A typical date nowadays goes something like this:
Girl meets boy. Boy likes girl. Someone asks the other out, they go for dinner, and the air is filled with awkward conversation and nervous laughter. Towards the end of the evening, the bill arrives, and … fuck.
What happens next is critical. As the boy, do you reach for your wallet and cover the check? What if she insists on paying?
It’s only fair to go Dutch, no?
But what if she thinks you’re cheap?
In 2019, ongoing discussions about women’s rights and feminism have surfaced equally impassioned debates about related issues, one of the most prominent being the inequality of dating—where men are still expected to play the dominant financial role, and women are to be wined and dined.
Along with discussions on Reddit, male friends consistently text me lamenting how much it costs to date, and how women still expect them to pay even though they demand equality. They ask me for suggestions on how to split the bill without sounding like a dick.
Growing up, I had already been told to study hard, get a good job, and provide for my own family in the future. A similar lesson was proffered by my parents when I asked them about National Service.
“You have to be a man and protect your country so your parents, future-wife, and kids will be safe,” my mother used to say.
Consciously or not, I internalised the idea that to be a man was to be both protector and provider; that women liked being pampered and were to be revered. Paying for a date was a logical, natural extension of that belief.
Likewise, plenty of Singaporean men have had their beliefs and attitudes shaped by similar influences.
My parents’ advice served me well until my first date with Joy*. When the bill came, her hand shot out of her dress pocket, landing on her wallet before I could even look at the check. Wanting to be the perfect gentleman, I told her that I’d settle it, but she warned that she would actually get angry if I did. Joy insisted on splitting the bill.
Watching her whip out money felt strange at first. It was almost as if I was giving up control, although the genuine delight on her face led me to an epiphany.
Up until then, it had never occurred to me that women were capable of paying or even wanted to do so. I had been so stuck on this archaic notion of masculinity, I couldn’t see that splitting the bill didn’t make me any less of a man.
In fact, it made us equal.
Joy opened my eyes to all of this, and each time she uttered her pleasant yet firm, “We’re splitting this”, I fell more in love with her. I knew that I was dating the right person.
In my book, at least offering to pay had become the right thing to do.
Additionally, this “financial litmus test of compatibility” helped to streamline my dating pool. It wasn’t about going on as many dates as possible, but going on dates with the right people. I knew the type of girl I was looking for, and no longer had to waste the time figuring out if she shared my beliefs.
I’ll never forget what this one girl told me: “I don’t want to feel like I owe you anything, or am in any way indebted to you.”
As she handed the check back to the waiter, I found myself taken aback, trying to make it clear that I wasn’t expecting anything. She smiled and replied that she just wanted to make sure.
Tim, an acquaintance, explains, “I totally get that if I ask a girl out and she agrees, she’s taking time out of her life to go on a date with me. And so I pay for the date to thank her. But when I don’t hear from her again, it’s just … frustrating I guess.”
He adds that what irks him the most is the perceived lack of effort on the lady’s part, and that he’s pretty sure that some women he’s gone out with just wanted a free meal.
Because money fulfils a transactional purpose in almost every setting outside of dating, and we’re used to getting something in return for the money we spend, it becomes difficult to dissociate these attitudes from the person we’re out with.
When I point out that he shouldn’t be expecting anything, Tim shrugs and explains that it’s a reasonable expectation not unlike how people want their date to look presentable. Perhaps someday he’ll find the one, he says, with a resigned sigh.
So where do we go from here?
Some things are beyond doubt. There are men who feel as though they should always pay for first dates, and by extension, feel entitled to sex or a second date. There are men who can afford to do this, and are happy to both preserve and exploit this dynamic. There are also women who enthusiastically participate in this dynamic, or exploit it for their own financial and gastronomic gain.
There’s also everyone else: the men who simply believe—without entitlement or ill intentions, and only because they were raised to do so—that as long as they keep paying, something will happen, only to realise that this is often not the case.
If you don’t want to pay for her, don’t. In fact, always go Dutch.
If you’re a serial dater, pick cheaper places, or choose to meet over coffee instead of the nearest Michelin-starred restaurant to avoid breaking the bank.
Or, as another friend says, always have hawker food on your first date. If she’s cool with it, it says plenty about what the rest of your relationship is going to be like.
Don’t buy into the culture that men should pay because it’s expected, or because it’ll make you a more attractive romantic prospect. In fact, if you even bother to ask if she’s okay with going Dutch, you’ll realise that no decent human being would refuse. If she does, then guess what? You just saved yourself a whole lot of time and money.
With enough men doing this, women who still believe that men should pay will eventually catch on, and the culture will shift.
Not only are today’s women more than capable of paying for themselves, they actually want to. Women like that exist.
Thus far, what’s struck me the most is that men don’t realise it’s in their power to change the culture of dating in Singapore. Instead of lamenting how the dating scene is skewed towards women, level the playing field yourself. Decide not to participate in the more gendered aspects of dating culture.
Men can, and should break the cycle they find themselves trapped in. It just might mean going on fewer dates.
Which, if you think about it, isn’t really such a bad thing if dating is as hard as everyone is making it out to be these days. In the same way that women “don’t need no man”, guess what guys, you don’t need no woman.