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Opening Arguments

Dating game

An interesting question: It's 2014: Why are men still paying for first dates?

NPR reporter Shereen Marisol Meraji recently dropped in on a professional-etiquette class for teens to see what they made of traditional chivalry. “I can open my own door. I don’t see the point,” 18-year-old Chiamaka Njoku told her. “Most of these doors are automatic anyway.”

But the young woman took a less progressive stance on the topic of money: “If a man wants to pay for the whole meal, I would not stop him,” she said. Why, as other sexist institutions gradually dissolve, does this one stubbornly hang on?

A survey released yesterday morning found that about 77 percent of people in straight relationships believe men should pay the bill on a first date. The survey, put together by the financial website NerdWallet, polled roughly 1,000 people who had been dating their partners for six months or more.

The company’s survey indicates that, in the early stages of courting, the pressure to pay falls primarily on men, but this imbalance hardly dissolves as the relationship progresses. Fifty-six percent of men foot the bill in full once they’re in an established relationship, and, even further down the line, 36 percent of men pay all of household bills, versus 14 percent of women. There’s not much in the way of historical data on the question of who pays for dates, but the findings of a 1985 poll suggest that very little has changed in the past 30 years.

Considering the great leveling of the playing field between men and women, including the most significant one that so many more women are breadwinners today, why does this one aspect of our chivalrous past survive? The story suggests that, because people tend to embrace the changes that make their lives easier and resist the ones that make them harder, women are "resisting gender changes more than men" when it comes to paying for dates. Men wanna pay? Hell, let them. Less money out of my pocket.

I dunno, though. Just going by my own experiences and feelings (what else I got?), I suspect most men rather enjoy hanging on to this, too. I think that men being the pursuer and women being the pursued is so deeply a part of human nature that it cannot be easily discarded in favor of evolving social norms. Paying for the first date is one of the few remaining symbols of that pursue-pursued dynamic.

But, hey, the woman wants to pay, let 'em go for it. Less money out of my pocket.