order to help share the cost of a truly extravagant night.

couple getting a very expensive bill
An option is to share the cost of a truly extravagant night...

Another way that you can determine who pays on a first date, is to switch off paying between activities. This is generally a natural progression to a good date, where you want to spend more time after dinner getting to know each other.

In this scenario, one person pays for the dinner while the other suggests a movie and pays for those tickets. Sea-sawing back and forth with the financial burdens can also help lessen a feeling of indebtedness to focus on having more egalitarian fun.

Even if you end up paying for the movie tickets, you can casually ask that they pay for the popcorn while you go save seats. The key here is honest communication and making sure that this feels like a romantic get together and less like a financial burden.

Wage Gap

For those of you daters who know a little more about the person you’re asking out, try taking into account your paycheck gaps when it comes to paying. No one likes being reminded that they are poor when being asked to split the bill at an expensive restaurant they didn’t ask for (READ: Phoebe, Joey, and Rachel on FRIENDS).

If you know that they tend to be a homebody, or that they seem to bring a packed lunch to work—insinuate that you may be at a financial advantage to offer a free meal. There’s nothing wrong with dating out of your tax bracket, just make sure that you don’t bring up the subject directly as money is always a difficult subject to talk about between strangers let alone on a date.

Get to know each other while eating, and if it seems like they just genuinely like home-cooked food and puttering around the house then you can adjust your payment plan. By that time, you also know that if the date goes well you might be able to suggest a more home-focused meal for the next date.

Love Languages

One of the last criteria in deciding how to pay on your date is to think about your love language. In his book, Gary Chapman suggests that people give and receive love based on 5 different interpretations of the sentiment:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Receiving gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical touch.

Consider which of these you consider as “loving” when they are given to you. Now consider which you give to others as a sign of your affection (they may be different). Based on your interpretation of giving love, you can move forward with not only planning your date, but taking into account who is paying for it.

couple figuring out if they are on the same page
Money is only one aspect of the dating experience.

If you’re someone who values words of affirmation, consider making a point to compliment your date and let them know how much you value their work ethic. If you’re someone who values acts of service, consider holding open doors or offering to help her weed the garden this weekend.

Whatever your love language, money is only one aspect of the dating experience to take into account. Find out what makes you feel loving, or what your partner interprets as love, and move forward from there.

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