Who Pays For Dinner?

Who is paying for dinner on your date? Can you hear the silent thoughts and questions? Will she offer to go dutch? Would I accept it if she did? I wonder if he’s going to pick up the bill or ask me for money? Will I say I have any money with me if he asks? Is she going to expect me to pay for everything all the time? Is he going to expect me to pitch in each time we go out to dinner?

Sound familiar? The traditional gender assignment (he or she) is important but not the best part of this kind of exchange. The best part involves understanding what money means psychologically to two people on a date. And that’s just where it starts. How about when a love relationship forms? Does the relationship change how two people relate to money? I didn’t mind paying for dinner on our dates, but now that we’re living together don’t you think you should do your part? You spent all that money on me, I thought you were going to take care of me?

The ‘one person in charge of the money’ view essentially dictates that the person with the most money takes the person with less money out on the dinner date. On the simplest level, traditional thinking also indicates that the one asking is the one paying. You ask because you can foot the bill. You ask because you’ve got something in mind and you want someone to accompany you. All this should have been thought out prior to asking. Right?

At this level it’s all about wanting a certain experience to happen, picking someone to join you in that experience, and paying for it. This happens when one person is in charge. In a nutshell, the person creating the plan is responsible for paying for it. Paying for someone’s dinner on a date is a message to that person that you have something to give, that you can ‘feed’ and take care of him or her.

Historically, men have been expected to make such a claim. In a true democracy, women should have that privilege as well. In a serious love relationship, the messages we send will have to shift toward sharing. One caveat, if you move a relationship into an extreme pattern of always paying and refusing contributions, you are trying to create a form of dependency with your over-responsibility. If your independently wealthy and want to take care of a dependent lover, and that’s what you had in mind, fine. Otherwise, when you think dependency, think resentment and dysfunction too.

The ‘shared contribution’ view is another approach to this issue with very different expectations and messages. Sharing means we are in this together. The expectations I have of you I also have of myself. Shared responsibility means we value sharing. I don’t need you to take care of me, in fact, I need you to respect my separate monetary contribution to this thing that we are doing together.

People who want to go ‘dutch’ have to take care of themselves in situations that could result in someone else taking care of them. If you’ve had a few bad experiences with too much unilateral control, like too much sacrifice in a love relationship, or at least witnessed  other people losing themselves in love, a shared money habit or ritual in your love relationship would probably be preferred.

If you’re dating someone and you make the demand to go dutch when he or she is still trying to find out if you have something to give, there might be a problem. You’re asking for a shared contribution before the question of giving has been answered. In a love relationship, sharing cost supports independence, even though differences in salary may throw a practical monkey wrench into the idea of consistent monetary sharing in a relationship.

Although the theme of shared responsibility is an essential one when it comes to a healthy love relationship. Keeping a shared independent relationship going with an emphasis on mutual responsibility is important regardless of who pays the tab. Of course, this doesn’t mean one or the other of you couldn’t pickup the cost of something as a gift.

My personal preference is a combination of both of these options. When divested of gender rules they would give two people a chance to both give and receive in a love relationship. Anything that promotes the experience of both giving love and receiving love in a relationship is always healthy. Dr. T. Jordan

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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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