If you are one of millions of Americans who have moved from the North to the South or East to West or even Austin to Dallas, you know that there are dating different customs and expectations about what to do when the check comes. Who pays? Who offers to pay but won’t be expected to? When is the tab split? What does paying the bill signify anyway? And what do you do if you handle it all wrong?
Let me start this post by saying, there is simply no way I can please everyone on this topic. Some of you are going to disagree and quibble with me about it. Bring it! As much as I have traveled the country, interviewing and compiling dating information and customs, there is no way I’ve hit the nail on every head… please leave a comment if you have something to say… whether I got it right or wrong in your opinion… and lets get the discussion going!
Lets cover the who pays question first. Whomever did the asking does the paying. This has nothing to do with who is able to pay for it or who is greater or less than in the eyes of society… this has everything to do with being the person who initiated. If you initiated the gathering, you are the host and unless specified before that you are going “dutch,” you expect to pay the bill.
From here on out, there is no “rule” and plenty of exceptions to the “rule.” Let me put this idea out there… if you know someone isn’t “from” where you are “from,” give them a break on this bill paying thing. If the girl offers to split it and that offends you because you were raised that gentlemen pay the bill or perhaps the girl doesn’t offer but says thank you very sweetly and you are appalled that she would take you for granted like that… perhaps consider that she may be from a part of the country where men react differently than you do when a split is offered. I can’t tell you how many women I talk to who feel like the axe of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” falls when that bill hits the table. And girls, the same goes for you… if he looks at you inquiringly or wrestles you for the bill… go for reacting with grace as opposed to offense as your knee-jerk reaction. I doubt he is trying to offend you.
Some general rules of thumb on what to expect where you are living or visiting:
- North East: Both parties are expected to offer to pay no matter who does the asking. Likelihood that the man will end up paying is about 50/50 and much higher in NYC since NYC men tend to use that wallet as a social standing symbol. Many Northeastern men consider the bill to be reflective of how liberated you are as far as seeking equality. Boston daters seem to be particularly fierce in their insistence that women pull out that wallet and prove their equality and liberation. A hold over from the tea party days?
- South East and South: If you are below the Mason Dixon Line, expect the man to not only offer but likely be offended if the woman reaches for the bill. The bill has nothing to do with equality and everything to do with being “raised right” and being properly hospitable. If you are a woman, that does not mean you get off scott-free. A man will be watching to see how gracious and appreciative you are of his hospitality. Do NOT forget to express your thanks and in the deep south, a thank you note the following day wouldn’t surprise anyone. (Don’t make the mistake in thinking that Southern men see women as “less than.” Nothing could be further from the truth, as any Southern man worth his salt knows that Southern Belles have a spine of steel under that gracious exterior.)
- Midwest: Its pretty typical for a man to pay. In some of the larger cities, women usually offer but an interested man likely will not take her up on it. The bill in the Midwest is really seen as an extension of how you were raised combined with an indicator of interest. If a woman insists on paying, it usually indicates a lack of interest in a second date.
- Texas: A mix of Southern and Midwestern expectations. A woman usually won’t go wrong offering to pay but very rarely expecting to be taken up on it. The larger cities sway a bit more towards a Midwestern mentality, but if your date comes from small town Texas, expect Southern manners.
- Desert and Mountain States: You have entered an equal opportunity bill pay zone. Women shouldn’t be too surprised when and if a man takes her up on paying her share of the bill. More dutch dating on the whole than most other areas of the country. The bill here seems to signify your ability to take care of yourself. Self-sufficiency rises to the surface, perhaps because the terrain encourages highly independent individuals to seek out life in the extremes of sun and snow.
- California: Most like the desert and mountain self-sufficiency with a dash of male gallantry. Most men here will expect to pay but won’t shy away from letting a girl pay her share when offered. If the woman doesn’t at least make the offer to pay, it can easily be a deal breaker. In economic difficulty, the “gallantry” goes out the proverbial window and it becomes an almost chicken-like stand-off on who will pay the bill with one party or the other conveniently leaving the table to see if the other will lay down the plastic. If you are too gracious as a woman or man, you may not have asked for the date, but you will be paying for it.
- Pacific Northwest: Independent but pretty on track with whoever does the asking does the paying. (Sam, maybe you can contribute more here if you think I’m not quite right in my interpretation… *grin*)
- Alaska and Hawaii: I don’t know … YET. Any contributions from the readers?
- Common Exceptions: Large transient cities, long term relationships (tend to come up with your own system,) The Amish and alternative lifestyles.
It helps in deciphering expectations if you know more about the person you are going out with… if she was raised in the South or by traditional parents, she’ll be shocked if you expect her to pay her share when you ask her out… not because she thinks she is “less than” or incapable of paying, but because — TO HER — it says you don’t want to treat her like a lady and with respect. If he was raised in the Northeast or mountains, offer your share because you know that — TO HIM — you are claiming equality, self-sufficiency and a lack of entitlement. But no matter who you go out with, show gratitude for their time whether they contribute to the bill or not.
If you did mess up and offend your date with poor bill handling finesse, I don’t know what to tell you other than to let that one go or suck it up and have an open conversation about what went behind your behavior. But it’s hard to go wrong by remembering two things about dating in America:
- The asker pays
- Graciousness and Gratitude cover a multitude of mistakes
Like I said, there are exceptions to every rule these days, so look for other indicators of ingratitude, being taken for granted, irresponsibility or social inequity. The bill payment issue is just totally mixed up in our country and most people don’t know whether to offer or not or what that might mean to you.
Of course, you can completely dodge the issue by simply going somewhere free.