Cinderella is a fairytale. A woman cannot sincerely expect a prince and his royal funds to sweep in and solve all of her fiscal problems. Today women go to college, get degrees, and at the right time, enter into healthy romantic relationships. Despite the modern monetary interactions couples practice, a last vestige of chivalry has been sacredly guarded: the date.
A man who does not pay, in the very least for the first date, is pronounced ungentlemanly. A woman who offers to split the bill is branded unfeminine. What has kept this practice alive in the book of unwritten rules? Why does the guy have to pay for the date?
In the most basic terms, it’s biblical. Turns out, the rule is not unwritten. When asked to comment on the topic, Rabbi K. Auman, a noted teacher in Stern and Rabbi of The Young Israel of Flatbush, referred to several halakhot (Jewish laws) which pronounce the man responsible for wooing and courting the woman. Not to mention his obligation to support her financially in marriage. (See Ketubot [Jewish prenuptial agreements] for details.) One striking source, a gemara in Kidushin (Chapter 1 2b) states “It is the way of a man to pursue a woman and not the way of a woman to pursue a man.”
When first asked about the assumption that men pay, Rabbi Auman agreed that it is “a function of social convention.” But whether the gemara speaks of a primordial truth or simply the most common way things happen, is left to the reader.
Tuvia Bacharach, a junior and accounting major at YC, chalks it up to pure manners. “On the first several dates, the guy is trying to convince the girl to go out with him.” Tuvia wouldn’t want financial considerations to weigh in when she’s “deciding whether or not to go out for the first time.” It’s one less detail for her to worry about.
Moshe Soloveichik, a senior and economics major at YC, deems it a function of the “consistency model.” He explains that “ultimately he’s the one who’s going to buy the ring” and it follows he should be the one paying for the ventures leading up to that point.
But for some women, having the date pay is a convention hard to stomach. Dena Shayne, former SCWSC president and current Presidential Fellow in the Office of Admissions, shares that “it just makes [her] uncomfortable.” Considerately, Shane points out that “everyone is at an age where no one really has money in their pockets.” Practically put “it’s about what’s more economic for everyone.”
The YC students interviewed did agree that if the girl is the one to propose the date, she should also be the one to fund it. Elliot Kalson, a YC ’11 graduate, who shared his opinion when a work colleague was being interviewed nearby, believes “the person who calls for the date should be the one to pay for the entire thing.” He adds that “if a girl offered to pay for half a date that a guy proposed, it would lead to insecurity” in her date who would then wonder if “she wanted to continue the relationship.” Interestingly, Kalson was unavailable to explain why.
Dena’s sentiment, if unique in the early stages of dating, was not unshared for those long term dating. Both WILF Campus students interviewed and Rabbi Auman agreed that once a couple is going out for a long period of time, splitting the bill is a lot more reasonable.
Miriam Seidman, a senior and advertising major at SCW puts it simply. “We just split the times because it’s not going to be the only time.” Sonia Felder, a junior at SCW and member of the WSS, believes it is “unfair to assume he’ll pay for everything.”
Interestingly, Seidman adds that “girls who brag ‘my boyfriend always pays’ are demeaning themselves.” According to Seidman, “they’re handing him a power and it’s dangerous.”
Dean Bacon had a word of caution when asked to comment on this line of thinking. To women who are made uncomfortable by their dates picking up the tab, she urged them not to feel indebted. “When money is used as power there is something very wrong with our values.” Certainly, a relationship where money is used to dominate or abuse is something of which to be cautious. But no spouse should be granted significance or importance according to their paycheck. “If money creates a power struggle, then indeed we are in need of some deep introspection.”
Of course, what a couple does is an entirely personal choice. While considering whether or not to approach this delicate topic, this seemingly conventional practice is definitely worthy of a conversation or two. It means different things to everyone: an action meant to be gentlemanly and kind could make a date very uncomfortable. While at the very same time, a gesture intended to be considerate and generous could be interpreted as offensive and rude.
Dating is filled with enough ambiguity; let’s not leave anyone guessing.
This is the second installment of the Women’s Studies column brought to you by the SCW Women’s Studies Society. Stay tuned for more.