Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: I'm in my late 50s and have dated quite a few women in the past few years. Most of them are happy to share the bills when going out. Some are not; one told me that a guy over 50 should be treating. Another seemed shocked that I should ever suggest she might contribute by buying me lunch. I've always thought it should be 50-50. Most professional women I meet make more money than I do, and I don't like being expected to pick up tabs, especially when the odds are that the new relationship may not go anywhere. What are the rules? If I ask her out, do I always have to pay? And how come she never asks me out?
Ask for separate bills
I find it amusing how some women seem to only want equality when it works in their favour and then want to revert to "chivalry" when it doesn't. I call this the Buffet Approach to Equal Rights. My suggestion is that when you go out, ask the staff for separate bills right off the bat (but make exceptions for those who don't have much money). If that causes her to end things, consider it to be a blessing in disguise. You don't want to date a woman who treats you like a walking wallet.
- Peter Stern, Toronto
Most women are the givers
I have heard a lot of men complain about the unfair feminist trend of professional women who aim to work as hard and earn as much as men, and yet don't expect to pick up 50 per cent of the tab. The thing about money is that it's easy to calculate, but there are many things in a relationship that aren't. Most women I know are still the givers (the cooks, the cleaners, the one who talks to annoying family members etc.). A little chivalry makes a lady feel taken care of (for a change), and may help that newbie relationship get off to a better start.
- Jennifer Wong, Toronto
A lack of generosity
I'm appalled at your attitude. Dates should be paid for by the one doing the inviting. That's Etiquette 101. To suggest, ask, or expect otherwise is discourteous and offensive. And one should NEVER suggest another date at the other's expense. That's presumptuous and rude. As for why she never asks you out, perhaps it's your lack of generosity. Or manners.
- Rick Snowden, Toronto
The Final Word
Dating, like almost every other male-female interaction in present-day society, is based on outmoded and unequal social roles and expectations. Let's not confuse traditional behaviours with good manners. The definition of etiquette is gender neutral - it simply means we strive at all times to ensure a person in our company feels at ease.
But it's no longer the obligation of men to "take care" of women in social situations. Sure, if a bear shows up at the restaurant, the one with all the upper-body strength will likely have to grab a fork, rip off his shirt and do battle. His female companion would then be obligated to pick up the check. See how that works? Etiquette is a two-way street.
I believe women of this bold new century should behave like grownups - you know, as opposed to spoiled princesses being taken out by Daddy for a treat. Grownups, as a rule, should always be ready to pay for their own meals - or else ready to graciously accept their date's insistence on paying. The point is, one doesn't sit there batting one's eyelashes, fully expecting someone else to claim the bill. The woman you dated who suggested that at 50-plus a man becomes a meal-ticket is crass personified.
Etiquette experts like Rick contend that the person who suggests the date should always offer to pay. But this puts an unfair onus on men, who are typically expected to make the first move, date-wise. Back when women didn't earn their own incomes, viewing one's suitor as a walking wallet (thanks for that, Peter) might have made sense. No longer.
The etiquette changes, however, when your escort offers in effusive terms to treat you. The gentleman is being gallant. A lady allows for this. Male or female - no matter what your junk - it's classy to treat someone if you like that person. I wouldn't use the word chivalry as Jennifer did, but she and I are basically on the same page. To buy dinner transmits that you feel time spent in your date's company has been a pleasure and a privilege. If you genuinely feel that way - whether or not you think the friendship is likely to "go anywhere," I'd encourage you to offer - just as I'd encourage her to return the gesture when next you meet.
Next week's question
I have been in a loving relationship with a widower for over a year. His wife was a friend, and we began to talk after her death. Now we are in touch daily, but live in different cities. When he recently invited me for the weekend, I was shocked to find his wife's clothes still in the closet and her makeup on the dressing table. His explanation: "Everyone tells me I should do this when I am ready, and I am not ready." Although I recognize that this step is extremely difficult, the experience was creepy for me. He has invited me back and I'm not sure what to do.
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Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy.