The art of settling the bill on a date

Millie Neil
The art of settling the bill on a date

“Usually, I’d pay,” said my date as we walked towards the counter.

“But you seem like a strong feminist so…”

“We’ll split it,” I said.

I still don’t know what I did to make that guy decide I was a strong feminist on our first date. He was right, of course. But you’d be hard pressed to find any Millennial woman who doesn’t describe herself that way. In 2018, I thought, it kind of goes without saying.

There’s plenty of reasons why you might want to split the bill on a date. You can afford it, for one. And there’s no reason other than old-fashioned chivalry why you shouldn’t. You might not, as a serial dater friend of mine says, want to feel like you “owe” your date anything – a nightcap, a sleepover, another date – if they pay for your drinks.

You don’t, obviously, but gender norms are so entrenched it can be difficult to feel your way past them, and this is one way of avoiding the need to do so. Maybe if I was a strong-er feminist, I’d have let him pay the bill, and wouldn’t have thought twice about saying thank-you and goodbye.

As it stands, I have splitting the bill down to – I think – a fine art. As a heterosexual woman in my late 20s, I’ve the following advice based on my own experience (but there’s no reason why the advice wouldn’t work for same-sex dynamics, too – the idea is to subvert heteronormative tradition, after all).

If you arrive first at the bar or cafe, and I usually try to for this very reason, order a drink you pay for on the spot, or, ask to start a tab. If you arrive at the same time, split it or, if he offers to pay, tell him cheerfully but firmly that you’ll get the next round (and do so).

When things begin to wind down and you’re wanting to move on – either to go home, or strike out into a night filled with possibilities – aim to get to the counter first. Without looking at your date, tell your server you would like to split the bill, and ignore any protestations from your mate. Don’t ask them how they’d like to pay – leave no room for discussion. It’s really as easy as that.

If the date arrives at the till first, and offers to pay – or protests so loudly that you’re drawn into a discussion anyway – tell them, with a smile and an air of vague gratitude for their offer, that you insist. That’s usually enough to shut down debate.

If they really have a problem with it, perhaps it’s a red flag signalling conflicting values. Or perhaps their social conditioning’s even stronger than yours. In which case, it is not worth getting into an argument about. Say thank-you, and (if you’d like there to be a next time) tell them you’ll get it next time.

Otherwise, go gentle into that good night. You don’t owe them anything. Remember: you’re a strong feminist.