Equal Pay? Dating Conundrums in the Era of Gender Parity

Equal Pay? Dating Conundrums in the Era of Gender Parity

Girls like cooking, dressing up and being asked out; boys like sports, tinkering and being in charge, which includes handling the money. These are the messages most of us over 50 years of age grew up with, and which remain firmly planted in our brains, even as etiquette rules change to meet our new gender equal economy.

Nowadays, more women work and want to be viewed as equals; some even have become the major breadwinner in heterosexual couples, or earn more than their male peers and potential dating partners. It’s important too to take into account cultural differences such as beliefs, behaviors and values based on nationality, religion, gender, race, political affiliation, ethnicity and socioeconomic class.

It’s a new world with old rules evolving all the time. This begs several questions: Should the guy still be the one who always pays, or only initially? After all, splitting a check, the cost of tickets or the price of a trip may be the equitable thing to do, but how do you bring it up? What about gifts? How much to spend? What if you spend more than he does or vice versa? Is that okay? Or is it not worth a big debate? Then, again, if these issues are shoved aside, will resentment build? What about a lesbian couple? Who pays then?

We wondered as we dipped our toes into the dating pool when we both became single. Barbara had been married for 31 years before she was dumped, and dated up a storm but now has been with someone for 2 ½ years. Margaret was married for 42 years before her husband died and approached dating more gingerly. She wasn’t interested in it until she ran into a high school acquaintance whom she’s still dating two years later.

We each hadn’t dated since the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Those were the days when a waiter or maitre d’ would never consider handing the bill to anyone but the guy. We weren’t totally clueless, however, about some of the do’s and don’ts. Some rules will never change. We knew not to order the most expensive glass of wine or entrée on the menu and not to order an appetizer or dessert if our date didn’t; we had been well trained by our mothers. However, after decades of our spouses handling the bills, we weren’t sure what to expect with a first date, sometimes a second, or even a third date.

Our new status and independence as singles, however, had made us pretty savvy about sharing meal expenses with female friends and sometimes their spouses. We also knew how to calculate a good tip without bringing out the tacky little plastic card with the proper percentages listed or asking who at the table had the accounting degree.

What we each found over time is that the new rule is–there are no rules and that your decisions shouldn’t be angst producing. It doesn’t require studying algorithms, reading surveys online, and polling lots of friends. It’s only a meal or a ticket.

We chose to go with our gut feeling, based on who called whom for that date, what the initial phone, text or email conversation suggested, whether the guy only wanted to have coffee, tea, or wine and seemed to be reluctant to invest too many dollars for a meet-and-greet, what the face-to-face chemistry indicated, and if there seemed to be enough of a click to lead to a second date, then a third.

The biggest clue came as we sat back, waited to see whether the guy asked the waiter for the bill or quickly reached for his wallet to pay when presented with it rather than dawdled a bit to see if we’d reach into our purses to split it, or horrors–even pay. On those early first and second dates, we knew to bring along a credit card and cash just in case. And Barbara did use hers one time when the guy explained he had been out of a job for a year and really couldn’t afford the coffee and nibbles they ordered. She was sympathetic and sweetly covered the entire amount. Barbara, more the dating expert, also discovered a huge difference between the fiftysomething guys she initially dated to the sixtysomething ones years later. Many of the older guys were eager to meet her and take her out for a nice meal rather than a quick look-see over coffee or wine. They were aging, life was getting shorter, and had already raised children in most cases and perhaps had more discretionary income. .


As our dating experiences increased, and we shared tales of our adventures with friends, we found that many, even married couples, were eager to hear about the new etiquette for paying and not just for meals. They wondered how we split costs for gifts, groceries, travel and other things too.


Next week, we’ll discuss the nine most commonly asked questions we’ve been asked and heard and give our answers and those of others whom we’ve interviewed. Got more? Email us; we’re here for you.


Barbara Ballinger, bb@barbaraballinger.com, and Margaret Crane, whooping@aol.com

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