It's not the most romantic subject for Valentine's Day, but the unfair expectation that men must pay for dates, which came under commendable feminist attack during the 1970s, is, surprisingly, almost as strong today as it was before women's liberation. There are several standard justifications given for not splitting the check:
Justification #1: "Women have to spend more on clothes, shoes, perfume, etc., so it's only fair that men pay."
It's true that women's clothes, shoes, etc., can cost considerably more than men's, but men who date must reciprocate by having a presentable car and a presentable place to live, both of which are far more expensive. After all, a marriage-age man who lives at home is considered undesirable, but did you ever see a man turn down a promising date because she lived with mom and dad or drove an old junker? I didn't think so.
Justification #2: "Men make more money than women do for the same job."
This is one of the most persistent myths of our time. Studies by liberal (AFL-CIO), dissident feminist (The Independent Women's Forum), and conservative (Hoover Institution) organizations have found that single men do not earn more than single women. The gender wage gap is caused by the career sacrifices that mothers make for their children, and the personal sacrifices fathers make (longer work weeks, more hazardous jobs, etc.) in order to earn the money to support those children. Neither of these is generally an issue in dating.
Justification #3: "I'm old-fashioned. I expect the man to pay because it's chivalrous."
The problem is that many men have understandably come to hear this as "I'm old fashioned when it suits me. When it doesn't, well, that's a different story." After all, what would a modern woman say if her date said "I'm old-fashioned. I expect the woman to do all the cooking"?
Justification #4: "Whoever asks for the date should pay."
And who is always expected to ask? Need I ask?
Justification #5: "Well, if men expect to get something, they should expect to pay for it."
It is Neanderthal for a man to expect to "get something" simply because he has paid for a date. Also, since women enjoy sex as much as men do, even if a woman does have sex with a man "because he paid" it's still unfair to the man because he's paying for the privilege of doing something which is mutually pleasurable.
Justification #6: "It's just easier this way."
This claim certainly has merit. The rise of feminism demolished many of society's rules and traditions, usually for the better. But when it comes to dating, nobody really knows what the rules are anymore, and in this confusion often both men and women find it easier to fall back on tradition.
Enough! The obligation of a man to pay can wound a budding relationship by placing money and one-sided expectations where love and honesty should be. In addition, its innate unfairness hinders the uneasy rapprochement men and women are currently negotiating after three decades of gender conflict. In the long run, abolishing this outmoded social convention will benefit both men and women. And what's fair is fair.
Oh, and guys, be sure not to order the most expensive item on the menu, OK?
This column first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (2/14/02).