How do you figure out who pays for the first date and does the outcome say anything about potential financial compatibility?

This month Payoff Life has been shining a spotlight on relationships and compatibility — our relationships with others and money, and what it means to be not just compatible but also financially compatible.

Financial compatibility can play a big role in our romantic relationships. When I think of my own, I have to admit money was always something that, sooner or later, had to be discussed — whether it was how to share it, combine it, spend it, save it or manage it. Sometimes this has happened as early as the first date!

I’m No Dating Expert

Maybe you’ve been here before too: You’re on a date, the check comes, then what happens next factors into whether or not there will be a second date. I’m no dating expert, but I am a woman, and I personally believe that whoever asked for the date should consider it their responsibility to pay — although it’s fine for the check to ultimately be split if both parties agree to do so.

But I realize everyone has their own opinions on how money matters should be handled. And individuals’ similar or different beliefs can make it or break it for a couple. Since probably before money was invented, finances are still the leading cause of stress in relationships, and we’ve all heard the heartbreaking statistics linking financial stress to divorce.

One of my friends recently pointed out that when her now-husband picked up the tab for dinner on their first date, she said she appreciated it for a couple reasons. Not only did she feel it said something about his generosity, she also took the gesture as a sign he was interested in her beyond just the first date since he was willing to invest in their time together.

Let’s Ask the Internet

I needed more opinions, so I did whatever I do when I’m curious — asked the internet. So I Googled “who pays on the first date” and quickly learned that just about everyone has an opinion, including what every possible outcome could mean for the relationship.

In fall 2014, NerdWallet asked 1,000-plus people questions centered on how money is or should be handled in their relationships (read the full details and findings here).

  • 77.4% of people in a relationship reported they believed men should pay for first dates although men felt more strongly than women:
    • 82.4% of men
    • 72.5% of women

The figures above suggest that maybe some of us aren’t as radical about putting women on an even playing field as we’d like to think. Maybe, somewhere in the back of our minds, we lean more toward old-fashioned traditions and an appreciation for chivalry.

So Is It About Equality or an Equal Investment?

That same friend I was talking to from earlier said that as her relationship with her now-husband established itself, the pair shifted toward taking turns paying for the full bill, showing they were both willing to make an equal investment.

Which makes sense, because NerdWallet also reported: “Once the relationship takes off, gender roles remain strong when it comes to date night.”

  • 59% of women say their significant other pays;
  • 56.1% of men say they pick up the tab
  • Roughly 40% of both men and women say they take turns or split the costs

Additional research I found (not a scientist, again, just a woman) pointed out that while more than half of women who were asked “who pays for entertainment expenses?” responded that they offer to help pay, but almost 40% hoped men would reject their offer.

Final Thoughts

The figures are interesting, right? Taking all the many opinions and facts and figures into consideration, it would be easy to go a little crazy worrying about who should or shouldn’t pay (and the implications) when it comes to first dates.

But I think no matter who pays on the first date, the most important thing is that both persons are comfortable with the arrangement and the pattern that emerges from there. I have to imagine that couples who are on the same financial page right from the start can avoid significant financial conflict in the future. Or, at least to start, make it to that second date.

Written by Marie Look, director of content at Payoff

Participation Pays Off: Whether you’re currently single or in a relationship, how do you handle the bill on dates?

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