Is it the manly thing to do, or should we sit back, put our wallets away and let the women do the wooing?
Back when your dad dated your mum, and certainly back when your granddad dated your grandma, it was the men who made all the moves.
They asked for a date, chose the venue and paid the bill. In romantic terms, men led and women followed. A lot of the time, that set the tone for the rest of the relationship.
But is that still true today? With sexual equality on the agenda, is asking for and then paying for dates chivalrous and romantic or patronising and needy?
Here are the arguments for and against – feel free to add your own at the bottom of the page and take part in our poll.
Have men always paid for dates?
The evolutionary perspective on all this is that men may have always – in a manner of speaking – paid for dates.
That’s because, in the dark and distant past, women and their helpless, vulnerable children had a far better chance of survival if a man was around to protect them from predators and bring them food.
If you’re wondering what connection that has to you paying for dinner on your local high street, it’s this: women, particularly when they are young, pretty and fertile, have always wanted to know that men have the resources to ensure their future family’s best chance of survival. In other societies or at other times that might have meant gifts of food, money or animals, directly to the woman or to her family. More recently, in the western world, it’s translated into securing the best table at a fancy restaurant.
According to Dr Douglas Kenrick, professor of social psychology at Arizona State University, “before agreeing to bear and nurse any offspring, then, women, and their kin, often demand evidence that a potential suitor is willing, and able, to provide resources.”
What about dating today?
The fact is, some of that might linger even in these more sexually equal times. And there’s something more besides. Sex is a more complicated proposition for women than it is for men, because sex doesn’t leave men with the potential of a nine-month pregnancy and years of childcare (our basic instincts don’t tend to take birth control into consideration).
That means female company is more valuable to men than male company is to women. Hence, men often still ask, and pay for, romantic dates.
Dr Kenrick showed the difference in our relative romantic value by asking his students how much they’d pay for a one-night stand, if they lived in a society where paying for a date in this way was considered perfectly acceptable. The male students would have happily paid seven times the sum that the female students were willing to pay.
Suddenly, it becomes obvious why men still tend to ask and pay, long after the threats that faced our ancestors have disappeared. In general, female company is still prized more than male company.
Most men still pay
And it’s true that, even away from a psychologist’s classroom, the idea that men should pay for dates seems hardwired into our notions of romance.
A couple of years ago website Top Table found that 85% of men sneakily pick up the bill for dinner dates while their dates aren’t looking. Another study found that 81% of European men expected to pay for all the drinks on a first date.
In fact, even when a relationship is more established men are expected to pay more. A study conducted by moneysupermarket.com in 2009 found that men spent £48 on their wives or girlfriends on Valentine’s Day, and received, on average, just £22 worth of gifts in return.
And the expectation to be wined and dined without flashing their own cash is even more marked among pretty women, according to a study by researchers at St Andrews University published last year.
It found that, the more attractive a woman rated herself, the more likely it was that she’d expect her date to pick up the tab. “When the woman lets the man pay for her, she is basically saying she’d like a second date,” the researchers said.
In other words, a pretty woman might signal her interest by keeping her purse firmly out of sight.
But should men be expected to pay?
In the early part of a relationship many men do signal their interest – and advertise their resources – by asking for dates and paying for them. But should they?
After all, these days young women often earn as much as, or more than, young men. And the quest for equality means that many men are now confused about the right thing to do. Could an offer to pay be seen as patronising and patriarchal? Could it even be seen as needy and desperate?
Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules. Clearly, many women would prefer to ‘go Dutch’ and insist on doing so. Others, as we’ve seen, may expect to be paid for on the first few dates of a relationship.
Some psychologists argue that the tone of a relationship can be set in these first few weeks. If a man does the asking, arranging and paying, he is advertising his status and leadership potential. If the woman readily accepts, she’s buying into his power display. The result may be a traditional relationship where the man tends to take most of the important decisions and the woman plays a more supporting role.
But if the woman initiates some of the early dates, and the couple goes Dutch when the bill arrives, it might set the relationship on a more equal footing. That doesn’t necessarily make it a better relationship – it depends what each party wants – but the woman is clearly signalling that she won’t be a passive partner.
A simple rule
If all that’s a bit much to analyse on a first date, and you want a simple rule to follow when the bill arrives, then the compilers of etiquette guide Debrett’s may have it: the party that request the pleasure, pays for the pleasure.
If you ask her out, you pay, and if she asks you, she pays. Of course, men still initiate most first dates, but women are increasingly confident about asking for a second or third. And if that’s the case, at least you can enjoy the early weeks of a relationship without falling foul of your bank manager.