It’s a surprisingly controversial statement – women should pay in relationships. The notion that the man should pay is engrained in our culture. People usually bring up reasons like the pay gap and tradition.
The difference these days is that we can’t assume anymore that a man makes more money than a woman. Also modern men and women don’t want the kind of relationship that was popular when men were de facto payers. Further, as they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. As much as it seems like women are gaining benefits from having their meals paid for, power imbalances occur when one side is paying and one side is being paid for. Ultimately, after the first date and before the couple combine their finances, we would all benefit if women always pay (something) in a relationship.
Should a Lower-Earning Partner Pay in a Couple?
I’m going to speak in this article as if a woman is dating a man. The reason is because it’s more likely that in a heterosexual couple, the man would pay regardless of the income situation. Still, the situation and psychology described are true in any disparate earning situation – whether between a man and a woman, between two women or between two men. In fact, I first thought about the consequences of one person always being treated in a couple after reading an article about a relationship between a higher- and lower-earning woman.
In hetero couples, I do not assume the situation is between a lower-earning woman and a higher-earning man situation – because the woman can still earn more and the man might still pay for everything out of tradition. The point I’m trying to make is not the genders or the income situation but the cultural and structural power imbalances that arise when we make unbalanced financial arrangements the norm.
The Cost of a Free Lunch
In the Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, the authors noted a recurrent problem he noticed for people that earned high salaries but didn’t keep their wealth. Many of these people gave too much financial assistance to their kids, or they were the recipients of excess financial assistance from their parents.
While it makes sense that parents who are too generous to their children would have less money, it makes less sense that their children would not have more. But the effect of this largesse is summed up by one of the children who refused her parents’ generosity:
It would be so easy . . . to take money from my parents . . . for the house . . for private school tuition . . . But it always comes with strings . . . My sister [Beth, age thirty-seven] learned that . . .She does not lead her own life . . . She has learned that the dole comes with a price . . . do it Mother’s Way.
The authors sum up this sentiment by stating:
The more dollars adult children receive, the fewer dollars they accumulate, while those who are given fewer dollars accumulate more.
Basically, the more money you are given, the less you feel the need to make money for yourself, particularly if you know that the more money you earn, the more you’ll be required to earn. That is to say, self-sufficiency comes with the fear of being cut off.
What does this have to do with why women should pay in relationships? Well, it’s the same dynamic. The more a lower-earning person is given, the more they become dependent. The less they become self-sufficient. This has negative consequences, mostly for the lower-earning person.
Women Should Pay in Relationships Because They Always Do Anyway
Humans have a natural urge to reciprocate. That’s why panhandlers created the scam of giving out flowers and then requesting payment. People feel the need to reciprocate, so they’ll give a dollar for a flower they didn’t want, just so they feel their “debt” is paid.
A lot of women inherently realize this. That’s why many women pay for dates so their date doesn’t think she owes him anything. Of course, a woman can’t stop a man’s entitlement through paying or any other action. (And, by the way, a man is NOT entitled to anything because he paid for a woman’s meal). But the action of paying is still significant in that it sends a vitally important message to herself. A woman may feel obligated to reciprocate when a man pays for her meal, so by paying for herself, she short circuits her own guilt. She turns down the flower because she knows she doesn’t want the guilt of not giving a dollar.
If a woman is continually being treated financially in a relationship, she will continually feel obligated to reciprocate. If she can’t reciprocate financially, she may find that she should provide more in other areas of the relationship. Just like a dollar is worth more than a flower plucked off the side of the road, her gifts in the relationship may actually greatly outweigh the cost of her free meals. Thus, even as she gets a literal free lunch, her partner may be getting a proverbial free dinner.
Power-Imbalances When One Person Pays
When a child gets his/her first paycheck, he/she often takes his/her parents out to dinner. The symbolism is that the child is now an adult and can take care of him/herself. But if one person in a couple never pays, the dynamic is reminiscent of that parent-child dynamic – except this time the higher-earning person is the parent and the lower-earning person is the child.
I know you’ll say, our relationship isn’t like a parent-child relationship! And it’s true that it should NOT be like a parent-child relationship. But there are obvious similarities. How many other situations are we familiar with where one person always gives and one person always receives? Unless you’re used to blackmailers, the parent-child relationship is the most familiar.
Creating Dependence in a Relationship
Feed a person once, it elicits appreciation;Robert D. Lupton, Charity Detox
Feed him twice, it creates anticipation;
Feed him three times, it creates expectation;
Feed him four times, it becomes an entitlement;
Feed him five times, it produces dependency.
In that quote, Robert Lupton describes how charities disempower the poor by taking away their agency, and ultimately their independence. (It’s a really fascinating book and I highly recommend it). That’s obviously a different scenario than dating, but I thought the parallels were intriguing. What happens when we treat our significant other like someone who is constantly on the receiving end? Of course, just because someone is lower-income does not mean that they cannot provide. We could be disempowering someone financially by not giving them the opportunity to contribute.
The more a woman receives financially in a relationship, the more she may develop problematic identities or psychological beliefs. For instance, she risks feeling entitled to a lifestyle outside of her income level. She may also start to think of herself as a dependent and lose her confidence in being able to support herself when her significant other is the one providing for her, instead of herself. This can lead to staying in a relationship solely for the money or to financial abuse.
If a woman is using a man’s resources, he may (justifiably) feel entitled to judge how she uses her money. And then if the relationship doesn’t work out, she carries this role into her future relationships. She may never feel sure of herself in how she uses her money. She may always feel the need to be the poor one.
When We Stop Assuming Women Make Less
The argument tends to go that men need to pay for dates because women earn less. That argument would make sense for why, in aggregate, men are more likely to pay for dates. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense in a case-by-case situation. And let’s face it – we are not proclaiming date law from on high. The question of “who pays” only matters in case-by-case situations.
Ask any feminist if you can assume a wife earns less than her husband simply because of her gender, and she’ll slap your face. Yet when one suggests that a woman pay, the kneejerk reaction is “only if she can afford it!” We assume men can afford to pay but never make that assumption about women. This is patronizing. It’s a belief that women’s finances are fragile and unnecessary – it’s the man’s job to provide, not the woman’s.
To me, it’s much better to tell women to contribute financially than to believe that women can’t. Because guess what – men don’t always earn more. Let’s stop pretending we live in a world where women need handouts. Let’s stop preaching that women are always less-than (financially) compared to men. This kind of thinking, as they say, is like winning the battle, only to lose the war.
Don’t Expect Women To Be “The Poor One”
the automatic assumption that I can’t afford it feels somewhere between a lack of agency and being pigeonholed as “your poor friend.” I don’t want to be your poor friend! I want to be your friend whose meal you want to cover exclusively because I am nice and fun to be around, and you paying the bill is your way of reciprocating the gift that is my existence.Talia Jane, Healthline
No one likes being considered “the poor friend.” And when I see people defending the idea that men pay on dates, to me it seems that we are viewing all women as “the poor friend.”
Women are very careful to say “she should only give what she can afford!” We are assuming that all women are more limited financially than all men. If a woman contributes to a date or in a relationship, it’s treated like she’s giving out of her benevolence. She is not obligated to use her money whereas the man is. And when we buy into this belief, it bolsters men’s financial independent and it hinders women’s.
A relationship is between two people (usually) and (typically) both people have the ability to contribute (something) financially. Certainly, the ratio that each person gives can be different. It might make sense for each to give according to their need. We have to get rid of lowering our expectations for women. Men are expected to be financially able to pay for dates, and we should expect the same for women.
Let’s Expect That Women Can Afford To Pay
One of the top concerns in expecting women to pay is worrying whether women can afford it. This is setting the bar too low. Whether the man actually pays for the date or not, we have to increase our cultural expectations. We are doing a disservice by worrying that women can’t afford to pay, but assuming that men can. Women can and have always risen to the occasion. Let’s raise the bar.
And when we raise the bar, we start treating women differently. As it is now, parents save more for their sons to go to college than their daughters. One theory is that parents assume their sons will have a 40-year career while their daughters will have a wedding. This study was from 2017, not the 1800s, and that’s astounding.
What If A Woman Can’t Afford to Pay?
Can I shout this from the rooftops:
If you can’t afford to pay for your own meal, don’t expect someone else to pay for you!!
If you’re meeting someone for a first or even fifth time, there’s no guarantee that that other person will pay for your meal, or even their own. Maybe they forgot their wallet or just dine and dash. There are no contracts. You can’t sue someone for not paying on a date because you are not entitled to a free meal. You have to be prepared for your own meal and theirs as well.
If you are broke, go on a free date. Go to a restaurant you can afford. Just get coffee. Meet in a public park and sit and talk on a bench. Do something you can afford to do and don’t expect that the other person has better control of their finances than you. Taking care of your finances is your job while you’re dating, and even in a relationship.
Stop Spending on Date Prep
Women can’t pay for dates because it costs too much money for them to prepare for dates! #patriarchy I recently read this article of a woman who, on average, spends $515/month on dating – and that doesn’t include paying for the bill. The biggest expenses are new clothes/makeup ($150), hair cuts/blowouts ($100), and waxing/nails ($110).
This is excessive and needless.
Look, if you want to buy new clothes, get your hair and nails done – that’s totally fine. But don’t pretend that you need to do these things for a date. You don’t need new clothes because the other person has never seen you before. They have no idea if the item is new or not. And I’m guessing you have more than one outfit. Plus, no one cares if you’re wearing something you’ve worn before. Celebrities rewear their clothes, so can you. All fast fashion is destroying our planet.
Most men and many women don’t know what a blowout is. (It’s paying someone to blow dry your hair). Some women aver they won’t feel confident without a blowout. That’s insane. This is a service that barely existed 15 years ago. I don’t care if you get a blowout or not but if you can’t afford it, just think to the bygone 2000s (or even now) when people just blew their own hair dry. They still went on dates.
If you need new stuff to feel confident, it’s not really confidence. Confidence can’t come from outside you. Confidence comes from within. And people can tell.
The Benefits When Women Pay in Relationships
When I was working as an attorney, I made way more money than most of the men I dated. And I didn’t get blowouts, and I paid off my loans, so I had plenty of money to pay for dates, if we decided to go dutch. But even when I was at my first job and dating a high-paid lawyer, I still paid for some of the dates. I wanted to feel that I was contributing, I wanted to make sure I had my money in order, and I didn’t want to get sucked into a lifestyle I couldn’t afford.
As a young-ish looking wealthy woman, I had a latent fear that other people would assume that my lifestyle was paid for by a man – either a significant other or my father. And that sucks because it’s my money. My mother worked for her money. My sister did too. And I hate the idea of getting typecast as the “poor one” because of my gender. I don’t want people to assume that as a woman I’m poorer than a man, or that I’m not on top of my finances. I don’t want any woman to have to go through that assumption. It’s just another way of holding women back.
One of the great compliments of my life is that even though I haven’t been working in the past two years, my friends don’t treat me like a charity case. No one worries about my finances, no one covers me because they think I can’t pay. Of course, you can get your meal paid for and still get respect from others. Still, it’s harder to get it from yourself.
Conclusion – Why Women Should Pay in Relationships
uld pay is a tradition
In a modern relationship, each partner teaches and improves the other. There are potential pitfalls if one partner takes responsibility over entire areas of life, such as finances. One person may lose confidence in his/her ability to be independent, and the other person may start to feel resentful and lose confidence in the other person’s financial skills.
Furthermore, humans’ desire to reciprocate means that the receiver feels like she’s constantly indebted. When we lump men into the provider category, we risk building on the stereotype that men earn more. This is not only weak footing for a relationship, but damaging culturally, especially to our next generations of young girls and boys. For these reasons, I believe that women should always consider paying in relationships and becoming equal financial partners.