On a coolly analytical level, I know this is a ridiculous train of thought. But in that moment when he nods and says, “Your half is $70,” I feel a trickle of disappointment. My brain translates his simple statement as rejection. Sadly, this notion has led me tragically astray.
A couple of years ago I was at my first ex-boyfriend, Max’s, wedding – 15 years after our break-up. As I happily toasted Max and his new wife and wandered to the bar for a refill, I spied a handsome man in an impeccably cut suit who looked very familiar. He was James, Max’s best friend, a boy I had known well during the years Max and I dated. A decade and a half since I had last seen him, the awkward poloshirt- wearing business student had developed into a well-dressed, funny guy. It was pretty instantaneous. Glasses of bubbles were followed by rearranging of place cards so we could sit next to each other at the reception, which was followed by us absconding in a cab hours later to curl up on a couch in a dark bar. He was witty and smart and there was that lovely fact we had known each other since we were teenagers. Damn, I thought, the guy I was meant to end up with all along was the same guy I had once seen dance to Christina Aguilera while drinking a cocktail out of a teacup at university.
Two days later we went on our first proper date. There was wine and pasta and cheese. The eye contact was there, the gentle glancing touches as we both reached for the salad. And then, you guessed it, the bill came.
“Let’s go halves,” I said, slightly buzzed by champagne and wine, quite sure he would insist on paying. “Sure,” he said. And my heart fell. That spring wedding I had been mentally planning for the past 48 hours crumbled. I was so confused – I thought he liked me. My stupid brain, addled by years of Jane Austen, interpreted his simple agreement as cold, hard rejection. And at that point, the date went precipitously of course; there was something awkward between us and a clunky second date a week later was our final try at romance. Perhaps on some unconscious level I equated his willingness to pay with his willingness to care for me.
And yes, I am perfectly aware of the vast, gaping holes in this argument. In the cold light of day, I know I behaved irrationally.
But it underlined how deeply ingrained, on an unconscious level, the notion is for me that if men like you, they will pony up the cold hard cash.
There is a lot about modern dating that, despite centuries of feminism, is still patently unfair. While I’m plucking and powdering and pulling myself into a dress pre-date, there is a good chance my potential paramour doesn’t feel it necessary to do more than add a quick slap of aftershave. Women are still expected to go to considerably more effort and expense in getting frocked up to hook a love interest than any bloke would ever consider.
Though it breaks my feminist heart, it’s the game we still play. And this, my friends, is the territory we find ourselves in. The dating environ isn’t equal. It is flawed –just like the humans who created it. All is not fair in the pursuit of love. So, men, I propose a simple bargain– I will happily not only pay for half, but the whole evening if the next time I go on a date I can do so dressed like the last wannabe Romeo I met on Tinder – bed hair, a rumpled denim shirt and a wicked grin.
To read a man's perspective on this age-old question, pick up the January issue of marie claire, on sale now!