I vividly remember my first gay date. He was a large, muscular man with a deep voice that carried throughout the restaurant. The man, who we’ll call Chris, was a decade older and certainly more experienced than me. He took me to a local sushi restaurant, where he ordered both his food and mine. This came as a shock, but I could tell that for him, it was a means of asserting dominance. When we finished, he grabbed the bill and told me not to worry about it.
Since this was my first same-sex date, I’d never had somebody pay for me, as social customs (and my mom) assert men foot the bill — though we know that’s not necessarily the case these days. Still, that was two years and dozens of dates ago, and I continue to be befuddled about how to approach the whole which-gay-pays standoff when the bill lands on the table.
“When two [queer] folks meet for a date, the dynamic is more evenly balanced. At the date’s end [when] the check arrives, each person should offer to split the bill, especially on a first date,” says LGBTQ relationship expert and H4M Matchmaking founder Tammy Shaklee. “But if invited and picked up for a date, the dynamic changes. It’s often assumed the initiator is treating.”
David Strah, LMFT, relationship coach and author of “Gay Dads: A Celebration of Fatherhood,” agrees that splitting the bill is the most agreeable option. He also believes that footing the bill, especially if you asked the person out, is chivalrous and will always be appreciated. “Paying the check is a reflection of who you are, your generosity, and your spirit, and it sets the tone for dating,” he says. “How do you want the other person to remember you — as cheap or as generous and thoughtful?” Of course, the level to which you can contribute depends on your financial situation, and not having a ton to spare hardly makes you cheap or thoughtless. (More on that later.)
At this point, I wanted to hear from queers themselves, so I published a not-entirely-scientific poll on Twitter asking which gay should pay, and splitting the bill took the lead with more than half of 209 votes. “I always go into a date expecting to split it. I would never expect someone else to pay for me, and I would never expect to pay for someone else either,” says Phil, 31. “A date is a mutual thing.”
Michael, 26, agrees — with one caveat. “I always assume the bill is going to be split,” he says. “However, if one person insists on paying, then the other person should pay next time.” This, according to Strah, makes sense. “Offer to pay for every other date or some part of the date,” he says. Shaklee suggests pitching in with the tip of a meal or paying for drinks or dessert at the next stop.
Still, a significant portion of people — 42% of my poll respondents, to be exact — believe whoever did the asking out should pay. The results of a 2016 Match.com survey of 1,000 singles tilt even more in this direction with 62% of LGBTQ singles saying the person who initiated the date should pay.
“If you ask the other person out, it’s nice to offer to pay, especially at the beginning of dating because you might not know your date’s financial [situation],” says Strah. He suggests you consider footing the bill if your date had to travel far, if the date is expensive, or if it isn’t their cup of tea (you don’t want someone to feel resentful about paying for a concert that they found grating). Should you plan to do this, it’s best to be upfront in order to decrease everyone’s anxiety.
“You don’t have to [disclose that] you are in massive debt on the first date,” Strah says. “But you can say something like, ‘That’s not in my budget this month,’ or ‘I would feel a bit more comfortable doing something less expensive.’”
By the second date, social norms will start to fall into place. “It is kind for the more financially successful person to offer to pay the whole tab,” Shaklee says. If you earn less, do something kind for the other person that doesn’t cost a thing. “Generosity is more than money. It is having the heart and mind to bring to the table what you can [as a way] to show your obvious interest in this new person in your life,” she says. Strah suggests taking on the research about a show to see, restaurant to try, or speakeasy to hit up for a nightcap. “This should be considered of value,” he says. “After all, time is money. Planning shows you care and are invested in having a good time.”
And if you do feel uncomfortable about the cost of a date, speak up. “If your date proposes something outside of your cash range at the moment, propose something more affordable and offer to save that more expensive option for a celebration down the road,” Shaklee says. “It shows the other person you are financially responsible and a good communicator.”
What we need to remember is a queer date is still a human date. While splitting costs and having the initiator pay are the most popular options, social norms should always take a backseat to what feels right and natural. “LGBTQ singles tell me they are seeking someone who is kind, thoughtful, generous, and just overall a good person,” Shaklee says. “Be that human from the first date on, if that’s who you are. Be you.”