A few weeks ago, Boundless conducted an informal Instagram poll asking this question: “If a guy asks you out on a coffee date, should he pay?” Of the 546 responses, 94 percent answered, “For Sure” and 6 percent said, “Too Old Fashioned.”
Just over 400 people responded to a second poll that sought to unearth what the woman is thinking when she offers to pay. This poll asked: “If you, the woman, offer to pay, you:”
- “are serious” (66%)
- “don’t at all mean it” (34%)
These results brought up some interesting questions. Who should pay for a date? In what instances might it be appropriate for the woman to offer to pay? And if she does offer, should she be ready and willing to follow through without faulting her date?
Starting the conversation
We asked Boundless authors Suzanne Gosselin and Joshua Rogers to offer their perspective on how to navigate this issue of “who pays” both from a Christian perspective but also taking into account the dynamics of our modern culture.
Suzanne: When I responded to this Boundless Instagram poll last month, a few real-life experiences popped into my head. I remember one time a guy I’d been getting to know called me last-minute and asked if I’d like to meet him for coffee. He made it sound like he was tagging it on after a run — like a casual meet-up. At that time, I would have expected him to pay for my coffee if it was a date. (I still think a guy should pay, especially if he’s the one who asked.) But I honestly didn’t know if it was a date, and I wanted to save myself the embarrassment if I was mistaken.
So I arrived at the coffee shop 10 minutes early to buy my own coffee. Funny enough, the barista that night was my now-husband, Kevin! And that 10 minutes gave us a chance to talk and hit it off before my “date” arrived. Looking back, I think that guy probably was planning to pay for my coffee. But because of certain bad experiences I’d had, I wasn’t willing to trust, so I protected myself by keeping control of the situation. I wonder if women sometimes offer to pay so that they don’t feel embarrassed that they misread the situation. What do you think?
Joshua: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think the whole issue comes down to this question: “Who’s going to take the lead?” When you look at your date and say, “I’ll take care of it,” you’re making the other person your guest, and you’re the host. It’s a way of leading.
I think dating is a dance of sorts (more on that later). Like it or not, we can’t escape the general expectation that the man leads in that dance. It’s laced throughout children’s stories, classic novels, movies and even the Bible. In that enduring narrative, the guy is the one who’s expected to open the door, offer his jacket when the woman’s cold, and make it easier for her to step over the mud puddle by taking her hand. He’s the one who’s expected to do the extra bit of serving that we think of as leading, even if he’s bumbling his way through it.
Suzanne: Based on our poll, in which 94 percent of respondents said the man should pay for coffee, I think a lot of our readers would agree with that. But we are in the 21st century. Do you think it’s OK for the woman to take the lead sometimes?
Joshua: I think it comes down to how you want to do the “dating dance.” This brings to mind a blog post I recently read called “Ballroom Dancing 101: Leading and Following.”. Check out what it says about leadership in ballroom dancing:
The man is typically the leader in a ballroom dance and takes the woman through the various movements in a routine. The woman follows her partner’s lead. (This may seem old fashioned, but all great activities have traditions. That being said, choose your own leader! This is not your grandma’s ballroom dancing!)
Suzanne: I love that! “All great activities have traditions.” I think that really applies to dating. In more conservative Christian circles, at least, many of us have expectations that men will take the lead.
But some would say traditional customs, such as the man paying for the date, are outdated and reinforce artificial gender roles. I even knew a guy who said he never paid on a first date because he felt like it was offensive to women, sending the signal they weren’t his equal. What do you think?
Joshua: I’d point to the rest of the quote from the Ballroom 101 post — keeping in mind that ballroom dancing is actually a traditional dance,
The basic rules and etiquette on the dance floor come down to leading and following and it’s important to know that whichever role you choose, you have your own specific tasks on the dance floor.
I think dating is like a delicate dance and you want to avoid needless, awkward stepping on toes as much as possible. Whether the man or woman is in charge, leadership makes the dance flow. At times, she may be the one who puts in that extra initiative and service, or they could share the task. But it’s going to be far easier if someone intentionally takes the lead.
This whole conversation reminds me of Proverbs 30:18-19, in which the author says he just can’t fathom “the way of a man with a young woman.” So, it’s hard to understand “the way” a man is with women when dating, but I think a man should at least have “a way.” So, men, what’s your way? Do you have a plan when it comes to engaging with women? Figure out your way and do your best to execute it. You can change your strategy as you go — just have one.
Suzanne: I love that. It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing. And women can also think through how they will respond in these situations and what makes them feel comfortable. Now let’s say you’re a female, and a man has asked you out on a date. You don’t want to offer to pay, but maybe you don’t feel comfortable letting him pay either. Is it OK to just go Dutch?
Joshua: I’d be interested to know why you’re uncomfortable with him paying. If it’s because you’re afraid he won’t, give him a chance. If he doesn’t, he’s either consciously or unconsciously introducing some uncertainty. It’s not a dealbreaker but it’s certainly not impressive. If you’re just uncomfortable because you’re independent or you don’t want to let him get in the driver’s seat just yet, go ahead and pay for yourself. Just be mindful that if he’s more traditional, like I am, it may not sit well with him.
There will always be nuances and exceptions to the rule. I know happy couples where the woman made the first move, and it worked out fine.
Suzanne: I agree. How this scenario plays out could be different for each couple, but communication is the key. This makes me think of my early relationship with Kevin. We were leading a Bible study group together before we were dating, and we’d often meet at the coffee shop where he worked to plan the study. I’d pull out my card to pay for my coffee, and he’d say, “Oh, I’d like to get this. I get a discount.”
Joshua: Oh my gosh, that’s awesome.
Suzanne: Pretty smooth, right? Kevin communicated that he wanted to treat me, but he also made it feel natural and totally respectful. He paid for all of our dates leading up to our “define the relationship” conversation, and I really appreciated that. As we got past the early dating days and into engagement, he still paid the majority of the time, but I also offered sometimes because I was making a good wage at my job. How did you navigate this when you were single?
Joshua: After practicing at dating for a bit, I came up with this somewhat clumsy way of making my intentions clear. I would actually call the woman — not text — and invite her on the date. And it wouldn’t be a “coffee date” either. (Is that even a real date? I guess going for coffee is fine, but calling it a “coffee date” makes it sound like you’re deliberately cheapening the experience.) I would take her out to dinner. And I had this awkward speech that went like this: “To be clear — this is just a date. People can get so weird about a man and a woman going out. You seem like the kind of woman I’d enjoy spending some time with, and that’s why I’d like to go to dinner.”
Suzanne: Did that work for you?
Joshua: (laughing) Not always. But it was a way of putting my foot forward in the dating dance. All but one of those conversations did not result in a permanent relationship, but I was practicing and becoming a better “dancer.”
Sticking with that analogy — with my now-wife, Raquel, the dance kept going. I stepped forward — “Would you like to go to dinner and a movie?” She followed my lead and accepted and then she took a step — “Want to hang out after the movie?” Back and forth we went like that, until four months later (after a bit of stepping on each other’s toes), I stepped forward and proposed. And she moved toward me and said yes. But I was leading the dance, and Raquel has mentioned many times how much she appreciated having the security of knowing that I was definitely “dancing” and not just waving from across the dance floor.
Suzanne: Wow! So much great stuff there. I think that’s a good place to wrap up. Like dancing, dating requires practice and a bit of finesse, it seems. And as someone who has taken dance lessons, it isn’t always pretty.
Joshua: And that’s OK!
Suzanne: But I think some of the main ideas here are to be honest with one another — let your yes be yes and your no be no — manage expectations, show grace, have a plan…
Joshua: Particularly if you’re the guy, decide what your “way” is going to be.
Suzanne: And do dinner instead of coffee to avoid the whole dilemma!
Joshua: That’s right! And maybe even have an awkward speech prepared. It worked for me.
Copyright 2021 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin and Joshua Rogers. All rights reserved.