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Pay For My Dinner—Or I’ll Eat Alone

I used to insist on going splitsies—not anymore

It doesn’t take long after the beginning of dinner before a date figures out what my values are. I make it a point to drop a few hints early on in the conversation, to weed out the bad dudes (“I went to the Women’s March but found it disappointing as a radical feminist action.” “Sorry I’m late, I was reading the latest Rebecca Solnit.” “Look at that cute baby! Speaking of, how do you feel about paid family leave?”) I’m not subtle or patient about it. I don’t like wasting time in the company of bad men. And my dates end up making plenty of misguided assumptions of about who I am or what I think based on these admissions (“So what, you hate men?” “You must be pretty upset about Hillary.”) but the most ill-founded of these is the expectation that I will going splitsies on the bill.

Sure, hundreds of years of leftist organizing didn’t happen so we could have long-winded conversations about whether it’s anti-woman to let a man pay the bill. But I’m writing this because I just want to set my personal record straight: as a brown, bell hooks-reading, protesting, pro-$15 minimum wage feminist (because my politics are intersectional) I believe men should pay for food or drinks on dates with women.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: this is a conversation relevant only to heterosexual, monogamous couples. On a date with a woman recently, I was happy to pay for my half of the meal (we shared it, anyway). But when I’m having drinks with Rafael or Ahmed, you know who’s paying for my old-fashioneds? Not me.

When I first started dating, a couple years ago, I used to insist on going half. Years of first-wave-feminist conditioning convinced me this was the only moral choice. I also didn’t want to owe men anything, and I felt like letting a man buy me dinner would give him the expectation that the night would progress beyond the restaurant.

But since then, a few things have changed. One is the idea that eating a dinner bought by someone else (of their own volition, on a date they invited me on) would mean I owed them anything. When I was younger, my mother used to tell me never to take free things from men, because they only wanted one thing in return. But this idea is steeped in plenty of anti-feminist rhetoric, one that sees relationships between men and women as purely transactional. It’s this idea that gives men permission to violating a woman’s space simply because he sent a free drink her way at the bar. If we’re talking consent, a woman has the right to bow out of any evening, even after she’s ordered both the steak and lobster on his dime.

Secondly, as time wore on, I started to notice something: the men in my life made much, much more than me, even when their jobs required much less of them. As a woman of color, the gender pay gap affects me worse than it affects my white feminist peers: According to the New Republic: “Compared to what a white man makes: Hispanic women earn 54 percent, followed by black women at 64 percent, and Native American at 65 percent. (The wage gap closes somewhat for women of color vs. men of the same race or ethnicity).”

Where I struggled to pay rent every month, the men I dated lived comfortably. They often lived with their parents, because they didn’t suffer from the same patriarchal standards imposed by my parents that made it impossible to live at home. They also insisted on picking the date’s location—often, some restaurant or bar that was way out of my price range.

In general, women risk a lot more when they go out on dates with men then men do when they go out with women (like that old Margaret Atwood quote goes, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them”). There persists an power imbalance in all heterosexual relationships, even with the most “woke” feminist men.

Additionally, women often bear the financial burden of contraceptives like the pill, IUDs, Plan B and more late-in-the-game imperatives like abortion. After sleeping with someone last year, he told me I should buy Plan B. I told him it was $50, hoping he’d pitch in. Instead, he said, “Maybe you should find a cheaper place to buy your Plan B,” which only indicated to me that he had a poor understanding of what Plan B was, and how our healthcare industry works. I paid for the Plan B. I haven’t seen him since or answered any of his calls.

So, until these things change, I’m taking a stand: pay for my dinner, or leave me alone.


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