More than one guy has said to me, “Well, that’s weird”
Gold digger. Superficial. Money-grubbing. Those are just a few of the negative stereotypes about people—particularly women—if the topic of finances (and pointed questions about resources) comes up too early in a potential relationship. Money is one of those no-no subjects we’re supposed to avoid, to get to “really” know someone.
Evidence of how unusual is it for a lady to pay? We could only find one stock image of a woman footing the bill.
But I’d argue that if two people want to know if they’re on the same page, particularly in the heteronormative world where gender roles are so clearly defined, bringing up money with your potential partner is essential. A decent amount of research backs me up on this. According to a 2013 study at Kansas State University, there’s a powerful correlation between financial arguments and relationship satisfaction—two potent motivations that could lead to divorce.
I’ve found there’s a way for women to do it that’s progressive, not awkward: I broach the subject of personal finance on the very first date.
For several years, at the end of the meal, I’ve insisted on paying. This may sound gutsy, but I found it’s a straightforward gesture that achieves two important things. First, I get to see how male suitors respond to a woman pulling out her wallet and placing her credit card on the table. If they were game, they were my speed. If they scoffed at my offer and interpreted it as somehow inappropriate or aggressive, I know they aren’t a match.
For the most part, the responses from men have been ones of welcome surprise—a refreshing flip of the script.
But more than once I heard, “Well, that’s weird.”
“Is it?” I’d ask back.
Sometimes they would clarify that women don’t typically offer to pay. To be fair, men have not only been socialized to pay, 75 percent of men in a recent survey reported feeling guilty when they accept a woman’s money. Even the 21st century millennial bros in this BuzzFeed video don’t feel fully comfortable with a woman picking up the tab.
For me, once it was clear that the guy really just didn’t think it was “right” for a woman to pay on a date, I knew these guys weren’t “right” for me. Furthermore, this small gesture of offering to pay opens up a world of preconceived roles that have huge implications down the line. Most of the time, my dates have asked that we split the bill instead, and in those cases I always acquiesce, since it seems more like they wanted to be fair than to protect outdated gender norms.
I spoke with several women who make sure they have a conversation about money right away. Straight from the dating front lines, here are some outcomes you can expect if you talk cash on date one:
Money reveals a surprising amount of personal details
When two people are just getting to know the basics, a person’s history with money is emotional, cultural, and can have a significant impact on all aspects of a person’s life. That’s one reason why Danielle Corcione, a 23-year-old freelance writer tells me that she discusses her financial situation early with new dates.
“I grew up in a financially disadvantaged household with a rather dysfunctional family. Seeing my parents struggle motivated me to manage my finances responsibility,” says Corcione, adding that a solid grip on financial management “also applies to how I choose to spend my money on dates, partners, and beyond.”
You can bond over student debt—and be ok with it
Sam Collazo, a 26-year-old Ph.D. student says that she uses her heavy student loan debt to bring up money on a first date. “If I bring up money on or before a first date, it is usually because we are talking about my status as a graduate student and the immense amount of loans I have,” Sam tells me. “Typically, I make some sort of joke that I anticipate being ‘broke forever.’”
Bringing up a lack of expendable funds seems to be a popular method. Christina Tesoro, a sex educator and writer tells me that she’s up front right away when planning a first date. “I’ll say something like, ‘I'm broke so let's eat tacos in the park / dollar pizza / dive bar happy hour.’” Tesoro, a 27-year-old who works a lot, says, “I work in social service and I work hard! So I have no shame about not having a whole lot of money to spend recreationally.”
You can assess a potential partner’s reaction to other things based on their reaction to money things
Overall, a date will probably respond well if the subject of money is casually broached at the very start of the relationship, but there are always exceptions.
Once, while on a first date, Collazo says she had to sit and witness her date calculating her student loan debt right in front of her. “I brought up the fact that I am getting my doctorate, and therefore had a lot of loans, and the guy started doing the math in his head! It was very uncomfortable for me. As he asked about where I went to school, how long, and how many more years I had left, there were long pauses as I could see him thinking pretty hard about it. It was very weird …”
Awanthi Vardaraj, a 40-year-old writer, also had an unfortunate experience where her date turned into a human calculator, creating a lot of discomfort for her. “During the meal he made sure to ask me how much money I made every month. (I didn't answer, but he guessed based on my profession.) Then he proceeded to calculate my rent and utilities and guessed how much I'd have to save every month. I ate quickly and paid my share of the bill, told him I wanted to leave, and called a cab,” she tells me. Somehow, it got worse: “He then followed me out to the cab and told me it would never work between us because he was looking for someone who made a lot more money than I did. It remains the weirdest date I've ever been on in my life.”
You can always beta test by splitting the bill
Another way to bring up money is simply by offering to split the bill. Vardaraj says that she usually offers to go dutch on a first date, “because I hate the implication that the man is supposed to pay for me. He doesn't have to. I can buy my own, thank you.” Like my own approach, Vardaraj’s preference to split the bill on a date also addresses outmoded gender roles that can cause strife in a relationship—whether on the first date or 10 years into a marriage.
Most importantly—you don’t need to be wealthy to be confident about your money
Collazo says her best advice for anyone who wants to talk about money on the first date would be to go into the situation with assuredness. “Be confident in your finances even if you don’t have a lot of money. People typically respond well when you are aware of your budget and can handle talking about it.”
And, of course, nobody has to talk about money on the very first date if they don’t want to. “Feel it out,” Corcione advises. “You might not have to talk about it on the first date, but being proactive about an uncomfortable conversation might help avoid miscommunication later.”