I Couldn't Help But Wonder… Where's the line between professional girlfriend and just plain "professional"?

For those who don’t already know, I’m answering Carrie’s questions from every episode of Sex and the City (or at least most of them) to see how things have changed for a single thirty-something writer in New York City, ten years after the show ended…

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I’ve noticed, just lately, my friends and I keep having the same conversation over and over and I can hardly believe that it’s an issue. Still. Apparently, in 2013, there remains an unspoken debate over who pays for what on dates. *Insert shocked gasp*

No. Really.

Now, I have always been a girl who believed in going dutch. I blame the 80s. I’m not going to knock a guy out if he insists on paying for dinner on a date, it’s a lovely gesture, but my comfort zone is he buys the cinema tickets, I buy the popcorn or vice versa. In the UK, I always felt like ‘you buy one, I buy one’ was the way to go and as far as I could tell it was readily accepted but here in New York, if you offer to pay for so much as a peanut, you might as well reach into their trousers, grab hold of their bits and pull them off. And not in the good way. General consensus amongst my American girlfriends, professional relationship experts and most importantly, gay best friends, is that you have to let the guy pay for everything or he will be offended and you are an emasculating psycho. Unfortunately, the best way to piss me off is to say ‘that’s the way it is and you can’t change it’. As soon as someone says I have to let someone buy my drinks, I immediately want to get a round in. I’m a bit of a twat that way. But it’s important for me that my dates know I’m not for sale, that I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself and that I’m with them because I want to be with them, not because I need someone else to pony up for my pizza. If a man can’t cope with me wanting to buy the second round, I very much doubt he’s going to cope with me in general… In a world where we women are wearing the trousers with heels and making them look good, do the mens really need to pay for things just to feel good about themselves? And should we women really have to let them?

A Williamsburg hot date
A Williamsburg hot date

I’ve dated men who can afford to pay for dinner for me and all my friends five times over and I’ve dated men who couldn’t afford to buy me a hot dog off the street but in general, I’ve got to say, it’s the ones who would struggle to rustle up enough cash for a packet of Monster Munch who seem to be the most determined to do so and get wildly offended when you put your hand in your pocket. My Gentleman Caller says this is because I’ve dated insecure boys who weren’t happy with themselves and therefore, being with me who is (relatively) secure in herself, shook them up. But then my Gentleman Caller says a lot of things and let’s be honest, I think he was more complimenting to himself than insulting my previous suitors. There’s every chance he’s just hoping I’m going to pay for dinner. Not that we go out for dinner. But that’s another story.

I know it isn’t really true, but I still feel like, if I let a guy pay for everything on a date, he’s going to have certain expectations at the end of it. For all the dating I’ve done, as we’ve previously establishedm I don’t put out on the regular. It takes more than a hot meal and a cold drink for me to drop my knickers and until I’m certain I want to spend more than half an hour or so with you, I’d rather split the tab. But, so I’m told, this makes me seem (quote unquote) ‘masculine, aggressive and uncompromising’ – I’m a romance writer! I wear dresses! I am adorable! But men want to feel like they’re looking after you and here in NYC, that’s best expressed via a credit card. Maybe it’s the lack of game to hunt, kill and drag home for dinner. I’d rather get a hug and a helping hand when I need to change my light bulbs.

If I get three sevens, I'm buying steak for everyone! (I didn't)
If I get three sevens, I’m buying steak for everyone!
(I didn’t)

My fears of dinner + drink =shag is made manifest by the worrying number of women who are openly available for purchase. I’ve met so many who won’t date guys who can’t pay for a nice dinner or a big ring or pay their rent. My step-dad would refer to these women as ‘a house and a load of coal’. Because we are of the north. To me, that’s worse than a legit pro, at least hookers are entirely honest in their charging schemes. You can see it for yourself, they’re on full display on shows like The Millionaire Matchmaker a program that a) delights me beyond all reasoning and b) horri fies me completely. Ugly man with tons of money gets the hot girl. Always. Without question. You can actually see the dollar signs in some of these women’s eyes. I know this isn’t news but it’s 2013 and this is hardly a feminist manifesto.

Once upon a time, I had been on a date with a man and he was insistent that he be allowed to pay for my cab home after an evening together. I refused and made some ridiculous quip about not wanting to have to itemize the evening on my tax return. My name is Lindsey, I diffuse uncomfortable situations with humour. Anyway, when relaying the story to my friends, they were entirely split. Half said I should have taken the cash and ended the night twenty dollars up, half agreed with me, that if I wanted to take a cab home, I could pay for it myself. In retrospect, I realise he thought he was being a gentleman and just wanted to make sure I got home safely and didn’t take the subway out. Because I was the one who had traveled for the date, he thought it was his responsibility to get me home. But at the time, I was almost genuinely offended. I thought he was treating me like a whore. Probably because I’d just put out. Sometimes my feminist hat slips over my eyes and I can’t quite see clearly, it wasn’t a power move, it was a Nice Thing.

Of course I’m not saying every woman who lets a man buy her dinner is a whore. I have taken my fair share of cobb salads (and fried chicken and tacos and steak and McDonalds) when a guy has insisted he be allowed to pay. In most situations, it’s probably just a nice girl dating a nice man who was raised well and wants to look after his gal and make sure she’s getting a proper feed. A lot of girls in New York look like they need a proper feed. Most people aren’t overthinking this stuff as much as I am. The thing that gets my goat is that it’s a factor at all – I hate men for judging me because I want to pay for my own drinks but I hate myself for judging the girls who let the men buy the drinks and I’m not terribly keen on the girls who judge the guys who can’t afford to buy the fancy dinner they demand. Life is hard.

There’s no getting around the fact that we absolutely live in a world where money equals power but I dream of a day when we live in a world where neither of those things are major factors in our relationships. I feel like that’s going to stay a dream for a very long time.

7 Comments

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  1. Its genuinely uncanny how much you sound like me in these blog posts! Maybe its a northern thing haha xx

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  2. Way way way back when men worked and women didnt i would have been ok with a guy paying for everything. But I work and am therefore capable of paying my own way, treating the guy and even gratefully accepting his offer to pay 🙂 I dont like to feel as though a guy thinks he can buy my affection by throwing his money around! And if he thinks he can, then frankly i’m a little insulted that he clearly thinks I am that shallow!

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  3. I feel the same, i always want to split the bill as i dont want to feel like it owe them something, but it is nice when they wont let you pay. For me i think it depends on how well you know the person and maybe the occassion, if it was my birthday i wouldnt want to pay!! Haha! But yes it is hard.

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  4. I’m a 30 something male, and the vast majority of the time, on a first date, I’ll pick up the tab. Sometimes I’ll get a “thank you,” sometimes, an “are you sure?” Last week, I had first date with a woman that refused and said, “I don’t do that.” I was completely fine with it. I liked her assertiveness and confidence. I also have no problem with a woman picking up the tab- over time, it should even out, somewhat, or be proportional to your respective salaries. Like others have mentioned, women work these days, and additionally, there are more women in higher education. So it should follow that eventually, women should be running the show and should be taking home most of the money, right (ideally)?
    Also, when I pay, I absolutely have zero expectations. Sure, my date won’t know this, and it would be creepy to bring that up, but really, I don’t deserve a hug, kiss, sex- nothing. Then again, like Lindsey mentioned, I’m not going to go hungry for the next month by picking up a tab- I don’t really feel like I have anything to prove. Maybe it’s an age thing, as well as income thing? I’m also not in NYC, but very close.

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  5. This is something I discuss with my friends time and time again and we never get anywhere. My brother says that if a guy likes you he will pay. He also says that if a guy has done the asking out then he should be paying anyway so you can’t assume that the guy does like you but if he doesn’t pay then he definitely doesn’t.

    On the other hand, my friend had a super keen guy travel from Cardiff to Manchester to take her out. He told her to order whatever she wanted off the menu…and then went 50/50 on the bill when it came!

    ps Would love it if you would have a nosy at my blog…it’s a hopefully non-depressing blog about depression!

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  6. twenty-something girl, student, almost always broke
    …still I feel terribly uncomfortable when guys want to pay for everything. Sure it’s nice from time to time but as long as the whole “taking you out to dinner” issue hasn’t been raised and discussed before I am prepared and I actually want to pay for my stuff.

    Thanks for answering Carrie’s questions…I’ve always enjoyed your blog but right now I like it even more! 🙂

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  7. I dont Know may be its a FRench thing but I have been educated that way.I have two older brothers and my Mom would kick their assesseur t’il sunday and back if they didnt pay for their girl or Any girl in their company lover or friend.she taught us that is what gentleman Nice well brought up guys do she said.If I often suggestion we split when its first dates still or early stage I feel like its the polite thing to do but usually they always refuse.When I moved to the UK and That amount other things were different. In the datant world I was a bit shocked.That being said I agrée that the girl who would date only guys for gift,them to pay their rent and such are basically hookers

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