Dating Science: Who Pays on the First Date?

Cristen Conger

Is the man still expected to pay? (Vintage Images/Getty Images)

When Molly and I talked about whether chivalry is still relevant in today's society, a seemingly superficial, yet perplexing question arose: Who pays on a first date?

Heterosexual dating customs say the guy should be ready to whip out the wallet, but isn't that a little antiquated?

Perhaps, but a 2007 Salon interview with famed anthropologist Helen Fisher indicates that heteros might be biologically "hard-wired" for this fiscal arrangement, rather than just tethered to outmoded courting rituals.

She says that anthropology dictates that the fellows ought to be ready to pony up.

Fisher goes on to explain:

Because throughout the animal kingdom, it's food for sex. A male chimpanzee will get the sugar cane and the female will go up and stare at him. You know, if somebody's staring at your food, you've got to deal with this. So the male gives her the sugar cane and she'll turn around and copulate with him and then march off with the food. Women biologically know there's no such thing as a free lunch.

How romantic!

But Fisher adds that in her personal dating experience, she'll split the bill with a man until she's ready to move their relationship to the next step -- and let him pay. Again, is this let-the-guy-pay principle an example of modern women kowtowing to rigid gender roles that designates the man as the provider and the woman as the caregiver? Or, when we play tug of war with the check, are we simply fighting our evolutionary past?

Surveys say more women are asserting their earning power and splitting the first date tab. A March survey found more than half of British woman are going Dutch these days. And there's a gender-blind way to get around this quandary as well: whoever initiates the date picks up the tab. Simple as that.

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