Who Should Pay For Dinner?

A post recently appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. And again. And again.

It’s gone viral.

My first reaction was that a mother making her 6 year old boy take her on dates that the boy pays for – so he can learn how to be a gentleman – is reminiscent of dads taking their daughters to father/daughter proms to teach the girls how to be ladylike. But that’s not what I want to focus on.

For context, the original post is below. (The picture is of her 6 year old son taking money out of his wallet, but in the screenshot I cut most it because I don’t want to post a picture of a child without the parent’s permission.)

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There’s a flip side of this coin. One could ask if she’s also teaching her son that a gentleman doesn’t associate with a woman who isn’t ladylike, and being ladylike includes a woman showing proper deference toward a man.

I’m not advocating that. Teaching children manners and respect can be done just as easily in an egalitarian context.

As such I disagree with the way she equates traditional gender roles with respect. Don Draper from Mad Men has impeccable manners and always picks up the check. But he doesn’t treat women with respect. Alan Alda might split the check with his date, or take turns paying, but he also treats women as equals.

This leads headlong into the debate about who should pay for a date. One way to avoid the issue is saying that the person who asks for the date should pay. But we’re still firmly entrenched in traditional gender roles because men are required to ask for dates while it’s merely optional for women. That is, both asking for and paying for dates are traditionalist expectations women have of men.

This is where we need to inject some honesty:

Most of us want equality when it’s to our advantage but may argue that it’s not really about equality when equality isn’t to our advantage. This is true whether the issue is paying for dinner or doing the dishes. It comes down to self-interest.

But from the perspective of dating, equality, and who picks up the check I want to offer a solution based on game theory. I don’t mean game in the sense of pick-up artists. I’m talking about the “study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.”

In a nutshell, the most effective strategy is to start by cooperating, but don’t just give away the store. If the other person doesn’t reciprocate, however, then walk away (but don’t seek revenge).

For a man, a cooperative move on the first date means picking up the check when it arrives and being prepared to pay for the whole thing.

At that point a woman could do a few different things. She could reciprocate his cooperation by offering to pay half, and if she does then he should accept. Or she could reciprocate by picking up the tab (or at least half of it) on the next date. The ball is in her court at that point, so on this second date he should wait to see what she does instead of taking the check right away.

But because she might not reciprocate, he should still be prepared to pay for the entire second date. If that happens he shouldn’t make a big deal out of it, but he will need to decide if he’s okay with this one-sided dynamic, or whether he wants to end things. If he chooses to go forward then he should acknowledge that that’s his choice.

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