Most Americans fall into one of two camps when it comes to the question of who should pick up the check on a date: some believe it’s a question of honor and etiquette for the man to pick up the check. Others believe that both men and women should split the check evenly. But in this economic climate, do either of these options really make sense for daters in 2020?

A Brief History Of Paying For Dates

The history of who pays on a date begins in the 1920s with the invention of the automobile and the sudden independence it provided to the younger generation. Suddenly, men and women were able to court outside of the home, without the supervision of parents or chaperones. These excursions (to the soda shop, the jazz club, the local dance) were the first modern dates. Because, at the time, the work force was still predominately male, it was young men who had the money, and therefore young men who paid. This dates back to centuries of males acting as providers, while women stayed home.

Even as women began to enter the work force and take on traditional male roles with the advent of World War II, men continued to pick up the tab on dates. In fact it wasn’t until the late 1960s and 70s, during the advent of second wave feminism, that women started to question traditional courtship roles. It became a sign of empowerment for a woman to pay for herself: if men and women are to be equals in a relationship, why should the man pay?

In the later half of the 20th century, many couples found ‘going Dutch’ to be an effective solution to the problem of who picks up the tab at the end of the date. Dinner, movie tickets, bar tabs are all frequently split among couples, with the man and the woman (or man and man, or woman and woman) paying equal portions.

The Problem With Paying Today

The problem, however, with splitting the bill “50/50″ is that it assumes both people are able to spend the same amount of money: in 2020, this is increasingly rare. It’s a tough economy, and the disparity between pay rates can sometimes be extreme. What’s more, it’s no longer safe to assume that it’s the man who makes more money, despite that fact that men continue to feel the need or pressure to contribute more to a relationship financially.

Because of these changing economic factors, young couples today are tweaking the rules of courtship to fit their economic reality: who pays for the date should be determined by who makes the most money, but both people should be offering to pay with equal frequency.

The New 50/50

Cary Mosley, an options trader in San Francisco, frequently dates women who make significantly less money than he does, but that doesn’t mean he always picks up the tab.

“I like paying to be done regularly by both people regardless of income. Buy me breakfast after you spend the night if I paid for a fancy dinner the night before, etc.,” he says. “That way it’s still much more like 50/50 in terms of frequency but skewed in terms of actual expense.”

In other words, both people in a relationship should be contributing regularly to the cost of courtship, but the actual financial investment should be proportionate to what each individual makes. And both should be offering to pay for things at an equal rate. If one person gets the movie tickets, the less financially flush person can get the popcorn. One person buys the fancy anniversary dinner, the other pays for the cab. The person who assumes the brunt of the financial burden, in terms of numbers, should of course be determined by paycheck and not by gender. Because gender isn’t a determining factor, this system of pay parity works for hetero and gay couples alike.

“Amy”, 25, a law student in Brooklyn, has more money to spend than her musician boyfriend, but still feels they contribute equally to their relationship.

“Because he gets me into concerts for free, I have no problem picking up the drinks, paying for cabs, etc.” She says. “Even though he didn’t actually spend any money, he has theoretically ‘given’ me something that I feel is valuable.”

In relationships where both parties make the same amount of money, switch off at equal rates: but don’t split the check, which is unromantic at best, and awkward at worst.

“I think splitting checks on a date is tacky, I even prefer to switch off with friends!” Mosley says. “There can be awkwardness, and what if we tip differently, etc.”

Amy adds: “At movies, usually one person gets the tickets, and one person gets drinks/snacks etc, and at bars we usually trade off rounds.”

The important thing isn’t who actually spends more, and at no point in the relationship should amounts be tallied and compared. But the point is for both people in the relationship to be equally generous and giving in spirit, even if disparate in dollars and cents.

As Mosley puts it, “It’s a nice feeling to be taken care of, and to take care of someone else.”

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