My column for Femina Magazine Oct 2014. Do pick up a copy!
It amazes me that in 2014 we are still having the debate about who pays for the first date. Being a strictly middle class girl, I think that there’s a need to define the word “date” for the Indian context.
“Date” When two individuals, who have romantic intentions, set aside a time to meet, and explore if they have qualities that could facilitate a long term relationship. This might involve said individuals consuming coffee, alcoholic beverages and even a full meal together.
Traditionally, he pays, and the woman is supposed to look interested in her phone or go to the powder room while he handles the unpleasant business of paying for the food. This action is supposed to highlight his role of the ‘provider’ in the relationship. The preposterousness of him having to be the ‘provider’ is equivalent to the idea of her needing to be ‘provided for.’ The fact that he can pay for 1 meal is not really a standard to judge the “providery-ness” of your partner anyway. It’s like saying that because Neil Armstrong landed on the moon once he must have a 2 acre farmhouse there. Gender roles have altered drastically since the concept of “dating” as we know it today, came about. “He pays” is not acceptable as default. This does not mean that “She pays” is a solution either. That’s just flipping the problem around.
For the scores of ladies who “forget” their wallets at home, because he’s “supposed” to pay, stop embarrassing yourself. Leaving home without money for yourself is the most juvenile and possibly dangerous thing to do. No one, far from a person you’re meeting to explore a romantic life with, is running a charity. It’s a matter of self-respect and common sense.
The other common way to decide who pays is “Who asked who out”- the person who initiated the date has to pay the bill. This is unfair because the ratio is skewered inordinately to men. As an Indian woman, I am aware that being sharmili is supposed to be one of our trademarked qualities. The heroines in our movies have itrao-ed their necks off, blushing and smiling mysteriously as if we’re posing for the Mona Lisa. We have been taught that women are supposed to attracted men with beguiling smiles and lowered eyes, not through direct words and (God forbid) overtly sexual things like asking them to share a meal/coffee with you. Therefore applying this principle means its mostly the men who end up paying for the date. Moreover, what happens when it’s a family arrangement? How do you decide whose Phuphi contacted whose Chachi first to initiate the meeting?
The one smooth way out of the dangerous waters of ANY date (or even regular social situation), is to pay for what you ate. Because a date, no matter what, needs to be an investment of time, energy and money from BOTH the people involved. A friend once complained that she had gone on 7 dates in 7 days and she felt no connection. Dating is NOT a way of filling up a weekly social calendar, but a way of getting to know a person. You don’t mind taking the time to dress up, you don’t mind giving away a couple of precious hours, then you shouldn’t mind paying for your half of the meal.
If you cannot afford to pay at the place he is taking you out to dinner to, then mention it. The WORST thing that can come out of it is that he will offer pay for it, or he will change the venue of your date to somewhere that you CAN afford to pay. Just like you’re not judging him for his ability to pay, your inability to pay should not be a “deal breaker” either. You’re not dating each other’s wallets. (Unless that’s your thing-then you should probably ignore all this.)
I agree that doing maths when the bill comes, in order to calculate and pay for what you ate on the first date, may not be the most romantic thing in the world. But how quickly they do the math, or how you make each other laugh while doing that awkward calculation or- now THAT’s a better indication of how much of a “provider” someone can be.