Who should pay for the first date? Dating coaches and a couples therapist weigh in

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When it comes to dating etiquette, one question seems to inspire more anxiety than most: Who pays for the first date?

Dating experts think there’s a clear answer for heterosexual couples.

“The man should pay for the first date,” said Blaine Anderson, a dating coach for men.

Erika Ettin, an online dating coach, agrees.

“I recommend my male clients pay and my female clients offer,” said Ettin, the founder of A Little Nudge. Men should politely decline that offer — unless the woman insists, in which case the man should accept it, Ettin added.

The etiquette “shouldn’t be that complicated,” she said.

Public opinion is more or less in line with what dating experts say. Most Americans — 72% — say a man should pay for the first date, according to a recent NerdWallet survey. About 68% of adults stress about their finances when organizing a date, and 69% said they’ve felt uncomfortable on dates because of how much it will cost, according to a recent Self Financial poll.

Whoever pays, the average person pays $77 for a first date, according to a LendingTree survey. That adds up: The average man paid $861 on dates in 2019 while the average woman spent $500, LendingTree found.

“Plan something that’s within your budget,” said Anderson, founder of Dating By Blaine.

“If you’re concerned about cost, you have planned a date that is too expensive,” Anderson added. Feeling the need to go to a fancy dinner to impress your date means “you’re approaching the date wrong,” she said.

Why dating experts think men should pay

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Historically, men were expected to cover the bill due to traditional roles of men as household breadwinners and women as caregivers for children, said Carli Blau, a couples and dating therapist.

While society has changed tremendously, men likely still feel a subconscious need to pay as a gesture of financial security, said Blau, founder of Boutique Psychotherapy.

Indeed, men are more likely to think they should pay for a first date than women, at 78% versus 68%, according to the NerdWallet poll.

Proponents of men picking up the tab sometimes point to ongoing financial factors like a persistent gender wage gap as a key rationale.

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But dating experts often use a different logic: The person who asks for the date should generally treat — and that’s typically the man in American society, Ettin said.

The same calculus holds for same-sex couples: Whoever asks should break out their wallet, she said.

“I think it’s not a matter of ‘the guy should pay for it,’ but rather who’s courting who?” Blau said.

In heterosexual couples, 53% of men say they asked for the first date versus 15% of women, according to a poll by the Institute for Family Studies.

The one who pursues a romantic interest and chooses where to take their date is expected to pay, Blau added.

That means a woman should be prepared to pay if she asks out a guy, Ettin said. However, she advises men to still be prepared to cover the tab.

There’s also some romantic strategy here: Covering the bill gives the man “the best possible shot at the second date, if he likes her,” Anderson said.

Yes, it’s the traditional expectation — but it’s also a nice gesture, she added.

The advice isn’t contrary to the notion of equality and feminism, Ettin said.

“We still want that,” she said. “But it feels nice to be treated sometimes.”

“I do believe that equality and feminism and chivalry can all exist at the same time,” Ettin said.

When to split the bill

Additionally, splitting the bill feels “extremely tacky and friend zone-ish,” Ettin said.

Women interested in a second date can instead suggest they treat next time, she suggested.

Women who do offer to pay shouldn’t be mad if men accept, experts said.

“Don’t go call a friend or me as a therapist and complain afterwards they took you up on it,” Blau said.

“In this place of equality and women wanting to be treated equally — as we should be — if we go to pay it also could be considered disrespectful if the man says, ‘No, I’ll take care of it.’ Then it becomes a power dynamic,” she added.

If you’re concerned about cost, you have planned a date that is too expensive.

Blaine Anderson

dating coach

Some women may feel the need to split the check if they know they don’t want a second date. However, experts somewhat diverged on this etiquette.

“I don’t think it’s a requirement” but it’s polite to offer to pay in such cases, Anderson said.

Ettin doesn’t think payment should be tied to how well a date went, though.

“All you owe them is a thank you,” she said. “That’s it. A genuine thank you.”

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